Skip to main content

Art History Professor’s New Book Highlights How Clothes Made the Man in Renaissance Italy

Book cover of "Brilliant Bodies: Fashioning Courtly Men in Early Renaissance Italy"

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Italian court culture of the fifteenth century was a golden age, gleaming with dazzling princes, splendid surfaces and luminous images that separated the lords from the lackluster masses. In Brilliant Bodies: Fashioning Courtly Men in Early Renaissance Italy (Penn State University Press, 2022), Villanova University Art History professor Timothy McCall, PhD, describes and interprets the Renaissance glitterati―gorgeously dressed and adorned men―to reveal how charismatic bodies, in the palazzo and the piazza, seduced audiences and materialized power.

Donning scintillating brocades, shining armor, sparkling jewels, and glistening swords, spurs, and sequins, men were on full display at fifteenth-century Italian courts. Interpreting surviving objects, visual representations in a wide range of media, and a diverse array of primary textual sources, Dr. McCall argues that Renaissance masculine dress was a political phenomenon that fashioned power and patriarchal authority. Brilliant Bodies is a groundbreaking study of masculinity that makes an important contribution to the history of male ornamentation and fashion by examining a period when the public display of splendid men not only supported but also constituted authority.

“With this vivid account of fifteenth-century fashion, McCall has given us thrilling new ways to interpret the politics, gender posturing, and art of Renaissance Italy,” says reviewer Emanuele Lugli, PhD, assistant professor of Art History at Stanford University. “Bringing new light to such well-known historical figures and events—and from such a surprising angle and with so much delicacy in the details of the prose—is what makes Brilliant Bodies a remarkable achievement.”

Dr. McCall is associate professor of Art History and director of the Art History program in Villanova’s College of Liberal Arts and Science, where he teaches Italian Renaissance Art History and Histories of Gender and Sexuality. He is co-editor of Visual Cultures of Secrecy in Early Modern Europe (2013) and his peer-reviewed articles have appeared in Renaissance Studies, I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, and Renaissance Quarterly, among others. He has received year-long fellowships from the Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Dr. McCall is currently working on Making the Renaissance Man: Masculinities in the Courts of Renaissance Italy, forthcoming from Reaktion Books, and is co-editing a six-volume series by Bloomsbury Publishing, Cultural History of Luxury, as well working on a book in progress, Matters of Renaissance Fashion. He has been awarded research grants from the Delmas Foundation and the American Philosophical Society and has served as a visiting professor at two Chinese universities, Shanghai University and at Sichuan University in Chengdu. He was recently interviewed by the Athena Arts Foundation about his new book.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.