Skip to main content

Knots, or the Violence of Desire in Renaissance Florence

An interdisciplinary study of hair through the art, philosophy, and science of fifteenth-century Florence.

In this innovative cultural history, hair is the portal through which Emanuele Lugli accesses the cultural production of Lorenzo il Magnifico’s Florence. Lugli reflects on the ways writers, doctors, and artists expressed religious prejudices, health beliefs, and gender and class subjugation through alluring works of art, in medical and political writings, and in poetry. He considers what may have compelled Sandro Botticelli, the young Leonardo da Vinci, and dozens of their contemporaries to obsess over braids, knots, and hairdos by examining their engagement with scientific, philosophical, and theological practices.
By studying hundreds of fifteenth-century documents that engage with hair, Lugli foregrounds hair’s association to death and gathers insights about human life at a time when Renaissance thinkers redefined what it meant to be human and to be alive. Lugli uncovers overlooked perceptions of hair when it came to be identified as a potential vector for liberating culture, and he corrects a centuries-old prejudice that sees hair as a trivial subject, relegated to passing fashion or the decorative. He shows hair, instead, to be at the heart of Florentine culture, whose inherent violence Lugli reveals by prompting questions about the entanglement of politics and desire.

344 pages | 32 color plates, 64 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2023

Art: European Art

History: European History


Knots is the opposite of academic hair-splitting. Adopting a self-aware and approachable voice that’s attuned to both contemporary and historical concerns, Emanuele Lugli reorients our understanding of Medicean Florence around hair, a borderland of the body usually treated as trivial. He braids together Renaissance art, science, literature, and philosophy into a new way of imagining what cultural history can be.”

Rebecca Zorach, Northwestern University

“In this lovely study of hair’s meanings in Renaissance culture, Lugli unveils ways in which people naturalize cultural values regarding age, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Beautifully illustrated, meticulously researched, and engagingly written, Knots will engage scholars, students, and lay readers alike.”

Katharine Park, Harvard University

Table of Contents

ONE  Prologue: Hair Care
TWO  Learning to See Thinness
THREE  Desiccated Smoke
FOUR  Tie Me Down, Burn Me Up
FIVE  Superfluities
SIX  Achonciare
SEVEN  Never Just Itself
EIGHT Raking the Skin
NINE On the Politics of a Comb
TEN  Split Ends: A Conclusion
Appendix: Maps
Illustration Credits

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press