The Medieval Review 14.04.23

Marchiaro, Michaelangiola. La biblioteca di Pietro Crinito: Manoscritti e libri a stampa della raccolta libraria di un umanista fiorentino. Series: II Premio della Fundación Ana María Aldama Roy de Estudios Latinos. Féderation Internationale des Instituts d'Études Médiévales:Textes et Études du Moyen Âge. Santa Maria da Feira, Portugal: Porto, 2013. Pp. 342. €55.00. ISBN: 978-2-503-54949-1.

Reviewed by:

Anthony Nussmeier
Pennsylvania State University

In his Introduction to the 1955 edition of the De honesta disciplina by Pietro Crinito, a precocious, Medicean-era Florentine humanist, teacher and author, Carlo Angeleri sought to explain the curious decision to include the seemingly obscure work in a series dedicated to "Classics of Italian Thought." [1] In the end, he justified the inclusion of the treatise by referencing the humanist's status as a "typical representative" of Humanism as a "complex cultural phenomenon." Despite being a "minor literary figure," then, Crinito represented a type of literary activity that "indirectly prepared material for the development of that new culture," [2] a culture which would receive its most mature expression in more illustrious humanists such as Poliziano, Bruni and Valla. And yet, beyond any role in the creation of a Florentine humanist literature, Crinito's literary and intellectual life, played out against the backdrop of the upper-crust of Florentine society, is remarkable in its own right: as a teenager he was esteemed by Savonarola and debated with Pico della Mirandola; he was rumored to have succeeded Poliziano as tutor to Lorenzo the Magnificent's children; and it was thought that he had occupied Poliziano's chair in eloquence at the Florentine Studio. Regardless of the veracity of these anecdotes--some of which are more easily verifiable than others--it is clear that Crinito found himself at the center of Florentine literary circles as a frequent guest of the Medici and regular participant in discussions at the Accademia Platonica. When Poliziano died in 1494, it was Crinito who inherited a good number of his books and manuscripts, which he subsequently gathered, edited and had published--eventually--by Aldo Manuzio. [4]

As the intellectual historian Anthony Grafton has emphasized over the past few decades, [5] Renaissance-era intellectual networks and circles ("communities of learning") were much more sophisticated and interconnected than was previously thought. In particular, the study of these intellectuals' libraries and of the books that they owned, read, annotated, copied and printed can be useful in reconstructing the mechanics of Quattro- and Cinquecento intellectual life. Such reconstructions also tell us about the manner in which intellectuals interacted, how manuscripts circulated, and who read what, when and where. It is this contribution that Michaelangiola Marchiaro makes in her careful study of the Florentine Humanist Pietro Crinito, author of the De honesta disciplina and Pöematum libri, though perhaps more famously also a pupil of Poliziano. Marchiaro's synchronic study of the manuscripts and incunables owned by Crinito and of his graphical culture becomes a diachronic investigation of Florence's humanist intellectual milieu and follows in the wake of similar "library studies" inaugurated by Alessandro Perosa's 1954 display of Poliziano's autograph manuscripts, Mostra del Poliziano, and rounds out previous research into the fate of Poliziano's own library. [6] As Marchiaro notes, the volume is not intended to be a mere list of the books owned by Crinito, but rather one thanks to which, it is hoped, "new biographical information, personal relationships and intellectual interests emerge" (13). The author sets out to accomplish this task by writing a brief biographical capsule enriched by information gleaned from Crinito's library, mostly from the humanist's own annotations. As a result, we learn, among other things, that Crinito continued to study and meet with Lorenzo Lorenzi even after Poliziano's death in 1494; that he most likely did not exile himself from Florence following the fall of the Medici; and that he became a private teacher, holding courses on Cicero, Quintilian and others.

Following the nota biografica, Marchiaro includes chapters on the substance of Crinito's library, his graphical culture, a useful catalogue of the 34 volumes for which she is able to provide proof of the humanist's ownership, and a final section in which the author excludes from Crinito's library those manuscripts and early printed books for which there is no definitive trace of his possession. Though Pietro Crinito was a relatively secondary figure in Laurentian Florence, we are reminded by Corrado Bologna that Italian literary history--as with any national tradition--consists of "gli scarti e i salti, la tenuta e la continuità," [7] and the investigation of Crinito's holdings leads to a number of findings, some of which are quite illuminating. Among the volumes in the humanist's library there are manuscripts formerly possessed and annotated by Poliziano. We also learn the destination of many of Poliziano's autograph manuscripts, a collection which Crinito fought valiantly to preserve, going so far as to use them to substantiate charges of plagiarism against some of Poliziano's less scrupulous contemporaries. Crinito's own autograph manuscripts also hint at his teacher's influence. In the section on Crinito's graphical culture Marchiaro traces the evolution of Crinito's hand, demonstrating that "many of Crinito's graphical characteristics are part of the graphical culture of Poliziano, Marsilio Ficino and his scribes, Pico della Mirandola and Lorenzo Lorenzi" (57). Thus Crinito's change in script after 1495 was made possible by his access to, and study of, Poliziano's autograph manuscripts.

Of course, since Crinito is a dedicated humanist there are few vernacular holdings among his library, even though he published his own De honesta disciplina with the Giunti, a Florentine publishing house and equal-opportunity publisher of both Latin and vernacular texts, but best known as the publisher of sixteenth-century editions of the Decameron and the anthology of medieval Italian vernacular lyric Sonetti & canzone di Diversi Antichi Autori Toscani in dieci libri raccolte (1527). It is not surprising in the least that such a committed humanist would studiously avoid vernacular works, and his library is a microcosm of Humanist Florence. [8] For example, though he owned a manuscript containing some of Petrarch's collected works (Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Pluteo 90 inf. 17: Familiari, Senili, Psalmi penitentiales, Orationes contro tempestates), none were in the vernacular, and Crinito took the unusual step of separating from the rest of the collection Petrarch's epistles to classical authors such as Cicero, Seneca, Livy, Quintilian and others. This manuscript containing Petrarce Epistolae exemplifies Crinito's predilection for the genre, and his decision to isolate those letters written to the afore-mentioned authors illustrates his focus on the classical roots of Florentine humanism.

In the end, quite aside from the literary quality of the preternatural Crinito's published and unpublished works, Marchiaro's study of Crinito's library advances our understanding of Humanism as a "complex cultural phenomenon," and will be a useful tool for specialists of Poliziano and other humanists, for literary historians of Humanist Florence, as well as for philologists interested in the graphical culture of the period and the itinerant path of Poliziano's autograph manuscripts and those once owned by him.



1. Carlo Angeleri, Introduction to De honesta disciplina by Pietro Crinito (Roma: Fratelli Bocca Editori, 1955).

2. Angeleri, Introduction, 1.

3. His death at the age of 32 no doubt contributed to the short-circuiting of his literary reputation, characterized by his early, furious production and distinguished by the acclaim accorded to him by his contemporaries, one of whom considered him a "modern Gellius." See Angeleri, Introduction, 30.

4. Angeleri, Introduction, 13.

5. For example, see Anthony Grafton, Bring Out Your Dead: the Past as Revelation (Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press, 2001).

6. Alessandro Perosa, ed., Mostra del Poliziano nella Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. Manoscritti, libri rari, autografi e documenti: Firenze, 23 settembre-30 novembre 1954 (Firenze: Sansoni, 1955).

7. Corrado Bologna, La fortuna e la tradizione dei classici italiani, 2 vols. (Torino: Einadi, 1992), vol 1: ix.

8. It was reported that Crinito had written poetry, now lost, in the vernacular. See Angeleri, Introduction, 17

Copyright (c) 2014 Anthony Nussmeier

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