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Cultural links between Portugal and Italy in the Renaissance. (Reviews).

K. J. P. Lowe, Cultural Links between Portugal and Italy in the Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. xviii + 32 pls. + 329 pp. illus. bibi. index. n.p. ISBN: 0-19-817428-4.

This miscellaneous, if lavishly produced collection does not quite add up to a book. Some excellent chapters (by A. D. Wright on the interaction of the Portuguese and Italian churches in the Counter-Reformation; by J. B. Bury on the Italian contribution to sixteenth-century Portuguese architecture, and, perhaps most interestingly, Jeremy Lawrance on medieval Portuguese literature and the Italian questione della lingua) are genuinely interesting and important. Others (D. S. Chambers on Venetian perceptions of Portugal, Albinia de la Mare's on Portuguese patrons of the Florentine book trade, Eric Apfelstadt on the chapel of the cardinal of Portugal in San Miniato, Sylvie Deswarte-Rosa on the Portuguese in Rome and the Palazzo dei Tribunali) bring to bear new documentary findings on their subjects. Another seven chapters (Giuseppe Bertini on the marriage of Alessandro Farnese and D. Maria of Portugal, Dalila Rodrigues on Italian influences on Portuguese painting in the early sixteenth century, Sandra Sider on ma nneristic style in compass roses on portolan maps, T. F. Earle on Sa da Miranda's roman comedy, Kate Lowe on Rainha D. Leonor of Portugal's patronage in Florence, and Annemarie Jordan on Portuguese royal collecting after 1521) deal with discrete topics, all presented in a meticulous manner.

Yet, it is hard to see what unites them into an organic and coherent whole. Kate Lowe's introduction strikes one for its intellectual ambition, but also for its analytical shortcomings. Portugal and Italy, she writes in the book's very opening sentence, were "the two most dynamic and creative areas of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries." Two paragraphs later, she amplifies (qualifies?) her judgement: "Portugal and Italy were amongst the most highly 'advanced' [her quotation marks] areas of Western Europe." Such extravagant claims need not stand on the way of this enterprise: to "construct a comparative cultural analysis of the interaction of the two areas." There was an old view of this interaction: Italy gave, while Portugal received. Lowe rejects this view. Rather, to produce a more balanced view of this interaction, she focusses on three "cultural processes:" the separateness and incorporation of the Portuguese in Italy, and Italians in Portugal; the acquisition, appropriation and imitation of each other's cultures; and the creation and memorialization of the past. In retrospect, one can see that she set for herself a difficult task. She argues for a broad definition of "culture" so as to include in it "an appreciation of the new, whether in terms of information about the world or in terms of new and exotic goods or in terms of artistic style and when equivalence is acknowleded... between greatly prized 'products' from the Portuguese empire and greatly prized 'products' from Renaissance Italy" (16). This would be fine if her definition of culture were, indeed, broad. "But there is no space here to discuss commercial ties in detail" (4), and so went the one chance to take a genuinely novel approach to the problem of cultural exchange. What, then, could have been an original enterprise, turns back to a set of traditional questions about dynastic marriages, the patronage of the well-to-do and well-placed, and the circulation of precious objects of material culture. One problem of omission and one of commission point at least to some of the book's conceptual weaknesses. First, the omission: what did the word Portoghese mean in sixteenth-century Italian? More often than one might imagine, it referred to a new Christian (a Jew converted to Christianity), or to a new Jew (a Jew who, having converted to Christianity, once again embraced Judaism). The presence of these Portoghesi was substantial in Livorno, Ancona, and Venice (but also Ferrara, Florence, and Rome). They had their own synagogues, were often referred to as the natione Portoghese, and, perhaps most crucially for scholars interested in the problem of cultural diffusion, until at least the opening decades of the eighteenth century used the Portuguese language to communicate with each other. Yet, hardly any attention is devoted to these Portuguese, who, more than queens and kings, were for centuries carriers of Portughese culture in Italy. Secondly, the problem of commission: the question of the separateness or incorporation of foreign merchants in a local culture should be addressed with a clearer understanding about the meaning of important analytical terms, such as "citizenship" and "nationality" (whose interchangeable use creates a good deal of confusion in the Introduction).
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Author:Molho, Anthony
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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