Striking, sexy and sepia-toned, the photographs of sun-kissed male physiques and their Romanesque laurel-crowned cosplay featured in the new book Oscar Wilde’s Italian Dream 1875–1900 (Damiani) might be easily mistaken for apparitions from a dream. And in a way, they are. Wilde’s dream of a utopian existence beyond the prudery of English society, where a gay man could live more openly and with joy.
Italian art critic and curator Renato Miracco’s book builds on his previous scholarship on Wilde’s trip to Italy following his infamous morality trial and subsequent imprisonment. In addition to these and other archival photographs, correspondence and news clippings, historical analysis and poetic narrative — including from Wilde’s own papers — add heft to this volume of timely study.
The previously unseen images Miracco includes (including photos that Wilde received from the gay German photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden) are culled from private collections. Beginning with Wilde’s earliest trips to Italy as a student and through to recently released court documents from his trial and exile, the book touches not only on the plight of the closeted and persecuted queer citizenry, but also his elevated consciousness with regard to prison reform and the cause of personal liberty.