The enigma of Piero: Piero della Francesca, the Baptism, the Arezzo cycle, the Flagellation, and: The Italian Renaissance: culture and society in Italy (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 9, Number 1, June 1991
- pp. 159-161
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Reviews 159 the population, the authors have found only two formal requests by Muslims for licences. Therefore, it seems that the authorities simply ignored the large number of M u s U m s servicing their community. Another glaring contradiction arose from the specific prohibition in thefurs against women, especially Muslim women, from practising all but domestic healing and midwifery. The authors conclude that the prohibition had no effect at aU. With a lack of suitably-qualified men, the availability of competent female health providers was far too important for the prohibition to have the actual support of the crown, the medical community or the people. Despite the fact that the authors raise far more questions than they answer, this should not deter readers from availing themselves of this well-researched book. Apart from its historiographical value, the book reminds us that the medico-legal issues which faced fourteenth-century Valencian society are still with us today. Christopher Francis Department of Science and Technology Studies University of N e w South Wales Ginzburg, Carlo, The enigma of Piero: Piero della Francesca, the Baptism, the Arezzo cycle, the Flagellation, Introduction by P. Burke, rpt, London, Verso, 1985; paper; pp. x, 164; 94 plates; R. R. P. AUS$27.95; Burke, Peter, The Italian Renaissance: culture and society in Italy, rev. ed., rpt; Oxford, Basil Blackwell/Polity Press, 1988; paper; pp. vi, 287; 34 ill.; R. R. P. AUS$27.95. The studies of Carlo Ginzburg and Peter Burke are linked not only by their location within Renaissance Italian culture but also by the role of Peter Burke in the 1970s in importing into Britain some of the newer historical methods and techniques from the Continent. Thus it is Burke who has written the introduction to the English edition of Ginzburg's Indagini su Piero, first pubUshed in Italy in 1981. As Perry Anderson has recendy suggested, Ginzburg has many claims to be considered the outstanding European historian of the generation which came to age in the late 1960s. Originality, versatility and audacity are the qualities frequently associated with his work. Fascinated by popular culture and the deeper layers of belief and practice, Ginzburg's provocative studies on fertility cults among the Benandanti in Friuli, on the cosmography of spontaneous generation of Menocchio, the Italian miller hauled before the Inquisition, and on the origins of Nicodemism, have recreated the terrain as well as provoking much debate and controversy. It is to be hoped that his latest book in the area of popular beUef, Storia notturna: una decifrazione del sabba, which challenges traditional and current interpretations of the European witehcraze, wiU be quickly translated into English. 160 Reviews Ginzburg's The enigma ofPiero is a different kind of book and related more explicidy to the ideas developed in his now famous or notorious article 'MorelU, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: clues and scientific Method' (History Workshop, 1980). In this piece, Ginzburg played with the possibilities of circumstantial evidence for historians, of small pieces of indirect evidence which if properly teased out could lead to important conclusions, the craft of Sherlock Holmes. In The enigma of Piero, Ginzburg in the role of sleuth takes as his case the longstanding problem of the dating and meanings of some of the major paintings of Piero della Francesca: the Baptism of Christ, the Flagellation and the fresco cycle in the church of San Francesco in Arezzo. To his puzzle, Ginzburg brings not only native wit but also the mastery of an enormous range of scholarly literature as well as archival sources. Investigating patron as much as painter, his solution to the enigma of Piero links the painter through one of his patrons, Giovanni Bacci, a hitherto somewhat unnoticed humanist from Arezzo, to the theological and political battles of the time. The particular context was the advance of the Ottomans on Constantinople and the 1438-1439 Florence-Ferrara general council of the Church with its agenda of healing the breach between eastern and western churches, a Byzantine strategy to obtain more aid from the West in the face of threat from the Middle East. Both Ginzburg's method and his preferred solution to the puzzle of Piero have provoked...