The Seminar in the Renaissance, founded in 1945 by Paul Oskar Kristeller and John Herman Randall, hosts presentations of about 45-50 minutes on various aspects of Renaissance thought (including Renaissance humanism) and its ramifications in the arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature) and the sciences (physical, natural, historical and philological), as well as history and philosophy. The Renaissance is taken to include the period from about 1350 to about 1650. We usually meet in Faculty House at 5:30 pm on the second Tuesday of each academic month (except January). Since April 2020, during the pandemic, we have been meeting earlier via Zoom, and we will now be meeting at 4 pm, allowing until 6:15 for the talk and ample discussion of the talk, followed by a brief virtual toast and conversation. We have found that this allows colleagues from other parts of the globe to join the talk and discussion, to our great mutual profit. This will continue for the duration of the health crisis, at the end of which we may adopt a hybrid format.
The great Neapolitan humanist Giovanni Pontano (1429-1503) was a serious student of ancient authors. He transcribed, corrected, and annotated their texts, wrote treatises on Latin orthography and metrics, and took issue on points of style with ancient critics and on Latin syntax with modern grammarians. These activities, diverse as they are, all clearly fall under the heading of philology. Pontano also wrote reams of Latin poetry in virtually every genre and metre—an endeavor that also deserves to be called philological since his poetry imitates, builds on, and interprets its ancient models, often in very specific and even technical ways.
In this paper I will explore the range and depth of his philological interests by considering several representative examples of different kinds, including his technical works, De aspiratione and the long treatise on the hexameter (De numeris poeticis) in the Actius, his transcriptions of Propertius and Tibullus, and some of his poetry and poetic criticism. I will suggest that his philology was always actively engaged with the classical past—that he wanted not merely to study the ancient texts, but to understand the elements (both technical and aesthetic) underlying their production and to make use of that understanding in creating his own works.
Online Meeting 4:00 PM
Forging a Community: Erasmus, Copia and the Practice of Discontinuous Reading
Anita Traninger, Freie Universität Berlin (Germany) Abstract
For Erasmus, copia, by which he meant abundance of discourse, was the key to reviving and emulating ancient rhetorical practice. Erasmus, who never taught and probably never addressed a crowd, still followed his venerated teacher, the Frisian humanist Rudolph Agricola, in gearing his rhetorical efforts towards a near-native oral fluency. Both explicitly discuss their methods – Agricola in De inventione dialectica, Erasmus in De duplici copia rerum ac verborum – as enabling the practitioner to address either large crowds or intimate gatherings in idiomatic Latin. Erasmus speaks of an uninterrupted stream of speech as the ultimate goal to be achieved. The technique for getting there, however, was marked by discontinuity: copia is acquired through gathering bits and pieces from the ancient authors, including turns of phrase, idiomatic expressions, exempla, and loci communes. This involves reading practices that are informed by discontinuity, breaking up texts for further use, and commonplacing for future production. In this talk, I will show that these two ideas, fluency of speech and discontinuous reading, are not only inextricably intertwined in a second-language environment, but that both point to a larger desire: namely, that of forging a community in time and through time, a community with the ancients. My reading of the notion of copia is that it is not primarily about plenty, but about taking possession.
Online Meeting 4:00 PM
The Engaged Visitor and the Limits of Ekphrasis: From Kunstkammer Accounts to Daniel Papebroch’s Travelogue
Jeffrey Chipps Smith, University of Texas, Austin Abstract
In conjunction with my research on a commissioned book on early modern Kunstkammern in the German-speaking lands, I became intrigued by what visitors’ accounts tell us or do not tell us about their experiences touring major art and wonder chambers around 1600. These texts range from lengthy lists by Philipp Hainhofer, the Augsburg merchant, to briefer letters or travel diary entries by nobles (or their secretaries) sometimes on the grand tour. Records of their stops in the Kunstkammern in Munich, Dresden, and Schloss Ambras by Innsbruck, among others, offer insights into the sorts of objects that attracted their attention and their descriptive language. The most commonly referenced works suggest that the guardians of these collections developed fairly standard tours in which they highlighted certain things.
The exercise reminded me of Daniel Papebroch’s marvelous travelogue of his 1660-61 journey through Germany and Austria to Italy. The young Flemish Jesuit was part of the Bollandists’ Acta Sanctorum project. He and his fellow travelers stopped in many towns and monasteries as they searched for any hagiographic records. I shall compare his descriptions of a few of the places he visited with the sorts of language and information that characterize the Kunstkammer visits.
Online Meeting 4:00 PM
Three Centuries of Natural History in One Manuscript: Vatican MS Urb. lat. 276
This is an update to work published as the Commentary Volume to the Facsimile edition of MS Urb. lat. 276, Pier Candido Decembrio’s De animantium naturis (Codices e Vaticanis Latini, LX). The text (extant in three other paper MSS) was found to be a rewriting by Decembrio of Thomas de Cantimpré’s 13th C. Liber de natura rerum. This MS is the presentation copy, prepared in 1460 by Decembrio at the request of Duke Ludovico Gonzaga of Mantova, and corrected throughout by Decembrio himself, thus rendering it the definitive copy. Ludovico requested that space be left at the bottoms of the folios for the depiction of the animals described so that he might better understand the text – i.e. illustrations, rather than illuminations or decorations. The MS was decorated in the 15th C. with the Gonzaga arms, red and blue white-vine initials at the beginnings of books, and red and blue initials beginning the chapters. The over 500 tempera illustrations, based largely on the woodcuts of Conrad Gessner of Zurich’s Historiae Animalium (1551–1587) were not provided until the late 16th century. These were attributed by me to Teodoro Ghisi of Mantova, brother of the engraver, Giorgio Ghisi, and naturalist-artist sometimes in the service of Ulisse Aldrovandi of Bologna.
In this talk, more recent questions will be discussed, including the possible relations of Teodoro Ghisi with the Flemish naturalist-artists Joris and Jacob Hoefnagel (travelers through Europe and later in service to the Hapsburg Court) before or during his three-year residence (1587-90) in the Graz Court of Charles II Hapsburg, Archduke of Inner Austria, uncle of Emperor Rudolf Hapsburg, and brother of Eleonora Gonzaga, Duchess of Mantova. The tradition behind Ghisi’s portrayal of animals and the version used of Cantimpré’s text will also be treated in the context of this work’s significance to Renaissance developments in both humanism and the life sciences, in view of a second edition of the book, this time published in English.
Online Meeting 1:00 PM
POST-LUNCHEON ROUND TABLE MEETING TO COMMEMORATE THE 75th ANNIVERSARY OF THE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SEMINAR IN THE RENAISSANCE (1945-2020)
Online Meeting 4:00 PM
Letters from Constantinople: The Venetian Community in the Byzantine Capital on the Eve of the Ottoman Conquest
When the Ottomans under Mehmed II conquered Byzantine Constantinople in May 1453, a community of Venetians had worked, traded and lived in Constantinople virtually uninterrupted for centuries, enjoying commercial privileges as well as a dedicated quarter on the shore of the Golden Horn, along with their own churches, warehouses and civic administration. This talk will address patterns of Venetian activity and residence in the last few decades before the rupture of 1453: what did it mean to visit or even reside in Constantinople as a Venetian? How large was the community, and how constant was its composition? What structures and dynamics can be discerned in relationships among Venetians – both patricians and non-patricians – and in relation to other communities, including the Byzantines? What commercial and other interests occupied them, and to what extent did the threat of an Ottoman attack affect these?
The loss of the records of the Venetian chancellery in Constantinople – presumably destroyed during the city’s conquest – has placed limits on our understanding of the Venetian presence in this particular period. Moving beyond well-known sources such as the invaluable libro dei conti of Giacomo Badoer (resident in Constantinople 1436–1440), this presentation uses previously unnoticed or unused contemporary documents from the Archivio di Stato di Venezia to draw a new, fuller picture of the experience of Venetians in the Byzantine capital up until 1453. Of exceptional value is a small trove of private letters sent home by various correspondents between the 1420s and the 1440s.
Online Meeting 4:00 PM
Print, Architecture, and Renaissance Cultures of Copying
The advent of printing has long been derided as enabling individuals with little capacity for invention to design buildings by means of copying. While scholars have challenged this understanding of architecture in the age of printing, little attention has been paid to the practices of copying at the heart of this belief. Confronting this paradigm through a bottom-up approach, one that focuses on the use of Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola’s treatise on the five architectural orders (first published in 1562), this talk explores how the reproduction of printed images, including commonplace acts of copying, processes of direct translation, and monotonous processes of manual replication, shaped architectural practice. In doing so, I reveal these seemingly mundane, transmedial techniques as critical elements in the production of architectural knowledge and part of a larger culture of copying that flourished in the Renaissance.
Online Meeting 4:00 PM
In the Service of the Church and of the Learned: The First Inventories of Printed Books in the Vatican Library (1608-1610
Massimo Ceresa, Catholic University of America Abstract
This paper analyzes the very first inventories of printed books in the Vatican Library (Vat. lat. 6446; Vat. lat. 14477, 1608-1610 ca). It shows how a close examination of the early inventories of the papal library can throw light on early modern book collecting, existing manuscript collections, information management, the architecture of Renaissance libraries, and contemporary currents of lay and religious thought.
Online Meeting 4:00 PM
Punctuation and the Drafting of the King James Bible
Jeffrey Alan Miller, Montclair State University Abstract
The King James Bible (KJB), first published in 1611, occupies a place of central importance in the wider history of the role of punctuation in English literature. The work can seem a great testament to the so-called “rhetorical” approach to punctuation across early modern English writing at large, before the supposed shift occurred to what has been termed a primarily “grammatical” approach, a transition conventionally positioned by scholars as having been effected over the course of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth. Yet despite the importance of the KJB within the arc of that grand narrative, the actual genesis of the KJB’s own punctuation has received very little attention in past studies of the work, and many modern considerations of the text’s complex drafting process have overlooked the matter altogether. This may in part be due to a general sense that has emerged in modern scholarship that any full study of the KJB’s punctuation would be “futile,” in terms of being both doomed to failure and largely a waste of scholarly energy on one of the text’s least “authoritative” features.
This talk reexamines what considering the role of punctuation (both in English and in other languages) in the drafting of the KJB might tell us with respect to the KJB itself and more broadly. In doing so, the talk builds upon important, recent archival discoveries related to the KJB’s famously complex composition process, including mounting the first exploration of the KJB’s punctuation in light of the recent identification of what now stands as the KJB’s earliest known draft, the only one yet uncovered definitively in the hand of one of the work’s own translators. Ultimately, in addition to challenging the common divide between “rhetorical” and “grammatical” punctuation in the case of the KJB and beyond, the talk attempts to draw attention to the significance of considering what might be termed a third category of punctuation, alongside or apart from the rhetorical and grammatical: the scribal or “graphical.” The talk then concludes by reflecting on what this might mean with regard to, not just the place of punctuation in the KJB or other works from the period, but the dynamic nature of early modern writing processes more generally.