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Reading Publics in Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Renaissance Europe

Two week residential workshop: Monday, July 9, 2012 to Friday, July 20, 2012, which was held at the University of Warwick, Coventry, England. Vernacular Literature, Platonism, Philosophy, and Medicine directed by Simon Gilson, David Lines, and Maude Vanhaelen (University of Warwick). Link to final report at bottom of page.

Scope and Programme

The summer workshop aims to address all the above issues. Three focused case-studies will be used to explore and contextualize how books, both Latin and vernacular, both in manuscript and in print, were produced, distributed, and consumed. A key set of questions to be addressed throughout concerns:

1. the role of reading in fostering networks, developing ideas, and forging (shared) ideological beliefs;

2. consideration of the differences (and similarities) between print and manuscript cultures and their impact upon reading communities;

3. comparison between reading practices and networks in Italy and other European countries.

Drawing upon established expertise in English, Renaissance Studies and Italian at Warwick, focus falls upon Italy but there will be strong cross-disciplinary attention to areas across Europe. The three main case-studies/strands of the workshop will be:

(a) Italian vernacular literature (in particular the 15C and 16C printed works of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch) including their reception in England;

(b) Platonism, astrology, and magic (in particular the works of Ficino and his followers);

(c) philosophical and medical works (with special attention to the reception of Aristotle and Galen).

The two-week workshop will begin by addressing issues common to all strands that are raised by the variety of contexts (schools, universities, religious orders, academies, private groupings, courts) in which these writings were produced, as well as the channels by which they were transmitted (print, scribal publication, oral diffusion) and the ways in which they were received by readers (epistolary exchanges, marginal annotations, content of private libraries). One key focus of the initial contextualization will also include seminar papers by invited speakers from Warwick and elsewhere on the availability of new sources and methodological issues raised by digitization. The cross-disciplinary focus – again with seminars by invited speakers from across Warwick/Consortium Faculty – will allow close consideration of the extent to which developments in one strand, and similarities and differences in context and transmission, affect the others. This introductory session will take place over two days.

The three specific strands will then be discussed in turn (two to three days each), with another day dedicated to visiting the John Rylands Library in Manchester (Thursday of week one), where workshop participants will be involved in a practical workshop and learn more about digitization technologies and projects.

The three strands selected as case-studies all aim to illuminate the larger phenomenon – the evolution, development and significance of reading publics in Renaissance Europe. Within this perspective, attention will be focused closely on the material form of the works themselves, as well as on exploring how their different forms are related to practices of print publication, intended audience, place of composition and time. The strands have been chosen not only so as to present a strongly contextualized approach to major textual traditions and their readerships but also to broach topics of broad Renaissance cultural interest such as: how religion was profoundly modified through the revival of ancient thought (e.g. pagan demonology, Neoplatonic theurgy, prisca theologia); the history and the development of the Italian language; the relations between Latin and the vernacular, especially with regard to the reception of canonical vernacular authors; the European-wide reception of texts produced in Italy.

Strand One: Vernacular Literature

This strand explores the following questions: the role of regional rivalry in the formation of reading publics (especially in Tuscany and the Veneto) with particular attention to editions and commentaries on Dante in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy. As well as the use of digitized versions, the strand will include analysis and inspection (with site visits arranged for private group viewing of the special collections available at the John Rylands Library) of early printed editions of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.

Strand Two: Platonism

This strand concerns the way in which the revival of Platonism through translations and commentaries in Latin and the vernacular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries led to the establishment of new reading communities and networks across Europe. It will focus on: the constitution of a community of Italian humanists sharing an interest in Ficino’s revival of Plato through the copying and circulation of manuscripts in fifteenth-century Florence; reactions to Ficino’s Platonism within religious orders and Savonarola; the reception of Ficino’s ideas in the sixteenth-century in a European context, by examining the circulation of Ficino’s Letters, their influence on leading statesmen, scholars and churchmen across Europe, and the constitution of a wider network of humanists sharing a common interest in Platonism (for instance, Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples in France and Mathias Corvinus in Hungary); the reception of Ficino’s Platonism in sixteenth-century universities in commentaries by Ficino’s followers in Italy (Francesco Diacceto and Francesco de’ Vieri) and in Spain (Sebastian Fox Morcillo).

Strand Three: Philosophy and Medicine

Despite considerable work in the past 30 or so years, several questions remain to be clarified, including the adaptation of Aristotle and Galen to the needs and expectations of a public uncomfortable with scholastic Latin, the relationship between natural philosophy and medicine in Italy and north of the Alps, the evolution of forms of interpretation (e.g., from commentaries to textbooks, including the role of illustrations), the special case of surgery, and the role of the printing press in shaping a distinct reading community. These five topics will allow a rare interaction between specialists of philosophy and medicine. Given that both subjects had theoretical and practical branches, it will be important to discuss the purpose of reading for those who consumed the books produced in these fields.We shall study the reception of Aristotle and Galen through the development of different commentary genres, including the philosophical production of the Frenchman Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, the Englishman John Case, and Italian works of medicine such as Alessandro Achillini, De subiecto medicinae (1568) and Girolamo Cardano, Contradicentium medicorum liber (1548). Surgery deserves separate treatment, partly because its very practical ends made for rather different kinds of books and readership, partly because its advances (through the anatomical work of Da Vinci, Vesalius and others) poses interesting questions about the role of the book in promoting or retarding cultural transformations. Finally, considerable attention will be given to the Aldine press as an example of the Renaissance diffusion of works particularly of Aristotelian focus. The latter will be achieved through an on-site exploration of the John Rylands Library in Manchester, which contains the world’s most-complete collection of Aldine imprints.

Overall aims:

The ‘Reading Publics’ programme intends to develop strongly the interests of students and scholars in texts and doctrines that have been largely ignored because of their limited availability. As mentioned above, too, one of the lines of methodological enquiry will concern closer reflection on the advantages and limitations of the digitization of early printed material. The two-week workshop is distinctive in allowing students and scholars to work on both digitized copies and authentic printed editions. The geographical position of the university offers good opportunities for visits to libraries, where, as mentioned above, site visits for private group-inspection have already been planned. Visiting research fellows will also be able conduct independent research at archives and key repositories throughout the southeast and midlands areas of England and in London.

Our overall aim in this workshop is to use the resources in major research libraries and the accumulated knowledge of a significant cluster of early modern scholars working on Italy, France, England, and Spain in the Warwick/Consortium and the Newberry Library in order to explore how books function as material objects, and as records of, and creative forces in, the building of reading communities.

This is one of a series of collaborative programs between the University of Warwick Centre for the Study of the Renaissance and the Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies. It is funded by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Final report on summer school here