Italians - Their Heritage and Contributions Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Spring


Chapter 1


Italy became a political reality only during the Risorgimento of the mid-nineteenth century. But the cultural fabric of the Italian nation was being woven in the 14th and 15th centuries during the Renaissance, a period of intense social, political and intellectual development.

During the Renaissance the Italian language was standardized by Dante, whose uniform use of the Tuscan dialect would direct all literary efforts from that point onward. In the various art forms the interest in classical Roman works inspired a love for that civilization and a renewed interest in the people who created it. The Italians of the Quattrocento perceived themselves to be the inheritors of Latin culture and expressed their pride in art forms modeled on the Italian past.

Although the Italy of the Renaissance was indeed a patchwork of states to outside observers, it was a homogenous country where Roman Law was general and where a wide range of attitudes - religious, economic and social - were shared by other Italians. Dante remarked that "as Italians we share some very simple habits of manners, customs and speech . . ." but still lacked the mortar of a centralized governmental structure. There were acknowledged regional,


political and linguistic differences. Again to quote Dante, "We have a single court though it is physically scattered." The Renaissance was to provide the basic foundation for that "single court" which evolved into the nation of Italy.

The political realism of Machiavelli and Guicciardini anticipated the Realpolitik of the 19th century nation states by freeing politics from the confines of morality and internal restraints. It was Machiavelli who called for a united effort among all Italian states to repel the invading French and who underscored the use of native Italian troops rather than foreign mercenaries to fight Italian battles. It was Machiavelli who fanned the embers of Italian nationalism in the sixteenth century but his efforts were never translated into action. His ideas smoldered for 300 years, until they once again blazed in the successful unification efforts of the Risorgimento.

And if the dream of a unified country did not come about in the lifetime of Dante, the Medici or Machiavelli, it did develop from their ideological and cultural direction. In effect Modern Italy may well look to the Renaissance as a movement which offered those unifying standards which were essential for the development of a nation state.

The Italian Peninsula in the Fifteenth Century

Much of the vitality of Renaissance life grew out of the physical diversity of the Italian peninsula and its people. Within


the 700 miles stretching the length of Italy was found five major city states, at least 25 other cities with populations between 25-50,000, a dozen regions such as Lombardia, the Romagna, Piedmont and Tuscany, and the mountainous spine of the Apennines. The largest cities - Florence, Venice and Milan - had about 100,000 inhabitants each, while other urban centers such as Urbino, Verona, Siena or Bologna numbered between 30-40,000.

Italy is bordered and separated from the rest of Europe by the Alps but was never isolated to the extent that commerce between the north and south was totally extinguished. Trade was always a predominant aspect of Italian civic life, whether in slaves from the Ukraine, wheat from Africa, or spices from the Orient. The Italian cities rapidly became cosmopolitan centers but at differing rates, consequently less homogeneous and more localized in their allegiances. An autonomous, insular political perspective soon formed, creating intense civic pride while rejecting any attempt at peninsular unification. Each city enjoyed its autonomy and looked upon forced consolidation as unrealistic.

The geography of 15th century Italy was one which promoted agriculture along with urban centers populated with merchants, craftsmen, and laborers. Any geographical reference to Italy during the Renaissance would refer to a collection of city states with little or no sense of collective unity whatsoever. Italy was indeed a geographical expression yet to be realized. It was not until the foreign invasions of the 1490's that any sense of national feeling joined the cities, but it was too late to be effective. In 1509


A Patchwork of States


Venice proposed a battle standard proclaiming "Italia . . . Italia! Libertà! Libertà!" but it again was mostly for rhetorical purposes and did not produce the expected result of military cohesion or a sense of national pride.

The tenacious particularism of the Italian cities gave rise to a variety of political solutions to the problem of self-government. In general most communal forms of government were aristocratic, with power controlled by the oligarchic Popolo Grosso (literally the "fat people") or by a single family.

The mercantile communities of Renaissance Italy demanded a stable political regime which would not interfere with business. Indeed commerce and politics were modestly joined early in the history of the communes. The merchant gradually assumed the status of the feudal nobility, although the taint of business took time to wear off.

Another group who were intimately lined up with the ruling factions in the communes were the literati or humanists. In the larger city states the literati, educated rhetoricians, skilled in the arts or in pursuasive speech and debate, were hired by the governing bodies to write and deliver the speeches, create the political mythologies, praise the city and vilify the opposition in eloquent Latin prose. The better the humanist performed his job the better his employment potential.

In general major communes and nearly all of the smaller ones were governed by despots or Signori, a word which has odious


connotations to the modern reader. To the Italian of the 15th century social stability was much more important than individual voting rights. Despite lavish excesses by some despots they usually ruled benevolently and turned their anger against individuals rather than the general population. The Age of the Despots was one which did produce monuments to art, music and literature because of the extensive patronage system encouraged and supported by these singular rulers. Michaelangelo was first appointed to the Medici circle as a young artist, and later was commissioned to do the Sistine Ceiling by an autocrat with unlimited financial resources, Pope Julius II. Petrarch was a frequent guest at these despotic courts, and Leonardo was employed by the Duke of Milan to design costumes for festivals.

Yet the term of rule for the signori was rather precarious because assassination and the more classical approach, tyrannicide, easily attracted desperate men, seeking justification for their action. Milan, Bologna, Florence, Siena, Rome - all experienced somewhat abrupt political changes caused by the untimely demise of their rulers. But the communes survived because in no case was any city ruled totally by only one man. His power was sustained by the aristocratic elements within the city, his position being that figurehead usually controlled by a patriciate of wealth.

Several brief points should be made about Renaissance military policy. In the first place hired mercenary forces, condottieri, were used in Italy as long as warfare was inter-communal and on a minor scale. The concept of communal militias was not in vogue


because it was not practical. Experience had proven that a more lasting inducement for military forces was financial gain rather than patriotism. Therefore companies of condottieri were employed for specific periods by the many city states in Italy.

It should be recalled that Niccolo Machiavelli, better known for his Il Principe, was also the author of a work entitled The Art of War in which he argued in favor of a communal militia. He actually was briefly in charge of recruiting and training the Florentine militia but his attempt was a failure. It was unsuccessful because the only troops which would volunteer were from the farm areas, the contado, and because the Florentine government doubted the political wisdom of arming her own citizens!

Mercenary warfare was wholly effective yet dangerous for all parties involved. Because of their notorious unreliability condottieri could not always be depended upon to continue military operations if the payments were late in arriving. Condottieri were also known to have turned upon their employers if they were not adequately reimbursed or if they were bribed by the opposing city, which was often the case. War was a career, not a political matter, so prolonged expeditions and engagements were to the financial advantage of these Captains of Fortune. Unrestrained and bloody engagements and no-quarter battles were certainly not in keeping with a mercenary's responsibility to himself. War was another example of Italian love of spectacle with few lives lost, minimal loss of respect and status for the losing side, and the maximum of pageantry. This was to change dramatically and abruptly


when the Italians fought Spanish, French and German invaders at the close of the 15th century.

The condottieri captains were an interesting lot and usually were nicknamed by their followers or employers in colorful and descriptive terms. Niccolò Fortebraccio (Strong Arm), Niccolò Piccinino (Little One), or Gattamelata (Honeyed Cat) were a few of the more noteworthy captains of fortune. There were others, perhaps not as interesting for their names but just as effective as commanders, such as Sigismondo Malatesta, Castruccio Castracane, Francesco Sforza, and the Englishman, Sir John Hawkwood.

With the French invasions of Italy in 1494, followed by the repeated assaults by the Spanish, Swiss and Germans, Italy became the battleground of the great powers of Europe. The battles of Fornovo and Marignano concluded a tradition of limited Italian political and military involvement and marked the end of a purely Italian Renaissance.


By and large Renaissance humanism was an elitist movement, presented by highly educated individuals to a select audience of intellectuals.

There were two basic components in the composition of Italian humanism, each interacting with the other, finally evolving into a varied but positive attitude toward man and his environment. The first factor in humanistic thought was a reverence for and later an


obsession with Greco-Roman culture, thereby indicating a clearly defined break with medieval scholasticism. It was in Italy that this classical culture had been established and it was in Italy that the past cultural heritage was to flourish once again. By returning to classical literature and philosophy early writers such as Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch revived the consciousness of the self and the value of the individual. Humanism marks the beginning of the modern state of mind.

The emphasis of life was shifted from the totally spiritual to the secular. Man's personal identification was affirmed; he was no longer to be shaped primarily by his association with the Church or with a race, but by his mere existence. This spiritual reawakening was the other important factor involved in humanism.

Humanism however, was not a monolithic phenomenon, all "humanists" perceiving man as a dignified inheritor of the earth. Indeed, some humanists were rather skeptical of man, such as Pietro Pomponazzi who, while eschewing the virtues of man, denies him an immortal soul and defends predestination. While many humanists were inclined to propose that man was his own ruler, some noteworthy literati espoused reliance on astrology.

Much of the confusion surrounding definitions of humanism could be clarified if we try to understand what the Italians understood humanism to mean. The term humanism, as it was understood, was derived from a series of scholarly subjects known as the studia humanitatis in the universities of Italy. It was an educational


curriculum consisting of grammar, rhetoric, poetry and ethics gathered from classical texts. In this context humanism was a particular educational discipline, not a philosophical movement. It was a cultural and literary response to scholasticism that contained some philosophical implications.

Many humanists were teachers who later entered the political arena and were influential politicians. Their abilities as orators and rhetoricians were frequently called upon by the governing bodies, thereby combining their academic talents with political necessity. Their "philosophies," if they existed, were primarily civic in temperament; they defended their community with the skills acquired as literary men. They appreciated and restored the classics, wrote some Latin prose, but were more attached to Florence and Urbino than to ancient Rome or Athens.

What importance does humanism play in the history of the Italian Renaissance and western civilization? As a consequence of the "rediscovery" and emphasis on antiquity the humanists salvaged and put to practical use a large corpus of learning which had been neglected during the Middle Ages. This emphasis can be seen in the effect it had on the art and architecture of the period. Humanism also stimulated critical attitudes of unrestricted thought, imaginative questions and answers about man, his nature and destiny.

The world of the humanists also produced a system which emphasized actual experience rather than authority in the making of decisions and the rendering of judgment. Franceso Petrarca, an


early humanist, was unafraid to raise his voice in criticism to the Emperor Charles IV about certain documents of "ancient" origin which Petrarca felt to be forgeries.

Beginning with Petrarch we notice the development of the antiquarian, a man with a sense of the past. His discoveries were based not on reliance on myths for explanations but on an actual experiment search for the causes of events. He realized the concept of change, and that the passage of time often obscured the past. In this sense he initiated a modern sense of historical understanding.

This idea of the passage of time affected two important disciplines other than history, those of art and law. In painting it also had an immense impact, forcing artists to accurately portray their subjects, at least as far as their historical setting permitted. This care and precision now became the essential attitude of the artists and would be reflected in the work of Leonardo and Michaelangelo, who literally recreated the anatomy of their subjects first before they covered their flesh with clothing.

Another result of this critical sense of the past was the discovery that law also had a history and was not a static collection, eternal and immutable.

The Renaissance literati made men realize that all things have a history and change over a period of time. If laws have a history and if words may have different connotations during different time periods, then laws should be analyzed and interpreted in their historical context. Law was not permanent but might require alteration


or even rejection according to circumstances. It was a major discovery, one which would ultimately influence French and English systems of law.

In the spectrum of intellectual development in the West a distinctive place is reserved for the humanists of Italy. Many of their ideas were curious and short-lived. Some concepts, such as the dignity of man and the significance of the individual, are part of our own philosophical structure. More than anything else, however, I think that the significance of the humanists rests with their techniques in ascertaining the truth about themselves and the world around them.

The Society of the Court, the Family and the Street

The society of the Italian communes was one of tension and conflict, where the ideals of past laws and customs clashed with the new situations and standards of urban life.

Wealth and social mobility unrestrained by the accident of birth became an early factor in the development of Italian society. However, this fluidity of social status was rapidly solidifying by the mid-15th century into a well-defined hierarchy of wealthy patriciates, middle class merchants, and the poor urban proletariat.

As the Renaissance matured and decayed in the 16th century men rejected the idea of the world as a beautiful court populated by cultivated gentlemen and ladies.


Most men were not courtiers but were engaged in various trades and commerce. They had their own code of ethics, moral standards and practical advice, above all the dictum "For God . . . and Profit." The Italian merchant created a revolution in his own manner, transforming a medieval disdain for wealth and religious prohibitions against usury into an acceptance for and appreciation of the value of capital and the culture it could support.

The world of the Italian merchant was a sophisticated terrain of contracts, loans, promissory notes, commercial investments, banks and bankruptcy.

No other class of men had more of an impact on the economic foundations of modern Europe than these early Italian entrepreneurs. For example, through their business transactions and constant search for new markets they achieved commercial ties with the Moslem world as well as the Near and Far East. Italian merchants were in China in the early 14th century and were describing the journey, the people, and the spices in popular trade manuals. They even produced language guides for merchants going to Persia and China in 1303, with helpful phrases used in the merchant trade. While Dante was describing his spiritual journey through hell, purgatory and heaven, other Italian writers of somewhat less literary stature were advising the wanderers of this world of more tangible treasures of the East.

An interesting example of the diversity of the merchandise sought by these men is included in the term "spices": quicksilver,


cotton, asphalt, glue, cinnamon, lead, fennel, wax, opium, pearls, dragon's blood (a gem), silkworms, eggs and sugar. The list, found in a 15th century manual, lists over 300 items under this single heading.


Vespasiano di Bisticci, a Florentine biographer of the great men of his age, considered women to live under two authorities throughout their lives, God and their husbands. There is little argument to the statement that women in Italy did and still do live in a male-dominated society. It comforts some to cite the life of Vittoria Colonna, poet and friend of Michaelangelo, as a model of courtly learning, or Caterina Sforza, the "Renaissance virago," or the splendid court of Beatrice d'Este. Yet these women were exceptional and would be noteworthy in any age. Suffice it to say that the image of the Renaissance man had his female counterpart but both were part of a minority, an elite society of wealth, power and culture.

We must consider the lives of women during the Renaissance in relation to their family or their husbands. Women did not live individual existences but were seen in either of these two relationships. The mother of Lorenzo de Medici for example, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, is known to us as a daughter in a wealthy family who gave birth to an illustrious son. Lorenzo's wife Clarice Orsini also was recorded for posterity not as an individual woman but as a personality linked with the Medici clan. In Lorenzo's Ricordi


he made the following notation regarding his new bride: "Today, June 4, 1468 . . . I Lorenzo took for wife Clarice, daughter of the Lord Giacopo . . . or rather she was given to me." In fact the custom of Morgengabio was still in existence during the 16th century when the groom ceremoniously "purchased" his bride from her family with six rings, two on the betrothal, two at the wedding, and two on the day after the wedding.

There were the detractors, those who would relegate woman to an a priori inferior status. An inconsistency in humanistic thought is evident, for while some humanists exalted man as a free agent in the universe they predestined women to specific domestic positions. Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), one of the great literati, wrote in his treatise On The Family the following comments:2

The beauties of a woman can be judged not simply in the grace and gentility of her face . . . but even more in the robust form of her figure . . . suited to carrying and producing an abundance of children. Husbands who take counsel with their wives . . . are madmen if they think true prudence or good counsel lies in the female brain.

It was only in Castiglione's Courtier that women were given an explicit role outside the circle of family and household. Castiglione's ladies were of the court, cultured, influential and usually aristocratic. These women Castiglione found to be man's mental equal, concluding "As to the mind I say that woman can understand all the things men can understand, and that the intellect of a woman can penetrate wherever man's can . . ."3 His book, coupled with the wealth and leisure time at the disposal of some of the


ladies, gave the intellectual impetus for a more liberated attitude toward women, at least women of noble birth.

If the average girl living in Italy during the Quattrocento was considered an investment by her family and prospective husband, she became the personification of the family as soon as children were born. It was not uncommon for girls 12-13 years of age to begin their families, while the average age of their husbands was at least 12 years older. For this reason there seems to have been a relative closeness in age between the mother and children. Also, if the husband were a merchant the family could expect long periods of absence, perhaps two years in some cases. Early deaths or political exile also made many Italian mothers the sole authority in the family for long periods of time.

The importance of the mother in the structure of the Italian family can not be overemphasized. Italian wills often included a clause which provided for the wife only if she continued to live with the children and remained a widow.

Regardless of the initial reasons for marriage or the social assumptions which may have been prevalent there was tenderness and love in the marriage bond.

It has generally been assumed that Renaissance families dreaded the birth of daughters because of the dowries and the task of putting surplus females into convents. While it was a typical attitude it was by no means the only nor the prevailing one. There was such a wide range of opinions on the raising and


education of daughters in Italy that the only conclusion we can reach is that a definite shift in attitudes in favor of women was evident in Italy during the late 15th century.

Sumptuary laws controlled feminine expression in dress and jewelry. In the Archivio di Stato of Florence we find prohibitions against the wearing of golden ornaments above a certain value. In part a law of 1433 reads:4

It is not in accordance with nature for women to be burdened by so many expensive ornaments. Women were created to replenish this free city and to live chastely in matrimony and not to spend gold and silver on clothing and jewelry.

Hard as it is to believe, not all women heeded the good advice of the city fathers. We find one Monna Bice, "daughter of Simone di Giorgio, who was going through this city with 5 rings. Fine: 37 lire, 10 soldi." Monna Agnella was found "wearing a prohibited gown, one part of sky blue cloth, the other part of velvet with sleeves wider than one yard in circumference. Fine: 28 lire."5

For the upper- and middle-class woman family life held the possibility of good marriage security with the normal day to day cares and anxieties endemic in urban life. The lower-class women were a different matter altogether but we can only ascertain their lifestyles by their transgressions of the social norm.

The daughter of a poor laborer had really three choices in her life although she was usually much freer than her aristocratic sisters in terms of social restraints. Normally she would be married at 13 and become pregnant as often as she could until about


the age of 25. It was, of course, much more important to have sons, upon whose shoulders the fortunes of the family rested. Her life expectancy was about 30-35 years.

She could enter the convent as many girls did, often for mere survival rather than out of religious conviction. Some convents were being filled with nuns without vocations and these houses soon acquired unsavory reputations for their laxity. In the 16th century Venetian convents were the scene of dances and festivals for young noblemen. The Inquisition rolls in Florence list a number of nuns whose vows were repeatedly compromised with local youths. These were, of course, exceptions, but it was a means of existence in a quickly accelerating urban society.

For the unmarried girl a third and somewhat more lucrative occupation was always available. Prostitution was more widespread than commonly believed. In Venice there were more than 11,000 prostitutes in a population of some 100,000 souls while Rome's ladies of the night numbered some 7,000 in a city of less than 50,000. In Venice courtesans were not permitted to include Jews or Turks among their clientele and were expected to register with the republic and wear a yellow scarf as a badge. Florence, as did all of the larger cities, attempted to regulate prostitution by initiating communal brothels in 1415. The women would be supervised and taxed, and the houses would be located "in places where the exercise of such scandalous activity can be concealed . . . for the honor of the city." Women caught soliciting outside of the brothels were fined heavily but were released. Panderers were


severely treated when caught, maimed and occasionally executed for their efforts. It was one thing to be a whore, quite another to induce women into the "scandalous activity."5

In sum, the woman of the Renaissance emerged into a society with a strong almost obsessive sense of family and made her mark within that social framework. At no other previous period of history were women held in such high esteem, usually as partners with their husbands in the task of raising a family. Unfortunately the powerful social norms narrowly channeled women into only these few occupations. But the woman of wealth and leisure could control the artistic and cultural destinies of others as a patroness of the arts.



1Orville Prescott, Princes of the Renaissance (London: 1970). Cecilia Ady, Milan Under the Sforzas (London: 1907). E. H. Gombrich, "The Early Medici as Patrons of Art," in E.F. Jacob, ed., Italian Renaissance Studies (London: 1960) pp. 279-311.

2Leon Battista Alberti, I Libri della Famiglia, translated by Renee Neu Watkins (Columbia, S.C.: 1969) pp. 210ff.

3Baldasare Castiglione, The Courtier, translated by Friench Simpson (New York: 1959) Book III.

4Gene Brucker, ed., The Society of Renaissance Florence (New York: 1973) p. 181.

5Ibid., p. 188-189.



The following works have been selected because of their scholarly presentation of various aspects of the Renaissance in Italy. Most are accessable in local public or university libraries. For an extensive bibliographic essay on major topies concerning the Renaissance the reader is referred to the work of Federico Chabod, Machiavelli and the Renaissance: "Bibliography," pp. 201-247 (New York: Harper and Row, 1958).

The Renaissance:

W.K. Ferguson, The Renaissance in Historical Thought, 1948. Denis Hay, The Renaissance Debate, 1965.

Various local Italian cities during the Rinascimento:

Pisa: David Herlihy, Pisa in the Early Renaissance, 1958.
Florence: Gene Brucker, Renaissance Florence, 1969.
Venice: Brian Pullan, Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice,
Verona: A.M. Allen, Verona: A History, 1910.
Pistoia: David Herlihy, Medieval and Renaissance Pistoia,
Bologna: Cecilia Ady, The Bentivolgo of Bologna, 1937
Rome: Rodlfo Lanciani, The Golden Days of the Renaissance in
         Rome, 1906.
Sicily: Denis Mack Smith, Medieval and Modern Sicily, 2
         Vols., 1968.
Milan: Cecilia Ady, Milan Under the Sforzas, 1907.
The Romagna: John Larner, The Lords of the Romagna, 1965.
Ferrara: Werner Gundersheimer: Ferrara: The Study of a
         Renaissance Despotism, 1973.

Primary sources from the 14th-16th centuries:

L.C. Gabel, ed., Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope. The
         Commentaries of Pius II, 1959.
Vespasiano da Bisticci, Renaissance Princes, Popes and
         Prelates, 1963.
Julia O'Faolain and Lauro Martines, eds., Not in God's Image:
         Women in History from the Greeks to the Victorians, 1973.
Roberto Lopez and Irving Raymond, eds., Medieval Trade in the
         Mediterranean World.
Gene Brucker, ed., The Society of Renaissance Florence, 1971.
Vasari, Lives of the Artists, 1946.
Cennino d'Andrea Cennini, The Craftsman's Handbook, 1933.
Frederich W. Rolfe, ed., The Chronicles of the House of Borgia,
         1901 (1962).


Specific Topics:

The Medici Family.
Ferdinand Schevil, The Medici, 1960.
Raymond deRoover, The Rise and Decline of the Medici
         Bank, 1967.

Renaissance Diplomacy.
Garett Mattingly, Renaissance Diplomacy, 1955.
Paul Murray Kendal, Vincent Ilardi, Dispatches of
         Milanese Ambassadors, 1450-1883, 2 Vols., 1970.

Renaissance Warfare.
C. Bayley, War and Society in Renaissance Florence,
Joseph J. Deiss, Captains of Fortune, 1966.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Art of War, 1965.

Economic History.
Harry A. Hiskimin, The Economy of Early Renaissance
         Europe, 1969.
Armando Sapori, The Italian Merchant in the Middle
         Ages, 1970.
Iris Origo, The Merchant of Prato, 1957.
Richard Goldthwaite, Private Wealth in Renaissance
         Florence, 1968.
Pierre Jeannin, Merchants of the 16th Century, 1972.

Renaissance Humanism.
Eugenio Garin, Italian Humanism, 1965.
______________, Portraits from the Quattrocento, 1963.
Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance,
Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought, 2 Vols.,
Peter Burke, The Renaissance Sense of the Past, 1969.

Renaissance Art and Architecture.
E. Panofsky, Studies in Iconology, 1962.
E. Panofsky, Humanistic Themes in the Art of the
         Renaissance, 1939.
E. Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western
         Art, 1969.
R. Wittkower, Art and Architecture in Italy, 1958.
W. Syphes, Four Changes in Renaissance Style, 1955.
Antonia Vallentin, Leonardo da Vinci, 1938.
Howard Hibbard, Michaelangelo, 1974.


"The Spirit of Galileo is still with us, beckoning us to follow, to seek new worlds, to open new doors of the mind and glimpse something of his vision of a universe whose shores we are still trying to chart." From Colini A. Ronan, Galileo


Chapter 2


Italian Born Scientists

During the Middle Ages, under the influence of Arabic achievement in arts and sciences, southern Italy was cultivating a growing interest in scientific inquisitions. At Salerno, even as early as the ninth century, a medical school was founded where the works of Hippocrates and Galen were translated from the Arabic. At the court of Frederick II in Sicily, Italians, Jews and Moslems wrote, read and translated Arabic and Greek scientific treatises into Latin. By the 13th century in the northern regions of Italy, the universities of Bologna and Padua had already developed reputations for academic excellence. As many as 10,000 students a year from all over Europe were attending classes in Italian universities during the 15th century.

It was in this relatively free intellectual climate that many early scientific discoveries were made and theories proposed. Mondino of Luzzi, a professor of medicine at Bologna, was performing autopsies in 1315 and wrote the Anatomia, the most widely used text book on anatomy. Flavio Gioia perhaps invented but certainly perfected the compass in the 14th century. By 1322 simple spectacles


were being produced by the Murano glass works in Venice. It was from Italy that these glasses were imported to the Arabs and the Chinese.1

By the beginning of the fifteenth century and the dawning of the world of humanism major scientific breakthroughs were being made in Italy. One reason for this change was the weakening of the dogmatic and authoritative attitudes of the Church, which was itself caught up in the humanistic intellectual tradition. The critical attitude of the humanists toward speculation without experimentation assisted in creating this fertile intellectual environment.

Within this highly charged intellectual atmosphere nothing was beyond investigation and through it came change and progress in scientific truth. Leonardo da Vinci may be cautiously used as an example of this prevailing attitude that all can be achieved once man has put his full reasoning faculties on the problem.

A famous letter written by Leonardo reflects his confidence in the abilities of man. Writing in 1485 to the Duke of Milan, Leonardo requested a commission from the Duke, describing about 36 different services he could perform:2

I can invent whatever is needed for offense and for defense, on land and on sea . . .
        I can transport water from one place to another . . .
        I have methods of construction of very light and strong bridges which can be transported with the greatest ease . . .
He goes on to describe armored cars, cannons, small fire arms, and


poison gas made from "lime, sulphide of arsenic and verdigris . . ." He got the commission he sought.

A cursory examination of Leonardo's Notebooks reveals a curiosity and depth which propelled him into scientific regions unimagined by his contemporaries. The following is a list of some of the major scientific discoveries of Leonardo during his sixty-seven years:3
As an Inventor: a lathe
lens grinder
coin stamper
flying machine
automatic turnspit
chain or sprochet drive
As an Anatomist: inclination of the pelvix
rediscovery of the thyroid gland
frontal and maxillary sinuses
suggested the correct order for the
         circulation of blood
arteriosclerosis - calcification of
         the veins
As a Naturalist: phyllotoxis or the arrangement of
         leaves on a stem
measurement of the age of a tree by
         its concentric circles
suggested the concept of evolution

Leonardo made further contributions to geology. Why, for example, do we find bones of large fish and oysters and other shells on the tops of high mountains? Leonardo rejected the traditional theory that they were accidental, or the remains of sea life transported there by the Great Flood. He concluded that these marine creatures had always lived there and that the mountains had originally formed the sea floor, which gradually was raised by river silt and mud.


Leonardo had an insatiable mind, tireless in its attack on the mystery of life. How does a child live in the womb? Why does man grow old and die? Every question demanded an answer through observation certainly but dissection whenever possible. These notations, preserved in the Codex Atlanticus in Milan, are masterpieces of detail.

Leonardo da Vinci died in France in 1519, a man to whom nothing was a mystery. As an artist and humanist Leonardo was unsurpassed in a generation of genius, but as a scientist and inventor he transcended his time and as much a part of our own culture as he was of Italian culture in the sixteenth century.

If some of the major scientific discoveries of the 16th and 17th centuries were not made by Italians, and many were, the outstanding scientists of that period studied at the intellectual centers of Italy. The most famous scientist of the 16th century, Nicolous Copernicus, certainly studied at Bologna, Ferrara and Padua. It is impossible to believe that his Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies (1543) and his reaffirmation of the heliocentric theory was not developed under the intellectual influence of the Italian humanists who had earlier turned away from the dictates of ecclesiastical authority.

Indeed, even as Copernicus was composing his treatise the Veronese scientist and physician Girolamo Fracastoro was working on an elaborate study involving a homocentric theory in which the planets rotated on concentric spheres around different axes. Fracastoro surpassed Copernicus in his attempts to make astronomical observations with the use of a rudimentary telescope, the first


mentioned in the history of science. Fracastoro is also important in the history of medicine for his study and nomenclature of syphilis and his description and treatment of the disease in his De Contagione et Contagionis, in 1546. He also seemed to have been the first to recognize typhus through a careful recording and case study of the "sweating sickness" as it was known in the 16th century.

In almost every field of science Italians in the 16th and 17th centuries either made significant discoveries or were instrumental in providing the intellectual atmosphere for others to take the lead. In mathematics the first comprehensive printed Algebra was made by Luca Pacioli. Nicolo Fontana of Brescia, nicknamed "Tartaglia", first solved cubic equations, translated Euclid and Archimedes and did extensive study on the trajectory of projectiles, anticipating in later works by Galileo and Newton.

Giovanni Battista Benedetti (1530-1590) was interested in the problems involving falling bodies and proposed that all bodies of the same material regardless of size, would fall with the same velocity. Benedetti was incorrect in his belief that the velocities of bodies with the same volume but different material composition would fall in proportion to their weight. He also experimented with projectiles and concluded that natural gravity was not eliminated by the so-called theory of impetus.

Galileo Galilei was born to a wealthy family in Pisa in 1564. Originally destined for medicine he became interested in physics, later teaching at Padua from 1592 to 1610. Some of his early discoveries were made at this time. Sometime between 1592 and 1603 he invented the first instrument for measuring temperature, the


thermometer. In 1609 his optic tube enabled him to observe for the first time the lunar terrain as well as Saturn's rings. Through continued refining and experiments he was able to combine concave and convex lenses and created the compound microscope in 1610.

Galileo's observations on the planets and his own curious genius for scientific methodology led him into direct confrontation with the Church in 1632. In that year he published his Dialogue on the two chief systems of the world, the Ptolemaic and the Copernican, in which a defense of Copernicus was made. Yet the importance of the method used by Galileo was to win him lasting fame. In the Dialogue he wrote: "It seems to me that in discussing natural problems we ought not to start from the authority of the texts of the Scriptures but from the experiences of the senses and from necessary demonstrations . . . dalle sensate experienze e dalle dimostrazioni necessarie." This Dialogue affirmed a unique view of the universe which was now to be dominated by principles of mathematics coupled with observation rather than the abstract conjectures of Aristotle and Ptolemy, and the authority of Scripture.

Yet during his own lifetime he was humiliated by his peers, denounced by his friends and condemned by his Church. Pope Urban VIII had Galileo perpetually confined to his farm near Florence as a punishment for his stab at authority. Galileo's condemnation was a temporary victory for the Church but its impact upon the scientific world had far-reaching and longer-lasting consequences.

Despite this setback in the conflict between faith and reason some important scientific and intellectual advancements were made in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1657 the Accademia


del Cimento (The Academy of Experience) was founded in Florence and became the first organized scientific society in the world. While Galileo has been called the "spiritual father" of the Accademia, the Medici Dukes Ferdinand II and Leopold were the ones who actually called this organization to life. Both were extremely interested in the world around them and had the financial resources and influence to pursue their interests. Leopold was especially interested in the poisonous properties of tobacco and the possibilities of artificial incubation. But their interests did not dominate the Accademia.

The members of the society were important men of their day such as Borelli (1608-1670) who was recognized throughout Europe for his experiments with air pressure and the entire process of breathing. Within the sheltered confines of the Accademia he and others could follow their inclinations and experiment, free from the normal prohibitions of reactionary authority. Francesco Redi (1626-1694), also a member of the Accademia, was physician to the Grand Dukes of Tuscany while teaching literature at the University of Florence. His scientific experimentation led to the refutation of spontaneous generation, or the belief that decaying matter caused the creation of insect larva to form. Redi's observations and experiments led to his rejection of this widely held belief on the "natural" formation of insect larvae; he found that the ova of insects were the maggots on meat.

The Accademia del Cimento began to publish the various experiments and research projects undertaken by its members in a book form entitled the Saggi di Naturale Esperienza Fatte nell'Accademia


del Cimento. In the various issues of this work Galileo's experiments were discussed, pendulum and vacuum studies were related, and several studies on magnetism were presented. This concept of printing the experiments of the members of the Accademia had widespread success, so much so that in 1684 the Saggi was translated into English, into Latin in 1731 for the scholars of Europe and into French in 1755.

Although the Accademia was a short-lived society it nevertheless holds an important place in the history of experimental science. It was the harbinger of the scientific organizations whose members realized the importance of joint efforts, the use of elaborate instruments and the strict reliance on the scientific method. It was begun in a country which presented many features would lead the rest of Europe in its quest for scientific knowledge.

Although most of Italy was under the tight control of the religious authorities in matters broadly relating to dogma, the Italian universities were relatively free from Church control. Just as the Accademia was organized to promote experimentation in research, so too the Italian universities premitted a high degree of specialization and were the first universities to offer several "chairs" in the same fields of study. An invitation to Padua, Pisa, or Bologna was regarded as the highest honor in the scientific world of eighteenth century Europe.

The Enlightenment in western Europe had intellectual and scientific roots in Italy although most would associate the term with France. The Bolognese Luis Galvani (1737-1798) seriously discussed the mysterious force known as electricity, then a popular


curiosity on both sides of the Atlantic. He defined positive and negative charges and lent his name to the nomenclature of electrical terms: galvanic, galvanism and galvanometer to name a few. Alessandro Volta from Como was fascinated with the idea of transforming chemical energy into electrical power as well as the storage of this energy. His "Volta Pile", constructed in 1800, was the first battery with terminals of conductors, significantly advancing the study of electricity.

Later in the 19th century several outstanding Italians would successfully carry forth experimentation with electrical forces. Luigi Palmieri for example invented a magnetic electrical apparatus in 1843 to illustrate terrestrial magnetism. From an observation center on Mt. Vesuvious Palmieri devoted himself to various researches on magnetism, later turning his attentions to the creation of instruments which would measure earth tremors and predict the eruption of volcanos.

Scientific Contributions by Italians in America

The Florentine-born Antonio Meucci devised a prototype of the telephone in 1871 in the United States which he called a "teletrofono". In 1869 and 1871 he took out patents for his invention and sought financial backing in the United States. He was exceedingly poor at this time and was to become even more disappointed when in 1876 he read that one Alexander Graham Bell had secured a patent for the instrument which he had invented. Subsequently Meucci was taken into the Globe Telephone Company.


Ultimately Bell sued the Globe Company and Meucci sold his patents to Globe; he received a few thousand dollars which was then taken by his creditors.

The story of Antonio Meucci is a highly charged, emotional tale which has been kept current even to this day. In 1971 the Italian government issued a stamp which honored Meucci as the inventor of the telephone while the United States honored Bell with a similar stamp in 1976. Various Italian-American organizations had taken this issue before the Manhattan Federal Court, attempting to stop the issuance of the Bell stamp. They have also charged Bell with fraudulently stealing Meucci's patents. In any event it should be noted that even if Antonio Meucci is not given credit for the invention of the telephone, he will not be left without some honors. In 1881 Meucci received exclusive patents on another of his inventions, the making of postage stamps.

One can not omit from a discussion of 20th century inventors the name of Gugliemo Marconi and his experiments with electrical waves and the transmission of wireless messages. In 1896 he sent the first successful wireless message and in 1901 the first transcontinental communication from the British Isles to Newfoundland. His discoveries brought the possibility of mass communications that much closer to reality.

Some Italian scientists and inventors came to the United States during the mid-nineteenth century as exiles. One of these inventors was Quirico Filopanti, who arrived in America in 1849. He returned to Italy to fight with Garibaldi in the 1860's. He later sought funds in the United States for experiments in air


navigation which brought ridicule from scientists in this country. His proposal for funds was rejected. New York's Eco d'Italia voiced its sympathy for Filopanti by printing that "Columbus and Fulton also had to struggle against the prejudices of their century . . ."

The International Centennial Exposition of 1876, held in Philadelphia, drew many Italian intellectuals and scientists to the United States. For the most part they were impressed with the research facilities available and the relatively open intellectual atmosphere. By the turn of the century Italian-born scientists were arriving in this country at an increased rate. In 1903, 817 "professional" including scientists and writers emigrated to this country, 551 of whom were from southern Italy.4 The immediate linguistic and economic deficiencies encountered were overcome and many contributed to this country's scientific growth. Among them were Giuseppe Bellanca, an aviation pioneer, whose monoplane the Columbia, was the first cabin aircraft to cross the Atlantic in 1911. Bellanca also designed the first trans-Pacific monoplane, the Miss Veedol.

Italian-born scientists have been best known in the area of physics in recent years, during which the names of Fermi, Rossi and Segre have become prominent leaders in the field of atomic research. Enrico Fermi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938 and emigrated to this country in the following year. He was appointed Professor of Physics at Columbia University in 1939 and later, at the University of Chicago, constructed the first atomic pile, leading to a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction. From these experiments would come the first atomic bomb.


Later, Fermi would work at harnessing nuclear power for peaceful use until his death in 1954.

Professor Bruno Rossi worked with Fermi on the atomic project but is best known for his work with cosmic radiation. Born in Venice, he taught at Florence, Padua, and Manchester Universities before coming to America in 1939. In America he taught at the University of Chicago, Cornell and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1966. His astrophysical research, carried out by NASA, led to the 1970 Explorer X Project. Rossi's research into cosmic radiation discovered that cosmic rays were able to traverse great thicknesses of matter and that the collisions of such rays with atoms generated secondary particles. In 1971 Professor Rossi was awarded 20 million lire by the Italian Accademia dei Lincei for his contributions to science.

Another prominent Italian physicist who migrated to America is Emilio Segre. Born in Tivoli in 1905, he was a co-discoverer of the element Plutonium, the existence of slow neutrons, and of anti-protons. His extensive research in nuclear, atomic, and particle physics earned him the Nobel Prize in 1959.

Unlike music and art, the field of science is not always associated in the popular mind with the Italian-born or the Italian-American. Yet consistently biographical compilations such as the Prominent Scientists of Continental Europe and American Men of Science devote many pages to the contributions of Italian researchers and leaders in a variety of scientific fields. In 1968, for example, 165 Italian scientists were represented in the Prominent Scientists of Continental Europe publication.


And yet it should be remembered that specific contributions to scientific discovery are not the work of any particular ethnic group. Inventions and discoveries rest upon the research and experimentations of many others. Suffice it to remember that Italians have contributed to scientific progress both in Italy and in America.

Italian Explorers and Travellers

Italians have been at the forefront of many if not most of the important geographical discoveries during the Age of Reconnaissance. From the early Middle Ages Italian prelates and merchants had been deeply involved as nuncios or diplomats for the papacy, city states or commercial agents seeking new lands for trading opportunities. In 1245 Pope Innocent IV sent the sixty-five-year-old monk John of Piano Carpini as an envoy to the Great Khan, Lord of the Mongols. His travels on horseback covered some 3000 miles concluding when he reached Karakorum in 1247, the first westerner on record to travel to the East, return and relate his experiences.5 The Polo Brothers, Niccolò and Maffeo, and Niccolò's son Marco traveled extensively in China in 1271. Marco remained in China, traveled to Indonesia, India, and East Africa over a 28-year period, returning to Italy in 1299. His Travels of Marco Polo was a popular account of his journeys, evidenced by the fact that we still retain over 120 copies of the original book, an astonishing number for that period, showing that it was widely disseminated in the 13th century.

Carpini and Polo were not the only Italian travelers during this period of relative insularity. Niccolò de Conti, disguised


as a Moslem, traveled for 25 years (1416-1441) through Asia. Later with the humanist Poggio Bracciolini he described his travels in the India Recognita which ranked with Polo's Travels as a widely read treatise. The Venetian Ambrogio Contarini journeyed as an ambassador in Russia and western Asia in the 1470's. In 1475 he met the other Venetian ambassador, Josafat Barbaro in Persia and together attempted to negotiate with the Persians for a continuation of their war against the Turks. This would have relieved Turkish pressure against Venetian trade but the mission was not successful.

The commercial revolution of the 15th century and the need for new trade routes and markets proved to be the major stimuli for the exploration of the world beyond Europe. Many explorers were Italian but were not employed by the various Italian city states but by Portugal, Spain, France, and England. The reason for Italian disinterest in exploration was economic and therefore understandable. The large cities had no real need to find new routes to the East for Italian trade was not seriously jeopardized by the Moslem conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Financially the expenses involved were usually prohibitive and few cities could participate in such undertakings. It was in the young but consolidated nation states that such projects could be realized and it was to these countries that Italian navigators flocked.

Finally it was not in the merchant's economic interest to aid in the discovery of improved routes because that would hamper the Italian monopoly on eastern commerce. In this instance any alternate


routes would be reckoned only in loss of revenues. For these reasons Italian merchants invested in the secure returns of established commercial ventures rather than speculate on innovative but costly schemes. Money would be expended after a discovery for the spices and tradestuffs available but not for initial exploration. Italian banking houses loaned money for such voyages at exorbitant rates of interest. In 1505, for example, Genoese and Florentine bankers invested 30,000 florins in Portuguese expeditions sailing for spices. The money was returned at the rate of 175% interest!

The saga of Columbus' voyages to the New World is too well known to be repeated here. Suffice it to say that during the course of these journeys, lasting some eight years, he reached the Greater and Lesser Antilles, South America and Central America, and was awarded the title "Admiral of the Ocean Sea". He also received a percentage of the gold and silver found in these newly discovered lands. The story of how Columbus died in Spain, poor and in chains, is completely inaccurate. Even if he received 2 or 3% of the revenues, as he alleged, he was a wealthy man as the substantial amounts left to his sons indicated.

Columbus did not arrive at his calculations totally by himself. In 1474 he had begun a correspondence with the Florentine Paolo Toscanelli, a doctor of medicine with an interest in geography who encouraged westward travel to the Indies. Toscanelli enthusiastically supported Columbus with his own calculations for a westward journey which did prove to be somewhat inaccurate. Toscanelli reasoned that Asia was such an extensive land mass and projected so far eastward that it would be but a short trip from the Azores to the


tip of Asia. This was an oversimplification, to be sure, but it did act as a catalyst for Columbus. In the end the thought of one scholar was interpreted into action by another for the benefit of the whole world.

As to the charges that Columbus was imprisoned, they are true. During an insurrection at Santo Domingo in 1500 the Royal Commissioner felt that the admiral and his sons were guilty of poor administration and brutality. He decided to ship Columbus and his sons back to Spain to answer these charges. During the voyage Columbus was put in irons temporarily and upon arriving in Spain he was exonerated of all charges. He kept the fetters as a gloomy souvenir of his imprisonment. In 1502 he set out again on his fourth voyage with full Spanish backing.

The tragedy of Columbus was not his lack of material wealth nor his humiliating incarceration but the timing of his discoveries. When he died in 1506 his travels and exploits were not highly regarded and his personal rapport with the Crown was at a low ebb. He died not knowing what he had discovered, believing to the end that a province of China, some islands near Asia, were the lands he had found in the West.

The Admiral of the Ocean Sea was soon followed by other Italians in the employment of foreign powers. Giovanni Caboto from Genoa sailed for Henry VII of England in 1497 and 1498 to North America. With a crew of 18 Bristol mariners and his son Sabastian he touched Cape Breton Island, sighted Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. A second voyage brought him as far as Delaware,


and possibly as far south as Cape Hatteras. At that point he disappears from history, another navigator failing to find Asia but discovering North America instead. Sabastian Cabot is usually given credit for advocating the concept of a "Northwest Passage", an all-water northern route to Asia. In 1509 he attempted to discover this route and during his voyage penetrated as far north as Hudson Bay.

The Florentine Amerigo Vespucci was the manager of the Seville branch of the Medici Bank and had helped to finance Columbus' second and third voyages. In 1499 he became involved in the actual exploration of the New World and traveled with the Spaniard Alonzo di Ajeda along the coast of South America for some 2000 miles. In 1501-1502 he was commissioned by the King of Portugal to explore the newly discovered Brazilian territories. He again traveled along the coast of South America to the LaPlata River. It was to Vespucci's credit and fortune that he was the first explorer to realize and advocate that this was indeed a New World, not merely an extension of Asia as Columbus and others had thought. As a result of his voyages and writings the German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller bestowed the name "America" upon the new continents.6

Sidney Alexander has commented that "etymologically, all Americans are Florentine . . ." referring of course to Vespucci's origins. To some degree this is correct if one considers the ethnic backgrounds of many of these early explorers. But not all of them traveled to the New World. Other examples of exploration by Italians proliferate in the annals of early maritime histories.


Antonio Pigafetta, a volunteer gentleman from Vicenza, was the official historian on Magellan's circumnavigation in 1522. He was one of the 18 men to survive the journey after Magellan was killed in the Philippines. His Le Voyage et Navigation faict par les Espaignoly (1525) ranks with Columbus' Journal as a masterpiece of first-hand narration.

Another Florentine, Giovanni da Verrazzano, was commissioned by the French to find a northern passage to Asia in 1523. He went as far as South Carolina, turned northward and entered New York harbor. He then rounded Cape Cod, traveled along the northeast coast to Maine and returned home in 1524. His accuracy in surveying and noting the North American coastline was the most important of all the early voyages. His drawings and maps would ultimately give France the basis for her claims in the New World.

By the 17th century practically all of the nation states were now supplying the leadership as well as the expertise needed in further settlement and exploration in the New World. The Age of Exploration had given way to an Era of Colonization and Italian leadership was not conspicuous during this phase of settlement. But Italians were present primarily as priests and monks who were a part of every colonization effort.

About 20 Italians arrived at Jamestown in 1622 at the request of the English, who needed their abilities in glassmaking and to teach this art to the other colonists. In the west Father Francesco Kino from Genoa explored extensive tracts of land in Mexico and California, was appointed royal cosmographer in 1683, and in 1698


prepared the first maps of California which established the fact that California was not an island. He also introduced cattle into the southwest as well as grapes and various European grains. This "Padre on Horseback" also established some 20 missions in California before his death in 1711.

Perhaps the most famous of these explorers of Italian origin was Enrico Tonti, who assisted the Frenchman LaSalle in his travels in North America. Tonti was LaSalle's lieutenant and with him built Ft. St. Louis de la Mobile on the Illinois River.7 During Tonti's numerous expeditions and colonization excursions he journeyed through what is now Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. He was the one man who knew best the unsettled lands of New France, who earned the respect of the Indian tribes in those regions as well as the admiration of his fellow settlers. An Italian by birth, he died in 1704 in the New World he had helped to explore and settle. He has been called the "Father of Arkansas" and Tontitown, Arkansas, bears witness to his importance.

After the American War of Independence many Italians of noble birth were intrigued with this new nation and were drawn to America. Several of them were friends of the Founding Fathers or members of the same international organizations as Jefferson and Franklin. Count Francesco dal Verme of Milan arrived here in 1783 and was greeted by George Washington. Traveling as a wealthy and interested vacationer, dal Verme was entertained at Yale University where he received an honorary degree. Later, when Thomas Jefferson visited Lombardy, dal Verme played host to this illustrious American visitor.


Another notable of Italian lineage was Count Luigi Castiglione, who was a member of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. He visited all 13 states in 1785-1786 and published a two-volume work on the natural history and plant life of America.

Another Italian traveler during the early 19th century was Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, a six-foot nobleman from Como who arrived in America in 1823, an exile from the Napoleonic wars. Beltrami joined a military expedition to North Dakota but left the party soon after it began. On his own and with the assistance of several Chippewa and Ojibway Indians he stumbled through the wilderness and by chance came upon what he considered to be the source of the Mississippi River at Lake Julia.8 Upon his return to civilization he published a book on the discovery and was actually given credit for it by a United States Geological Survey, in 1855. Today a northern county in Minnesota is named after him, as well as Lake Beltrami in that state.

Italian journalists wrote about the growing American nation for their continental readership during the 19th century, and commented on some interesting features of American life. Some of the reports, articles and fictional accounts were very inaccurate, while others tried to give a realistic portrayal of the land and its people. In 1848 Salvatore Abbate published his report on American life and spent the first chapter of his book dispelling the myths which surrounded this country. He told his readers that not all Americans were rich and patrons of the arts and that indeed some scientific progress was occurring in America. Further, noble


birth did not guarantee anyone anything in this new land!9 He cautioned his readers that, despite rumors to the contrary, the American government was NOT paying all travel expenses for Italian immigrants nor providing them with free lands or servants upon their arrival.

Some Italian visitors were outright hostile to America, such as Giovanni Vigna del Ferro, a Bolognese journalist who wrote his Un Viaggio nel Far West (A Trip to the American Far West) in 1881. He was offered two free tickets to California and made the worst of this offer by accepting them and writing about his experiences.

An inaccurate journalist at best and certainly not a student of American history, del Ferro was disappointed that in the 1880's the Indians encountered no longer attacked the trains nor offered their traditional war whoops. Indeed, during his four year stay in this country he was able to describe the Indians as drunken sots, the buffalo largely killed off and their remains scattered over the prairies, and the food quite unappealing to a foreign visitor. Since western food made him sick he traveled with his own provisions of barreled wines, cans of tuna, mortadella, cheese, sardines and butter.10 After visiting Salt Lake City, Reno and San Francisco he reported that in the western part of the United States, disease was the usual order of the day and vigilante violence the order of the night. His reports were usually reprinted in Italian-American papers in New York City.


During the Civil War Italy and the Italian journalists who wrote about the conflict were unique in their impartiality toward North and South. During a period when most European countries favored a southern victory most Italians were apathetic toward the outcome. But several Italian travelers did leave their impressions on the subject of slavery. Catholic periodicals especially were anti-slavery and many of the Italian attacks upon the "peculiar institution" were to be found in magazines such as Civilta Cattolica. When Harriet Beecher Stowe arrived in London in 1853 this magazine blasted America for permitting slavery to exist, calling it a remnant of pagan antiquity which had no part in the modern world. Ten years later the celebrated Italian scholar Cesare Cantu blamed the United States for not living up to its principles embodied in the Constitution. "The evil in (America) derives from a violation of democracy; from not having equally distributed power between all, by giving all to a privileged class; a class privileged in politics and personality, who are in competition with their slaves."11 Only after emancipation could democracy in America and the entire world be assured, he concluded.

After the war Italian travelers to America were consistent in their abhorrence of the treatment of blacks in this country. A professor of geology, Giovanni Capellini, was especially incensed at the inhuman treatment of blacks. He related several incidents in Kentucky and along the Ohio River when whites flung insults at blacks working on another steamboat, while young boys flung stones at the corpse of a black who was floating in the water. All of this


after the war, after the emancipation of slavery, in the land of the Declaration of Independence.

Another commentator, Francesco Varvaro, wrote in 1876 that he could not reconcile the doctrines expressed by the American Declaration with the prevailing attitudes toward the former slaves. Although an Italian anti-cleric, Varvaro was disgusted when he witnessed blacks being excluded from Protestant churches. "In a country whose institutions have such an egalitarian base, I admire the Catholics who, slave or free, have always treated the blacks with equality, and have always admitted them to their churches."12 The actor Ernesto Rossi scorned American democracy after having witnessed two blacks thrown out of a theater while a black Congressman was not admitted to a hotel used by his white colleagues.

In sum, Italian travelers and journalists found quite a distinction between the principles of American democracy and its actual workings on a day-to-day basis. Although they usually did not get involved with the political squabbles of the post-Civil War period they were very concerned with the ethical and moral questions of slavery and the promise of equality. The views of the Italians in America were the least prejudiced and most believable of any foreign nation of that time and often made Americans ashamed because of their accurate insights.



1Vincent Ilardi, "Eyeglasses and Concave Lenses in Fifteenth-Century Florence and Milan," Renaissance Quarterly, XXIX, No. 3 (Autumn, 1976), 341-360.

2This famous document is from Leonardo's Codex Atlanticus in the Ambrosiana Library in Milan. A Portion of the letter is found in Antonina Vallentin's Leonardo da Vinci: The Tragic Pursuit of Perfection (New York: The Viking Press, 1938), pp. 75-85.

3Pamela Taylor, ed., The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (New York: The New American Library, 1960).

4Annual Report of the Commissioner of Immigration (Washington, D.C.: 1903).

5Christopher Dawson, ed., Mission to Asia (New York: Harper and Row, 1966).

6On early Italian explorers and the Age of Discovery consult B. Penrose, Travel and Discovery in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952) and J.H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (New York: Mentor Books, 1963).

7Barbara Marinacci, They Came From Italy (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1967), pp. 15-35.

8Andrew F. Rolle, The American Italians (Belmont, California: The Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1972), pp. 29-35.

9Andrew J. Torrielli, Italian Opinions on America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941), pp. 8-9.

10Rolle, Op. cit., p. 32.

11Cesare Cantu, "L'America nel 1863" quoted in Torrielli, Op. cit., pp. 62-63.

12Torrielli, Op. cit., p. 70.


It may be said with no small amount of pride that the Children of Italy discovered America, gave poetry to the English, cuisine to the French, acting and ballet to the Russians...and music to the world.

(Adapted from Luigi Barzini's, The Italians.)


Chapter 3


Italians have impressively filled Europe and Western Civilization with many of their accomplishments. Italian architects built part of the Kremlin in Moscow and the Winter Palace in Leningrad. They have decorated the Capitol in Washington and designed the dome for that edifice. All over Europe and South America monuments of famous heroes have been produced by Italian artisans.

On a somewhat smaller scale Italy has made her mark. We would have no pistols but for the city of Pistoia, no millinery but for Milan, no blue jeans but for the city of Genoa (Genes) where the blue cotton was first produced. We could not request Neapolitan ice cream, bologna sausage, Parmesan cheese or Venetian blinds. As Luigi Barzini has observed in his book The Italians, children of Italy discovered America, gave poetry to the English, cuisine to the French, acting and ballet to the Russians and music to the world.

Yet it is strange that for all of her genius these men never created a great Italy. In fact few of these recognized leaders in world culture exercised any influence at all at home. It seems that with determined regularity those who would lead in cultural pursuits have been systematically neutralized throughout the


centuries, in their homeland. Galileo and Veronese were hauled before the Inquisition, Galileo for his "radical" theories, Veronese for his "scandalous" art. Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli and Mazzini were exiled while Savonarola and Bruno were burned at the stake.


The creation of art during the period referred to as the Renaissance brought about significant changes in attitudes and approaches to the subject. Between the careers of the two Florentines Giotto (1240-1302) and Michaelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) Italian artists retreated from the unrealistic and symbolic art of the Middle Ages to an art form which described the essence of the real world. We may divide these centuries into three distinct ages, that of Giotto, the generation of Masaccio and Donatello, and the era of Leonardo and Michaelangelo. While the early painters tried to capture reality with varying techniques and styles Leonardo and his followers not only achieved a semblance of perfection but attempted to go beyond nature into the deeper forms of personal reality.

Giotto was perhaps the first Italian to achieve an art form which was less symbolic and more realistic, and to consciously break from Medieval tradition. According to Vasari, "Giotto deserves to be called the disciple of nature . . . for nature was to him a never failing source of inspiration."1 Giotto was a revolutionary because most of his techniques rejected the symbolic representation of man and painted the natural reality he perceived.


Giotto provided his frescos with space and fluid movement, although crude in comparison with later artists.

Following Giotto was Masaccio (1401-1428), whose name literally means "sloppy Tom." He was the first artist to use mechanical perspective and assume that human anatomy existed under the clothing of his figures. The idea of perspective, the creation of the illusion of depth on a flat surface, was a style most obsessively mastered by Paolo Uccello. His preoccupation with this technique was so overwhelming that he would refuse to eat or sleep for days, telling his wife repeatedly, "Oh, what a delightful thing is this perspective." The architect Brunelleschi stumbled upon this principle after he had studied the proportions of classical architecture, while the artist Piero della Francesco wrote a manual for artists on the mathematical principles of perspective.

The use of chiaroscuro (shading) and of sfumato (a smoky haze) were pioneered by Masaccio and Leonardo respectively, permitting the artist to create a mysterious appearance in his art. Another interesting technique, used by the adventurer-artist Benvenuto Cellini, was the "lost wax" technique of bronze casting.

Luca Signorelli (1441-1523) of Cortona, an artist relatively unknown to most readers, is important in the evolution of Italian painting for his emphasis on the nude which closely approximates the titanic element in Michaelangelo. We know that at least one of his works hung in Lorenzo de Medici's home while the young Michaelangelo was employed there.


The meaning behind the appearance of objects became increasingly elaborate as the Renaissance waned. Indeed, as with the technique of perspective, artists like Botticelli and Raphael became obsessed with the possibilities of symbolic art. Yet no other Italian artist has generated more attention and interest in the idea that art has various levels of meaning than Michaelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). In virtually every sculpture work he created there are hidden meanings, purposely implanted, expressing his personal vision of reality and delivering his philosophical message to those who wish to seek them.

With Michaelangelo's works we begin a new level of artistic genius, of art as an external expression to the world while whispering to the individual the inward struggle of man in subtle but meaningful symbolism.

Italian art in the Renaissance came to represent not merely a chapter in European history but an essential factor in the ideological and cultural formation of modern Europe. The ideas, techniques and inspiration spread throughout Europe and have had far reaching application in art forms today.


The creative talents of Italy can be found in all artistic media but especially in the field of architecture. It is interesting to realize how much of an effect climate and regional differences have had upon the architectural structures of the


peninsula. In a relatively mild climate no special structural adaptation was needed.

There is no country in the world where the past serves the present so dutifully as in Italy. Frank Lloyd Wright suggested this relationship between simplicity, tradition and essence in his volume entitled On Architecture:2

Of this joy of living there is greater proof in Italy than elsewhere. Buildings, pictures, and sculptures seem to be born, like the flowers by the roadside, to sing themselves into being. Approached in the spirit of their conception they inspire us with the very music of life. No really Italian building seems ill at ease in Italy . . . The secret of this ineffable charm would be sought in vain in the rarefied air of scholasticism or pedantic fine art. It lies close to the earth. Like a handful of the moist, sweet earth itself it is so simple that, to modern minds, trained in intellectual gymnastics, it would seem unrelated to great purpose. It is so close that almost universally it is overlooked by the pedant.

One of the most impressive edifices of the Renaissance was the vaulted dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, executed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) in Florence. The very idea of a dome or cupola of such height and weight was more than any architect dreamed possible. Even if such a dome could have been constructed it would have been aesthetically burdened by supporting columns and high scaffolds, but Brunelleschi suggested the impossible - no external framework whatsoever!

According to Vasari, Brunelleschi sought to improve the practice of architecture, "and brought it to a perfection," for the Florentine proposed to build for eternity. Today as in the 15th century the Duomo rises like a benediction over the city on the Arno. It is


strong, enduring, the symbolic spirit of Florence. Indeed, Florentines still claim that when they leave the city they are not homesick for the urban community but rather long for their Duomo.

In 1506 Pope Julius II decided to demolish the old Basilica of St. Peter's and have it rebuilt in a non-traditional style. Donato Bramante (1444-1514) was selected for the task of creating this monument of the Church. Bramante never completed the task because of a lack of funds.

Bramante's idea for the church was to be innovative. It was not to be oblong, in the traditional sense, but square with chapels symmetrically arranged about a cross-shaped hall. This hall was to be capped by a cupola rising on huge arches. The boldness of this undertaking is inspiring for its ambition but really confirmed the Renaissance ideal that for man nothing is impossible. Thus, majestically rising 452 feet about the Piazza, St. Peter's Cathedral stands as the architectural achievement of the Renaissance. However, St. Peter's as we know it today has little in common with the plans of Bramante except for its gigantic dimensions. It is ironic that Michaelangelo, who had an almost paranoid hostility toward Bramante, was chosen in 1546 to complete the structure.

The construction of St. Peter's was then a cooperative effort, first by Bramante in 1506, later by Sangallo in 1539. Finally Michaelangelo's plan, executed over a twenty-year period, began in 1546. Clearly Michaelangelo wanted to be master of the entire operations and erased all traces of the previous architect's work, to the point of pulling down the work already produced by Sangallo.


Although another architect, Giacomo della Porta, modified Michaelangelo's plans somewhat in 1588 and actually finished the dome, the design was Michaelangelo's. It is the greatest dome and largest cathedral ever built and not only has symbolized religious belief but was also adopted by the men of the Enlightenment and afterwards to crown their secular capitols. As James Ackerman pointed out in his The Architecture of Michaelangelo (1970): "If Michaelangelo had not reluctantly become an architect the domes of St. Paul's and of the Washington Capitol could not have been the same."

It was Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) who relied on the attitudes of the High Renaissance to achieve the mingling of the symbolic and the grand, and pointed to the Baroque. Trained as a sculptor, this Neopolitan towered over all artists of his age, and dominated architecture for the next fifty years.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples in 1598. He was perhaps the only artist of the period to enjoy the gift of longevity and the fortitude to carry through a project as vast as St. Peter's. A pilgrim coming to Rome in 1600 would have seen little of the grand Basilica, except for the dome. The architecture was disjointed, fragmented. Bernini organized and polished the scraps of uncompleted genius found throughout the city and gave his own audacious grandeur to the scheme.

At the age of 26 he was commissioned by the Barberini Pope Urban VII to build a great canopy over the tomb of St. Peter's, the Baldacchino. To have achieved this feat in bronze (it is nearly 100


feet high) required engineering mastery. To complicate the task he discovered that there was not enough bronze available to complete the work. Urban ordered the roof of the most famous ruin in Rome, the Pantheon, to be stripped of its bronze for the Baldacchino, prompting the quip "What the barbari (barbarians) dared not do was done by the Barberini.". But one might quickly add, for the glory of the Church, pagan antiquity must pay.

In 1642 Bernini began plans for the completion of St. Peter's, especially the vast piazza in front of St. Peter's with its encircling colonnade. It was his crowning masterpiece, which gives the observer the impression that he need no longer be burdened by the weight of his problems, but can lose himself within the immensity and ethereal greatness of the Church. In an age of doubt and uncertainty the effect was immediate and profoundly felt by Italian and non-Italian visitors to the holy city. This architectural device was to be emulated throughout Europe for 200 years by secular powers as widely separated as England and Russia.

During the 18th century Italian architects often took their talents to the New World in search of commissions. The Italian traveler and patriot Philip Massei, the intimate friend of Thomas Jefferson, was requested to search out and bring Italian architects and sculptors to America to design a figure of Liberty for the new nation's "Chamber of Representatives". He sent Joseph Franzoni and John Andrew to Jefferson and they combined their talents and planned monuments and sculpted works in Washington. Most important of these early Italian artisans was Antonio Meucci, who planned the dome for the nation's Capitol, basing his construction after St. Peter's in


Rome. In 1814 Washington was destroyed by fire and with it the constructions of Franzoni and Meucci. However, other Italians were imported to replace those art objects destroyed by the flames.

Pier Luigi Nervi (1891-    ) is considered the most important modern Italian architect, working almost completely in reinforced concrete. His works are internationally known and recognized, combining aesthetic value with functionality. It is interesting to observe that Nervi has been awarded most of his commissions not only on the basis of their daring and beauty but because of the relative inexpensiveness of their construction.


If there is one universal medium which the Italians can take the most pride in, it is their creative artistry in music. Like any art form music transcends national and ethnic distinctions and is enjoyed and appreciated by diverse peoples. Every Italian region, city and almost every rural village has provided composers artists, craftsmen and performers whose music has flowed through Italy and outward to the world.

Indeed the city of Palermo may have the worst slums in all of Italy, yet it boasts of the third largest opera house in Europe, the Teatro Massimo on the Piazza Verdi.

Sicily has had a rich musical past, reaching back almost 2500 years to the Greek colonization of the island. The great age of music in Sicily comes in the Middle Ages when their poetry was put to song and usually dealt with love, some religious music and,


interestingly, one or two protest songs against the Crusades! In the following centuries the composer Alessandro Scarlatti (born in 1660) was born in Palermo and composed over 115 operas. However, his great claim to immortality was his son, Domenico Scarlatti, who became opera composer for the Queen of Poland, musician of the court of Portugal, chair-master of St. Peter's. From 1728 to 1758 he devoted all his attentions and genius to the harpsichord.

In Naples music is synonomous with opera and rightly so. In the 17th century Naples produced in rapid succession composers who monopolized the opera houses of Europe for the remainder of the century. In Naples is the Teatro di San Carol, the oldest opera house in Italy, built in 1737.

The composers of opera in the 18th century were Neapolitan by either birth or training or style. In England Neapolitan opera was represented by Handel and Bonocini, in Germany by Hasse and Jommelli, in Venice by Vivalid and Gasparini. Neapolitan opera was brought to America by a company of French musicians in 1790, the first Italian opera produced in America being Pergolesi's "La Serva Padrona."

As one moves northward the variety of musical interests increases. Tuscany, the region which contains the cities of Florence, Lucca, Pisa, and Siena, has offered the world some of the greatest composers. Lucca was the home of one of the most prolific of Italian composers, Giacomo Puccini, whose works include La Bohêeme,


Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, La Tosca, and La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West).

In Florence the earliest opera for which music is preserved, Euridice, was presented on October 6, 1600 in the Palazzo Pitti. Under the Medici musicians from all over Europe were brought to the city to perform and compose.

The names of Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti and Stradivarius are internationally recognized for their brilliant contributions to the world of music. Each of these individuals was from the northern provinces of Italy, cities virtually unknown to Americans but each nevertheless possessing a cultural heritage of musical excellence.

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) was born in Bergamo, and is credited with the composition of some 71 operas. Some of his works include Anna Bolena (1830) and Don Pasquale (1843), reputed to have been written in only eight days. His name now graces the new theater in the city.

The city of Cremona is not famous for her composers although Monteverdi was born there in 1567. Cremona does have the undisputed reputation of having brought forth the finest stringed instruments in the world. In the city the Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari families lived and created instruments of unsurpassed excellence.

The supreme master of the art of violin-making was Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), whose craftsmanship became legendary. The sounds from the violins of Cremona radiated throughout the world


but it wasn't until 1961 that the city fathers realized that they had no Stradivarius instruments left in the town. A drive was launched to raise money to purchase a violin for 3,000,000 lire or about $50,000. The instrument now rests in a glass case in the Palazzo Communale, facing the city's cathedral.

Milan has been the cultural center of Lombardy for centuries, drawing upon a musical tradition dating back to St. Ambrose in the 4th century. It was in Milan during a religious controversy that the form of antiphonal singing known as the "Ambrosiani" was created. In this musical form the choir is divided into two groups, each responding to a repeated refrain. The Ambrosian chant, with its emphasis on melody and simple language, preceded the Roman Gregorian chant by some 200 years.

The monument which is synonomous with Milan is the Teatro alla Scala which opened on August 3, 1778. From the first it has enjoyed a unique reputation among opera lovers. Unlike the houses of Naples, La Scala has strictly regulated behavior in the theater, forbidding overly enthusiastic applause, signs of disapproval, dogs in the boxes and encores. The conductor Arturo Toscanini, unable to continue his presentation of a performance because the audience demanded an encore from a tenor, threw his baton at the crowd and walked off the stage. He did not return to La Scala for another three years, and then as artistic director of the opera house.


The music of Rigoletto, Il Travatore, La Traviata and Aida are well-known compositions from the pen of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Verdi has been characterized as the major musical exponent of patriotism during the 19th century. Although none of his operas specifically refer to the contemporary political situation, the themes of freedom and liberty are the resounding chords in his works.

In 1869 Verdi was commissioned to write an opera for the Khedive of Egypt to celebrate the opening of the new Cairo Opera House and the Suez Canal. With his wife and a friend he composed Aida which was performed in Cairo in 1871 amidst a "circus" atmosphere. Six weeks later the opera was again performed in Milan and was very well received. During his lifetime and in the years since his death in 1901, wherever there is an opera house Verdi's music is performed and enjoyed.

No discussion of Italian musicians can be complete without including Il Maestro, Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini's name still retains the enduring mark of greatness. Born in Parma in 1867, Toscanini was educated as a cellist and had his first professional experiences in that role.

In 1898 Toscanini was made artistic director of the Teatro alla Scala, the highest honor awarded to an Italian performer. La Scala had been closed for a year prior to his arrival because of poor management and with Toscanini's guidance it was once again restored. His residence there would be a consistent source of strife and turmoil for the artist.


In March of 1948 Toscanini was visually introduced to the American public on television. He conducted the NBC Symphony until 1954 when network officials decided that he was too old to continue as conductor. In April of that year the 87-year-old conductor gave his last performance at Carnegie Hall. Briefly returning to Italy, the nearly blind Maestro soon returned to America.

The incomparable magic which was worked by Toscanini ended on January 16, 1957, when Il Maestro died at the age of 89. Although his music lives on through numerous recordings (which he personally disliked) nothing can reproduce the vision of Toscanini mounting the podium and transforming an army of mere musicians into an illusion of vibrations and visions. That was his mastery, for which he is lovingly remembered.


What follows is a short and briefly annotated sketch of the most noteworthy literary works produced in Italy over the last 700 years. Rather than present lengthy passages from Dante, Leopardi or Pirandello, a listing of their major works is provided. Whenever possible a standard biographical work is also listed.


St. Francis of Assisi
Il Cantico delle Creature (Canticle of the Sun) - famous collection of poems of Thanksgiving to "brother" sun, "sister" moon, "sister" death.

Biography: Maria Sticco, The Peace of St. Francis, 1962.


Jacopone da Todi
Stabat Mater and Laudi - in contempt of this world; Lauda della Malattia for example (In Praise of Disease).

Dante Alighieri
The most widely read and analyzed Italian literary figure. Absolutely essential reading for anyone wishing to understand Italian literature.

La Vita Nuova - a book of memories and romantic confessions.
De Vulgari Eloquentia - a treatise on the vernacular tongue, establishing Italian on an equal footing with Latin.
De Monarchia - treatise in favor of a universal secular monarchy.
The Divine Comedy - three books depicting a spiritual journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven; written in the vernacular.

Biography: Michele Barbi, The Life of Dante, 1960.


Francesco Petrarca
Thought to be the first great literary figure of the Renaissance, prolific writer and scholar.

Africa - epic poem in praise of Scipio Africanus.
De Viris Illustribus (On the Lives of Famous Men) - biographical studies of ancient heroes, chiefly Roman.
Epistolae (Letters) - interesting letters to Seneca, Quintilian, Vergil, Homer.

Biography: E.H. Wilkins, Life of Petrarca, 1961.

Dino Compagni
Early historian and sometime poet of Florence.

Chronicle of the Events of our Time - impressionistic history of the city of Florence with general references to other Italian cities in the 14th century.

Biography: Ugo Balzani, Early Chroniclers of Europe: Italy
(London: 1883).


Giovanni and Matteo Villani
Cronica di Fiorentia - the most widely read source for the social and political history of Florence in the 14th century.

Biography: Louis Green, Chronicle Into History (Cambridge:
        Cambridge University Press, 1972)
R. Selfe and P. Wicksteed, eds, Vilani's Chronicle,
        Selections. (London: 1906).

Giovanni Boccaccio
Poet, scholar, compiler of ribald tales, biographer of Petrarch.

The Decameron - Collection of 100 tales told by traveling companions fleeing the Black Death.
Il Filocolo - the young romances of Boccaccio described in some detail.
Vita di Petrarch - account of the great poet whom Boccaccio met in 1350.


Leonardo Bruni
Civic humanist, champion of Florentine and Italian liberty

In Praise of Florence - title is self-explanatory; Florence is the "New Rome" on the Arno.
History of the Florentine People - early history which searches for human cause and effect in events rather than Providence.

Biography: Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Italian Renaissance, 1955.

Leon Battista Alberti
Multi-talented writer and theorist in many aspects of life and culture.

On the Family - interesting work which gives insight into the mind and character of 15th century humanists as applied to the family; his attitudes and advice concerning women is most interesting.
On Architecture - important work used by architects to set the composition for necessity, convenience and aesthetics.


Ludovico Ariosto
Perhaps the most popular of the Italian writers of the 16th century.

Orlando Furioso - a fantasy epicpoem of the Crusades.

Torquato Tasso
"The Prince of the Italian poets" of the Cinquocento.

Gerusalemme Liberata - a tale of the freeing of Jerusalem during the first crusade with many supernatural devices.

Lorenzo de Medici
Virtual ruler of Florence; also the creator of many carnival songs and religious Laudi.

Canti Carnascialeschi - songs and poems to be read to the crowds during carnival.

Biography: Cecilia M. Ady, Lorenzo dei Medici and
         Renaissance Italy, 1955.
Maurice Rowdon, Lorenzo the Magnificent, 1974.

Niccolo Machiavelli
"Old Nick," politician, historian, astute observer of 16th century affairs.

The Prince - "handbook" for the new heads of state; "the end justifies the means."
Discourses - based on the Roman historian Livy, attempts to draw parallels between the past and present political situations.
History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy - a history of despair questioning why Florence had not met expectations.
Art of War - treatise in favor of communal militias.
Mandragola - a play of sexual seduction through deception.

Biography: Ralph Roeder, The Man of the Renaissance, 1933.

Francesco Guicciardini
Historian, politician, governor of Modena

Recollections and Maxims - anecdotes about his life and experiences.


History of Italy - the first really great history of Italy; on a wider European scope than Machiavelli's work.

Biography: Felix Gilbert, Machiavelli and Guicciardini, 1965.

Pietro Aretino
"The Scourge of Princes," notorious scandalmonger, poet and most energetic pornographer of the 16th century.

The Courtesan - play mocking Castiglione's The Courtier.
Ipocrita - the Italian Tartuffe.

Vittoria Colonna
Poetess, friend of Michaelangelo, to whom he dedicated many of his poems.

Rime Varie - poems on the memory of her husband.

Biography: J.A. Symonds, Italian Literature, 2 Vols., Volume 2,

Michaelangelo Buonarroti
Painter, sculptor, architect, poet, transitional figure of the Renaissance.

Poems/Letters - his poems number about 300 with numerous letters to friends such as the Medici family, Vittoria Colonna and Giorgio Vasari.

Biography: Creighton Gilbert and Robert Linscott, Complete          Poems and Selected Letters of Michaelangelo,


Paolo Sarpi
Venetian historian and chronicler of the council of Trent. Very "pro-Venice" and anti-established Church in his works.

History of the Council of Trent - a widely read tract critical of the Church's decisions and methods at the council.
History of Benefices - traces the corruption which the Church has acquired through its wealth.

Biography: Peter Burke, ed., Selections from Sarpi, 1967.


Giovanni Battista Vico
Divided human history into stages which are described according to a formula of growth and decay.

Scienza Nuova - introduction of the cyclical interpretation of history, "corsi and ricorsi," flux and reflux, with Providence permitting the individual freedom of choice in decisions.

Cesare Beccaria
Italian lawyer during the Enlightenment.

On Crime and Punishment - a persuasive treatise against torture and capital punishment; influenced French philosophes in their attitudes toward punishment.

Biography: Venturi, Italy and the Enlightenment.

Vittorio Alfieri
Piedmontese nobleman who won recognition as the foremost Italian classical dramatist and herald of the 19th century revival of literary national feeling in Italy.

Vita di Vittorio Alfieri da Astilife of Alfieri, his travels and experiences.
Della Tirannide and Del Principe - two treatises which examine the cultural achievements under despotism and conclude that literature can have true power only in a free government.
Filippo - a play about a Spanish tyrant who was murdered by his own sons.

Biography: The Life of Alfieri, translated by Sir Henry
         McAnally, 1953.


Alessandro Manzoni
One of the three greatest Italian literary figures of the 19th century. Brought the Tuscan dialect into modern literary usage.


I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) - a modern classic steeped in romanticism and national feelings.

Biography: A. Colquhoun, Manzoni and his Times, 1954.

Giacomo Leopardi
Italy's greatest poet of the 19th century, steeped in profound philosophical insight and unrestrained despair.

To Italy, The Approach of Death, To Spring - morbid poems lamenting the emptiness of the world.

Biography: J.H. Whitfield, Giacomo Leopardi, 1954.

Giovanni Verga
Sicilian literary exponent of "realism" in literature. Two volumes of his works have been translated by D.H. Lawrence.

Vita dei Campi (Life in the Fields) Novelle Rusticane (Rustic Stories) - collection of regional Italian folk tales.


Gabriele d'Annunzio
Flamboyant Byronic figure, Italian air ace during World War I, links the Risorgimento to the Fascist era; "the Duce of Italian literature."

Novelle della Pescara - collection of tales about the Abruzzi region.
Il Piacere (Pleasure) - his first novel about refined sensuality and degradation.

Luigi Pirandello
Sicilian playwright, novelist and short story writer. Nobel Prize winner in 1934.

Six Characters in Search of an Author - his most famous play without acts or defined scenes about "unrealized" actors and their search for reality.


Alberto Moravia
          (1907-        )
Novelist, essayist and film critic. Perhaps the one living Italian writer with a worldwide reputation.

The Conformist - a psychological masterpiece of moral corruption in Fascist Italy.

Ignazio Silone
          (1900-        )
Italian ex-communist, anti-fascist writer whose Bread and Wine aroused the same passionate interest as Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago.

Bread and Wine - story of a communist intellectual in Italy during the war and his experiences while in hiding.

Luigi Barzini
          (1908-        )
Son of a great Milanese journalist, studied at Columbia University and was the celebrated foreign correspondent for Milan's Corriere della Sera. He was elected to the Italian Parliament in 1969.

The Italians - a full-length portrait of Italy.
From Caesar to the Mafia - twenty-one essays on a variety of topics dealing with Italy past and present.

Salvatore Quasimodo
Italian poet awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959. "A poet desperately yearning for a conversation with mankind."

The Selected Writings of Salvatore Quasimodo (London: 1973).



1Vasari, Lives of the Artists (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946) p. 17.

2Frank Lloyd Wright, "On Architecture" quoted in G.E. Kidder Smith, L'Italia Costrusce (London: 1955) p. 14.



Crombie, A.C. Medieval and Early Modern Science. Two volumes. New York: Doubleday, 1959.

Dawson, Christopher. Mission to Asia: Narratives and Letters of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the 13-14th Centuries. New York: Harper and Row, 1955.

Garin, Eugenio. Portraits from the Quattrocento. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Ilardi, Vincent. "Eyeglasses and Concave Lenses in Fifteenth Century Florence and Milan." Renaissance Quarterly, XXX, No. 3., Autumn, 1976, 341-360.

Kuhn, T.S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962 and 1970.

Marinacci, Barbara. They Came From Italy. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1967.

Morrison, Samuel Elliot. Admiral of the Ocean Sea. New York: Mentor Books, 1947.

The New Cambridge Modern History. Volume I: The Renaissance.

Olschki, Leo. The Genius of Italy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949.

Ornstein, Martha. The Role of Scientific Societies in the Sixteenth Century. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1928.

Parry, John H. The Age of Reconnaissance. New York: Mentor Books, 1963.

Penrose, B. Travel and Discovery in the Renaissance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1947.

Randall, J.H. "The Place of Leonardo da Vinci in the Emergence of Modern Science." The Journal of the History of Ideas, XIV, 1953, 191-202.

Rolle, Andrew F. The American Italians. Belmont, California: The Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1972.

Taylor, Pamela, ed. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. New York: The New American Library, 1960.

Torrielli, Andrew J. Italians' Opinions on America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1941.


Santillana, Giorgio de. The Crime of Galileo. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1955.

Schiavo, Giovanni. The Italians in America Before the Civil War. New York: The Arno Press, 1934.

Venturi, Franco. Italy and the Enlightenment. New York: New York University Press, 1972.

Vallentin, Antonia. Leonardo da Vinci. New York: The Viking Press, 1938.

Walsh, James J. What Civilization Owes to Italy. Boston: The Strafford Press, 1923.

Washburn, W.E. "The Meaning of Discovery in the 15th and 16th Centuries." The American Historical Review, 68 (1962), 1-21.