Remo L. Guidi. Il dibattito sull'uomo nel Quattrocento: Indagini e dibattiti.
To call this work a magnum opus seems inadequate, if not even ungenerous. Its bibliography alone takes up sixty-three pages. Its first seven chapters each run on average 150 pages, with dense footnotes teeming with data drawn from manuscripts and early printed editions. Guidi examines the relationship in fifteenth-century Italy between the mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans, in their guise as spiritual guides (maitres-a-penser and maestri di spirito are the terms he prefers) and the humanists in their self-appointed role as dispensers of ethical and religious advice and as critics of the religious establishment. Lorenzo Valla and Poggio Bracciolini figure largely in the narrative, as one would expect, but so too do very large number of other humanists, sometimes fleetingly, sometimes with so quite substantial treatments, such as in the case of Guarino Veronese and Ermolao Barbaro. Guidi very impressively has consulted a large range of texts in manuscripts and early printed editions. Once in a while, though, he cites from manuscripts works that are now easily available in recent critical editions. This I take to be an occupational hazard of a project that demanded many years to complete.
The great textual revelations of the opus, however, stern from its quotations and citations from the vast devotional and spiritual literature still in manuscript produced by the Italian mendicants of the Quattrocento. Guidi appended a ten-page indice dei manoscritti as well as a full indice dei nomi but they do not quite do the job because so many of the texts he quotes are anonymous. So, unless you are interested in, and have the shelfmark of, a specific manuscript, you cannot search for any of these anonymous works. I found myself jotting down on the back cover the pages where these texts are cited. This task is more important than one may suppose for the greatest value of the book is actually as a reference work.
Guidi is far too knowledgeable and sophisticated to paint a black and white picture of the tensions between lay humanists and traditional spiritual leaders. He discusses the commonalities of the relationship as much as the antagonisms; and his treatment is invariably much nuanced. He has large themes, such as the puritanism of the leading mendicants, their inability at times to understand adequately the realities of lay life, and their tendency to impose upon the laity the ethos, if not even the exigencies, of the cloister. Guidi discusses at length the role of the mendicants as important actors in the political and social life of the Italian city states and has some very interesting and substantial things to say about the moral and physical state of the mendicant orders in the Quattrocento. He contrasts in several different contexts the realities of Italian religious, political, and social life with the fictions humanists as well as mendicants purveyed. He analyzes hagiographical literature as a way of entering into the mentality of the mendicants, the spirituality that they wished to foster among the laity, and how the various images of their heroes were molded and exploited to serve the subsequent immediate interests of their followers. Guidi profitably studies at length from this perspective the founder of the Gesuati, Giovanni Colombini, as well as the Franciscan Bernardino of Siena and the Dominican Girolamo Savonarola.
The notion that humanists could and did at times act as rivals of the mendicants in the spheres of religion and, more vaguely, of the spirit, is hardly novel; and much of the general ground that Guidi covers has been covered before. The inestimable value of his book is in the details, as he discusses Poggio, Valla, Guarino, Ermolao Barbaro, Leonardi Bruni, Pier Candido Decembrio, Nicolaus Secundinus, Francisco Filelfo, Ambrogio Traversari, Giles of Viterbo, Marsilio Ficino, etc., on the one hand and a great mass of mendicant preachers and writers, great and small, famous and anonymous, on the other. Attempts to find a common Renaissance humanist spirituality I think are doomed to failure (for instance, I do not buy Guidi's argument about formalism causing "the death" of humanism, 601-14), but individual humanists could be insightful, influential, wonderfully quirky, shocking, and puzzling. Guidi provides all sorts of leads in this regard. Anyone working on Quattrocento intellectual and cultural life would make a serious mistake failing to dip into his book, reading the relevant chapters, and checking out the indices.
Guidi's method of trawling extensively among manuscript texts and printed texts has paid off handsomely. On occasion, however, the subjects he addresses require the use of a quantitative method besides, for instance, when he examines the question whether there was an "inflation" of friars in the fifteenth century or discusses the financial problems of Franciscan nuns (le Clarisse) or analyzes varieties of Quattrocento hagiography. The rich detail and wide range of references he provides make these discussions very worthwhile and suggestive but in the final analysis impressionistic rather than decisive.
I learned a great deal reading Il dibattito, and I fully expect to be returning to it many times in the future in search of leads and to ascertain Guidi's take on the, literally, hundreds of different issues and figures he touches upon. His is a book that should be on the shelf of every university library.
The University at Albany, State University of New York
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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