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Reviewed by:
  • Il Rinascimento italiano di Fronte alla Riforma: Letteratura e Arte/Sixteenth-Century Italian Art and Literature and the Reformation
  • Elisabeth G. Gleason
Chrysa Damianaki, Paolo Procaccioli, and Angleo Romano, eds. Il Rinascimento italiano di Fronte alla Riforma: Letteratura e Arte/Sixteenth-Century Italian Art and Literature and the Reformation. Testi e Studi di letteratura italiana 12. Rome: Vecchiarelli Editore, 2005. 344 pp. + 11 color and 9 b/w pls. index. illus. bibl. €40. ISBN: 88-8247-165-9.

The essays in this rich volume address the rather neglected subject of the Reformation's impact on Italian literature and art. They seek to go beyond the concepts of "Reformation" and "Counter-Reformation," and evoke the fluid religious and cultural atmosphere of pre-Tridentine Italy. In the opening piece, Antonio Corsaro asks that we not look backward from 1565, but forward from 1500 and adopt that perspective to read the texts by prose writers and poets. Many inserted religious issues into their works by discussing matters like grace, justification, works and merit, and free will. Vernacular literature was often linked with reform ideas. Corsaro argues for the strength of religious unrest in broad sectors of Italian society, and finds it documented in a great variety of texts.

Among them is the little-known dialogue Simia by Andrea Guarnia. The essay [End Page 1186] examining it argues that Simia was a response to the Erasmian Iulius exclusus. Both dialogues envision a new Church without links to the magnificence of papal Rome, and the corruption that accompanied the construction of the new St. Peter's basilica. But unlike Erasmus, and like many curial humanists, Guarnia shrank from a call for radical reform, asking instead for remedies like a generous mecenatismo from their patrons rather than structural changes in the Church.

Other writers, like the humanistically trained poligrafi, were more willing to attack the abuses in Rome, and frequently used the model of Lucian's satires to advance their agenda of reform. Letizia Panizza considers them "trail-blazers of radically new vernacular and anti-classical writing aimed at reaching a wide readership" (65). In fables with moralizing mythical creatures, writers like Anton Francesco Doni, Giovan Battista Gelli, or Niccolo' Franco advanced reform ideas through laughter and satire, all the while championing vernacular Bibles.

Among writers in the vernacular, Pietro Aretino of course stands out, and several essays deal with aspects of his work that touch on religious reform. His fama as an opportunist, hypocrite, and pornographer is still alive, but Christopher Cairns argued long ago that Aretino's religious works should be taken seriously. In this volume, Aretino becomes a paradigm of Italian writers buffeted by the winds of change and adapting themselves to the new cultural and religious atmosphere of the 1530s and '40s. But I have reservations about Harald Hendrix's claim that sections of Aretino's Humanitas Christi can be considered "a pivot in the evolution from Medieval to Baroque stylistics" (91), and that they offer a key to the understanding of Baroque taste for horror or images like martyrdom.

Paolo Procacci's more straightforward "1542: Pietro Aretino sulla via di Damasco" summarizes much recent scholarship. Procacci thinks that Aretino adhered to the religious positions of the spirituali of the Gritti circle during his stay in Venice in the later 1530s when orthodoxy was still negotiable. In the changing religious atmosphere after 1542, Aretino sought to shape a new identity for himself as an orthodox writer. He even considered the possibility of becoming a cardinal as Bembo had done. However, in the end Procacci's fine essay would be still more convincing if he had firmer proof of Aretino's "conversion."

Long ago Nicodemism (or outward conformity to official religious practice and ritual) was recognized as a phenomenon among sixteenth-century Italian religious dissenters. A sensitive essay by Enrico Garavelli examines the life and writings of the writer Lodovico Domenichi, whose translation of Calvin's tracts against Nicodemites landed him in prison between 1551 and 1553. Although reputed to be a Nicodemite and even a heretic, Garavelli argues that Domenichi was among those interested in reform ideas, but who remained in the Catholic Church for lack of a satisfying alternative...


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pp. 1186-1188
Launched on MUSE
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Archive Status
Archived 2009
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