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Jean Matal is conspicuous among late Renaissance scholars less for the range of his passions — which ran from cartography to the texts of Roman law, and from publishing to religious harmony — than for the distinction with which he undertook these pursuits, and for his subsequent obscurity. Unusually among his peers, he published virtually nothing, and as a result he has won little attention. Peter Arnold Heuser's excellent study will change that neglect: by scrutinizing the scattered records that Matal left, he has produced a notable picture of the man and the milieus in which he worked.
Matal was born in Poligny, Franche-Comté, and studied at Dole, Freiburg, and various Italian universities. His teachers included two of the pioneers of humanistic jurisprudence, Ulrich Zasius and Andrea Alciato. In Bologna he met Antonio Agustín, a young Spaniard committed to scholarship and a career in the Church. Agustín recognized Matal's potential, and took him on as a secretary. As Agustín became increasingly involved in ecclesiastical judicial disputes, he commissioned Matal to act as his research assistant. Matal first scoured the Italian peninsula for Roman legal manuscripts, and then from a base in Rome created a network of correspondents to gather records of classical inscriptions. The notes he collected for both projects reveal a pioneering critical spirit. In 1555 he accompanied Agustín to England on a mission to Queen Mary; afterwards he left his patron, moved to the Low Countries, where he came into contact with the circles around Georg Cassander, and eventually established himself at Cologne, where he was especially close to Pedro Ximénez. In Cologne he worked closely with printing houses and mapmakers, and established a network of likeminded irenicist correspondents from across Europe. He was deeply affected by the confessional divisiveness of the time in which he lived, and like many others turned to scholarship as a means to escape and bridge that divide. He died in 1597, having earned, if not fame, then certainly his contemporaries' sincere admiration: Georg Braun, for example, described him as "vir omni scientiarum genere praestans" ("a man outstanding in every form of knowledge"), a phrase that Heuser takes for the title of his epilogue (441).
Some of Matal's early work, on the texts of the law, manuscripts, and inscriptions, was known to specialists, whose research Heuser synthesizes expertly, but before this study his life after the break with Agustín had never been examined in detail. In order to reconstruct that life, Heuser has scoured European libraries for Matal's letters (of which he is preparing an edition), and has digested previous scholarship across a range of disciplines. The 100-page bibliography is testament both to Heuser's diligence and to Matal's engagement in many fields. From these various remains, Heuser has produced a convincing argument for Matal's importance as an exemplary late Renaissance humanist. His approach also reveals the common threads that lie behind Matal's various interests: Matal's early training in [End Page 1374] the new historically-oriented jurisprudence, the so-called mos gallicus, strongly influenced his early paleographic and antiquarian studies, and subsequently provided the intellectual origins of his desire to seek a via media in the chaos of the second half of the sixteenth century. Here his development provides an interesting parallel to the better-known politiques in France. Occasionally Heuser is inclined to push his fragmentary record a little far and to make Matal a more central figure in various developments than he perhaps was. At Rome, for example, despite Matal's intellectual acuity, it is difficult to know exactly how close he was to his status-conscious, more-socially-distinguished fellow antiquarians, and, as a consequence, how tight a circle he made with them and how they received his efforts. Heuser's tendency to stress Matal's standing matters little, though, especially if the book is read less as a study of Matal and more as...