- Patronage and Humanist Literature in the Age of the Jagiellons: Court and Career in the Writings of Rudolf Agricola Junior, Valentin Eck, and Leonard Cox
Jacqueline Glomski's new book provides a welcome and much-needed study on the Renaissance in Central Europe. The recent efforts to incorporate Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and other Central European nations into the European Union have not led to a reintegration of their histories into the broader scholarship on the Renaissance in Europe. Scholarship continues to be fragmented by national, ethnic, and linguistic divisions. Glomski hopes to show that these divisions obscure that patrons and humanists in southern Poland and Hungary recognized themselves to be part of a larger, transnational intellectual community. She wants to convince anglophone readers that the ideals and styles of Renaissance humanism commonly associated with Italy found eager patrons in Poland and Hungary during the early sixteenth century. The literature produced by humanists in Cracow reflected the aesthetic and rhetorical norms of humanists across the Continent, while at the same time it was shaped by, and was a product of, the local patronage system.
Glomski focuses on three humanists who were active in Cracow and who enjoyed patronage from Hungarian and Polish magnates from as far away as Buda. She concentrates on the dedicatory letters and poems, panegyrics, and occasional political poetry of Rudolf Agricola Junior, Valentin Eck, and, to a lesser degree, Leonard Cox. Through a close reading and linguistic analysis of this literature, she reveals the common tropes and styles that informed their writings and endeared them to their patrons. Humanists adopted a language of modesty, subordinating their own talents to those of their patrons. However, humanists also had to portray themselves as industrious and diligent. The challenge they faced was praising their patrons while also drawing attention to their own contributions. Humanists such as Agricola and Eck consistently portrayed their patrons as humanist heroes "who fostered humanist learning and who created a cultural or political ambience in which the arts could flourish" (103). Their achievements were the product both of patrons who recognized the value of humanist learning and supported it and of the humanist whose skills and talents produced the work. Agricola, Eck, and Cox were successful precisely because they were able to link their humanist ideals with those of their patrons, effectively gaining acceptance by converting themselves from outsiders to insiders. Here, as throughout her book, Glomski is applying Eckhard Bernstein's argument about the development of German humanism and the formation of group identity (Eckhard Bernstein, "From Outsiders to Insiders," in In Laudem Caroli: Renaissance and Reformation Studies for Charles G. Nauert, ed. James V. Mehl , 45-64). The outsider/insider dichotomy structures Glomski's primary argument.
Research on the Renaissance in Central and East-Central Europe must confront various difficulties. Language continues to be one of the greatest barriers. [End Page 1325] Glomski's bibliography reflects her impressive linguistic skills while at the same time it reveals the ways that scholarship follows linguistic and nationalist contours. Although Glomski's book generally succeeds in overcoming such linguistic Balkanization, at times she relies too heavily on Polish scholarship. As a result, some of her interpretations are informed by the nationalist tendencies in this earlier work. For example, she draws primarily on Polish scholarship for her interpretations of Habsburg-Jagiellon relations as well as political context for the Congress of Vienna in 1515 and the famous Habsburg-Jagiellon double marriage, despite the rich literature in German on these subjects.
Glomski's broader achievement in this book is to make the intellectual and cultural developments in Central Europe relevant to a wider historiography. In her argument, Cracow, Vienna, and Buda form important centers of Renaissance humanism. Northern, largely German, humanists along with their patrons appropriated and naturalized the humanist styles they encountered in Italy. The literature and art produced in these Northern...