bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

For those of you who have not yet met Poggio

Posted in Humanism, Uncategorized by bonaelitterae on 22 July, 2008

Following on from my last posting about William Shepherd’s Life of Poggio, I realise that I have been frightfully ill-mannered and have not introduced to you its ‘hero’, Poggio Bracciolini (1380 – 1457). I am sure many of you have already met him, but in case you are uncertain whether you would recognise him, I provide a portrait:

The image is, obviously, a nineteenth-century drawing. It is taken from the frontispiece of Tommaso Tonelli’s translation of Shepherd’s Lives, published in two volumes in 1825. It is a set of volumes which, through the miracle of e-Bay, I now own, sold to me by Gail Tothill of New York for a price which pleased my bank-balance but saddened my soul, to think in what low esteem such works must presently be held.

More of you will have met Poggio than think you have: as you walked through the Duomo in Florence, and turned to your left, averting your gaze from the English condottiere Sir John Hawkwood, you would have seen a statue of one of the saints which is said to have been modelled on Poggio in cadaverous old age.

And, if you have not met Poggio there, you are well acquainted with his works. He is famous for his re-discoveries of ancient texts, ‘liberating’ Quintilian and others from monastic ‘dungeons’ (aka libraries), for reviving the art of the Ciceronian dialogue and, most enduringly, for inventing the script known as littera antiqua, the humanist bookhand which was supposedly a return to ancient elegance and which you will all recognise since, when manuscripts were joined in the world by printed books, it became the basis for Roman type — the ancestor of modern Times New Roman.

Poggio also had a lively sense of humour and an eye for the ladies. He knew how to live and when you next raise a glass of Chianti, think of him.