Mario Praz  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Mario Praz KBE (September 6, 1896, Rome, Italy - March 23, 1982, Rome) was an Italian-born critic of art and literature, and a scholar of English literature. His best-known book, The Romantic Agony (1930), was a comprehensive survey of the erotic and morbid themes that characterized European authors of the late 18th and 19th centuries.

He was admired by such authors as Georges Bataille, Frank Kermode and Philippe Jullian.



Praz was the son of Luciano Praz (died 1900), a bank clerk, and his wife, the former Giulia Testa di Marsciano (died 1931), daughter of Count Alcibiade Testa di Marsciano. His stepfather was Carlo Targioni (died 1954), a doctor, whom his mother married in 1912.

He studied at the University of Bologna (1914-15), received a law degree from the University of Rome (1918), and received a doctorate in literature from the University of Florence (1920).

Praz married, on 17 March 1934 (separated 1942, divorced 1947), Vivyan Leonora Eyles (1909-1984), an English-literature lecturer at the University of Liverpool whom Praz met during his time there as a special lecturer in Italian studies. She was a daughter of British novelist M. Leonora Eyles and married in 1948, as her second husband, art historian Wolfgang Fritz Volbach. The couple had one child, a daughter, Lucia Praz (born 1938).

Praz's only other known romantic attachment was to an Anglo-Italian beauty named Perla Cacciguerra, whom he met in 1953 and called Diamante in the book The House of Life.

Life and writings

He was Professor of Italian Studies at the Victoria University of Manchester, 1932-1934. He taught English literature at the University of Rome from 1934 to his retirement in 1966. In 1962, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE).

The House of Life, a memoir of Praz's life constructed as a room-by-room tour of his apartment in Rome, was praised by Edmund Wilson as a masterpiece, though Cyril Connolly has written: "One of the dullest books I have ever read; it has a bravura of boredom, an audacity of ennui that makes one hardly believe one's eyes."

His works of art criticism include an Illustrated History of Interior Decoration, a study on Italian sculptor Antonio Canova, and numerous essays. His last residence, an apartment, has become a museum, and is open for visits in Rome. It is in Palazzo Primoli, just above the Museo Napoleonico.

As Muriel Spark and others have noted, Praz was widely believed to have the Evil Eye, and thus was known as Malocchio.

Critical views

In the Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse, one reads, from a letter written on the 17th November 1923: "Mario Praz is an interesting young professor, a great Swinburnian." In the "Italian Pageant", Derek Patmore says at page 8: "Dr. Mario Praz, so long a staunch friend of England." Charles Du Bos writes in his diary in 1923: "I dined with Abraham and Mario Praz. He is a great friend of Vernon Lee." Marie-Anne Comnène, the widow of Benjamin Crémieux, writes in Hommes et Mondes of December 1949: "There were authoritative critics: Marco Pron, Franci, Rossi, count Morra and Mademoiselle Bellonci, great animators of the Pen Club." Marco Pron is actually Mario Praz, misspelled. Charles Jackson says in The Outer Edges: "Mario Praz and Bertold Brecht make the best reading in the world for a sexual criminal." Around 1950, Kadar Jennö translated Neoclassic Taste into Hungarian; he asserts that comrade Praz is a harsh enemy of capitalism.


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