Au miroir de l'humanisme: Les representations de la France dans la culture savante Italienne a la fin du Moyen Age.
Renaissance humanism has been the subject of much speculation in recent time. Scholars have investigated the humanism of leading Italian city-states and of key European countries as well as of prominent Renaissance intellectual figures and of key fields of study, such as music, education, and the sciences. These two studies by Branca and Gilli constitute a worthy addition to this rich and varied interpretation of humanistic culture.
Branca's work consists of a collection of articles, some of them unedited, but most of them already published. However, the latter ones have been revised and updated for this compilation. The updating of the collection is reinforced by a valuable review of recent scholarship on Venetian humanism by Caterina Griffante. Branca's articles deal with the proto-humanism of the Veneto area, such as the scholarly interests of the Veronese Gidino da Sommacampagna as well as with the humanistic activities of greater Venice (the humanism of the Dalmatian Gerolamo Gradi, for example). They also explore non-venetian luminaries (Philip II of Spain, the Bolognese Giulio Cesare Croce, and the Tuscan Galileo Galilei) who, Branca believes, were influenced by Venetian culture. The bulk of the articles, however, treat Ermolao Barbaro the Younger and his circle. Indeed, Barbaro and the Venice of his time constitute the center piece of Branca's book. Ermolao, according to Branca, is one of the most distinguished members of the Barbaro dynasty and the single most influential cultural figure of late-Quattrocento Venice. Given Barbaro's pivotal role in Venetian intellectual life, Branca explores the distinguished humanist's genealogy, his relationship with contemporary humanists (Filippo Beroaldo, Giorgio Merula, Angelo Poliziano, Giorgio Valla, Giroloma Dona), and his influence on Pietro Bembo as well as his numerous cultural activities, such as his predilection for naturalistic exploration, his reconciliation of the classical with the evangelical, his justification of the use of the vernacular, and his delving in poetry. Above all, however, Branca studies fully Barbaro's philological skills, which he finds as accomplished as Poliziano's. The articles of this collection are enriched with much unpublished material and with numerous detailed descriptions of the manuscripts from which this material is derived.
While studying Ermolao Barbaro and the Venice of his time, Branca argues that Venetian humanism differs significantly from that of Florence, which together with Venice, according to him, constituted the two most important cultural centers of late-Quattrocento Italy. In fact, whereas the humanism of Florence emphasized the hominis dignitas, that of Venice accentuated the societatis dignitas; consequently, whereas the humanism of Florence was relegated to the academies of the city, that of Venice formed an integral part of the cultural and political life of the Serenissima. Unlike the humanists of Florence who engaged in subtle intellectualisms and unsystematic philological enterprises, those of Venice, as exemplified by Barbaro, pursued concrete matters and rigorous philological endeavors, seeking at all times to harmonize the moral with the scientific. The scholarly tenets formulated by Barbaro and his circle impacted the scholarship of all of Italy and Europe, including the writings of Erasmus and Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples who found in Barbaro's reconciliation of the classical with the evangelical the solution for their own scholarly dilemmas and those of Galileo, who found in the naturalistic orientation and exact philology of Barbaro the source and inspiration for his own scholarly and scientific activities. More importantly, however, these tenets went on to establish Venice as the respublica litteraria of post-Tridentine Europe (54).
There is no doubt, as Branca argues, that Venetian humanism played a significant role in the intellectual life of Italy and Europe and that Venice remained an important cultural center long after the advent of the Counter-Reformation, but whether or not the influence of Venetian humanism was as far-reaching and as pervasive as Branca notes is a moot question. For example, such distinguished European humanists as Guillaume Bude of France and Juan de Valdes of Spain relied heavily on Venetian humanistic scholarship, but they also made extensive use of non-Venetian scholars, such as Biondo, Valla, and Castiglione. Be that as it may, Branca's work is provocative and illuminating. Its scholarly apparatus is at once exemplary and informative. Branca writes with eloquence and conviction. Indeed, this collection of articles on humanistic Venice is worthy of the solid scholarship and intellectual breadth of Paul Oskar Kristeller to whom the book is dedicated and is very much in line with Branca's many other seminal studies on this most venerable and splendiferous of cities.
Gilli's work studies the Italian humanists' perception of French culture and history, especially the histories of the royal dynasties, and is predicated on his belief that the Italian humanists' assessment of France and its civilization, unlike their rendering of other European cultures, has been all but overlooked. He concentrates primarily on the period between 1360 (which corresponds roughly to the end of the papacy in Avignon) and 1490 (the year of the descent of Charles VIII into Italy); during this period, according to Gilli, the Italian peninsula enjoyed much self-esteem and confidence.
The work consists of three parts. Part 1 treats the Italian humanists' views of the French kings, including the question of the legitimacy of the ascendance to the French throne of Pepin and Hugh Capet, the tribal origins of the Carolingiians, and the territorial ambitions of the monarchs, both with regard to Italy and to the rest of Christendom. Part 2 explores the Italian humanists' assessment of the positive/negative role of the Gauls/Franks (the French) in the origin of Florence, Siena, Milan, and Venice, and part 3 probes their notion of French character and culture. A recurring theme in Italian humanistic literature, according to Gilli, is that the French were arrogant, impetuous, and self-centered, with a propensity to tyrannize. He further notes that the Italian humanists perceived of French culture as strongly imbued with aristoteleanism and therefore wanting in the area of the studia humanitatis.
Gilli's monograph is somewhat cumbersome and repetitive, having too many introductions and conclusions and being devoid for the most part of a rigorous exposition of the subject matter. The scholarly apparatus is wanting; for example, one finds it difficult to trace the full titles of the numerous abbreviations appearing in the notes. To the extent that this work deals essentially with early Italian Renaissance, one is puzzled by Gilli's use of a la fin du Moyen Age in the title of the book. One also wishes that Gilli, while assessing the Italian criticism of French culture (a criticism that was profoundly resented by the French humanists), had noted that the disparaging remarks by the Italian humanists were not limited to France, as his study seems to indicate, but in fact extended to all of Europe - one need only look as far as Germany and the German humanist Konrad Celtis, who like the French counterparts, keenly resented the Italian criticism.
These flaws notwithstanding, Gilli has written a work of much breadth with numerous cultural and political implications. In reconstructing the Italian humanists' perception of France, he probes every major cultural center of Italy and every facet of its intellectual life. He studies fully the major humanists of Italy, but he also explores numerous minor humanistic figures whose assessment of French history and culture had hitherto not been examined fully. When warranted, he extends his analysis to pre-Renaissance scholars, such as Dante, Ptolomey of Luca, and Giovanni Villani. Gilli's objective is to prove that the Italian humanists' perception of France was predicated on their cultural orientations and political ambitions as well as on their regional historical background and on the political and military dynamics of late-Trecento and Quattrocento Italy and Europe. He thus argues, conclusively I believe, that the perception of France in humanistic Italy differs from region to region, from scholar to scholar, and even within the life span and literary production of the same scholar. This being the case, Gilli's work is not only an effective reconstruction of the Italian humanists' portrayal of France but also a valuable assessment of Italian humanism in general and of individual humanists in particular. For example, one learns that the Milanese insistence to associate the Viscontean dynasty with the ancient Lombards and their usual fear of a French invasion leads them to vilify the Franks and to glorify the Lombards and to make of the Visconteans' resistance to a French intrusion into the Italian peninsula a mark of Italianitas. On the other hand, the Florentines' belief in Charlemagne's refounding of Florence and their frequent dependence on the protection of the French army causes them to praise the historical role of the French monarchy. One learns further that Biondo Flavio's impartial assessment of French history evolves from a rigorous and objective mode of investigation and that Enea Silvio Piccolomini's aversion to all that is French and his tendency, therefore, to befriend the enemies of the French monarchy, is predicated on a strong allegiance to the imperial system of government and to a belief in the temporal power of the papacy. Gilli's study is deduced from an array of primary sources which he collates with numerous secondary ones. Both types of sources are assembled in an extensive and useful bibliography.
Mount Holyoke College
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1999|
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