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Praz, Mario

    Full Name: Praz, Mario

    Other Names:

    • Mario Praz

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1896

    Date Died: 1982

    Place Born: Rome, Lazio, Italy

    Place Died: Rome, Lazio, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Italy

    Subject Area(s): decorative art (art genre)

    Career(s): art critics and literary critics


    Interdisciplinary arts writer, literary critic and art historian (particularly of decorative arts). Praz was the son of Luciano Praz, a clerk in a bank and Giulia Testa di Marsciano (Praz). He attended the University of Rome, gaining a law degree in 1918. Moving to the University of Florence, he was granted a bachelor of letters degree in 1920. Praz earaned a scholarship and left Italy for England in 1923 to earn his libero docente (Ph.D). He worked at the British Museum, which gained him entrance as a professor of Italian Studies at the University in Liverpool in 1924. He delivered the British Academy annual Italian Lectures in 1928 on Machiavelli. During his tenure in Liverpool, he wrote his most important work for art history, Carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica in 1930 and translated into English as The Romantic Agony 1933. The study was one of the first interdisciplinary ones on the arts to include art history. By tracing the embedded and overt erotic and Sadistic impulses in the Romantic movement through all of the arts: art, literature and music, Praz deftly characterized the interrelation of these themes among the Romantic era. In 1932 he moved to Manchester University, also teaching Italian studies. He married the British subject Vivyan Eyles (b. 1910) in 1934 and returned to Italy the same year to become professor of English Literature at Rome University with the title cattedra di Letteratura inglese alla Sapienza. The couple initially lived on the via Giulia, at the Palazzo Ricci where their home was a meeting point for visitors across Europe. Praz’s 1939 study of baroque art, Studi sul concettismo, showed his knowledge of emblemata and included an important bibliography on the subject. The following year Praz published his volume on Neoclassical taste and art, Gusto neoclassico, another period at its nadir in public opinion. Praz continued to hold his chair at the University of Rome during the Fascist period through World War II and the German occupation. His interest in decorative arts, particularly furniture increased but led to his divorce from Eyles in 1947, she claiming, wryly, that he cared more about his furniture than her. In 1961 he wrote the introduction for Magnificenza di Roma‘s republication of Prianesi’s Vedute. Praz collected furniture and decoration in the Empire and Regency styles, leading to his history of interior design in 1964, La filosofia dell’arredamento. He retired in 1966 emeritus. Among the works Praz translated were text by the art critic/theorist Walter Pater. Praz contributed the essay, “Francesco Pianta’s Bizarre Carvings,” to the 1967 Festschrift of Rudolf Wittkower. In 1969 Praz moved from his Ricci palace home to the third floor of the Primoli palace, near the Piazza Navona, where he spent his final years. In 1967 he delivered the A. W. Mellon lectures at the National Gallery of Art, Washgington, D. C., which were published in 1970 as Mnesomyne: the Parallel Between Literature and the Visual Arts. In 1976 he authored a volume on the complete works of the sculptor Anontio Canova. Praz died in Rome in 1982. His Palazzo Primoli home was opened to the public in as a museum in 1995. A monograph on Canova remains untranslated. Most of Praz’s publications discussed Romantic and Neo-classical art and literature. The Romantic Agony analyzes the erotic details in the works of Baudelaire, Sade, Flaubert, and Wilde. As an art historian, also wrote a catalog of his personal decorative arts collection arranged as an autobiography, entitled, La casa della vita. The catalog describes objects in Praz’s home, accompanied by personal anecdotes that give the reader intimate insight into the life of a collector. Praz was largely responsible for the excellent translations into Italian for English-language writers, including Pater. Among American literary critics, Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was a strong exponent, who characterized Praz’s autobiography House of Life as a masterpiece. The art historian and literary critic Wylie Sypher also praised Praz’s literary work.

    Selected Bibliography

    [bibliography to 1966:] “A Bibliography of the Published Writings of Mario Praz.” in, Gabrieli, Vittorio, ed. Friendship’s Garland: Essays Presented to Mario Praz on his Seventieth Birthday. Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1966 vol. 1, pp. xxvii-clvii; Carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica. Milan/Rome: Societé editrice “La Cultura,” 1930, English, The Romantic Agony. London: Oxford University Press, 1933; Studi sul concettismo. Florence: G. C. Sansoni, 1946, English, Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery. 2 vols. London: The Warburg Institute, 1939-1947 [revised ed., 1964-74], supplement, and Sayles, Hilary M. J. Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery, part II. Rome: Ed. di Storia e Letteratura, 1974; “Introduction.” Piranesi, Giovanni Battista. Magnificenza di Roma. Rome: Edizione Il Polifilo, 1961, English, The Magnificence of Rome. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962; La filosofia dell’arredamento: i mutamenti nel gusto della decorazione interna attraverso i secoli dall’antica Roma ai nostri tempi. Milan: Longanesi 1964, English, An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration, from Pompeii to Art Nouveau. London: Thames and Hudson, 1964; Mnemosyne: the Parallel Between Literature and the Visual Arts. A. W. Mellon Lectures, 1967. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970; An Illustrated History of Furnishing, from the Renaissance to the 20th Century. New York: G. Braziller, 1964; “Francesco Pianta’s Bizarre Carvings,” in Essays in the History of Art Presented to Rudolf Wittkower. volume 2. London, Phaidon, 1967; Scene di conversazione: Conversation Pieces. Rome: U. Bozzi, 1971, English, Conversation Pieces: a Survey of the Informal Group Portrait in Europe and America. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press,1971; Gusto neoclassico. Florence: G .C. Sansoni, 1940, On Neoclassicism. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969; L’opera completa del Canova. Milan: Rizzoli, 1976.


    Praz. Mario. La casa della vita. Milan: A. Mondadori, 1958, English, The House of Life. London: Oxford University Press, 1964; [obituaries:] New York Times, April 8, 1982, p. 12; “Professor Mario Praz, Outstanding Italian Interpreter of English Life and Letters.” The Times (London) March 26, 1982, p. 10.


    "Praz, Mario." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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