Carnevale e Quaresima. Comportamenti sociale e cultura a Firenze nel Rinascimento.
Italy is blessed with enlightened and well endowed academies that eagerly seize every opportunity to celebrate their country's genius and geniuses. One of these groups, the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, last year published the proceedings from its 1993 international conference on the Barbaro family: Una famiglia veneziana nella storia. I Barbaro. The occasion for the conference was the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the death of Ermolao Barbaro the Younger (1453/4-93), Patriarch of Aquileia and one of the most important humanists of Renaissance Venice. The hefty and well produced volume of conference proceedings gathers fifteen excellent articles that range well beyond Ermolao himself to encompass not only his family, but the cultural and intellectual climate of fifteenth-century Venice.
The collection opens with an overview of Venetian humanism by one of the doyens of Italian scholarship, Vittore Branca, who traces the major "lines" of the humanist movement from Ermolao Barbaro to Pietro Bembo, not without first roughly sketching out the influence of Petrarch and fourteenth-century proto-humanism on subsequent Venetian intellectual life. Alberto Tenenti follows with an incisive article on the res uxoria, and in particular the question of whether or not to marry, as considered by two contemporaries, the Venetian Francesco Barbaro and the Florentine Leon Battista Alberti. In her article on "Sacred and Secular Heroes: Ermolao on Worldly Honor," Patricia Labalme examines a 1489 letter of consolation addressed by Ermolao Barbaro to Marco Dandolo on the occasion of the death of Bernardo Giustiniani, a letter in which Barbaro "gives us a portrait of a secular hero in the particular Venetian mode" (331). Jean-Claude Margolin, on the other hand, examines an epistolary controversy between Ermolao and Pico della Mirandola revolving around the humanist concept of the "barbarian." Although the exchange of letters between the two friends was dearly not without its witty undercurrent (arising from the obvious pun), the fundamental elements of the discussion point to a shared aristocratic and elitist conception of the "barbarian" as the individual, emblematic of the general populace (vulgus), who trusts in the superficial meanings of words and is unable to grasp the essence (la "molle") of things.
Across the peninsula, in that other city of the Renaissance, the 500th anniversary of Pico della Mirandola's and Angelo Poliziano's death (1494) was marked by an exhibition at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. Its published catalogue, Pico, Poliziano e l'Umanesimo di fine Quattrocento, offers not only a detailed description of the manuscripts, incunabula, and documents that were part of the show, but also provides very learned assessments of Pico, Poliziano, and Florentine humanism in the late fifteenth century.
With Paolo Viti as the prime mover, the exhibition and the catalogue reveal a rigorous sense of scholarship and a profound sensitivity towards the subject. As Viti points out, the aim of the endeavour was not to assemble "everything," but to identify and choose a number of biographical and bibliographical items that were considered of particular significance for Florence and its culture. Because the 1954 exhibition catalogue by Alessandro Perosa for the 500th anniversary of Poliziano's birth is still quite valid, Viti rightly chose to limit the "Poliziano" part of his exhibition only to newly discovered autographs, marginal annotations, manuscripts, and new documents touching on Poliziano's life. In the case of Pico, on the other hand, Viti's catalogue covers a variety of topics extending over a greater number of exhibition sections: from Pico and Lorenzo de' Medici, to Pico and Poliziano, Ficino, or Savonarola, from Pico and rabbinical literature to Pico and Hebrew philosophy, not to mention Pico's horoscope or his iconographic fortuna. The eclecticism and syncretism inherent in this section of the exhibition/catalogue are most appropriate to the subject.
Each of the sections opens with a brief four- to five-page learned introduction to the topic by a scholar particularly familiar with the subject. It is then followed by a rigorously detailed description and analysis of the items in the exhibition, contextualizing them within the theme of the show: the place of the two humanists in the culture of Laurentian Florence. The volume is richly illustrated with black and white photographs of manuscripts, medals, engravings, and paintings.
Admittedly, this is not the type of work one would sit down to read from cover to cover. It is, instead, an easy-to-use resource book full of scholarly information on Pico and Poliziano. The high scholarly level of each entry and the extensive knowledge of each contributor ensure that every piece in the exhibition is presented and viewed not as an item in itself, but as a key to a greater and fuller understanding of Pico and Poliziano's place in late fifteenth-century humanism. The effort is commendable, and so is the initiative of the editor, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, and the Centro Internazionale di Cultura "Giovanni Pico della Mirandola," which co-operated in the envisioning, mounting, and publishing of this work.
Silvia Mantini's Lo spazio sacro della Firenze medicea. Trasformazioni urbane e cerimoniali pubblici tra Quattrocento e Cinquecento offers quite a different approach to Renaissance Florence and its culture. The volume opens, quite appropriately, with a citation from Kevin Lynch: "We must consider not just the city as a thing in itself, but the city as being perceived by its inhabitants" (The Image of the City [Cambridge, 1960], 3). It then seeks to do just that, examining how Florentines viewed Florence physically and sacrally, and then how they manipulated its physical layout structurally and ceremonially, so as to reaffirm the current mythology of their city, assert their own specific (family) interests, or seize the socio-political agenda. This kind of cultural-anthropological approach to the study of Florence and its people was spearheaded by Richard Trexler in several of his fundamental studies of the 1970s, and was then given wide circulation in his Public Life in Renaissance Florence (New York, 1980). Mantini openly recognizes her debt to the American scholar's contribution and mentions his long-term impact on scholarship, noting how it led Anglo-American scholars "to marry the rigour of research with an interpretive analysis of documents along lines that had not yet been examined until that time" (13). Trexler, of course, was not the only pathmaker - Brian Pullan had carried out similar work on Venice and Natalie Zemon Davis on Lyons, to mention just two other Anglo-American scholars who tilled so well the socio-anthropological field and produced a bounty of ground breaking scholarship. But for Florence, as for this volume, Trexler remains the eminence grise behind much subsequent scholarship.
Mantini's focus is on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and in particular the manner in which the city's urban space was used by those in power during its three major political periods: during the Medicean oligarchy of Cosimo, Piero, and Lorenzo de' Medici (143494), during the Savonarola and Soderini republics (1494-1512), with the separated addendum of the last Republic (1527-30), and finally during the Medici principate (from 1530 on). She examines the urban morphology by focusing on the three different rings of city walls: those erected to enclose the Roman castrum, the tenth- and twelfth-century medieval town, and the fourteenth-century city. She then examines the path of various formal entries into the city (papal, episcopal, royal, and imperial), the location of the palazzi of the merchant nobility, as well as the location of the Mendicant orders, the confraternities, monasteries, and tabernacles that "sanctified" the city. The volume ends with a discussion of the fundamental switch in urban dynamics brought about by the transfer of political power from the Palazzo della Signoria to the Palazzo Pitti, and with a brief chapter on the miraculous image of the Madonna in the church of SS. Annunziata.
This is a welcome study that casts a wide net over many important elements of the Florentine urban, social, and spiritual fabric. It is rich in references and ideas, and a thrill to read. It is, however, marked by some weaknesses that should have been fixed in the editorial stage. For example, there is no concluding chapter or epilogue to draw the various (and diverse) sections together. There are a number of inaccuracies the author certainly did not intend, such as the comment that Michelangelo went into exile but then "returned to Cosimo I" (207), or the reference to Cosimo I's election as "Grand Duke" in 1537 (208). For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that after his departure in 1530, Michelangelo remained in Rome for the rest of his life, died there in 1564, and "returned to Cosimo I" only posthumously, as a corpse. Similarly, in 1537 Cosimo I was elected "Signore," not duke nor even less grand duke of Florence; only later did the emperor acknowledge the title of duke that Cosimo had quietly appropriated from his assassinated distant cousin Alessandro, and only in 1569 did the pope elevate him to the rank of Grand Duke. Finally, although there are some clear sketch-maps of processional routes, readers who are not inveterate fiorentinisti would have benefitted tremendously if at least some of the streets and urban landmarks had been labelled. These are, however, technicalities that should not be allowed to undermine an otherwise fine and important study.
The importance of Mantini's study, in fact, is that it describes quite well how the urban layout of Florence evolved in response to the various political stages of Florentine political life: oligarchical, republican, and princely. Similarly, the construction booms or busts, as well as the various preferred locations for the erection of palazzi, point to the growing or diminishing power and prestige of various noble families. This volume does not attempt to reconstruct a history of Florence on the basis of its developing urban fabric. Rather, it seeks to identify and trace "a developing sense of collective identity within the city" (16), a sense of civic identity that is marked, as Mantini points out, by the recognition and use of various sacred spaces and symbolic routes both inside and along certain well-marked perimeters. At the same time, the awareness of sacred spaces that define the city leads to the expression of a ceremonial language whose vocabulary and syntax were quite intelligible, both explicitly and implicitly, to the people of the time.
Another kind of sacred space, not urban but cultural, or perhaps festive/psychological, is examined by Giovanni Ciappelli in his Carnevale e Quaresima. Comportamenti sociali e cultura a Firenze nel Rinascimento. Ciappelli offers his readers an extensive and in-depth analysis of late-medieval/early-modern attitudes and practices associated with the two connected seasons of Carnival and Lent. Drawing exclusively on historical sources rather than on theoretical interpretations, the author takes Bakhtin to task and presents us with a social, anthropological, and cultural description of the Carnival/Lent binomial in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Florence that has little or nothing to do with inversions, topsy-turvy worlds, boy bishops, popular culture, collective behavior, festa, and other similar constructions so cherished by recent scholarship on Carnival. An examination of the practice rather than the theory of Carnival/Lent, leads the author also to forego the entire concept of the "carnivalesque" and to focus instead on the much more immediate concerns of food, sex, devotional practices, public entertainments, preaching, processions, theater, and disguise as they were directly affected by or altered during the two-month period of Carnival and Lent combined.
In order to determine how late-medieval/early-modern daily life was affected by Carnival and Lent, the author examines a wide variety of sources. He first grapples with normative sources, both civil and religious, to determine what, exactly, were the laws concerning private and public behavior during the Carnival/Lent season. He then examines instructional sources, in particular the sermons of preachers active in Florence at the time, to determine what religious and lay moralists were telling their listeners. Chronicles, diaries, letters, government, and church records are then brought into play in order to examine what people actually did or did not do during Carnival/Lent.
Facing a topic that is, in fact, a binomial of opposites, Ciappelli structures his examination into another binomial: private/public. Admittedly, it is difficult to determine what exactly pertains to the private or to the public spheres, and Ciappelli is aware of the problem, but, tout bref, he gathers into "private behavior" all that which has an "individual" or "internal" effect, and then gathers into "public behavior" all that which produces collective action and is directed towards the "outside." Simple, but effective; and so, the bulk of his study revolves around the complementarity of chapter two, which examines private behaviors (in the plural), and chapter three, which examines public behaviors (also in the plural). This dual approach is introduced by a well considered first chapter on the place of Carnival and Lent in the medieval calendar and on the etymology of the two words. The study is then completed by a much more anthropological fourth chapter that examines the place and role of youths, the deceased, masks, and executions in the context of the Carnival/Lent season.
Chapter two, "Private Behaviors," will serve as an example of Ciappelli's revolutionary approach to the study of Carnival and Lent. First and foremost, Ciappelli considers the effect of Carnival/Lent on eating and sex, the two most fundamental human drives (survival and reproduction). In trying to assess the importance of Lenten fasting, Ciappelli first examines the ecclesiastical prohibition on consuming meat during Lent by reviewing the Lenten sermons of the Dominican Giordano da Pisa and the Franciscan Bernardino of Siena; various injunctions from synodal constitutions; and finally the works of Antonino Pierozzi. He follows these normative documents with an attempt to determine actual food consumption in Florence by examining contemporary chronicles (Villani), the registers of the "Gabella del macello" (slaughterhouse duties), the kitchen registers of the Signoria, several letter collections and ricordanze (Datini, Puro, Morelli, Macinghi Strozzi), the books of Florentine hotel keepers, recipe books, contemporary literature (Pucci, Sacchetti, and Boccaccio), and even peasant gift-giving (the periodic tribute of farm goods delivered by the farmer to the land owner). This kind of wide-ranging (and somewhat unconventional) use of sources is followed by Ciappelli when he seeks to determine the effect of Carnival/Lent on a very "private" human drive: sex. Once again, the author first engages Giordano da Pisa, Bernardino da Siena, Antonino Pierozzi, and synodal constitutions, but then breaks away from these standard normative sources to analyze, instead, marriage dates, birth and baptism dates, the use of "Carnevale" as a personal name, and the restrictions imposed on prostitution during Lent, all in order to determine whether Florentines did or did not abstain from sex during Lent. Although it is impossible to make a detailed assessment of the effect of Carnival/Lent on sexual activity, the author does present us with a number of revealing observations on sexual activity (and abstinence) in Florence during Carnival/Lent.
As is the case with Mantini's work, Ciappelli's is also strongly influenced by the work of foreign social historians, particularly Trexler, Ruggiero, and Muir (to mention just three). It comes as no surprise, also, that the Warburg Institute, the Villa I Tatti (Harvard University in Florence), and the Charles S. Singleton Centre (Johns Hopkins University in Florence) figure prominently in the acknowledgements, as do some of the contemporary Italian and foreign scholars most open to developments in other academic disciplines and linguistic areas. Ciappelli's accomplishment, therefore, has not only been to burst the Bakhtinian bubble, but to offer in its place an analysis solidly grounded in a wide range of reliable documents and in a variety of scholarly traditions.
Angelo Turchini's Sotto l'occhio del padre. Societa confessionale e istruzione primaria hello Stato di Milano brings us back to a more traditional topic: education and its place in the social/intellectual world of the Renaissance. One of the most fundamental elements of "the Renaissance" was, in fact, the revolutionary impact it had on teaching and education. There is hardly an undergraduate course or textbook that does not point to Vittorino da Feltre and Guarino da Verona as teachers whose small but highly influential schools taught the children of the elite alongside those of the merchant class, enrolled girls alongside boys, presented the ancient classics alongside the moderns, and encouraged physical alongside intellectual well-being. What is often ignored, however, is that other revolutionary reform in education, the one that was brought about not by a handful of individuals imbued with humanist ideals, but by a multitude of devout individuals inspired by religious ideals. In other words, not the reform of fifteenth-century humanists, but those of sixteenth-century religious reformers. One of the leading lights of this later reform in education was the Milanese archbishop Carlo Borromeo, who spearheaded a program of religious and secular education in his diocese. Borromeo, however, was merely one of hundreds of devout individuals who, in the sixteenth century, revolutionized education and literally brought it to the masses, to the disenfranchised, and to the poor. The present volume examines in depth this second revolution and sheds enormous light on its place in the culture, religion, and society of the time.
Turchini's work focuses on primary education in the Duchy of Milan from the episcopate of Carlo Borromeo (1538-84) to that of his nephew Federico Borromeo (1564-1631). In the process, he engages a number of other concerns, from an examination of the general level of culture at the time (including the various levels of literacy in the wider population) to the religious dynamics of the Counter-Reformation. Although the volume is firmly grounded in Milanese archival sources, the leading role played by Milan and the Milanese in the Catholic reform movement makes Turchini's observations pertinent to the wider context of late Renaissance Catholic Europe. In fact, Turchini's interest in the larger questions of education - the role of confessionalism, the variety of approaches to education, the various disciplines taught, the nature of teachers and students, the process of culturalization, and the socio-economics of education - are all applicable to other geographic areas in late Renaissance Europe.
The volume is divided into eight chapters that reflect Turchini's wide-ranging approach. After an introduction that presents Milan and Lombardy as models for confessional instruction, the author enters firmly into the discussion with a first chapter, "Letters and Christian 'Manners'" in which he examines the relationship between education and proper Christian behavior. In the second, "Charity and Teaching," he lists and describes some of the most important schools established by charitable institutions or devout individuals, such as the Scuole Taverna, Scuole Grassi, the schools for poor or abandoned children. He then continues with "Church and Teaching" (the place and role of parish schools in the diocese); "Reading and Writing in the Schools of Christian Doctrine" (the educational role and textbooks of the confraternities established to teach Christian doctrine); "The [male] Teachers" (male teachers in the city and in the countryside, private tutors, clerical teachers, salary, mobility, texts); "The [female] Teachers" (elementary education, the Ursulines, education for girls); "Language, Doctrine, Confession" (grammar, Latin, the vernacular, education and work); and "State, Teaching, Society" (benefits of public education to the city, the network of schools, semi-literacy, education, and business).
In this last chapter, Turchini devotes a few very revealing pages (subtitled "Lombardy and Saxony," 373-79) to the observation that reforms in education similar to those that were carried out in the Milanese were also being carried out in Protestant areas north of the Alps. Taking Lutheran Saxony as an example, he argues that geographical and confessional differences were merely internal elements of a wider movement in education that pointed uniformly towards the "modern" ("una singolare esperienza sulla strada del moderno," (375).
Turchini's volume is a long, in-depth, and richly documented study of primary education in the Milanese. Scholars of Renaissance education or of sixteenth-seventeenth-century Lombardy will treasure it and mine it for many years to come. The rest of us, however, will plod through it with mixed emotions - on the one hand we will be pleased to savor the author's profound knowledge and careful thinking in this area, but on the other we will regret his difficult prose style and sometimes vague vocabulary. As pleasant and clear as Ciappelli's volume was to read, that much more unpleasant and obscure is Turchini's. In this reviewer's opinion, the days of Ciceronian sentences, indeterminate vocabulary, and long citations in Latin should long ago have been allowed to pass away with an earlier world and a long-gone era, and they should have been replaced, in this modern world of instant mass communication, by a simpler, more direct prose style, by a clearer, more intelligible vocabulary, and by the translation into the vernacular of passages whose meaning is not so absolutely crucial and untranslatable that it must, by force, be given in the original. Although Turchini's work is excellent, I think I will wait for a good translation in idiomatic English before I recommend it to my students (unless, of course, they are writing a Ph.D. thesis on education in post-Tridentine Italy, in which case I will definitely assign it to them).
VICTORIA COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1998|
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