My paper will look at Giuseppe Maria Mitelli’s 1683 human alphabet book, the Alfabeto in Sogno, as a consideration of gesture. Primarily, it will explore two connected aspects of gesture. The first and primary aspect is gesture as an embodied process which is often violent and destructive for the body, resulting in constant fragmentations and reunifications of the body. In doing so, I will draw on anatomical knowledge of the time, and what it says about the functioning of the body. I will show how Mitelli’s alphabet presents gesture as being so embodied that it is enmeshed with the processes of life, like breathing or sexual reproduction. The secondary aspect of gesture I will explore is the relationship of gesture to language, and how the communicative dimension of gesture is often at odds with its embodied nature. Mitelli’s alphabet creates a very literal representation of this, with its figures physically restrained into forming the letter forms — restraints that they struggle against. This adds another level of pain and violence to the already difficult process of gesture.
Keywords: Mitelli, gesture, renaissance studies, print culture