Giacomo Filippo Tommasini
Relevant Non-Istrians


Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, Petrarcha Redivivus
Massimo Ciavolella and Roberto Fedi, eds.  (Padua, 1635).

A book review by Theodore J. Cachey

Sep 22, 2004

[Source: Massimo Ciavolella and Roberto Fedi, eds. Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, Petrarcha Redivivus (Padua, 1635). Facsimile edition. Trans. Edoardo Bianchini and Tommaso Braccini. Pistoia: Libreria dell'Orso, 2004. 13 Jan, 2010. ] 

The big news coming out of the seventh centenary celebrations of Petrarch's birth is that scientists from the University of Padua, while examining what they believed to be Petrarch's remains discovered that the skull in his tomb belongs to someone else; and worse, "they suspect it could be that of a woman" ("Manchester Guardian," 6 April 2004, presumably to commemorate the date of Petrarch's meeting Laura in 1327, under the title "Petrarch--the poet who lost his head: Italian who defined the sonnet at centre of medieval whodunit"). This contemporary "scientific" investigation, had as its frustrated ostensible aim the reconstruction of an accurate portrait of the poet, for which, one would have thought Petrarch himself had satisfied the need in his voluminous writings ("... animi mei effigiem atque ingenri simulacrum," Fam. 1.1). Be that as it may, this was not the first time that Petrarch's tomb had been violated by Paduan miscreants, since we learn from the sarne article that the head and bones may be missing since 1630, when "a drunken friar called Tommaso Martinelli, helped by four accomplices, broke in through a corner of the tomb and took some bones, apparently for resale. Martinelli and his confederates were arrested, tried and exiled. But the missing remains were never recovered."

The original eyewimess report of this first recorded violation of Petrarch's tomb was originally made by the early seventeenth-century Paduan scholar Giacomo Filippo Tomasini who was much more solicitous of Petrarch's memory than today's Paduan tomb-raiders [unless the whole matter of the reopening of the tomb is, as one suspects (hopes) a goliardic hoax]. Tomasini's rare Petrarcha Redivivus (1635) faithfully provides in its last chapter, "Divini Vatis Sepulchri Violati Historia," a detailed and justly indignant contemporary account of the 1630 grave robbing, featuring the original edicts, judgments and sentences. Tomasini had just penned a concluding chapter dedicated to an account of monuments erected and inscriptions written in honor of Petrarch when he was forced by events to add the chapter reporting the violation of the sepulcher that he had just celebrated and lovingly documented. As Petrarch might have observed, reflecting on the violations of his tomb then as now, "how rimes change, and for the worse."

Thus, as a timely antidote to the Paduan grave-robbers, and on the occasion of the International Conference on "Petrarch and the Philosophy of Passion" held at UCLA in April of 2004, Roberto Fedi and Massimo Ciavonela have organized the re-publication of Tomasini's wonderful biography of the poet in a well-produced facsimile edition, accompanied by a clear and accurate Italian translation. In terms of the literary history of Petrarchism, as the editors point out in their brief presentation of the work, Tomasini's Petrarcha Redivivu represented the biographical vademecum for Petrarchists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries up until De Sade's Memoires pour la vie di F. Petrarque. A Paduan "erudito," mentioned only fleetingly in the Salerno Storia della letteratura italiana for his Illustrium virorum elogia (Padua 1630-1644) and his Parnasus Euganeus (Padua, 1641) (but not for the Petrarcha Redivivus or his biography of another Paduan, the Roman historian Livy), Tomasini utilized his considerable antiquarian expertise in gathering together just about everything there was to know about Petrarch's life which had come to light in the first hundred years or so of Renaissance Petrarchism (dating from the 1530 edition of Bembo's Rime).

The book also features a series of graceful, high-quality engravings of portraits and various illustrations which are reproduced here and which became iconographical commonplaces during the early modern period (including portraits, landscapes, monuments, a plan of Petrarch's house in Arqua, six allegorical engravings illustrating major moments from Rvf 23, the "Canzone delle metamorfosi" (23), the poet's chair, and also, my favorite: "Petrarchae Murilega": "la gatta di Petrarca," together with a Latin epigram celebrating Petrarch's "mouse killer" to warm any cat lover's heart: "Etruscus gemino Vates exarsit amore,/Maximus ignis Ego, Laura secundus erat...."

This extremely engaging biographical treatment of Petrarch's life offers valuable insight into the nature of the 17th and 18th century reception of Petrarch as well as into the literary and artistic culture of the period in general. The order of the treatment can provide an overall idea of the character of the work and is as follows: 1. Homeland, birth and parentage; 2. Physical and moral constitution; 3. Education and studies; 4. Superiority of his genius; 5. Eloquence and poetry; 6. Extraordinary works of his genius; 7. Works in manuscript in the Vatican library; 8. Authors who have written his life and commented upon his works; 9. A defense of the poet; 10. Honors, including the laurel coronation; 11. Relations with literature men of his time; 12. Esteem he enjoyed among princes and others; 13. Affection of the Venetian Republic for him; 14. Retreat at Vancluse; 15. Love for Laura; 16. Life of Laura and her praises; 17. Affection of Giustina Levi Perotti for Petrarch; 18. Retreat in Parma; 19. Town of Arqua and Petrarch's house; 20. Explanation of six figures derived from the "Canzone delle metamorfosi"; 21. Descendents; 22. Great religiosity of the poet; 23. Old age, death and funeral; 24. Monuments raised to Petrarch while he was living and after his death, and the praises of illustrious men; 25. History of the violation of his sepulcher.

From this list one can easily recognize the erudite and documentary aspect of the work that brings together all manner of written and iconographical sources into a kind of biographical archive of the poet. Petrarch's writings, especially the epistolary through the filter of the Cinquecento commentators, are referenced throughout, but especially interesting is the repeated recourse to the letter "To Posterity" which evidently enjoyed canonical status as an autobiographical portrait and therefore a guide for the biographer. When Petrarch is celebrated as on a par with the ancients and as the first restorer of humane letters, a list of contemporary authorities from across Europe is brought in to support the point. The biographer's investment in Petrarch as a founding figure of the same erudite culture of which he and his scholarly community are exponents is especially apparent in chapters like the one dedicated to Petrarch's relations with his patrons. But beyond erudite humanist anti-quarianism, this biography celebrates as well the poet of love and represents a particularly valuable source for Renaissance and Baroque Petrarchism as a cultural phenomenon in its own right; for example, in its extensive treatment of the life of Laura; in the allegorical interpretations of the illustrations of the metamorphoses of Rvf 23; and in Tomasini's "discovery" of the poetess Levi-Perotti Giustina, believed to have addressed to Petrarch a sonnet to which Petrarch was said to reply with "La gola, il sonno, e l'oziose piume." Attributed for the first time to Giustina by Tomasini here, Quadrio and, with some hesitation, Foscolo accepted it as authentic, but it has since come to be believed that the poem was the work of a Cinquecento author and that Giustina never existed. Unless that was her skull found in Petrarch's tomb.


University of Notre Dame

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