themes
 importing italian culture
colonna

Full image.

Francesco Colonna
Italian, ca. 1443–1527
Polia and Poliphilo enter the garden and the fountain,
Chapter 24 in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
First edition, Venice, 1499
Woodcut
Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections, Cornell University Library

 

This extraordinary book—a romance written in a mixture of learned languages, told as a dream within a dream about a young man searching for his beloved—still resists scholars’ attempts to solidify its authorship and meaning. But its combination of mystery and eroticism, as well as the seldom-equaled beauty of its typesetting and woodcut illustrations, made it a treasured publication then, as now.

Full description.

estienne

Full image.

Geoffroy Tory
French, 1485–1553
De la position et l’assiette de l’enfant dans la matrice [Of the position and the posture of the child in the womb] in Charles Estienne, De dissectione partibum corporis humani… [On the dissection of the parts of the human body]
Paris, 1545
Woodcut

Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections, Cornell University Library

 

Even medical texts in France were not free from the influence of Italian style, which served as a source of continual inspiration and a goal for emulation. As we see here, the divide between art and science was not so absolute as it is today, and it was common in the preparation of medical illustrations to borrow the poses of figures in popular prints.

Full description.

 

bembo

Full image.

Pietro Bembo
Italian, 1470–1547
Letter on Behalf of Pope Leo X, to the Governor of the City of Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna, 17 March 1514
Petrarch Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections,
Cornell University Library
Transcribed and translated from Latin by Guillaume Ratel,
Department of History, Cornell University

 

This letter is a good example of both the complex geopolitics of Italy, and the direct involvement of some humanists-cum-statesmen like Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), who had been appointed secretary to Pope Leo X [born Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici] in 1513, and would be made a cardinal in 1539. Bembo was also a major historian of Venice, a brilliant Classicist, and appears as a character in Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier which can be seen in the case opposite.

Full description.

 

triumph

Full image.

Francesco Petrarca
Italian, 1304–1374
Les Triomphes Messire Francoys Petrarcque translatez de langage tuscan
en francois nouvellement imprimez à Paris (The Triumphs of Sire Francesco Petrarca translated from the Tuscan language into French, newly printed
in Paris
)

First edition of 1520
Petrarch Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections,
Cornell University Library

 

One of the earliest Renaissance humanists, the Tuscan poet Francesco Petrarca enjoyed a great prestige in 16th-century France. Indeed, the poet Maurice Scève was ordered by King François I to search for the burial place of Petrarch’s beloved, Laura, in the churches and cemeteries of Avignon (Provence); Scève was among those present at the tomb’s discovery sometime late in 1533, and wrote an epitaph signed by François.

Full description.

 

tunic

Full image.

Fragment of Petrarch’s tunic, 14th century
Cloth fragment in wooden case
Handwritten caption: “Brano della tunica di F. Petrarca da una tolta dall urna
il 24 maggio 1843 quando la restaurai,” signed by Count Carlo Leoni
Petrarch Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections,
Cornell University Library

 

In the chapter “The Modern Idea of Fame” of his monumental The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Jakob Burckhardt mentions the cult of artists as one of the distinctive features of the Renaissance: “It was a point of honor for the different cities to possess the bones of their celebrities… Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, or the jurist Zanobi Della Strada, had magnificent tombs erected to them…”

Full description.

 

leda

Full image.

Cornelis Bos
Flemish, ca. 1510–before 1566
after Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1475–1564
Leda and the Swan, after 1537
Engraving
Gift of George C. Kenney II and Olga Kitsakos-Kenney


In his lifelong quest to acquire all things Italian, François I always sought to attract the greatest lights of Italian painting—including Leonardo, Andrea del Sarto, and Michelangelo—to his court. While he succeeded in convincing the aged Leonardo to enter his service in 1516, and, in so doing, obtained the Mona Lisa for France, the transalpine journey was a difficult and dangerous one, and neither Andrea del Sarto nor the notoriously overcommitted Michelangelo could accept François’s invitation.

Full description.

 

Continue to next theme.