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Reviewed by:
  • Dante and Renaissance Florence
  • Deborah Parker
Simon Gilson . Dante and Renaissance Florence. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 56. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xii + 324 pp. index. illus. bibl. $80. ISBN: 0-521-84165-8.

Since the publication of Michele Barbi's Dante nel Cinquecento (1890) scholars have found Dante's reception in the Renaissance a compelling subject. Subsequent critics, among them Emilio Bigi, Carlo Dionisotti, Aldo Vallone, and Christian Bec, have explored the highly varied responses of commentators, humanists, poets, and other readers toward the figure of Dante and his works. Simon Gilson's book builds on this tradition, finding within it topics which have received little critical attention and making connections among disparate strands of the commentary tradition. Gilson's particular contribution lies in the way in which he [End Page 131] frames either an individual writer's or group of writers' views within the context of earlier interpretive traditions. Ultimately Dante and Renaissance Florence reaffirms the conclusions of recent studies that have shown how ideological interests and commitments invariably inform the way in which readers respond to a poem which was, to say the least, audacious.

Gilson's study surveys responses to "il Dante" from the first meeting of Boccaccio and Petrarch in 1350 to the publication of Landino's commentary in 1481. Among the Florentines Gilson considers are Coluccio Salutati, Filippo Villani, Giovanni Gherardi da Prato, Cino Rinuccini, Leonardo Bruni, Francesco Filelfo, Matteo Palmieri, Leon Battista Alberti, Angelo Poliziano, and Lorenzo de' Medici. After providing an elucidating account of Petrarch's and Boccaccio's widely differing responses to the poem, Gilson traces the ways in which humanists at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century extended and modified issues discussed by these two writers, among them the poem's popular appeal, Dante's experimental use of the vernacular, gaps in his knowledge of ancient history, and the extent to which the Commedia constitutes a revival of classical poetry. While previous critics have examined many of these issues, they have tended to focus on the more severe aspects of humanist critiques. The merit of Gilson's study lies in his attentive contextualization of responses. For example, while paying due attention to the way in which Salutati and Bruni criticize Dante in terms of humanist values, Gilson also notes the support accorded the poet by Giovanni Gherardi da Prato, a notary and poet, and Cino Rinuccini, a wealthy merchant and founder of a school of rhetoric, both of whom were staunch supporters of Florentine vernacular culture.

At times Gilson adds little that has not already been noted about some humanists and commentators. A number of scholars have underscored the way in which Filelfo's incendiary public lectures on Dante fueled tensions between the Medici and Albizzi factions. However, even when his observations follow earlier critics' findings, Gilson draws together the work of others effectively. His acknowledgment of scholarly debts when treading over familiar territory is occasionally piecemeal: there are notable lacunae in the notes on Dante's treatment of Brutus and Cassius, printed editions of the Commedia, illustrations of the poem, and various humanist commentators.

The last third of the book focuses on Landino's landmark commentary. One chapter examines the famously nationalistic proemio; the other analyzes traditional and innovative aspects of Landino's treatment of Platonism, natural science, and classicism in the commentary itself. Drawing on Paolo Procaccioli's recently published edition of this commentary — particularly his abundant tables and appendices on Landino's sources and treatment of Dante's lexicon — Gilson demonstrates the range of support for Dante's poem in social as well as philosophical quarters. Gilson offers new insights into subjects such as Landino's use of Greek sources — none of which are mentioned in earlier fourteenth-century [End Page 132] commentators — the philosophical sources for the different heavens in the Paradiso, and his use of Virgil to discuss Dante's rhetorical figures, sententiae, and vocabulary.

Dante and Renaissance Florence testifies eloquently to the richness of the subject of Dante's reception history. Drawing on studies by literature specialists and intellectual and cultural historians, Gilson's book complements well earlier studies of Dante's...


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