bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

A little more information about Tito Livio Frulovisi

Posted in Humanism by bonaelitterae on 14 May, 2012

I have broken my New Year’s resolution. At the start of 2012, I promised myself that I would have twelve months off reviewing. It was a commitment to enforced abstinence: I enjoy reviewing books, I like the challenge of both summarising and engaging with a work in the space of a thousand or 1,500 words. But it is time consuming: it does not involve just making the space to give the book sustained reading time (a challenge, as it is); it also requires research in itself — sample-checking the author’s primary evidence to gain a sense of trust, or otherwise, in the scholarship, reading those secondary works that have been central to the construction of their argument but which one has not yet had chance to read. And then you have to wonder how many people pay attention to your wise comments anyway.

So, I had good intentions to avoid all reviewing this year. It did not last long. The offer to write on a volume in which Cristina Cocco edits one of the comedies of Tito Livio Frulovisi had a double attraction: first, the text being printed was by an author with whom I have more than a passing acquaintance, having written about this wandering humanist in the English Historical Review and elsewhere. Second, it was for the The Medieval Review, an on-line project housed at Indiana University. Its website is not as elegant or as user-friendly as that the Reviews in History site of London’s IHR, which I have had cause to mention recently; but it is a worthy project and one which surely has the future on its side: for how long can print journals continue to justify taking up space with notices of individual volumes which often appear long after publication? I can see an ongoing purpose to hardcopy review articles, and to more combative debates aroused in response to a single work, but the shorter review is something to which the internet is best suited.

And so, reader, I succumbed to temptation. And now the review is available on-line. I will not repeat here what is freely viewable elsewhere on the web. But I do want to mention here two facts about Frulovisi one of which appeared in that review and another which seems not to have received recent scholarly attention.

The first is a discovery I made a while ago; I have alluded to it both in print in Studi umanistici piceni and on this website but not discussed it in full. It is the fact that the sole copy of Frulovisi’s comedies, a holograph manuscript which is now Cambridge: St John’s College, MS. C. 10, includes evidence of its early provenance. Alfonso Sammut tentatively attributed the manuscript to the library of Humfrey, duke of Gloucester, but knew of no corroboration of his assumption. In fact, using a UV light in the darkest corner of the college’s upper library, ten years ago, I was able to decipher an ownership note that had been remarkably succesfully removed by rewashing — and it was, indeed, the duke’s mark of ownership, recording that it was a gift of the author. As I have argued elsewhere, the fact that Frulovisi presented to his barbarian patronthis manuscript of comedies most written for performance before a Venetian audience — a manuscript itself produced in England — raises questions about perceived cultural distance within quattrocento Christendom.

The other piece of information is one that seems not to have been mentioned in recent discussions of Frulovisi and which, indeed, revises my own chronology of his time in England. It is the fact that we can state with some certainty the date of the humanist’s departure from London for Italy. In the collection of papers Mediceo avanti il principato of the Archivio di Stato of Florence which are now magnificently available on-line (and I have to thank Angelo de Scisciolo and Fabrizio Riccardelli for bringing this resource to my attention) there is a document written in an English script which is a letter of introduction from Henry VI for Frulovisi to Cosimo de’ Medici. It explains that Frulovisi at that point was returning to his homeland (in natale solum ire); the letter is dated 26th August 1440.

The letter mentions Frulovisi’s services to the king and to his uncle, that is to Humfrey, duke of Gloucester — suggesting (against the tendency of recent scholarship) that he was by no means persona non grata in Greenwich, but also implying that the humanist had gained the attention of Henry VI, which he had so clearly craved. The dating of the letter is also notable, not just because it post-dates Frulovisi’s final departure by at least year from what is usually credited; it is so close to the time of the departure of the papal collector, Pietro del Monte, from England, that one wonders whether they travelled together, despite the somewhat fraught relations between the two as revealed in del Monte’s letter-book. Finally, the letter ends with the monogram of Thomas Bekynton, then secretary to the king, and it raises the question of whether Bekynton himself conjured up the prose the described Cosimo as someone who loved lettered and well-behaved men (literatos et bene moratos viros) — or were the words put into his pen by Frulovisi himself? That opens up a broader discussion about the presence of humanist Latin in the English chancery, something on which I have been writing recently and about which I could discuss further now, if only the length of this short post had not already become as long as a book-review.

Nosey around Parker

Posted in Manuscripts by bonaelitterae on 3 November, 2009

A facetious title for an event which really should be celebrated: the ambitious project to digitise the manuscripts of the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge is now fully available on-line. As a click on the link will reveal, full access does not come without a price. Through the summer, the site has been teasing and tantalising us (those of us who get excited by such matters) with selected riches glistening for all to see. Now, any viewer can see for free complete manuscripts, but without zooming, and catalogue descriptions, but without bibliography or search facility. The other facilities are provided on subscription and any good university should be moving post-haste to sign up, if they have not already done so.

This site provides a resource the full potential for which will only become understood over time. The educational potential is immediately obvious, in  the possibilities of both on-line palaeography tutorials and transcription exercises. The quality of the images will be a joy to those whose attention centres on illuminations. The search facility provides the ability for researchers to find their own route through the collection, hunting, for instance, for annotations by the Archbishop-collector, Matthew Parker himself, or by provenance (though, as always, some ingenuity is required in defining the right terms for a search). What the site also makes accessible are texts which have never made it into print. Let me give one example from my own area of study: the dialogue, written in England by Pietro del Monte, De Vitiorum inter se Differentia, has never enjoyed a wide circulation, and most would say justifiably so. As I discuss elsewhere it is a derivative work, lifting most of its text from Poggio’s De Avaritia. But how it takes that text and how it was read in England, to where its audience was nearly completed confined, are themselves interesting issues. The learned eighteenth-century successor to del Monte as Bishop of Brescia, Angelo Maria Querini, put into print a small section of the work, and its preface has received a modern edition, but now, for the first time the full text is available — admittedly, in a derivative copy, written in an uneven, though legible, anglicana cursive, but one which shows signs of Parker’s own interest, marked in his characteristic red crayon.

In other cases, what is now available on-line adds to the methods in which we can engage with a text. The Life of Henry V by Tito Livio Frulovisi is a work which those of you who read closely this site will know has been a recent focus of my attentions. It was edited in 1716 by Thomas Hearne, and that printed volume is available from Mr Google. Hearne worked from a transcription collating two copies, one in the Cotton collection and the other a manuscript in ‘Biblioteca collegii sancti Benedicti, sive Corporis Christi’, that is MS. 285 in the Parker Library. It is, in fact,  the dedication manuscript of the work to Henry VI, written throughout in Frulovisi’s attractive littera antiqua script. I am an admirer of Hearne’s work but I know which version I will prefer to read in future.

In short, our bookshelves are changing. I still sit surrounded by wooden cases, which bow under the weight of hardback volumes. I would not want to give up the touch or the smell of that physical proximity. But new vistas for our libraries extend before us, as we can now complement what we have on the desk with what we view on screen. And what is on screen is not confined by the old economics of print circulation; there is a new age of manuscript culture.

These comments are only my first response to the potential of Parker on-line. Only over time will more become appreciated, as our own skills at ‘virtual discovery’ develop. But, for the time being, let me finish with a word to Christopher, Nigel and all those involved in the project: plurimas gratias vobis ago agamque.