The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture

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The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture. Edited by Kenneth Gouwens and Sheryl E. Reiss. [Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700.] (Burlington, Vermont:Ashgate Publishing Company. 2005. Pp. xxvi, 437. $99.00.)

This volume of essays on the pontificate of Clement VII is, as Kenneth Gouwens observes in his introduction,"the first on its subject in any language." This is a two-edged observation. First, Gouwens and his coeditor, Sheryl Reiss, can justly point with pride to this ground-breaking collection of scholarly pieces on Clement VII and his milieu. At the same time, implicit in Gouwen's remark is an indictment of the lack of scholarship devoted not only to the papacy of Clement but also to Clementine Rome in all its nuances: humanism, culture, art, society, politics, and religion.

The essays presented here offer a wealth of insight into the man, the city of Rome, and the larger political, social, and cultural trends that characterized his reign. Along the way, they collectively challenge many of the long-held, negative assumptions about Clement and his pontificate. Many of the pieces presented in this book had their origins as papers written for the annual Renaissance Society of America Conference of 2000. A frequent weakness of such collections is the unevenness of the contributions; yet that is not at all the case here. These essays are consistently strong and examine the Clementine era from a variety of disciplines and methodologies.

The book is organized topically into two parts, with the first part dedicated to "History, Politics, and Humanism." Here a subsection, "Character, Politics, and Family," features works by T C. Price Zimmermann, Barbara Hallman, Natalie Tomas, and Patricia Osmond. Hallman's essay is one of the most significant in the entire coEection, as it rejects the perception that Clement was a failure as pope. Instead, she makes a very strong case that in the areas that mattered the most to him, he not only survived the many tempests that beset his papacy, but actually performed quite well.

In a second subsection, "The Sack of Rome and Its Aftermath," essays by Cecil Clough and Anne Reynolds challenge the perception that Clement VII, through his vacillation and indecision, either caused the sack of Rome or responded weakly to it. Using notarial records from the time of the sack, Anna Esposito and Manuel Vaquero Pineiro urge caution in positing the event as the pivot upon which the history of the Renaissance city turned. Not insensitive to change, they rather argue that the trauma and dislocation of the sack served to accelerate debilitating trends already in place, prior to May 1527. Ivana Ait confronts us with the trenchant analysis of the sack by the Flemish chronicler Cornelius de Fine, who is unequivocal in pinning the blame for the fiasco upon the pope. …