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Marion Leathers Kuntz. The Anointment of Dionisio: Prophecy and Politics in Renaissance Italy.

University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002. Pbk. xviii + 446 pp. index. bibl. $55. ISBN: 0-271-02134-9.

Author of a book on the prophecies of Guillaume Postel and translator of Jean Bodin's Secrets of the Sublime, Professor Kuntz tackles a different sort of prophet in The Anointment of Dionisio. "Different" is an inadequate description of "Dionisio Gallo," about whom almost no biographical information is available. Having combed the Archivio di Stato in Venice, especially its Inquisition records for 1566-67, and Dionisio's works and letters to Italian princes, Kuntz paints an astonishing picture of a preacher who both stood out from his times in dramatic fashion and yet reflected the many currents of humanism, prophecy, church reform, and Venetian politics in the second half of the sixteenth century.

Whoever he really was, Dionisio variously styled himself or was given such titles as "messenger of the Holy Spirit," "King of the Gauls," "horseman of the Apocalypse," and other epithets with messianic overtones. Forced to leave France during the religious wars, Dionisio arrived in the Italian peninsula, creating quite a stir. In Rome, "[h]e walked through the public squares, carrying a wooden cross seven feet long on his shoulders. ... with his clothes on backward, with his hat turned askew, and with an old breastplate slung over his shoulders" (49). In his travels in Italy before settling in Venice, a dove frequently appeared around him, signaling his divine call. His program for reform, coming after the concluding session of the Council of Trent, included the following: reform of the clergy, extirpation of heresy, care of the poor, and conversion of Jews, Turks, and other non-Christians. Dionisio's critiques followed the pattern of prophetic and apocalyptic thought, including that of Joachim of Fiore and Savonarola. But he also incorporated humanist thought, and, somewhat surprising for so exotic a figure, his Latin speech was highly polished. In view of the politico-religious conditions of the time, Dionisio's message was not welcomed in many circles, especially among churchmen, particularly after he assailed many cardinals in St. Peter's choir and admitted to beating on the pope's door.

A key element in Dionisio's plan was his call for both political and religious leaders to enact his reforms. This echoed earlier calls by Marsilius of Padua as well as many Swiss reformers who felt the state must play a key role in bringing the church back to Christ. After a preaching tour of many Italian cities and interviews with some important figures, Dionisio seemingly found a friendly haven in the Venetian Republic when he appeared there in 1566. His message seemed particularly appropriate to St. Mark's city. Prophecy had always held a special place in the history of La Serenissima, so when he arrived appropriately on the Feast of Pentecost to speak about Venice's role as the dispenser of justice to reform the church, he could expect a warm welcome. Dionisio was playing, consciously or not, on Venice's unique political situation and mythical history as well as its fractious relationship with the papacy. Yet after some initial conquests among patricians, Dionisio not surprisingly attracted notice and was called before the Inquisition. Kuntz presents a fascinating picture of Dionisio playing with his inquisitors in cat-and-mouse fashion, twisting their words and turning them to his advantage. She also portrays the fascinating interchanges between famous prisoners housed in Venice's notorious prisons and the appalling conditions. The excesses of Dionisio, combined with his strange and obviously well-staged appearances, ironically saved him. The Inquisition came to the logical conclusion that Dionisio was "disturbed in his senses" (176). He was banished from the Venetian Republic and disappears from history shortly thereafter.

This is a fascinating tale that goes well beyond a brief snapshot of one individual life. His ideas were held by many philosophers, reformers, and humanists of the time, but taken to an extreme. My quibbles are few. The readership will be largely limited to advanced graduate students and scholars because of the subject matter and because quotations are usually in the original Italian, French, or Latin. Also, the repeated mention of "our prophet" becomes a bit repetitious. However, these small issues in no way detract from an outstanding work of scholarship that sheds light on politics, religion, prison life, and philosophy in the late sixteenth century.


Colby College
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Author:Taylor, Larissa Juliet
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2003
Previous Article:Anne Jacobson Schutte. Aspiring Saints: Pretense of Holiness, Inquisition, and Gender in the Republic of Venice, 1618-1750.
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