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Reviewed by:
  • Creating Magnificence in Renaissance Florence by Peter Howard
  • Guido Rebecchini
Peter Howard, Creating Magnificence in Renaissance Florence (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies 2012) 173 pp.

Building on an article previously published by the author in the Renaissance Quarterly 62.2 (2008) 325–369, Peter Howard fully develops his discussion of magnificence in a new book which presents a formidable re-conceptualization of one of the virtues best known to the Renaissance scholar. Since 1960, the achievement of magnificence had been recognized by Sir Ernst Gombrich as one of the driving forces for fifteenth-century Medicean patronage in Florence. Taking up the latter’s argument, A. D. Fraser Jenkins’s article “Cosimo de’ Medici's Patronage of Architecture and the Theory of Magnificence,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 33 (1970) 162–170, seemed to have definitively demonstrated that the fundamental intellectual and historical coordinates for the emergence of the virtue of magnificence as one of the components that most forcefully re-shaped the cultural life of Renaissance Florence should be located in the 1450s in the entourage of Cosimo de’ Medici. Solidly positioned in the secular realm, magnificence has thus far been primarily connected to the renewed interest in Greek and Latin texts that spread in Florence and in particular to Leonardo Bruni’s translation into Latin of Aristotle’s [End Page 278] Nichomachean Ethics, where the idea that conspicuous spending could be perceived as a virtue, if practiced according to the rules of decorum for the common good and in honor of God, is set out. According to this interpretation, the idea of magnificence has been widely used to justify extravagant expenses for large private dwellings, private chapels, façades, and other major architectural projects and to explain the expansive force that led to reshaping the cityscape of Florence. In this view, private individuals and family groups transformed and manipulated the urban fabric as a result of their desire to display magnificence, and thus to gain visibility and power. Following a different path, Peter Howard’s research shows that the idea of magnificence has a longer and more complex history and that fifteenth-century Florentine humanists adopted it from the religious world of Dominican preachers, where it was originally developed and disseminated. Howard authoritatively and convincingly argues that the virtue of magnificence reached preeminence in Florence within the scholastic theological discourse in the 1420s. An in-depth analysis of the Summa Theologica by Antoninus of Florence (1389–1459), which occupies chapters 3–6 of Howard’s book, reveals that this influential Dominican preacher, who was Archbishop of Florence from 1446 and eventually made a Saint in 1523, had already fully developed a theory of magnificence embedded in a theological discourse, and had incorporated it into his much-attended sermons at least since 1427. According to Howard, it was from the pulpit of Dominican churches in the 1420s and not from humanistic study rooms in the 1450s that the idea of magnificence as virtuous spending incurred for major architectural works destined for the common good of the city and in honor of God began to spread among Florentines. Antoninus conceived his Summa as an archive of resources mostly derived from different authorities, which he made available to himself and subsequent preachers and confessors. In chapter 6 of the book, Howard demonstrates that, according to long-standing practice, Antoninus had collected previous materials on magnificence focusing in particular on the treatment of this matter in a late thirteenth-century treatise on virtues and vices by Henry of Rimini (d. after 1308), whose discussion of magnificence Antoninus largely copies verbatim presumably from a copy of the text then preserved in the library of the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella. Although explicitly mentioned in Antonino’s Summa, this antecedent has never been noticed thus far. This important textual and philological discovery allows for the re-establishment of the chain of transmission that brought to the community of humanists living in Florence in the 1450s the idea of magnificence, starting from Aristotle, through Thomas Aquinas and his commentators, including Henry of Rimini, to Antoninus, who knew Cosimo de’ Medici and praised his patronage of religious sites such as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1557-0290
Print ISSN
0069-6412
Pages
pp. 278-280
Launched on MUSE
2013-08-09
Open Access
No
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