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The Sack of Rome.

The Imperial conquest of Rome in May of 1527, in which troops led initially by Charles of Bourbon sacked and occupied the city, has traditionally been viewed as a political and cultural watershed. Thus, Ludwig von Pastor stated that the Sack "marked, in fact, the end of the Renaissance, the end of the Rome of Julius II and Leo X." If recent research on the later Cinquecento (e. g., the studies of Jacobs, McGinness, and Prodi) has demonstrated that such assessments must be qualified significantly, Andre Chastel, Massimo Firpo, and others have helped to document the profound cultural repercussions of the Sack.

Oddly, despite its status as the most authoritative contemporary account of this catastrophe, Luigi Guicciardini's narrative has not been reprinted since 1867. McGregor's smooth translation, the first ever into English, will therefore be useful not only for undergraduate instruction but also for convenient preliminary consultation by advanced scholars. The narrative covers just under a year, stretching from the formation of the League of Cognac (22 May 1526) to the early days of the Sack. As Gonfaloniere di Giustizia of Medicean Florence in March-April of 1527, Luigi Guicciardini - older brother of the historian Francesco - was intimately acquainted with political developments in central Italy as Bourbon's troops marched southward. While attributing the invaders' military successes largely to the defenders' incompetent leaders, Guicciardini sees in the brutality of the subsequent occupation of Rome an expression of "the just wrath of God" (60), who punishes the Romans collectively for their Curia-sponsored "culture of lust, greed, and ambition" (106). By contrast, he implies, a wise and good ruler, advised by four to six counselors sensitive to "the patterns of human action" (42), would better be able to avoid incurring defeat and inciting divine wrath.

McGregor frames his translation with supplementary materials that enhance its pedagogical utility: an introduction providing biographical and historical background; an afterword reflecting upon material aspects of 1520s warfare; and a highly useful glossary. In situating the text historiographically, however, he is less successful. He appears to hold (x) that, with the exception of the 1537 dedicatory letter to Cosimo I de' Medici, Guicciardini's text was completed in 1527. Yet to this reviewer, the narrative's extended and glowing description of Cosimo's father, Giovanni delle Bande Nere (35-36), and its reluctance to cast any shadow of blame for the Sack upon Charles V, suggest post-1527 embellishment and excision. Marco Bardini's detailed analysis of this text (in Italianistica, 1989) corroborates this impression: both in its political assumptions and in its rhetorical structure, Bardini argues, the text shows signs of being tailored for its eventual recipient, Cosimo I. For example, by ending the narrative in early May of 1527, Guicciardini can remain conveniently neutral about the Florentine Republic of 1527-30; and the closing image of Pope Clement, trapped in Castel Sant' Angelo, fearing what may await him, emphasizes poignantly for the young duke the consequences of ineffective leadership.

In general, McGregor could say more about how Guicciardini's text compares with other contemporary accounts of the Sack or about how it fits into the author's literary corpus. Furthermore, it is unclear how McGregor would square his statement that the Sack "brought the Renaissance ... to its sudden and catastrophic end" (xv) with the emphasis on continuity in Peter Partner's survey of Renaissance Rome, which he treats elsewhere (xxvii) as authoritative. Still, this volume constitutes an exceptionally useful tool for teaching undergraduates not only about the Sack of Rome, but also about early sixteenth-century Italian politics and about the conventions of Renaissance historical writing. McGregor deserves our gratitude.

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Author:Gouwens, Kenneth
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
Previous Article:Prophetic Rome in the High Renaissance Period.
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