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Remembering the Renaissance: Humanist Narratives of the Sack of Rome.

Kenneth Gouwens, (Brill's Studies in Intellectual History, 85). Leiden and Boston: Brill, 1998.2 pls. + xix + 232 pp. $85.50. ISBN: 90-04-10969-2.

Kenneth Gouwens's book examines the mind-set of four curial humanists following the Sack of Rome in 1527. Provoked by Clement VII's alliance with the anti-imperial League of Cognac, the assault on Rome by the troops of Charles V drove the Pope into hiding at the Castel Sant'Angelo for months and resulted in the devastation of the city. Some humanists died in the Sack, and others left Rome or the circle of Clement. Prior to 1527 a relatively cohesive humanist circle enjoying papal patronage had coalesced around the intellectual gatherings sponsored by Angelo Colocci and Johann Kuritz. Largely working from a general thesis advanced by Vincenzo de Caprio (6), Gouwens analyzes how the Sack ruptured this community and altered the outlook of Roman humanists. Focusing on the writings of Pietro Alcionio, Pietro Corsi, Jacopo Sadoleto, and Pierio Valeriano, he considers sources that range over the humanist genres of the Latin oration, poem, letter, and dialogue. His principal argument is that the "trauma" of this event on humanists who had been papal clients and champions inspired a "creative" remembering of pre-Sack Rome and a recognition of the dramatic ending of the papal-centred Roman Renaissance, a perception that gave historical definition to the passing of an era. Throughout he invokes modern psychological theory - concerning trauma, altered memory, and survivor guilt - to explain how these humanist accounts reflect personal crises and represent attempts to gain psychological control over disaster through writing.

Probably the most revealing material in this study comes in Pietro Alcionio's four orations, which, while conveying his outrage at Rome's pillaging, also chart his personal defection from the embattled Clement to the rival Cardinal Pompeo Colonna. Too much an apologist for Alcionio, however, Gouwens defends his defection as the result of his being an outcast among the curial humanists, and suggests that his writings were the function of the psychological crisis of an individual without a "support network" attempting to therapeutically respond to tragedy. Rather, these orations are perhaps instead an intriguing study in humanist survival, in which a client seeks to negotiate the tricky move from one patron to another under rhetorical cover of a higher cause.

The same flattering interpretation colors the analysis of Jacopo Sadoleto's various letters to colleagues, patrons, and dependents at the Curia (including three letters to Clement himself), after he wisely left the city just prior to the Sack to take up residence at his bishopric at Carpentras. Sadoleto excuses his departure by saying that he has chosen to follow his heavenly patron (God) rather than his earthly one (the pope) by finally assuming his duties in his diocese. Gouwens is too willing to credit such transparent rhetorical tactics as something more than a fig leaf for Sadoleto's own timely exit.

In the analysis of Pietro Corsi's poem, the Romae urbis excidium, and his response to Erasmus's slight of Italian martial ability, Gouwens finds a figure unequal to the task of moving beyond humanist conventions to respond constructively in the face of catastrophe. Finally, from Pierio Valeriano (papal secretary and tutor to Ippolito and Alessandro de' Medici) the study examines a defense of Clement's wearing a mourning beard after the Sack, and treats his well-known dialogue De litteratorum infelicitate.

The most important contribution of this book is found in the appendix, where Gouwens presents his editions of three of Alcionio's orations (from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana) and Sadoleto's three letters to Clement VII (from the Archivio Segreto Vaticano). As an interpretive analysis, however, the project falters in several ways. The disparate and sometimes marginally relevant sources are often forced to submit to a preconceived thesis. That figures whose lifestyle was dependent upon the papal Curia would see the passing of an era in the Sack of Rome is not surprising. To elevate this lament to a coherent historical perspective seems time and again contrived. Moreover, the author overreaches when he claims that these "humanist narratives . . . have had a profound historiographical impact" (30), as he does not establish how any of these four figures significantly influenced subsequent historians or later views. The attempts to connect these writings to modern psychological theory or recent cultural theory (concerning memorializing) are forced and consistently ventured textual evidence. In the end, the book lacks a critical mass of substantive and related primary sources to sustain an important argument. Gouwens himself remarks on the "dearth" of humanist sources after the Sack, and yet in a note (27, n. 107) he cites other relevant sources by Paolo Giovio and Lilio Gregorio Giraldi among others, and announces that he is currently at work on an article on Giovio's pertinent dialogue. Why did he not include this and other sources in the current book and offer a more comprehensive treatment?

GEORGE W. MCCLURE University of Alabama
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:McClure, George W.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1999
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