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Mauda Bregoli Russo. Letterati a corte. Ferrara, Firenze, Mantova.

Mauda Bregoli Russo. Letterati a corte. Ferrara, Firenze, Mantova. Loffredo Editore: Napoli, 2004. Pp. 166.

This study is an interesting and useful contribution to the understanding of the intricate and productive cultural exchanges among the Renaissance courts of Milan, Mantua, Ferrara and Florence. Bregoli Russo touches on a number of important aspects of cultural production at these courts and explores the interplay among politics, literary taste, interpersonal relationships and cultural aspirations of rulers and scholars.

Much progress has been made in recent years on the understanding of cultural exchange in northern Italian courts during the fifteenth century. Massimo Zaggia's work on the Milanese cultural milieu ("Appunti sulla cultura letteraria in volgare a Milano nell'eta di Filippo Maria Visconti," Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 170 (1993): 161-219 and 321-82), and a collective study on the culture promoted by Ercole I Duke of Ferrara (Il principe e la storia. Atti del Convegno, Scandiano 18-20 Settembre 2003, edited by Tina Matarrese and Cristina Montagnani, Interlinea: Novara 2005), are two of the most recent and important contributions to this area.

Bregoli Russo's study sketches a number of interdisciplinary and intersemiotic relationships between fifteenth-century scholars, literary genres and political agendas.

The first third of the book is composed of an introduction and seven short chapters numbered two to seven. In chapter two, Bregoli-Russo uses letters and poems of Poliziano in order to "giungere ad una caratterizzazione [...] della [sua] lirica in volgare" (11). She aims to "mettere in evidenza [...] i modi in cui il poeta usufruisce delle fonti" (11) in order to establish "l'influenza fiorentina e toscana sulla lirica volgare polizianesca," related specifically to the poet's involvement in "la "brigata" di Lorenzo il Magnifico" (13-14).

Chapter three focuses on the movement of poets and musicians between the courts of Mantua and Ferrara, and the importance of accounts of theatrical/musical productions in the correspondence between the two courts. Notably, Lucrezia Borgia's "onesta" is seen as an important issue in her patronage, and a key to understanding her patronage as opposed to Isabella d'Este's.

Chapter four touches on how Veronica Gambara and the Gonzagas shared Isabella d'Este's interest in theatre, clowns and art.

The fifth chapter describes Lorenzo de' Medici's novella "Giacobbo," as part of his court's propaganda against the Franciscan preacher Fra' Bernardino da Feltre. Lorenzo had Fra' Bernardino expelled from Florence in 1488 because of the friar's attempt at fomenting the populace against the luxury and secular culture promoted by the Medici court, as well as for stirring up anti-Semitic sentiment aimed at replacing the Jewish bankers with monti di pieta, at a time when Lorenzo was particularly dependant on the Jewish bankers for loans. Another response to this politico-religious situation was Poliziano's prologue to a 1488 edition/production of Plautus's Menaechmi. Bregoli Russo briefly outlines a profound change in the literary culture of Lorenzo and his circle from the time of the arrival of Girolamo Savonarola in 1490, attributable to Lorenzo's "tacit collaboration" with the Dominican preacher (52). Given Lorenzo de Medici's involvement with Florentine religious orders, Bregoli Russo suggests questions about the influence of members of these orders, who were associated with other courts in Italy, for example Fra Filippo Lapaccini and Gentile Becchi, both with Mantuan connections.

Chapter six provides some biographical details of Paride Ceresara (14661532) and Mario Equicola (1470-1525), while chapter seven seeks to explain why Mario Equicola, in his Chronica di Mantova (1516-1521), did not write about Isabella d'Este's role in the Mantuan court, but assigned her a secondary role in his history.

The remaining fourteen chapters form a monograph-in-miniature of the cultural and political milieu of Ludovico Gonzaga, Bishop-elect of Mantua (1460-1511). After considering the political and dynastic reasons that caused him neither to be ordained bishop nor to be appointed to the College of Cardinals, Bregoli-Russo explores the patronage exercised by the Bishop-elect towards eight poets and writers: Niccolo Lelio Cosmico (1420-1500); Publio Fausto Andrelini (1462-1519); Bernardo Bellincioni (1452-1492); Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti (1445-1510); Timoteo Bendedei (Filomuso) (1447-1522); Antonio Tebaldeo (1463-1537); Paride Ceresara (1466-1532) and Gaspare Visconti (1461-1499). Chapters eighteen and nineteen provide more contextual details of the humanism and political intrigues at the Mantuan court in the period of Ludovico's father.

Several of the above-mentioned chapters shed light on the broader context of cultural and political influences and relationships among Northern Italian courts. It is however disappointing that most of the essays provide only brief and sketchy examples of these cultural connections, thus leaving the reader wanting to know more. Further, these essays are mostly based on secondary sources and there is little or no archival research underpinning these studies, the only exception being the Venetian manuscript containing Ceresara's corpus of poems. Finally, the text does not appear to have undergone rigorous editorial revisions, which might have honed arguments, clarified chronology both within and among the chapters, eliminated repetitions, and avoided some misprints.

Nevertheless, this study represents a useful guidebook for undergraduate and graduate students of the Italian Renaissance and a springboard for scholars wishing to explore further this interdisciplinary area.

Julie Robarts, University of Melbourne, Australia
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Author:Robarts, Julie
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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