- Studies on Florence and the Italian Renaissance in Honour of F. W. Kent eds. by , Peter Howard, and Cecilia Hewlett
The breadth and richness of this festschrift is a fitting testament to the impact and influence of F. W. (Bill) Kent. As one would expect, the majority of the twenty-six essays presented in the volume focus on fifteenth-century Florence — the centre of Kent's own scholarly concerns — but Carolyn James, Clare Monagle, and Constant Mews take us back to the 1300s, and Natalie Tomas and David Rosenthal extend the chronological scope to the sixteenth century, while the contributions of Amanda Lillie, Ersie Burke, and Cynthia Troup range to Naples, Venice, and Rome, respectively. Fittingly, the majority of the contributors to the volume are Australian, several of them past students of Kent, but it also includes essays from prominent North American and European scholars.
The volume opens with an illuminating introductory chapter by Peter Howard that situates Kent's historical interests and methods within the contexts of his upbringing in Footscray (at the time a working-class neighbourhood of Melbourne), and his education first at the University of Melbourne and then at the University of London under the supervision of Nicolai Rubinstein. In the course of this introduction Howard highlights key themes and ideas in Kent's thinking and scholarship around which the rest of the volume is arranged: power and agency in Medicean Florence; family, friends, and networks; spirituality and patronage; and the consumption of [End Page 215] culture. It is a truism that a short review of an edited volume, particularly one as lengthy as this, cannot hope to do justice to its contents. I will instead attempt to sketch out the breadth and range of the contributions, highlighting a handful to give a sense of the texture of the book.
The cumulative contribution of the volume lies both in the way it highlights the continuing vitality and dynamism of Renaissance studies (particularly in Australia) and in how it demonstrates a central concern of Kent's own scholarship: the complexity of Renaissance Italian society, the way that it resists simple explanatory models and ready quantification. The chapters present a range of methods and analyses that reflect changes in historical practice over the past two generations. Not surprisingly, many of the authors pursue, to effective ends, the sort of cultural historical analysis that has come to dominate historiography. Dale Kent, for example, reads a variety of sources to demonstrate the way Cosimo il Vecchio de' Medici exemplified and utilized the dual, mutually reinforcing ideals of patriarchy and patronage in the early fifteenth century, while Gary Ianziti explores how Leonardo Bruni's History of the Florentine People provided a usable past for the political culture of the emergent Florentine oligarchy. Several other contributions reflect more recent turns toward the consideration of space and material culture. Alison Brown examines the shifting, contested spaces of power in the late fifteenth century, Amanda Lillie demonstrates how a garden in Naples served as a material representation of Filippo Strozzi's ties to the city, and Saundra Weddle examines the way female convents used architectural space to extend and retreat from public gaze, and to offer privileged access to patrons and benefactors. Other essays give voice to the sort of historical actors that Kent consistently promoted — 'the unheard voices' of the past — such as the Savonarolan tailor Bastiano Arditi, the humble priest and counterfeiter ser Giovanni di Francesco, anonymous peasant pilgrims, women from a myriad of social estates, and even a long-dead, prophetic Carmelite bishop.
Whatever their method or focus, all of the contributions are united in an approach that emphasizes the careful, even subtle, reading of historical traces — visual, textual, material — teasing out meaning in order to give sense to past experience. The revelations of Howard's introduction include the detail that Kent himself, shortly before his death in 2010, consented to the production of...