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Reviewed by:
  • La biblioteca del Cardinal Pietro Bembo
  • Dilwyn Knox
Massimo Danzi . La biblioteca del Cardinal Pietro Bembo. Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance 399. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2005. 470 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. CHF 132. ISBN: 2–600–00924–8.

Pietro Bembo is best-known as the author of the Prose della volgar lingua and as the advocate, together with Iacopo Sadoleto, of Renaissance Ciceronianism. Castiglione's retrospective portrait in Il libro del cortegiano reinforces the picture of Bembo as a bookish, slightly precious, character. He holds, like many humanists [End Page 1304] before him, that nobility of soul, perfected through learning, excels nobility of blood, outlines his ideas on the Italian language, and, in keeping with the third book of Gli Asolani, explains the doctrine of Platonic love. So entranced does he become in his ascent to transcendental beauty that Maria Emilia Pio has to tug the hem of his cloak to bring him down to earth.

One of the great merits of Massimo Danzi's outstanding study is it that it conveys so much about Bembo the man through that most bookish of things, his library. Together with his collection of antiquities, coins, sculptures, and paintings, his library, as several letters confirm, was what was dearest to him. Not without justification. Many items were part of Bembo's family history. From his father, Bernardo (d. 1519) he inherited a Terence manuscript, now Vat. lat 3226, datable to the fourth to sixth century. (Bembo believed that it had been written in Cicero's day.) In June 1491 Pietro, then twenty-one, had helped Politian study the manuscript in the Bembo's Venetian home. The second jewel of his collection, a fifth-century Virgil manuscript, now Vat. Lat. 3225, once belonged to Pontano, who had dedicated the seventh book of De rebus coelestibus (first published posthumously in 1512) to Pietro. Many other items had personal associations. His Roman library included three works by his friend Damião de Góis, one of which, Fides, religio moresque Aethiopum (1540), was condemned, in 1541, by the Portuguese Inquisition for being too sympathetic toward Ethiopian Christianity. Works by Oviedo and other authors confirm Bembo's interest in European exploration and the religious problems that it occasioned.

Bembo's library reflected the wide range of his intellectual interests. Besides classical, patristic and Renaissance authors of the kind that we might expect, it included Petrarch holographs (now Vat. lat. 3195, 3196, 3358), "Provençal books" that Pietro had, as Lodovico Beccadelli recorded in 1558, "sought out and studied assiduously" (38), a manuscript (now Eton College MS 137) of Vitruvius's De architectura, inherited from his father, which both father and son annotated, and a copy (now Eton College MS 172) of Giovanni Dondi dall'Orologio's Astrarium or Planetarium, in which Dondi, a friend of Petrarch, described the planetary clock that he had constructed between 1348 and 1364. Several other titles bear witness to Bembo's interest in astronomy, particularly in relation to calendar reform, and astrology. The most intriguing and unexpected feature of Bembo's library, however, is the substantial holdings of Hebrew texts, including rabbinical commentaries, and works written by Christian Hebraists. Bembo acquired, it seemed, at least a basic knowledge of Hebrew and emphasized, like Cajetan and other leading churchmen in Rome, the importance of Hebrew for the study of Scripture. Platonism, by contrast, makes only fleeting appearances. Plato himself features in Bembo's Padua library, in what is now Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS 329, a manuscript copy of Plato's letters (II–XII), in Leonardo Bruni's translation, annotated by Bernardo rather than Pietro. (To Danzi's description of this should be added J. Hankins, Plato in the Italian Renaissance [End Page 1305] [1990], 674.) More significant perhaps for Pietro's early enthusiasm for Neoplatonism is Bernardo's manuscript of Ficino's De amore (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Canon. Class. Lat. 156), with corrections by Ficino, but here again the annotations are by Bernardo, not Pietro.

Like Renaissance collectors before and after him — Petrarch, Niccolò Niccoli, and Fulvio Orsini come to mind — Bembo viewed his library as part of a broader collection. Francesco Maurolico recorded in his Cosmographia, completed...


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