Newberry 2014 Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference
I am in the third year of my PhD in Studies of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick. My research focusses on three miscellanies contained in Mss Riccardianus 92, Ambrosianus F 19 sup., and Borgianus Graecus 22. These manuscripts were produced by Marsilio Ficino, the Renaissance scholar who was largely responsible for the revival of Platonism in Western Europe. Ficino’s manuscripts are evidence of a common practice among Renaissance scholars: whilst reading ancient texts, humanists selected and transcribed passages of special interest in notebooks. These intense close readings resulted in the creation of the so-called zibaldoni, repertoires of texts that compilers could recall and reuse, at a later stage, in their scholarly activity. Ficino’s notebooks, as textual basis for the composition of his Latin commentaries and philosophical treatises, represent a precious access key to the humanist’s scriptorium and, more generally, provide important information on a very common methodology in early modern culture. My project combines a careful codicological and palaeographical examination of these manuscripts with a study of the ideological reasons that led Ficino to select and quote certain passages from ancient authors rather than others. This study aims to yield further insight into the history of the Platonic tradition, the study of Renaissance scholarly practices, and the reception of ancient philosophy in Renaissance Italy.
The Centre for the Study of the Renaissance has been an ideal environment for carrying out my research. The interdisciplinary outlook of the Centre, where I have attended a number of seminars, workshops and conferences, have proved extremely useful and productive. In July 2012, I also participated in the Mellon-funded residential summer workshop ʽReading Publics in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europeʼ, a collaborative programme between the University of Warwick and the Newberry Library of Chicago, which focused on the reading publics of vernacular literature, Platonism and Aristotelism, and philosophy and medicine in the Renaissance.
The collaborative nature of the CSR and the Newberry Library was a key motivator for me to apply to attend the Newberry 2014 Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference. I felt that this would be a unique opportunity to meet young scholars from other institutions and research fields, present my research in front of them and receive useful feedback. I also felt that I would have a chance to participate in stimulating discussions and create networks for my potential career in academia. Additionally, I thought that a trip to Chicago would enable me to access the excellent collections preserved at the Newberry Library, including both rare manuscripts and printed material.
As a result of the great success got by the Newberry’s previous conferences, the 2014 conference has been expanded to eighteen sessions in order to accommodate more students. There was fierce competition for a space in the conference: the organisers received a strong field of 150 submissions, with my paper being selected for one of only 72 spots. I was therefore delighted to find the conference organisers had selected my paper. I was also glad to hear that as the CSR was a member of the Centre for the Renaissance Studies Consortium, I was entitled to a stipend covering my travel and accommodation expenses.
My paper, which was entitled ʽThe Spindle of Necessity. Marsilio Ficino, Reader of Book X of Plato’s Republic’, focused on a set of astronomic marginalia noted by the scholar in Ms Ambr F 19 sup. Ficino transcribed and studied a long excerpt from Book X of Plato's Republic, which contains the account of the famous myth of Er, including a complex description of the cosmos. Through a contextualised analysis of such astronomic notes, I sought, firstly, to reconstruct a complex exegetical approach and the stages of a close reading of Plato's Republic as well as, secondly, to explore some aspects of Marsilio Ficino's philological activity. The paper itself was appreciated and I received useful and constructive feedback about my work, as well as great inspiration from the other speakers on my panel, which was part of a session on science, medicine, and intellectual culture.
As part of the conference programme, I participated in a plenary session, entitled ʽTreasures of the Newberry, or who needs to go to Europe to do research?’. During this induction, six members of the staff gave an enthralling presentation on the treasures kept at the library. Furthermore, after the conference, I had a chance to experience the city first-hand and to spend an afternoon at Chicago’s Art Institute, where a wonderful collection of masterpieces is preserved.
I am incredibly grateful to the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance for the generous contribution and investment in my academic activity, as without this financial support I would not have been able to make the trip to Chicago and have this wonderful experience. I am really grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in this important event organised by such a wonderful institution. I am especially thankful to the Director of the Centre of the Study of the Renaissance, Maude Vanhaelen, for supporting my trip to Chicago and to Jayne Brown, who was extremely helpful in the assistance she provided towards booking my flights and accommodation. I would also like to thank Karen Christianson and the conference organisers for the assistance they provided to me during my stay at Chicago. I truly believe that the ties that I have forged with the Newberry Library and other Consortium members will be to the benefit of my future research career.
Rocco Di Dio
Newberry Library, Chicago
The Art Institute, Chicago