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Reviewed by:
  • The Renaissance of Marriage in Fifteenth-Century Italy
  • Catherine Harding (bio)
Anthony F. d'Elia. The Renaissance of Marriage in Fifteenth-Century ItalyHarvard University Press. xii, 262. US $49.95

This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of socio-cultural values in Renaissance court culture in Italy during the fifteenth century. The author focuses on an overlooked area of inquiry in Renaissance studies, orations given at weddings, demonstrating how these speeches addressed ideas of family lineage, political alliances, material wealth, and social status. The author's skills as a Latinist are evident throughout. His analyses of the Latin orations offer readers fascinating new insights into the circulation of ideas about rhetoric, oral and written performativity, religiosity, and political ideology in elite courtly circles. The finding-list at the close of the book will prove a useful tool for scholars who wish to delve further into this exciting material.

In the first chapter of the book, the main argument is framed within a broad examination of attitudes to marriage in antiquity (texts from this era would have been especially inspirational to humanist writers), the European Middle Ages, and republican environments such as Florence and Venice. At the book's close, he returns to the wider perspective of how marriage was regarded in Reformation Germany.

The decision to situate the courtly responses within this broad historical context is admirable; it provides us with a useful perspective on the diverse issues that came into focus, depending on one's religious, social or political point of view. My only criticism is that such an approach at times presents the non-courtly material as 'other,' giving the impression, for example, that we can talk about 'medieval ideas concerning marriage' in a very generalized way. Medievalists everywhere would wish for a little more caution in presenting the multiplicity of viewpoints that circulated in Europe throughout the period, from the early to late Middle Ages. For instance, Francesco da Barberino, writing c.1314 CE, may have been unusual in pre-humanist Florence, but he argued that the state of marriage offered couples the chance to achieve true union of body, mind, and soul, given the necessary moral and social training. He expressed this in visual form, showing husband and wife joined in one body. Perhaps an acknowledgment of the difficulties of presenting such a broad overview of this history would have signalled that the author was aware of the dangers of teleological arguments, although it can be necessary to offer a broad picture to locate our perspective on the past.

The book is especially strong in relating the orations to rhetorical culture. Renaissance scholars made significant contributions to civic panegyric, weaving ideas of marriage and the union of man and woman together with ideas about the state and the ruler. The chapter on 'weddings as propaganda' should be required reading for undergraduate and graduate [End Page 249] students wishing to understand the art of persuasion current in Italy during the period.

The author's contribution to the relationship of notions of gender and suitable marriage partners is equally fascinating. He demonstrates how at times men were considered worthy of marriage for their money, which was considered useful in times of war or for displays of princely magnificence. Not surprisingly, the usual topoi about women's sinful nature and the dangers of feminine beauty were articulated in the wedding orations. The moralized reading of external signs of beauty or ugliness offers an important insight into the profound differences that distinguish our age from the experiences of other cultures, past and present. The author's careful historical analysis makes this book essential reading for students and scholars alike. His examination of early European explorations of marriage offers a welcome contribution to the story of this institution at a pivotal moment in historical consciousness. [End Page 250]

Catherine Harding

Catherine Harding, Department of Fine Art, University of Victoria

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 249-250
Launched on MUSE
2006-02-10
Open Access
No
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