Filippo Tomasini, Petrarcha Redivivus
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. FindArticles.com. 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recorded violation of Petrarch's tomb was originally made by the early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
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.
THEODORE J. CACHEY
University of Notre Dame
COPYRIGHT 2004 American Association of Teachers
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning