Reading Marsilio Ficino in Quattrocento Italy

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Transcript of Reading Marsilio Ficino in Quattrocento Italy

  • Quaderni ditalianistica, Volume XXXII, No. 2, 2011, 27-46



    Summary: This essay focuses on the reception of Marsilio Ficinos worksand ideas in Naples at the time of the Aragonese domination, and itoffers a preliminary discussion of this neglected area of RenaissanceNeoplatonism. Based on a contextualization of Ficinos letters toGiovanni dAragona, four manuscripts produced at the Aragonese libraryand other pieces of evidence such as Pierantonio Caracciolos Farsa delImagico and Giovanni Pontanos dialogue Actius, it argues that theworks and ideas of Marsilio Ficino did circulate at king Ferrantes court,but were criticized by Giovanni Pontano and his elite of followers. Inparticular, the essay provides new evidence about the existence of aFicinian workshop based at the Kings library, and about some of its pro-tagonists such as the scribe and scholar Ippolito Lunense.


    Around 1493, during the Kingdom of Ferrante of Aragon (1423-1494),Neapolitan playwright Pierantonio Caracciolo presented a farsa entitledThe Wizard (Limagico) to the King and his court at Castelnuovo.2 Farcesand other theatrical genres such as the gliommero and the intramesa werecommonly practiced at the Aragonese Court. Local poets such as JacopoSannazaro and Pietro Jacopo de Gennaroas De Blasi and Bianchi haverecently illustratedcomposed successful farces and gliommeri, whichvoiced the multicultural and multilingual society of Aragonese Naples, andsometimes even channeled elements of social dissent.3 Farces, moreover,are important documents of the intellectual life of the court, and in par-

    1 I would like to thank Valery Rees, Christopher Celenza, Teodoro Katinis andDario Brancato for their comments and useful feedback on earlier versions ofthis essay.

    2 Torraca, Francesco, Studi di Storia Letteraria Napoletana, 69. I would like tothank Gianni Cicali for having first introduced me to this interesting, yet poor-ly known, text.

    3 De Blasi, A proposito degli gliommeri dialettali di Sannazaro, 54-7; Bianchi,Le farse di Jacopo Sannazaro, 60-1.

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    ticular of the group of intellectuals gathered at Castel Capuano, the small-er residence of the kings son and his entourage.4 By suggesting the socialstatus of their fictional characters through a careful selection of linguisticregisters, as Galasso has explained, courtly playwrights could raise issuesand express controversial ideas without compromising their position atcourt.5 In line with this general trend, Caracciolos farce stages a wizardthat unusually combines traditional features of ancient philosophers withrather precise references to astrology, magic and the legendary doctrines ofZoroaster and Pythagoras. More precisely, Caracciolos imagico promises toreveal the secret of human happiness after positing himself in a lineage ofancient philosophers that seems to recall, albeit loosely, the ideas about theexistence of a prisca theologia that circulated in Quattrocento Florence:

    I am not one of them, because my art is written in precious papers;almost all these doctrines are divine. My first master was Zoroaster, andafter him Hermippo, Agonace and Speusippo; and these spheres aremade with the art of Anaxogoras, Empedocles, Pythagoras and Plato.6

    Boillet, in an interesting study that illustrates how magic was a wide-spread interest at the Aragonese Court, has compared Caracciolos wizardwith analogous characters found, for example, in Sannazaros Arcadia.7Rather than a generic interest in things supernatural, however, I would liketo suggest that Caracciolos wizard precisely displays the features of a newfigure of philosopher, theologian and doctor of the soul that MarsilioFicino (1433-1499) was spreading in Italy and Europe through the print-ed editions of his works and the complex network created through his let-ters.8 This recognition is problematic, as the actual diffusion of Ficinostexts in Naples is hardly acknowledged by the few scholars who venturedinto this neglected avenue of research. Whereas Ficinos fortune has beenthoroughly documented in the case of cities like Urbino or Rome, the dif-fusion of the Florentine philosopher in Quattrocento Naples has generallybeen discussed in elusive, and often contradictory, terms. If over fifty years

    4 Ryder, The Kingdom of Naples, 54.5 Galasso, Napoli capitale, 63-4.6 Torraca, Studi di Storia, 433: Io non so de quistoro che mia arte / E scripta in

    degne carte so doctrine/ Quasi tutte divine el primo mastro / Me fo ReZoroastro, apresso Hermippo / Agonace et Speusippo; et queste sphere / sonodelarte vere de Anaxagora/ De Empedocle Pythagora et Platone.

    7 Boillet, Paradis retrouv et perdus, 125. 8 Vasoli, Marsilio Ficino: un Nuovo Tipo di Filosofo, 97-108.

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    ago Giuseppe Saitta juxtaposed the spiritualism of Florentine Neo-Platonists to the materialism of Neapolitan Aristotelians, Noel Brann hasrecently used Naples as an example of the fortune of Ficinos theory ofgenius.9 And despite their opposite conclusions, neither of these scholarsmanaged to ground their grand claims on sufficient evidence, so that thisimportant moment in early modern intellectual history has only been theobject of not systematic, albeit illuminating, works. Francesco Tateo, forexample, has suggested that the imitation of Petrarch at the Aragonesecourt might have been sensitive to the language and themes of FlorentineNeoplatonism.10 Marc Deramaix, moreover, has often discussed the pres-ence of Ficinian themes in the later works of Neapolitan poet JacopoSannazaro, which he has persuasively linked with Augustinian Friar Gilesof Viterbo.11

    Following in the footsteps of Tateo and Deramaix, this article arguesthat the Ficinian themes found in Caracciolos Farsa de lImagico are a prod-uct of the Aragonese court in the 15th century. In my view, the diffusion ofFicinos books and ideas in Naples needs to be understood as a facet of thediffusion of Florentine artists, objects, texts and ideas at the Aragonesecourt that characterizes the kingdom of Ferrante.12 Moreover, the wayNeapolitan readers responded to Ficinos ideas further documents the intel-lectual exchange between Florence and Naples, and in particular the rela-tionship between Giovanni Pontano, the Rucellai family in Florence andNicol Machiavelli, an assiduous member of the Rucellais gardens and anattentive reader of Pontanos works.13 In this perspective, Caracciolos playcan be matched with four additional pieces of evidence, which are respec-

    9 Saitta, Il Pensiero Italiano nellUmanesimo, 653-6; Brann, The Debate over theorigin of Genius, 123-6.

    10 Tateo, Raffronti petrarcheschi nella Napoli umanistica, 293-310.11 Deramaix, La gense du De Partu Virginis, 173- 276.12 For a general discussion of the historical context, see Galasso, Il Regno di

    Napoli, 72-9. The relationships between Naples and Florence were not limitedto diplomacy and economics, but they also affected activities such as, for exam-ple, architecture, and jewelry making and literature. For recent studies on thesespecific subjects see, for example, De Divitiis, Building in local allantica style,505-522; Clark, Transient Possession: Circulation, Replication andPossession, 1-37; and De Nichilo, Dal carteggio del Pontano, 42-3.

    13 For a thorough examination of the relationship between Giovanni Pontano, theRucellai family and the genesis of Machiavellis Discorsi, see Gilbert, BernardoRucellai and the Orti Oricellari, 101-131; Richardson, Pontanos De Prudentiaand Machiavellis Discorsi, 353-357; and, more importantly, Ginzburg,Pontano, Machiavelli, and Prudence, 117-125.

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    tively a. Marsilio Ficinos letters to Cardinal Giovanni dAragona written in1478-80; b. the manuscript copies of Ficinos translations of Platos dia-logues and Platonic Theology commissioned by Ferrante of Aragon in1490-3; c. Ippolito Lunenses translation of Ficinos argumenta; d.Giovanni Pontanos critical use of Ficinos language in his dialogue Actius(written 1495-1499; first printed 1507). Although incomplete, this clusterof evidence is sufficient to suggest that the circulation of Ficinos texts inQuattrocento Naples was connected with the culture of the court, and wasnot easily accepted by the elite of natural philosophers and astrologersgathered around Giovanni Pontano.

    Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni dAragona

    The first clear exchange between Marsilio Ficino and the culture ofAragonese Naples unfolded on the backdrop of a complex political scenario,which involved Lorenzo il Magnifico, King Ferrante and his son GiovannidAragona, a young Cardinal at the time. In the sixth book of FicinosLetters, more precisely, there are two letters addressed to Cardinal GiovannidAragona written in the aftermath of the Pazzi Conspiracy. This book cov-ers a period comprised between 1478 and 1481, that is, the moment ofpolitical turmoil that followed the failed assassination of Lorenzo de Mediciand culminated in the formation of an alliance between pope Sixtus IV andKing Ferrante of Aragon against Florence.14 Consistent with Lorenzosattempt at resolving the crisis with a diplomatic mission to Naples in thewinter of 1479, Ficino tried to use his connections with the Roman Curiaas well as his rhetorical talent to exhort Sixtus IV and Ferrante to adopt apeaceful conduct. Valery Rees has noted how Ficinos political letters betrayhis view of love and unity as the ideal forms of politics, ideas that he foundin Plato as well as in his translation of the Corpus Hermeticum.15 Rees, inaddition, has shown how these letters revive a view of the relationshipbetween temporal and spiritual power that applies Dantes theory exposedin the Monarchy to the context of Quattrocento Italy.16 In my view, Ficinosletters can also be matched with the broader Florentine strategy at influ-encing King Ferrantes conduct by gaining the favor of his sons Alfonso,Federico and Giovanni through the donation of precious manuscripts.

    14 Historians agree that the Aragonese King was indirectly involved in the plotagainst the Medici. See, among others, Najemy, A History of Florence, 1200-1575, 352- 361; Galasso, Il regno di Napoli, 675-7.

    15 Rees, Ficinos Advice to Princes, 339- 357.16 Rees, Ficinos Advice, 348-9.

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    Furthermore, Ficinos letters betray an uncommon ability to reuse languageand themes of the Aragonese political propaganda.

    Ficinos letters to Cardinal Giovanni parallel Lorenzo de Medicis col-lections of love poetry sent to Federico and Alfonso. In the 1470s, Lorenzocommissioned two anthologies of Tuscan poetry enriched by Francesco delChiericos illuminations and edited by Angelo Poliziano.17 Lorenzos giftswere at the heart of a complex ideological operation addressed to the intel-lectual community of Ippolita Sforza, which was generally well disposedtoward Lorenzo de Medici and Tuscan culture.18 More specifically, theseanthologies constituted an extension of Lorenzos correspondence withIppolita, which contributed to set the stage for the Florentine diplomaticmission that took place in the winter of 1479.19 While Lorenzo was usinghis connections at court, Ficino was harping on his affiliations with theRoman Curia and high prelates such as the new Archbishop of AmalfiGiovanni Niccolini, who was called to take care of Giovanni dAragonasphilosophical and religious education.20 In addition, Ficino tried to useGiovanni Niccolini as an intermediary with Sixtus IV, while he tried todraw on Giovanni dAragona to influence King Ferrantes conduct.21 Indoing so, Ficino could count on the Cardinals interest in theology as wellas on his bibliographic taste. Giovannis amazing collection of theologicalmanuscripts, some of which were eventually added to the AragoneseLibrary, included for the most part items copied and illuminated by thebest scribes and illuminators available in Florence.22

    While Lorenzos Raccolta Aragonese was meant to instruct the youngFederico about Tuscan love poetry, Ficinos first letter to Cardinal Giovanniwas originally intended to accompany three philosophical texts written inthe genre of speculum literature. The purpose of Ficinos gift was introduc-ing his young addressee to a view of wisdom (sapientia) that is linked withPlato and strategically juxtaposed to Ciceros teachings:

    Some time ago, Reverend Father, I wrote three addresses, Platonic ratherthan Ciceronian, to deter my friends from vice and, as far as I could, toexhort them to virtue. The first describes the miserable shadow of evillife; the second recalls the happy image of the good life; the third express-es the divine form of goodness itself.23

    17 De Robertis, Lorenzo Aragonese, 3-14.18 Mazzacurati, Storia e Funzione della Poesia, 48- 67.19 Bryce, Between Friends?, 340- 365.20 Figliuolo, Giovanni Battista Niccolini, 41- 61.21 Kristeller, Marsilio Ficino and the Roman Curia, 83-98.22 De la Mare, The Florentine scribes of Cardinal Giovanni of Aragona, 245-93.23 Ficino, Letters, VI (5): 8.

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    Besides its obvious philosophical implications, I would suggest thatFicino might have decided to juxtapose Plato and Cicero in response to otheradvice books produced in Naples, and in particular Giovanni Pontanos DePrincipe (On the Prince, written ca. 1464; first printed 1490).24 An advicebook in Latin that used philosophy at the service of political propaganda,Pontanos De Principe was based on a definition of wisdom related to theworks of Plato filtered through the works of Cicero. In particular, De Principebetrays a notion of self-knowledge that is different from Ficinos, and solidlyrelated to Pontanos views on the role of religion in princely education:

    Blessed is the one whoas Plato affirms, and Cicero repeatshappensto be allowed to follow wisdom and truthful opinions in his old age.Most clearly, therefore, the foundations have to be grounded from ayoung age, so that we can follow through in the old age. Once the foun-dations are well grounded, we have no reason to be afraid to fall apart, asit happens in a well built house.25

    Differently from Ficino, Pontano envisioned wisdom as a form of self-knowledge that stems from experience and the attentive knowledge of clas-sical texts; a practical virtue, that is, provocatively disconnected from reli-gion. In De Principe, spiritual counseling is indicated as the work of pro-fessional theologians such as the Catalan Narciso Verdn, whose role ispraised but distinguished from that of a political advisor.26 Ficinos knowl-edge of typically Neapolitan themes is further demonstrated by looking atthe complex fiction staged in the second letter to Cardinal Giovanni.

    Ficinos second letter to Giovanni dAragona is a political exhortationformulated in the form of a prophecy (oraculum) originally pronounced byKing Alfonso in angelic language for his son Ferrante.27 The letter seeks to

    24 For a now classical interpretation of Pontanos text, see Skinner, Foundations ofModern Political Thought, 120-128 and Id. Visions of Politics, 135-7. More recentdiscussions of this work are found in Gaylard, Re-Envisioning the Ancients,245-265 and Cappellis introduction to Pontano, De Principe.

    25 Pontano. De Principe, 24: 20: Beatum illum Plato dicit et Cicero refert cuietiam in senectute contigerit ut sapientiam verasque opiniones assequi possit.Praeclare quidem, sed ut in senectute valeamus assequi, iacienda sunt funda-menta ab adolescentia, quibus bene iactis, tanquam in domo bene aedificata nonest verendum ut corruamus.

    26 As the Kings theological consultant, Narciso had sent a short theological med-itation (lucubratiuncula) to King Ferrante in 1474, as discussed in De Marinis,La biblioteca napoletana, 48-49.

    27 Ficino, VI (5): 23: Reverend Father, the blessed King Alfonso, your grandfa-ther, recently uttered from heaven a prophecy in the language of angels for your

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    persuade Ferrante to adopt a peaceful conduct in the aftermath of the PazziConspiracy, thus abandoning the alliance with pope Sixtus IV againstFlorence. In doing so, it includes a synopsis of Platos theory of the soul,which is presented as a way by which Ferrante may use philosophical con-templation to heal his soul from the bellicose influx of Saturn and Mars.Also, the letter draws on Ferrantes genealogy, and more specifically on thepeaceful conduct of his father Alfonso il Magnanimo, characterized as a rexpacis. In doing so, Ficino not only paraphrased ideas found in his philo-sophical works, but he also intended to gain his addressees attention byastutely referring to a famous motif of Aragonese propaganda.28 Morespecifically, Ficinos use of the angelic vision is a skillful reference toAntonio Panormitas Triumphus Alphonsi Regis Neapolitanorum (written1443; first printed 1538).29 A celebration of the restored peace pro-nounced by a pageant of allegorical personifications of virtues, PanormitasTriumphus includes the prosopopea of an angel who speaks to KingAlphonse and celebrates his role as a peacemaker after a period of war andpolitical turmoil.30 What Ficino presents as his translation of a discourseoriginally pronounced in angelic language, therefore, tried to gain his read-ers benevolence by carefully reusing language and themes of the Aragonesepropaganda.

    Ficinos letters to Giovanni dAragona, his veiled critique of PontanosDe Principe and his reuse of Panormitas Triumphus may stem from his

    blessed father, King Ferdinand. Marsilio Ficino, caught up by some spirit, wasthere. He heard and remembered that prophecy uttered by King Alfonso in thelanguage of angels. Today he has translated it for you into the language of menwith this advice: first, please read it yourself, then send it to His SereneHighness, your father, so that what Marsilio recently understood from Alfonsowith the eyes and ears of the mind alone, he may through our care receive withthe ears and eyes of the body as well.

    28 For a recent and thoroughly documented history of this motif, see Iacono, IlTrionfo di Alfonso dAragona tra memoria classica e propaganda di corte, 9-57.

    29 Iacono, Primi risultati delle ricerche sulla traditione manoscritta, 560-599.30 Beccadelli, De dictis et factis Alphonsi regis Aragonum libri, 98: Post hos vehe-

    batur lignea ingens turris mirifice ornata, cuius aditum angelus stricto ense cus-todiebat; nam super ea vectabantur virtutes quatuor: Magnanimitas, Constantia,Clementia, Liberalitas. Haeque sedem periculosam insigne illud regium prae seferebant, cantantes suam quaeque compositis versibus cantionem. Omniumprimus angelus ad regem versus in hunc fere modum disseruit: Alphonse rexpacis, ego tibi castellum hoc superastantes quatuor inclitas virtutes offeromanuque trado, quas quomodo tute semper veneratus et amplexus es, nunc tetriumphantem comitari gratanter volunt.

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    knowledge of an important anthology of Neapolitan propagandistic textsavailable in Florence. Both Pontanos De Principe and PanormitasTriumphus, along with other products of Aragonese humanists, were wellknown to Florentine intellectuals in a manuscript commissioned byAntonio Ridolfi, Florentine ambassador in Naples, to the scribe PietroCennini in 1469-1471. An interesting figure of scribe and scholar, PietroCennini had personally collaborated with Pontano and Panormita inselecting and copying the texts included in his anthology. Solidly struc-tured according to propagandistic criteria, this manuscript includes longexcerpts from politically committed historical works produced by Alfonsoshumanists. As such, it played a major role in the diffusion of Aragonesetexts in Florence and in spreading the myth of Alfonso il Magnanimo as arestorer of peace and a model of wisdom and learning.31

    A Ficinian Workshop at the Aragonese Library

    The positive outcome of the crisis that followed the Pazzi Conspiracy con-tributed to strengthen the diplomatic and intellectual relationshipsbetween Florence and Naples, officially sanctioned by a peace treaty signedin 1480.32 The seeds planted by Lorenzo de Medici and Marsilio Ficino,so to speak, could flourish in this renewed political scenario. AngeloPoliziano, for example, managed to strengthen his intellectual ties withGiuniano Maio, professor of Rhetoric and Poetics at the Neapolitan stu-dio.33 A member of Ficinos network of scholars, Roberto Salviati eveninvolved Neapolitan intellectuals such as Maio in the rehabilitation ofGiovanni Pico della Mirandola after his brush with Innocent VIII, due tothe failed attempt at discussing the 900 theses in 1486. A copy of GiovanniPicos Heptaplus was received by Maio, who enthusiastically replied in 1490in a letter that also betrays his acquaintance with the Florentine ambas-sador in Naples, Piero Vettori.34 What best epitomizes this positive trend,


    31 De Nichilo, Dal carteggio di Pontano, 39-68; Iacono, Primi risultati dellericerche, 570, 579, 583-5.

    32 Galasso, Il regno di Napoli, 679. Naples friendly ties with Florence, whichplayed a major role during the conflicts with the barons and the pope, were reit-ereated in the peace treaty signed in 1486. The text of this treaty can be read inFedele, La pace del 1486 tra Ferdinando dAragona ed Innocenzo VIII, 481-503.

    33 Caracciolo Aric, Maio, Giuniano; Ricciardi, Angelo Poliziano, GiunianoMaio, 277-309.

    34 Giovanni Pico, Opera Omnia (1557- 1573), 408-409.

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    however, is the career of Polizianos pupil Francesco Pucci (1462-1512), aFlorentine scholar who spent most of his life in Naples. Actively involvedin the life of the Neapolitan studio, employed as a librarian at theAragonese Library and well known in King Ferrantes court, Pucci arrivedin Naples in 1483.35

    A well trained humanist versed in eloquence, Latin poetry and classi-cal exegesis, Francesco Pucci was the mastermind of a Ficinian workshopbased at the Kings library. In 1490, Pucci became librero mayor of theAragonese Library, and during his tenure he drastically improved KingFerrantes collection.36 The tasks of an Aragonese librarian also entailed thecommission and purchase of manuscripts, and Pucci had personal reasonto make sure that the Kings collection acquired prestigious copies ofFicinos works: Ficino himself had praised Puccis scholarship and rhetori-cal skills in a letter to Andrea Cambini in 1489.37 More specifically, I thinkthat Puccis tenure at the Kings Library is closely related with the com-mission of three illuminated manuscripts of Marsilio Ficinos works inLatin, and more precisely a copy of the Platonis Opera Omnia in two vol-umes, and a copy of the Theologia Platonica. Although useless for a criticaledition as codices descripti, these three manuscripts produced for theAragonese library document the diffusion of Ficinos works at Ferrantescourt, and reveal the names of two other members of this workshopattached to the Kings Library, that is, the scribe Ippolito Lunense and theilluminator Matteo Felice.

    Although scholars agree that Ippolito Lunense and Matteo Felice pro-duced only two manuscripts of Ficinos texts between 1491 and 1493, theitems commissioned by King Ferrante were actually three. Based on tworecords of the Aragonese treasury (cedole di tesoreria) of 1491 and 1493,Mazzatinti and De Marinis have correctly identified the first volume of theAragonese copies of the Platonis Opera Omnia and Theologia Platonica withmss. Harley 3481 and 3482 of the British Library, which both displayIppolito Lunenses signature, Matteo Felices hand and King Ferrantes coatof arms.38 In my view, however, there is a third item to be added to the list.Although a record of the Aragonese treasury dated 1492 does make refer-ence to a second volume of the Platonis Opera illuminated by Matteo Felice

    35 Santoro, Uno scolaro del Poliziano, 33; De Marinis, La biblioteca napoletana, I,186.

    36 De Marinis, La biblioteca napoletana, I, 186-7.37 Santoro, Uno scolaro del Poliziano, 18. 38 Mazzatinti, La Biblioteca dei re dAragona in Napoli, lxiv-lxv; De Marinis, La

    Biblioteca napoletana., I, 157-8.

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    and transcribed by Ippolito Lunense, Mazzatinti and De Marinis have con-fused this item with the copy of Ficinos Theologia Platonica that is nowpart of the Harley collection.39 I propose to identify the second volumementioned in the records of the Aragonese treasury with manuscript Est.Lat. 469 of the Biblioteca Estense of Modena. First, Gennaro Toscano hasrecently argued that the illuminator of the Estense manuscript was MatteoFelice, and not an anonymous Sienese artist as cataloguers Fava and Salmihave erroneously claimed, followed by Kristeller and Hankins.40 Second,the Estense manuscript includes all the translations of Platos dialoguesmentioned in the table of contents found in the Harley 3481, but notincluded in this manuscript.41 Third, Ippolito Lunenses handwriting isvery similar to that found in the Estense manuscript, and there are manyother matching features such as the paper used, the size and the binding.Fourth, cataloguers Fava and Salmi attributed the coat of arms found inthe first folio to Mathias Corvinus, although at close inspection this coatof arm is almost completely abraded and the item does not display any ofCorvinus distinctive symbols (e.g. the raven holding a ring, the hourglassetc.).42 To sum up, the Ficinian workshop guided by Francesco Pucci pro-vided the Kings library with a complete copy of Ficinos Platonis Opera intwo volumes, and a copy of the Theologia Platonica. Furthermore, a fourthitem can be added to the list.

    Kristeller and, more recently, Paola Megna have demonstrated that thecopies of Ficinos Platonis Opera and Theologia Platonica that are now partof the Harley collection are based on the printed editions of these texts,and their conclusions probably apply to the Estense manuscript as well.43

    However, it would be wrong to believe that Ippolito Lunense and his col-laborators merely reproduced a printed copy and embellished it with a richapparatus of illuminations, without analyzing and discussing the texts. Ashe proudly claims in the frontispiece of Ficinos translation of Platos dia-logues, Ippolito was aware of the mistakes found in the exemplar used and


    39 De Marinis, La Biblioteca napoletana, II, 297.40 Fava, I manoscritti miniati della Biblioteca estense, I, 91-2; Kristeller, Marsilio

    Ficino and his Work, 69; Hankins, Plato in the Italian Renaissance, II, 701.41 Megna, Lo Ione Platonico, 148.42 For a specimen of Corvinus illuminations, see the photographic apparatus

    included in Nel segno del Corvo. 43 Megna, Lo Ione Platonico, 147-8.44 Ms. Harley 3481, fol. 1r: Proemium Marsilii Ficini Florentini in Libros

    Platonis ad Laurentium Medicem Virum Magnanumum quos FelicissimiMusarum antistis sapientissimique virtutum ac populorum regus et pace bel-

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    claimed to have personally edited the text.44 Based on similar declarationdisseminated throughout his copious production, moreover, I believe thatIppolito can be considered a scribe and a scholar, who combined his scrib-al duties with rather sophisticated skills in textual criticism.45 In addition,since he personally transcribed Ficinos major works in their entirety, Iwould suggest that Ippolito, if not a Platonist, most certainly acquiredsome knowledge of Ficinos ideas that he could have shared with otherTuscanophile intellectuals gathered at the Aragonese Library in CastelNuovo in the 1490s.

    Ippolito Lunenses Auree Sententie e Proverbi Platonici (ca. 1493)

    This hypothesis is confirmed by Ippolito Lunenses Auree Sententie eProverbi Platonici, a long anthology of philosophical sayings in the vernac-ular that includes a long selection of Ficinos argumenta extracted from thetwo volumes of the Platonis Opera.46 Because of its material features,Ippolito Lunenses volgarizzamento transmitted by ms. XII E 32 of theBiblioteca Nazionale of Naples can be considered the fourth product of theFicinian workshop in Naples. First, the illuminated initial and the pre-ciously decorated borders of fol. 7r display all the distinctive features ofMatteo Felice, and if not his own work they were probably made under hissupervision. In the 1490s, the white wine-stems with colorful birds, forexample, along with figures of putti holding the coat of arms of the dedi-catee surrounded by a laurel crown were the trademark of this artist, whoproudly continued to offer his distinctive blend of Tuscan and Flemishinfluences on a market that was becoming increasingly sensitive to the newantiquarian taste coming from Veneto.47 Indeed, the rather stiff and sim-plified portrait of Plato found in the Auree Sententiae contrasts withMatteo Felices prodigious portrait of Plato in the studiolo found in the illu-

    loque florentissimi monoarchae atque perpetui triumphatoris FerdinandiAragonii Mandato Petrus Hippolitus Lunensis Exemplaris depravationes casti-gans magna omnes diligentia transcripsit. By this, the scribe presumably meantthat he integrated all the corrections found in the editio princeps of 1484, asargued by Megna, Lo Ione Platonico, 157.

    45 A list of Pietro Ippolitos claims of editorial expertise is found in Delisle,Review of Hugo Ehrensberger, 292-4.

    46 A systematic collation of Ippolitos Auree Sententiae, manuscripts Harley 3481and Est. Lat. 469, therefore, would further support the hypothesis that these twomanuscripts were found at the Aragonese Library.

    47 Toscano, Matteo Felice. Un miniatore, 108-9.

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    minated initials of the Harley and Estense manuscripts, which betray theilluminators knowledge of the Saint Jerome painted by Jan Van Eyck forthe Genoese merchant Lomellini.48 However, the doctoral hood and thesophisticated rendering of Platos facial complexion matches what is pre-sumably Felices interpretation of a traditional Byzantine motif in Platosmedieval iconography, that is, the portrait of the ancient philosopherunder the Tree of Jesse found, for example, in ms. 15 of the Abbey ofMercogliano.49

    Rather than a translation in the modern sense of the word, the AureeSententie is a typical example of volgarizzamento based on the manuscripts inLatin that Ippolito Lunense was copying for the Aragonese Library. Also,considering that Ippolito began to work on Ficinos Latin manuscripts in1491, and that he worked for the Aragonese Library until 1493,50 I wouldsuggest that Ippolitos collection was compiled within this time span andthat Francesco Pucci might have played a determinant role in the concep-tion of this project, which perfectly matches the diffusion of literature in thevernacular among the members of the Aragonese court. In 1488, for exam-ple, Neapolitan poet Jacopo Sannazaro had adapted the language of pastoralpoetry in Tuscan vernacular to the Aragonese court in his Libro PastoraleIntitolato Archadio, the ancestor of his more popular Arcadia.51 In 1491,Florentine born Francesco Patrizi wrote a commentary of Petrarchs RerumVulgarium Fragmenta for the intellectuals gathered at the Kings court.52 AndI dont think that it is a coincidence if immediately after Ippolito Lunensefinalized his Auree Sententie, which includes a long translation of Ficinoscommentary of Platos Symposium, state bureaucrat and courtly poet BenitGareth revised his Endimione, in light of Ficinos theory of love.53 Onceagain, the circulation of Ficinos texts and themes in Quattrocento Naplesseems to be directly connected with the diffusion of literary texts in Tuscanvernacular and mainly connected with a specific area of Aragonese culture,that is, Ferrantes court and the Aragonese library.

    Although the room for the coat of arms in the illuminated bas-de pagewas left blank, and Ippolito Lunenses scribal note was left incomplete, it is


    48 Toscano, Matteo Felice, 216.49 Knipp, Medieval Visual Images of Plato, 391-3; Toscano, Matteo Felice, un

    miniatore, 105.50 De Marinis, Tammaro. La Biblioteca napoletana, I, 55-58.51 Soranzo, Audience and Quattrocento Pastoral, 53-4; Ricucci, Il neghittoso e

    il fier connubio, 190-204.52 Paolino, Per ledizione del commento di Francesco Patrizi, 53-311.53 Barbiellini Amidei, Alla luna, 73-7.

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  • 39


    my conjecture that the manuscript of the Auree Sententie is a dedicationcopy addressed to a young member of a noble family connected withFerrantes court. Although the manuscript was made by a scribe and anilluminator who generally worked for the Aragonese King, it was not prob-ably part of the Kings personal belongings. After the descent of CharlesVIII and the following downfall of the Aragonese dynasty, the books thatoriginally composed the Aragonese Library were either stolen and broughtto France, or transferred by the extant members of the family to Ferraraand then Valencia.54 It is hard to believe that such an item, illuminated ingold-leaf and preciously bound, would have been left behind in thisprocess. Also, it was common practice that scribes and illuminatorsemployed by the King worked for wealthy patrons connected with theAragonese court.55 Therefore, it is more plausible that Ippolito LunensesAuree Sententie were addressed to a wealthy patron affiliated with the courtsuch as Aloysio Corellio, a member of the Kings entourage for whomIppolito composed a volgarizzamento of a Latin text on precious stones thatdisplays a very similar apparatus of illuminations.56 Additional informationabout the addressee, moreover, can be inferred from the choices of Ippolitoin composing his Ficinian anthology.

    An early modern volgarizzamento is not simply the translation of atext, but it is also an interpretive tool tailored for a specific audience.57 Inline with this general principle, the opening section of the Auree Sententietranslates the section of Ficinos Vita Platonis entitled Sententiae etProverbia Platonis by skipping the first sixteen lines, thus selecting onlythose information that may be interesting for a young audience (ms. XII E32 fols. 7r; ms. Harley 3481 fols. 5v- 6r). The passage selected by the trans-lator, moreover, further demonstrates that Ippolito based his translation onthe Aragonese copy of Ficinos Platonis Opera now found at the BritishLibrary. Whereas in the printed versions this passage from the Vita Platonisreads ad viventes, in the Harleyan manuscript as well as in his translationIppolito adopts the lectio singularis ad iuvenes, which is translated in theItalian vernacular as ali gioveni. Moreover, in order to make his volgariz-

    54 For a recent reassessment of this complex history, see Toscano, La Bibliotecanapoletana dei re dAragona, 29- 63.

    55 Toscano, Matteo Felice, un miniatore, 107.56 Giordano, Un lapidario in volgare del sec. XV, 65-80.57 Folena, Volgarizzare e tradurre, 3-5. For a recent application of this general

    principle to the reception of Boethius in Italian vernacular culture, see Brancato,Readers and Interpreters of the Consolatio in Italy, 1300-1500; Brancato,Appunti linguistici sul Boezio, 133-38.

    2-soranzo:0Syrimis 3/2/12 8:58 AM Page 39

  • zamento fitting for a noble reader affiliated with the prince, IppolitoLunense does not hesitate to alter Ficinos text by reassembling its parts ina new order. Instead of accurately following Ficinos Vita Platonis, Ippolitointegrates the few lines devoted to Platos interaction with princes in theoriginal text with a long selection extracted from Ficinos argumenta toPlatos Epistles (ms. XII E 32 fols. 7v- 9r), which are not translated in theremainder of the translation. In both cases, Ippolitos alterations of theoriginal texts are astutely camouflaged through the almost systematicexclusion of Ficinos references to specific texts by Plato, as well as any kindof internal reference to the Platonis Opera. All the material extracted fromthe argumenta is thus adjusted to the medieval genre of the sententia andpresented as a translation of Platos original opinions in the vernacular.

    Pontanos rejection of Ficinos ideas?

    The diffusion of Ficinos texts at the Aragonese Court and the availability ofhis ideas in translation may suggest that Caracciolos farsa was the theatricalcounterpart of a broader Ficinian revival based in Ferrantes court at thebeginning of the 1490s. The event, if this hypothesis is sound, would there-fore need to be interpreted in the context of the diffusion of Tuscan cultur-al products at Ferrantes court- a process that started at the end of the 1470sand paralleled the complex diplomatic relationships between the Kingdomof Naples and Florence. This reconstruction, moreover, would nicely agreewith Noel Brann, who has recently claimed that Ficino was well known inNaples thanks to Giovanni Pontano and his circle. Conversely, it wouldundermine Saittas characterization of Neapolitan culture as anti-Florentinebecause of its materialism. Unfortunately, things are not as straightfor-ward as these scholars presented them, especially if one looks at the mater-ial diffusion of Ficinos texts and, more broadly, at the different attitudestoward Florentine culture that were available in the field of Naples.

    Branns claim that Pontanos dialogue Actius gives evidence of a theorythat matches Ficinos view of poetic frenzy sharply contrasts with Pontanosoften critical attitude toward Florentine intellectuals such as Giovanni Picodella Mirandola. In the manuscripts versions of his treatises De RebusCoelestibus (book 12) and De Fortuna (book 3), eventually altered by theireditor Pietro Summonte, Pontano explicitly attacked Giovanni Pico dellaMirandola by siding with Lucio Bellanti in a critique of the Disputationsagainst Astrology as a product of Savonarolas propaganda.58 Also, Pontano

    58 Desantis, Pico, Pontano e la polemica astrologica, 151-191; Faracovi, Indifesa dellastrologia, 47-66.



    2-soranzo:0Syrimis 3/2/12 8:58 AM Page 40

  • had openly characterized Giovanni Picos discussion of the 900 theses asstemming from the aristocratic snobbery and dubious religiosity of hisopponent, thus siding with pope Innocent VIII and other intellectualsfrom the Roman Curia.59 Notwithstanding two eloquent praises written in1494, Angelo Poliziano never succeeded to start a correspondence withPontano, while members of Pontanos circle had harshly criticized theMiscellanea with epigrams and slanders.60 As for the literature in Tuscanvernacular that was flourishing at court, Pontanos attitude combinedsnobbery and pity toward an endeavor that he did not take seriously atall.61 Pontanos approval of Ficinos theory of poetic frenzy, therefore,would be the exception that confirms the rule.

    Rather than matching Ficinos theory of poetic inspiration, Pontanosdialogue Actius is in fact a subtle critique of Ficinos interpretation of PlatosIon and book thirteen of Platonic Theology. Framed in a broader discussionon the causes of prophetic dreams and linked to the problem of the soulsimmortality, the dialogue Actius constructs the personae of a naturalphilosopher (Johannes Pardo) and a poet (Jacopo Sannazaro) as respective-ly the theorist and the recipient of inspiration. Consistent with Pontanoscommentary of the pseudo-Ptolemaic Centiloquium, Pardo presentsprophecy as caused by the external influence (sympatheia, contagio) of oneimmortal intellect (mens) acting upon multiple human souls through thefilter of stars (coelitus).62 Pardo presents his view as stemming from his owninterpretation of Aristotle, and juxtaposes his explanation to religiousaccounts of prophecy as resulting from ecstasy (vacatio) and platonic fren-zy (furor). Heavily altered by its editor Pietro Summonte, who might havetried to soften its religiously controversial elements,63 this section of Actiusbetrays an inclination to read Aristotles theory of the soul through thecommentary of Averroes and an attempt at rationalizing prophecy throughastrology. In doing so, Pardos persona also uses Ficinos language to char-acterize religious explanations of prophecy, which natural philosophy andastrologyin his viewcan more accurately explicate. Does this differentattitude toward Ficinos ideas underpin a broader competition betweenPontanos circle and Ferrantes court?

    59 Soranzo, Conjecture and Inspiration, 255- 273.60 Gualdo Rosa, 61-82; Vecce, Multiplex hic anguis, 235-255; Gualdo Rosa, A

    proposito degli epigrammi latini del Sannazaro, 453- 476.61 Parenti, Benit Gareth, 36-7.62 Soranzo, Giovanni Pontano on Astrology, 23- 29. 63 Tateo, Per ledizione critica dellActius, 145- 194; Mariotti, Per lo studio dei

    Dialoghi di Pontano, 261- 288.



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  • Indeed, the portrait of Piero Caracciolos Imagico matches the diffu-sion of Ficinos books at Ferrantes court, and it is consistent with the suc-cess of Florentine cultural products in this specific sector of AragoneseNaples. In this context, Pontanos interpretation of Aristotles theory of theactive intellect (mens) as one and immortal displayed in the dialogue Actiusis not only a polemical refutation of Ficinos Platonic Theology on the basisof Averroes, but it can also be interpreted as a critique of Ficinos popular-ity among Neapolitan intellectuals.64 Diverging attitudes toward Ficinosideas in the early 1490s, moreover, would provide a context for Pontanoscritical attitude toward Augustinian Friar Giles of Viterbo, who profound-ly influenced the religious orientation and literary taste of members ofPontanos circle such as Jacopo Sannazaro through the use of Ficinianthemes in his apologetic sermons and theological commentaries.65 The dis-covery of a Ficinian workshop based at the Aragonese library, and the iden-tification of a sharp divide between the Tuscanophile culture ofFerrantes court and the highly exclusive elite gathered around GiovanniPontano, in conclusion, lead to reconsider Giuseppe Saittas theses and callfor a reassessment of Ficinos diffusion in Aragonese Naples in light of newdocumentary evidence.



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