Turning New Leaves: Renaissance Studies in Germany, 1995

By Karant-Nunn, Susan C. | Renaissance Quarterly, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Turning New Leaves: Renaissance Studies in Germany, 1995


Karant-Nunn, Susan C., Renaissance Quarterly


The German scholarship on the Renaissance that has come to my attention this year lends itself, with one exception, to the conclusions I reached last year: that it emerges from the fields of classics, literature, philology, and art history rather than history; that implicitly if not explicitly it is still oriented toward Jacob Burckhardt; that the pursuit of humanism lies at its heart; that it reflects the high value placed in the German-speaking lands on the minute, exhaustive scrutiny of both primary and secondary literature; and that it is unconcerned with contemporary theoretical discussion. I am happy to say that the major difference this year is that women authors are more in evidence, although it appears that only one of them holds a professorship.

Three works are specifically on humanists and humanism. In Humanismus in Umbrien und Rom: Lilius Tifernas, Kanzler und Gelehrter des Quattrocento, Ursula Jaitner-Hahner gives us a biography (22-155) of an "average" humanist (Durchschnittshumanist), Egidius Libellus alias Lilius (ca. 1418-1486), of Citta di Castello (Tifernatis in Latin), as well as a detailed analysis (158-243) of all Lilius's learned works. Volume 2 contains the texts of his surviving letters and brief writings, such as the prologues to his six-volume translation of Philo. The large center section of volume 2 is made up of the endnotes to volume 1. This is clearly a paradigmatic German achievement, and the price is likewise monumental.

Jaitner-Hahner admits that Lilius was not a brilliant man. One might wonder why he warranted this microscopic study. But in fact, the examination of his life shows how the humanistic agenda attracted members of Lilius's class and how they came to participate in it and embody its ideals. From an early age Lilius was drawn to classical Latin, earning the nickname of Tibullus. He managed to visit the Greek-speaking East for about three years, spent partly in the company of Cardinal Bessarion. He studied ancient Greek intensively and brought a Philo codex back to Italy. Probably through Bessarion, he gained invaluable connections in Rome, and for virtually the remainder of his days he expected that these ties to the curia would produce an office of higher rank and more lucrative reward than they ever did. For two decades in the middle of his life he served his native city, becoming chancellor at the age of 25. He took the doctorate of laws. He maintained contact with Ficino's circle. He taught at the University of Perugia and at the court of Urbino. Finally, Pope Sixtus IV made him a castellan in Ceprano, where he had the leisure to complete his signal scholarly endeavor, the translation of Philo of Alexandria. With this study, one more comparatively minor Renaissance player steps out of the shadows into the light of greater accessibility. This detailed research should make it easier to reconstruct the reception of Philo in the West.

The ten essays in Rudolf Agricola 1444-1485, Protagonist des nordeuropaischen Humanismus scrutinize individual aspects of the career and opus of the well known and seminal northern humanist. They are all by German and Dutch scholars from the disciplines of classics, classical philology, Germanic studies, theology, and library science. Both Germany and the Netherlands claim Agricola, for he worked in Groningen and, just before his death, at the University of Heidelberg, where despite the brevity of his stay, he affected students and colleagues and left a veritable mystique behind. But the decisive period in the formation of this man was the near-decade that he spent in Italy. Multi-talented, he supported himself in part by playing the organ; he was also a gifted painter.

Several contributors make available obscure works and/or translations of them into German. Werner Straube reproduces in its entirety the biography of Agricola by his close friend Johannes von Plieningen (11-48). While it is in the laudatory tradition of Suetonius, it also relates such human details as that Agricola bit his fingernails. …

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