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  • El arte epistolar en el Renacimiento europeo 1400–1600
  • Charles Fantazzi
Pedro Martín Baños . El arte epistolar en el Renacimiento europeo 1400–1600. Bilbao: Universidad de Deusto, 2005. 736 pp. index. append. bibl. n.p. ISBN: 84–7485– 965–4.

There has been a plethora of books lately on the epistolary art, letter collections, and the history of manuals of epistolography. Many of these are restricted to a single nation but this book is a thorough analysis of the genre, both in Latin and the vernacular, in all of Europe in the period from 1400 to 1600. The study does not concern itself with poetic letters, but only with those in prose, concentrating on the theoretical rather than the practical aspect of letter-writing. Baños continues the work of two predecessors in particular: Marc Fumaroli, who had signaled Petrarch, Erasmus, and Lipsius as the three great milestones in the elaboration of this art, and John Monfasani's long chapter in volume 3 of Albert Rabil's Renaissance Humanism (1991) on the rhetoric of the epistle.

Four preliminary chapters give a substantive account of the classical and medieval antecedents of Renaissance theory. Chapters 5 to 9 examine individual Renaissance treatises in some detail, singling out certain figures who are sometimes neglected in histories of this kind. Giovanni Sulpizio di Veroli, whose work was known to Erasmus, is one of these, whose De componendis et ornandis epistolis (ca. 1485) adapts the precepts of classical rhetoric to the writing of letters in a much more systematic fashion than the medieval ars dictaminis. Others are Lorenzo Guglielmo Traversagni, who gives instruction for sacred oratory, and Aurelio Brandolini, whose De ratione scribendi (1549) anticipates Erasmus's De conscribendis epistolis by several decades. He treats both oratory and letter-writing but saw that it was necessary to convert the ars dicendi to an ars scribendi. Baños ascribes great importance to Gasparino Barzizza for having combined notions from Quintilian with the teachings of the Rhetorica ad Herennium on the subject of compositio. He also introduces the reader to lesser-known figures such as Nicolás Saguntino, from Sagunto in Spain, secretary of the Republic of Venice and later pensionary of the King of Naples. His treatment of Poliziano's opening epistle of his Liber epistolarum is of special interest. He shows that in addition to being a summa of epistolographic erudition, presented in a very allusive and subtle manner, it defends the fundamental stylistic heterogeneity of the letter. The text is produced in its entirety with translation and notes. Baños reserves greatest praise for Erasmus's De conscribendis epistolis, the epistolary manual par excellence, which consigned to oblivion all previous treatises on the subject and exercised an enormous influence until the end of the seventeenth century. Before the infinite variety of the epistolary genre Erasmus does not attempt to confine the writer within narrow limits but counsels good judgment and adaptation of style. Vives's contribution to the art of letter-writing and its anticipation of Lipsius's advocation of a simple epistolary style receive due recognition. In the discussion of anti-Ciceronianism Baños, following the lead of Fumaroli and others, reevaluates the pioneering views of Morris Croll concerning the new Atticism, which abandoned the elaborate musicality of Ciceronianism for a more unadorned, natural style. [End Page 594]

In chapter 9 the investigation turns to the vernacular tradition, to such famous champions of the vernacular as Landino and Castiglione, but also to comparatively unknown figures, such as Juan de Ycíar from the writer's own Basque region. Baños also traces the history of the numerous secretary manuals that began to appear in the middle of the sixteenth century, especially in Italy — Francesco Sansovino's Del secretario, Tasso's Secretario, the manuals of Battista Guarino and Giulio Cesare Capacci, and in England Angel Day's The English Secretory. The tenth chapter is an exhaustive summary of Renaissance epistolary theory, including a long list of all the treatises discussed, to which many more are added. This is followed by a discussion of the various types of letters and the partes epistolae, created by the medieval ars dictaminis as modified...


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