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Author(s) of the publication: OLGA BORISOVA

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by Olga BORISOVA, journalist

In 2004 the Moscow-based Nauka Publishers launched a series of publications on the Renaissance - an era in the history and culture of Western and Central Europe (14th, 15th and 16th cent.), when the supremacy of the church in people's minds and souls began to cede to humanistic values - a trend manifested in the rekindling of interest in the classical literature, philosophy and arts of Hellas and Rome.

Meanwhile several books have been off the press, such as - Humanistic Thought of the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and the Culture of the Renaissance (both published in 2004); Theater and Theatricality in the Culture of the Renaissance (2005); Leon Batista Alberti and the Culture of Renaissance (2006); Images of Love and Beauty in the Culture of Renaissance (2007)... The latest publication of this cycle is devoted to Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca). It is a collection of the materials of the international conference (Moscow, 2004) on the 700th birth anniversary of the great Italian poet, thinker and father of

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humanism - a trend expressed in secular free-thinking versus the spiritual domination of the church (Francesco Petrarca and European Culture).

In this anthology Russian and foreign authors look into the multidimensional creativity of the genius of the Renaissance, his attitude to the cultural traditions of antiquity and the Middle Ages, and his contribution to poetry and scholarly disciplines - philosophy, philology, history... They also consider how Petrarch and his writings were perceived by his contemporaries and by successive generations.

Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304 - 1374)... To most readers he is first and foremost the votary and singer of Laura whom at age 23 (on the sixth of April 1327, at daybreak) he first saw in the Chiesa di Santa Chiara in Avignon. It was love at first sight. This love persisted over many years and gave birth to an anthology of superb verses (Il Canzoniere, or Rime Sparse). And yet in the epistola Posteritati (where Petrarch offers a curriculum vitae up until the year 1351), the poet makes but a casual mention of his muse that had elated him for decades; still and all, he gives a circumstantial account of his coronazione poetica (crowning with a laurel wreath) in Rome in 1341 - none of the poets had merited this honor before. Giovanni Boccacio, another giant of the Renaissance, explained the anticlimax this way: "He used the name Laura allegorical - ly for a laurel wreath which he had won ultimately." But Dr. Ruf Khlodovsky, the author of the article on this subject, thinks Laura was a real person in the flesh and blood - a woman who inspired Petrarch to take a fresh look at life, rediscover beauty and harmony in art and nature, and immortalize her in his evocations in Il Canzoniere, a model for love lyrics.

The author of another contribution, Nuriizigan Mingaleyeva, turns to the philosophical aspect of the heritage of Petrarch l'umanista, in particular, his vision of human virtues. Proceeding from the Christian model of this notion, he interprets it in a somewhat different key by accentuating man's moral effort; God, in his view, should be more merciful rather than just. Petrarch argues for an aurea mediocritas, the golden mean, some "middle" course by downgrading the ideals of Christian piety and upgrading the antique connotation of the word - virtus was the quality that distinguished the man, vir, from the mere human being, homo. He gives a secular touch to the religious conception of virtue.

In her contribution to the Petrarch anthology Dr. Nina Revyakina tells of the poet's life at Valchiusa, not far from the French town of Avignon, in 1337 to 1354, where Petrarch built a home, la casetta, on the Sorga's bank. The poet confided he had begun or conceived nearly all of his writings in that "sweet transalpine solitude". Far from the madding town and in full harmony with nature, Petrarch found a proper setting for his labors in tranquility, freedom and independence. Over there, at Valchiusa, the poet sketched down his Bucolicum Carmen, De Vita solitaria and De Otio religioso.

In his treatise De Vita solitaria (1345 - 1347) Petrarch enlarged on this subject as a humanistic intellectual. Such intellectuals entered the arena during the Renaissance age, in the Trecento, Quatrocento and Cinquecento. A foremost figure, the great Italian belonged to the generation of poets and artists born by and of the Renaissance, who were poles apart from medieval thinkers: in his works Petrarch was torn apart between the two sets of values - secular ones related to vital mundane needs, and orthodox ones sanctified by the church, though not as essential materially. Dr. Alia Romanchuk explores the phenomenon of this duality. A sense of frustration and breakdown in creativity - all that assailed other demiurgic minds of the Renaissance age, too. This is in the scheme of things - masterpieces are born in the throes of doubt, labor and struggle.

This thought is echoed by Dr. Yelena Finogentova: to Petrarch the process of world perception meant an excruciating experience, titanic strains and stresses in begetting a poetic image of virtue. However, he is wary of sheer eloquence: rhetoric - dolce stile nuovo - smacks of vainglory. Petrarch the thinker cuts the Gordion knot by partaking from the wellspring of the classical heritage - a

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perfectionist's striving to draw inspiration by emulating antique models.

Dr. Tatyana Sonina, an art appreciation expert, offered a remarkable study on A Maiden with a Petrarch Libretto portrayed by Andrea del Sarto (real name, Andrea d'Angolo, 1486 - 1530/31). First displayed in 1589, this portrait is shrouded in mystery. The authoress tries to lift the veil. The Italian artist must have depicted his stepdaughter Maria del Berretaio who, according to Italian scholars, posed as a model for his other canvases. A book in the hands of a model was a usual thing in the early Cinquecento meant to show that the person concerned was of the educated set. What is striking about this portrait is that del Sarto kind of intrigues a beholder into guessing the charades. The maid has opened the libretto on sonnets 153 and 154, but her finger points at the opening lines of the previous sonnet (152):" Questa umil fera, un cor di tigre o d'orsa, che'n vista umana e'n forma d'angel vene..." / "O thou tame beast with the heart of a tigress or she-bear, an angel in the human shape...". Dr. Sonina suggests this portrait must have been an elegant rebus concealing particular personalia, though the young girl looks rather homely, and her portrayal could not tax the painter's brush overmuch.

Other contributors (Olga Uvarova, Irina Elfond, Lydia Bragina et al.) devoted their essays to Petrarch's following whose work was impacted by the demiurge of the Renaissance. Foreign authors are likewise featured: Riccardo Fubini and Giuliana Crevatin (Italy), Karl Enenkel (the Netherlands), and Franco la Braska (France). The anthology presents the first Russian publication of the Familiari, the epistles which Petrarch wrote from 1326 to 1366. This anthology should be of much interest to historians, philosophers, literary and art critics alike - to all those inspired by the literature and arts of the Renaissance that, reviving the classical cultural values, created a gallery of immortal masterpieces.


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OLGA BORISOVA, HUMANIST OF THE RENAISSANCE // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 29.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/HUMANIST-OF-THE-RENAISSANCE (date of access: 06.12.2021).

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