- A Renaissance Education: Schooling in Bergamo and the Venetian Republic, 1500-1650
Recent years have witnessed the publication of a number of important studies on education in early-modern Italy, including books by Paul Grendler and Robert Black. With this multi-faceted study, Christopher Carlsmith has made a worthy contribution to the literature. Carlsmith advances a number of arguments about education in Bergamo (located on the western border of the Venetian terraferma), but the most important is to emphasize the wide range [End Page 789] of educational choices offered by the commune, lay confraternities, the diocese, religious orders, and noble parents.
Carlsmith begins with the efforts of the commune to instruct local youth at the pre-university level. These fluctuated dramatically over time due to a lack of consistent funding. From 1482 to 1524 the commune emphasized grammar and humanities by hiring humanist masters such as Giovanni Batista Pio and Giovita Ravizza, who were from outside the city. After 1525 the educational endeavors of the commune waned, and it experimented with a variety of approaches, including a public college, a joint venture with a local confraternity, sporadic efforts to teach law, and arrangements with religious orders to supervise public instruction. The commune was unable to maintain a school for more than a decade or two. When a dedicated teacher could be found, the schools displayed some continuity, but when the master departed or retired, the schools declined.
Lay confraternities, led by the powerful Misericordia Maggiore, were remarkably prominent in promoting education among both lay boys and clerics at Bergamo. The confraternities provided scholarships and hundreds of one-time gifts to students. But the most significant contribution was the Misericordia's establishment of a day school in 1506 to remedy the problem of clerical ignorance. The school functioned until 1566, when it was replaced by a residential academy for clerics, which continued until 1610, and then a new academy that was founded in 1617 and continued into the eighteenth century.
The Council of Trent was a milestone in that the Church tried to reclaim its primacy in education. New initiatives included the development of schools of Christian doctrine, conducted by laypersons and open to all children of the city, and the diocesan seminary, which was founded in 1567 with meager resources and only twenty-five students. The post-Tridentine bishops encountered many difficulties when raising funds for the seminary, but by the seventeenth century the seminary was on stable ground. Carlsmith also devotes a chapter to the work of the religious orders. Here it was the Somaschans who succeeded in establishing a college (1632), whereas the Jesuits were repeatedly rebuffed, in part because the commune and the Venetian Republic were wary of their reputation for close ties to Rome.
As in other cities, the wealthier families of Bergamo contributed to the mix by attempting to provide private instruction for their children. Perhaps because of a lack of suitable tutors, the families pooled their resources to found their own schools, most notably the Caspi academy that functioned from 1547 until 1556-57 and focused on younger boys between the ages of five and thirteen.
Carlsmith's work is based on extensive research at the archives of commune, diocese, seminary, religious orders, and lay confraternities, to name only [End Page 790] the most important. His study centers on dozens of contracts with teachers, supplemented by letters, orations, treatises on education, and inventories of books. Carlsmith brings to life the stories of numerous teachers, lay and religious leaders, and educational foundations that graced Bergamo in this era. He also develops a number of secondary themes, including the popularity of humanism, the resurgence of Church-led education, the efforts of the noble families to provide for their children, and the surprising degree of cooperation among commune, confraternities, bishops, and the religious orders. He ends with a comparative analysis of other towns and cities in the Diocese of Bergamo and in the Veneto to support the conclusion that in early...