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University marks 700th birthday of medieval genius and erotic story teller

Press release issued: 9 July 2013

2013 marks the 700th anniversary of the birth of Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the greatest writers of European literature. To celebrate, a series of events aimed at both academics and the public are taking place in the UK organized by Dr Rhiannon Daniels (University of Bristol), Dr Guyda Armstrong and Professor Stephen Milner (University of Manchester).

Italian Giovanni Boccaccio, author of the 1351 Decameron - a collection of 100 tales ranging from the erotic to the tragic - will be celebrated through a series of events arranged by Dr Rhiannon Daniels of the University of Bristol with Professor Stephen Milner and Dr Guyda Armstrong of the University of Manchester.

The events provide an opportunity not only to reflect on Boccaccio's legacy today, but also to seek to shape the ways in which he is studied in an academic context and understood by a non-academic audience.

On 11 July, a five-month public exhibition opens at the John Rylands University Library, Manchester, showcasing the Rylands’ outstanding collections including the ‘Roxburghe Decameron’ - the most expensive book in the world when was sold in 1812 and founding volume of the world’s most exclusive book club, The Roxburghe Club.

Exhibits span the period from the 15th century to the digital age, from medieval manuscripts and early printed books, through private press editions and popular classics right up to the internet resource, the Decameron Web.

The exhibition is designed to reflect the – still popular – reception of Boccaccio as an author of erotic and light-hearted stories, but also aims to educate new audiences about the breadth and depth of his achievements as a literary innovator, humanist and linguistic model.  His prose writing in the Decameron became the basis for the standard Italian language used today.  

Dr Daniels, a Lecturer in Italian at the University of Bristol, said: “The Decameron is Boccaccio’s best known work because he is a master of the erotic story. But Boccaccio wrote a huge range of different kinds of texts in both Italian and Latin, including the first psychological novel, written from the perspective of a woman.”

Thirteen artists have been commissioned to create new artists’ books in response to Boccaccio and his works.  These books will be displayed alongside the historic printed books and manuscripts in order to explore the ongoing fortunes of a medieval author in the 21st century.  The artists’ books will come to Bristol for an exhibition in the Special Collections Library at Bower Ashton, UWE in December 2013.

Dr Daniels has also worked with a private press to produce a fine press edition of selected texts by Boccaccio, with an introduction and woodcuts from historic editions (available via Incline Press:

An international group of scholars from the UK, US, Italy and beyond will also come together for a conference in Manchester Town Hall on 11 and 12 July, organised by Dr Daniels, Professor Milner and Dr Armstrong, to debate the current state of Boccaccio studies and its future directions.  The organisers will be setting out their ‘manifesto’ for Boccaccio in 2013 and asking conference delegates to respond to it.

There will also be ‘hands-on’ sessions in the Rylands library, bringing together academics, curators, conservators, and library staff to discuss manuscripts and early printed books. 

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