The Inquisitor in the Hat Shop: Inquisition, Forbidden Books and Unbelief in Early Modern Venice

Article excerpt

The Inquisitor in the Hat Shop: Inquisition, Forbidden Books and Unbelief in Early Modern Venice. By Federico Barbierato. (Farnham, UK/Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2012. Pp. xxxiii, 396. $124.95. ISBN 978-1-4094-3547-1.)

This is a study of unbelief in Venice from the 1640s to the 1740s. It is an account of various kinds of skepticism, libertinism, atheism, and irreligion expressed by Venetians and others in so far as they came to the attention of ecclesiastical and civil authorities.The book is based on extensive reading of the trials found in the archives of the Venetian Holy Office, including a limited number of trials from Veneto inquisitions referred to Venice, and, secondarily, the archives of the Inquisitori dello Stato, the civil magistracy that investigated crimes involving nobles.

Barbierato sees Venice as an open city in which people spoke freely despite Church and state. Many persons came to Venice from the rest of Italy and beyond, sometimes fleeing local ecclesiastical and civil authorities. It was not difficult to obtain prohibited books, as previous scholars have documented. Venice was an excellent news center, because authors, ambassadors, and Christian and Jewish merchants came to Venice to exchange and gather information. Those who sought news and ideas did not worry about whether their sources believed in God. People expressed heterodox ideas in craft shops, barbershops, bookstores, Piazza San Marco, and family gatherings. Barbierato emphasizes the "virtuoso," the man who dominates a free-wheeling discussion.

Several forms of unbelief circulated, beginning with denial of the immortality of the soul. Barbierato offers evidence about the circulation of the views of Cesare Cremonini (d. 1631), professor of philosophy at the University of Padua for many years. He describes a Father Antonio Rocca (d. 1653), who denied the immortality of the soul in the philosophy lessons that he delivered to noblemen, doctors, lawyers, and chemists in his house in Venice. …