Déborah Blocker

The Pleasure Principle: Knowledge, Aesthetics and Politics in Medicean Florence (16th-17th centuries)
Fall 2017

Le Principe de plaisir: savoir, esthétique et politique dans la Florence des Médicis (XVIe-XVIIesheds light on long-term transformations in the realm of aesthetics by closely examining the practices, discourses and ideas of a late 16th century Florentine academy, and of its aristocratic membership. The book principally focuses on understanding the Alterati’s conception of art as the source of a “praise-worthy pleasure” (lodevole diletto), analyzing in detail how this representation fits in with the social and political conceptions of the Florentine patricians who belonged to this academy, most of which stemmed from families which had fought to uphold the late Florentine Republic during the rise of the Medici. The study shows how their understanding of art, which centered on pleasure, freedom, parity and leisure were initially at odds with conceptions of art developed under direct Medici patronage. It also studies the various ways in which, over the life of the academy, the Alterati’s hedonistic conceptions of art were progressively integrated into the culture of the Medici court. Finally, the book places the pleasure principle on which the Alterati base their aesthetic conceptions into comparative perspective, by drawing connections with both 16th century England and 17thcentury France. The central hypothesis of this study is that the pragmatic tension between courtship and defiance, which manifested itself in the affirmation of aesthetic of pleasure, amid and around an patrician academy such as that of the Alterati of Florence, was in fact a major cultural phenomenon among the aristocracies of early modern Europe, as they adapted to the rise of authoritarian régimes — and one that has shaped understandings of art and literature to this day.

Déborah Blocker is associate professor of French at UC Berkeley, and affiliated faculty in Italian Studies. She studies the social and political history of early modern aesthetics. Her first book (Instituer un ‘art’: politiques du théâtre dans la France du premier XVIIe siècle, 2009) examined the processes through which early modern French theater was institutionalized into an art. From 2008 to 2016, she researched the understandings of art developed in Medici Florence, through a micro-historical study of the Accademia degli Alterati (1569-ca. 1625). In 2010-2011, her archival work was supported by a Florence J. Gould Fellowship at the Villa I Tatti in Florence. She has currently completed the manuscript of her second book, which will appear under the title of Le Principe de plaisir: savoirs, esthétique et politique dans la Florence des Médicis (XVIe-XVIIe siècles).