bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

The Italian Renaissance and the British Isles

Posted in Renaissance Studies, Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 13 September, 2008

I have a busy few months ahead of me. I’m hardly going on a world-tour but I have been invited to give lectures in a variety of locations, and I have listed them on a new page.

The first of these is at an event in the elegant surroundings of the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, home to the Istituto Nazionale di studi sul Rinascimento. I anticipate a stimulating event, with several speakers who are always worth hearing, including Jonathan Woolfson (he of Padua and the Tudors fame, which I reviewed in Renaissance Studies), Alessandra Petrina (who shares with me an interest in Humfrey, duke of Gloucester; I reviewd her book for English Historical Review) and Michael Wyatt (author of The Italian Encounter with Tudor England, which I wish I’d had chance to review).

As these scholars and their publications suggests, the conference’s theme is the Italian Renaissance and the British Isles — a subject that appears to becoming newly fashionable. There has, of course, been a tradition of English interest in our forefathers’ engagement with Renaissance Italy, exemplified early in the twentieth century by Paget Toynbee and Mandell Creighton, and carried further in the second half of the century by scholars like Denys Hay, Sydney Anglo, Joe Trapp and David Chambers. I cite them in particular because their work is concerned directly with the interaction between Italian culture and Englishmen, rather than providing studies of northern humanism or the so-called English Renaissance — with, that is, the transmission of ideas as much as with the reception of ideas.

What has been less strong in the past, perhaps, has been Italian interest in the cultural dialogue. I exclude Roberto Weiss who wrote the seminal work on my specific area of interest, Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century, since he was a cosmopolitan character: an Italian count whose career was in England, and who lived in Henley-on-Thames. I remember Nicolai Rubinstein saying that Weiss always signed himself ‘Roberto’ when in England and ‘Robert’ when in Italy — he wanted always to be an exotic outsider. He was also a capable cartoonist, but this is to take us away from the point. If Weiss can not stand as an example of Italian interest in the interaction between England and Italy, I am hard-pressed to think of enough names to demonstrate a tradition of interest in Italy in the topic — until, that is, recent years. Alessandra Petrina, whom I have mentioned, stands as one talented example, as does the young scholar Diego Pirillo, who is involved in organising the conference in at the Istituto. Perhaps it is significant that these are scholars in English faculties. The present flourishing is not confined to those departments — I find especially interesting the work on the English market for Italian art by Cinzia Maria Sicca — but there may well be a link between the post-War development of English as an international language, and the renaissance of Italian interest in the encounters of their countrymen with England in the quattrocento and cinquecento.

The result includes a series of volumes recently announced by Ashgate in Anglo-Italian Renaissance studies, edited by Michele Marrapodi of Palermo University. That is only one of several ventures that could be mentioned. It appears to be a good time to working in this field.

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  1. Alessandra Petrina said, on 15 September, 2008 at 9:38 am

    David, I am personally flattered, and I take your point about Italian academic being, to put it kindly, dormant. But surely ours and Diego’s generation (two separate entities, alas) can help change this? Marrapodi’s initiative is a good thing, as is Diego’s activity at the INRS. I am also trying to do my little bit (see the website!). We are beset by the usual problems in Italian universities — lack of funds, crazy politics, and the huge age problem (40% of Italian academics are over sixty — think what that will entail in ten years’ time..). But if RyanAir keeps its fares low, and the English libraries are as welcoming as ever, we can have a small community of Italiani anglizzati — though none of us will have aristocratic status like the revered Weiss….


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