- L'Italia dell'Inquisitore: Storia e geografia dell'Italia del Cinquecento nella Descrittione di Leandro Alberti
This reviewer accepted this title for review from an interest in Leandro Alberti as an inquisitorial official in Bologna who straddled the change from the medieval to the post-1542 modern Inquisition, and from having just written about him for a book on the modern inquisitions. My awareness of Alberti's Descrittione di tutta Italia was hazy, from brief unappreciative acquaintance long ago. The arrival of the heavyweight tome was alarming; some thirty papers, most given at a 2004 conference in Bologna, plus three contributions from a seminar course in 2003-04 in Pisa under Adriano Prosperi. Shortage of word space and of time, and lack of knowledge and of expertise, preclude comment on all contributions. Many papers are extremely dense, and with notes taking up to half the broad double-column pages, appealing to the eruditissimi with deep interest in local place names and their evolution from Roman times, in the development of geographical description from Ptolemy and Strabo to Flavio Biondo and obscure contemporaries of Alberti. For others, hearing some papers would have been sleep-inducing. All contributions are valuable bibliographically on wide fronts. Some attractive papers are extremely illuminating about Alberti's broad interests and contacts, about Dominican networking, the evolution of cosmography (place description, in Ptolemy's concept), and geography (description of the world), and for the two-way interactions between descriptive geography and prints, or Egnazio Danti's wonderful frescoed maps in the Vatican.
The Dominican Alberti traveled the length of the peninsula from 1525 to 1528 with the Order's General, Francesco Silvestro da Ferrara, and returned to some places in the 1530s, notably in the south. The resulting Descrittione first appeared in Bologna in 1550, Venice in 1551; Alberti added a volume on the islands that benefited from personal experience of Dominican friends —like Bishop Agostino Giustiniani of Nebbio —as well as recent books, and more on certain mainland areas; they were posthumously published together in Venice 1568 and later editions, such as the 1598 Venice one accessible to me. The Descrittione blends physical descriptions as he traveled, discussion of place names, river direction changes, historical events in the area (with a predilection for Roman activity), tedious naming of persons from each area, with occasional illuminating comments. A mine of information, but not an easy read. While compiling these volumes he was writing much else, including histories of Bologna, published and not; and serving the Inquisition in Bologna (from about 1533), as censor, inquisitorial vicar, then as official inquisitor from 1550 to his death in 1552. [End Page 1240]
Paolo Giovio described Alberti as "dolce cosmografo e brusco inquisitore" (quoted in full, 79). Adriano Prosperi has provided a well-rounded and stimulating overview of Alberti's roles, their contexts, and places him in the line of historical-geographic writing from Ptolemy and Livy to his contemporaries. In inquisitorial mode Alberti is best known for some anti-witchcraft activity, for promoting Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola's Strix, and hearing the damaging 1551 confession of Anabaptist Pietro Manelfi. Documentary lacunae render other activities harder to judge, but Prosperi, backed by Guido Dall' Olio 's clear chapter, bring out that overall Alberti was a tolerant inquisitor—at his ease (Prosperi), and mediatore (Dall' Olio). Alberti was an Erasmian with a wide circle of humanist friends (see especially Alfredo Damanti on the Bologna circle), was a prudent Savonarolan (Tamar Herzig, in English), a friend of Marcantonio Flaminio; Giovio's "dolce" may refer to the popular but soon condemned Beneficio di Cristo, with which Flaminio was associated (Franco Minonzio, 79). As several contributors indicate, the Descrittione does not suggest he was inquisitorial minded, more like an ecclesiastical "visitor," and historicus itinerarius (Marica Milanesi). Alberti hardly alludes to areas of current heretical problems...