Giuseppina Battista. L'educazione dei figli nella regola di Giovanni Dominici (1355/56-1419).
Giovanni Dominici is no stranger to Renaissance scholars. A celebrated Dominican preacher, an important diplomat at the Council of Constance, a founder of the Corpus Domini convent in Venice, and a friend to Coluccio Salutati and Francesco Datini as well as a mentor to Archbishop Antoninus of Florence, he was intimately involved in the political and religious affairs of early Renaissance Italy. In the Spring 2002 issue of RQ (19-48), Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby described Dominici's political views but noted the dearth of scholarship on a figure who should rival Girolamo Savonarola in importance. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Dominici was averse to much of the humanist program that has so captivated Anglo-American scholarship. Although Dominici supported the vita activa of civic humanists and even delivered the funeral oration for Salutati, he bitterly objected to humanist rhetoric, professional politicians, and the "new" education. Dominici's 1401 treatise on education, the Regola delgoverno di curafamiliare [On the Education of Children], was directed to Florentine noblewoman Bartolemea degli Alberti in response to her query about how best to raise her four children while her husband Tommaso was in exile. This vernacular treatise remained unpublished until 1860. Book 4 of the treatise, which is the subject of Giuseppina Battista's study and which directly concerns child reading and education, was translated by A.B. Cote in 1927, while the other three books were not translated until 1978. (Dominici wrote a subsequent treatise on education, the Lucula Noctis, which condemned the misuse of classical literature and warned of the dangers such study could inflict upon young minds.) Thus it would be fair to say that Giovanni Dominici's views on education have remained obscure. In this book, Giuseppina Battista aims to accomplish several goals: to analyze Dominici's pedagogy, to contrast his approach with that of his contemporaries, and to compare his ideas with a modern Italian educator, Maria Montessori.
Battista divides her study into five chapters. Chapter 1 discusses the history of childhood in fifteenth-century Italy, pointing out how the experience varied widely by class, gender, and geography. As she does throughout the book, Battista cites secondary sources extensively. She has read widely in both French and Italian, though her grasp of English-language scholarship is much more limited. Her citations often pop up in the middle of a sentence, which can be distracting. Chapter 2 summarizes Dominici's biography and his activities as a preacher, writer, diplomat, and pedagogue. Battista successfully delineates the major differences between Dominici and the humanists with regard to education, including the preacher's emphasis upon the importance of religious instruction at home. Comparisons between Dominici and other humanist educators (L.B. Alberti, Maffeo Vegio, and Giovanni Conversini) are useful, but I was surprised that she never cites any of the original sources, instead relying heavily upon Eugenio Garin's work. Here as elsewhere, Battista demonstrates a talent for synthesis and comparison rather than for original discovery. Chapters 3 and 4 consist of a close reading of the Regola. Dominici subdivided his ideas on education into five parts, declaring that children should be instructed about God, obedience, liberty, patriotism, and adversity. The fundamental principle that parents must instill is fear and love of God, to be accomplished through study and moral training. Dominici describes a series of activities that children can engage in, including "liturgical games" where they practice setting up an altar. He further explains the importance of instilling proper habits in children from an early age. In short, Dominici outlines a practical program that stresses Christian morality, civic virtue, and obedience to authority. He is not concerned so much with details of curriculum and intellectual instruction as with the preparation of a child's soul.
The fifth and final chapter of the book compares Dominici's pedagogy with that of Maria Montessori. Battista argues that both Dominici and Montessori were pioneers in their efforts to promote child-centric education. Both emphasized the importance of experiential education and tactile sensation for children, as well as a thorough grounding in religion and charity. Despite the praise of Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, which appears in a brief introduction to the book, I found the comparison to be only mildly helpful. Battista does summarize the views of Dominici and Montessori, but she provides little explicit comparison between the two.
In the appendix, the author has included a photostat of a sixteenth-century copy of the Regola from the Vatican Library. Also included in the appendix is a transcription of book 4 of the Regola (based on the 1860 edition), which is useful for quick reference.
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