Civic Christianity in Renaissance Italy: The Hospital of Treviso, 1400-1530.
Changing Perspectives on Early Modern Europe. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2007. xiv + 214 pp. index. illus. this. map. bibl. $75. ISBN: 978-1-58046-239-6.
Over the past two or three decades, scholarship on confraternities in Italy has moved beyond simple description of the devotional activities of these voluntary religious groups to more complex analysis of their political, social, and cultural functions. With this new study of the confraternity and hospital of Santa Maria dei Battuti in Treviso during the fifteenth century, David D'Andrea makes a notable contribution to this scholarly field. D'Andrea argues that his study illuminates "our understanding of charity on the Venetian terraferma and the development of territorial states" (6), as he demonstrates convincingly that the confraternity of the Battuti of Treviso functioned as a surrogate for local political power during a period in which Venetian control over political and ecclesiastical offices grew in the city.
The book is divided into six chapters, based on extensive primary source research in the archives of the Battuti and several others in Treviso and Venice. Chapter 1, "The City of God," examines the physical location of the hospital of the Battuti, and its administration and activities in the city. Here D'Andrea provides information about the relations between the officials of the confraternity and civic officials. Chapter 2, "The Confraternity Family," presents the institutional structure of the confraternity and argues that membership in the Battuti provided members with opportunities for association beyond the bounds of family, work, and parish. The restrictions on women as members are noted briefly in this chapter. Chapter 3, "The Bonds and Bounds of Charity," describes the type of charity the Battuti offered and uses a notably valuable source, baptismal records from the diocese of Treviso, to track numbers of children cared for by the Battuti during the century. In chapter 4, "Medical Care and Public Health," D'Andrea argues that the health of citizens was perceived as a public good by the confraternity and government alike. At the same time, he notes, Battuti officials remained focused on their goal of staying independent of the Venetians, and so they did not completely support a Venetian move to establish a pesthouse in Treviso during the century. Chapter 5, "Instruction for This Life and the Next," describes the training provided by the confraternity, including grammar schools for children and religious instruction for the community at large. Finally, chapter 6, "Crisis and Reform," examines the early sixteenth century when, D'Andrea argues, "the hospital had been transformed into a symbol of the city that protected the community from disaster" (133) and when it came more closely under the control of the city government, a move that D'Andrea asserts allowed the hospital to remain "a shining light for the city" (146) in the sixteenth century.
D'Andrea's emphasis on the intertwining of charitable initiatives and political developments provides a clear understanding of the complex functions of the Battuti in Treviso, and raises important questions about the role played by confraternities in Italy during the late medieval and early modern periods. In a few places he could have used the fascinating evidence he has unearthed to complicate his portrayal of the confraternity even further. For instance, he notes that the wife and daughter of the podesta of Treviso visited the confraternity several times in an official capacity, "to keep the podesta informed of the good works performed by the confraternity" (34). That the podestaressa undertook official visits to the confraternity suggests that political officials in the city linked the confraternity, and more specifically its hospital, with female space and activities. It would be interesting to explore whether the hospital was the only civic institution the podestaressa visited in this capacity. I question, though, D'Andrea's assertions about the meaning of membership for both men and women. D'Andrea argues that membership in the confraternity provided women with a chance to "socialize outside of the family and parish" (48). However, in this same section he also notes that women were barred from attending meetings of the general assembly of the confraternity, suggesting that actual social contact between female members would have been rare. Additional evidence, perhaps from notarial documents, detailing how women in the confraternity came into contact with other members could clarify this discussion. The extent of the interaction among male members of the confraternity could also be more clearly established with reference to notarial sources. For instance, did they enter business transactions together, or act as procurators for each other before the courts of the city? Finally, D'Andrea rejects the idea that increasing Venetian control of the Battuti in the sixteenth century was "a malicious effort to centralize power" and instead asserts that it was "an attempt to return the confraternity to the religious harmony and civic spirit expressed in its own statutes" (146)--a statement that might provoke debate among those interested in the deployment of state power in the early modern period.
Overall, with its clear presentation and broad-ranging topics, this work makes an important contribution to the field of confraternity studies, as it highlights the multiple significances of these institutions in the centuries after their foundation.
University of Manitoba
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2008|
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