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Between rediscovery and recreation: Renaissance accounts of medieval Italian vernacular literary tradition (1476-1530)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ReMedIt (Between rediscovery and recreation: Renaissance accounts of medieval Italian vernacular literary tradition (1476-1530))

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

Today the literary canon of the Italian medieval vernacular tradition – with Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio in primary positions – is so well established as to seem unquestionable. Nevertheless, canon formation, like all cultural processes, has changed throughout the centuries, and probably the most decisive period is 1470-1530. However, very little work has been done on the different evaluations of the previous literary tradition, and studies on the Renaissance reception of medieval authors tend to focus on how some select writers were regarded, not on the different historical reconstructions of preceding literary history. As a result, we lack a fuller history of how the vernacular tradition was constructed and of the underlying processes of canon formation.
The project ReMedIt (Between rediscovery and recreation: Renaissance accounts of medieval Italian vernacular literary tradition [1476-1530]) aimed at addressing this knowledge gap reconstructing the evolving Renaissance views, judgments and uses of the medieval vernacular literary tradition in Italy during the period that lead to the formation of an established canon of authors. This was the first full-scale, monographic project to focus on the Renaissance reception of the medieval poetic tradition, and in particular the extensive earlier lyric tradition before Petrarch (c. 1230-c. 1330). The project analysed and compared multiple fragmentary accounts of medieval literary history and considered these viewpoints in tandem with the contemporary recovery process of the medieval lyrical tradition. At the same time, analysis was undertaken of collections of edited verse in manuscript and print form, and to some extent this was complemented by study of the likely influence of the medieval lyrical tradition on select Renaissance lyric poets active in the chosen timeframe.
The ReMedIt project is an ambitious one involving considerable methodological novelty that aimed to provide a rich contextualization and in-depth appreciation of a little-studied phenomenon, one that is pivotal to the emergence of a literary canon. As such it explored fully for the first time the ways in which the medieval poetic tradition was recovered, circulated and judged, as well as how it influenced contemporary conceptualizations of the canon and the development of historical perspectives, also exploiting unpublished original source materials. Unfortunately, soon after its start date the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, and the related restrictions had a variable but nevertheless extremely relevant impact on the research work during more than three quarters of the project’s total duration, affecting not only particular research trips and access to original source materials but also bibliographical work and communication and dissemination activities especially (with related training and networking).
Despite this, the project achieved almost all its scientific objectives. Besides undertaking extensive bibliographical work, over the course of this project multiple fragmentary accounts of medieval literary history were retrieved, analysed and compared, and the analysis of several collections of edited verse in manuscript and print form was successfully undertaken. The results have been disseminated in several conference papers and peer-reviewed publications.

Overview of the results:

Peer-reviewed journal articles (all of them acknowledge the Marie Skłodowska-Curie funding that supported the research and writing):
1. ‘Historicizing Italian literature in the early sixteenth century: Pietro Bembo’s Prose’, California Italian Studies 11.2 (2022). Forthcoming.
2. ‘Refracting the canon: lists of vernacular authors in the fifteenth century’, Modern Language Review 117.3 (2022). Forthcoming.
3. ‘Da molti desiderate. Le canzoni citate in Rerum vulgarium fragmenta 70 a Venezia prima dell’Appendix aldina’, Carte romanze 9.1 (2021), 225-248.
Four different papers presented at the following conferences (again acknowledgment of Marie Skłodowska-Curie was provided on the first slide of every presentation):
1. International conference “Coloro che primi il sentiero mostrarono: ‘l’altro Dante’ e il ‘canone antico’ della lirica tra Quattro e Cinquecento”, Padua, Italy (3-4.9.2020).
2. International conference “Dante e il prosimetro: dalla Vita nova al Convivio”, Università degli Studi di Milano, Dipartimento di Studi letterari filologici e linguistici – Université de Fribourg, Dipartimento di Italiano (15, 17, 22, 23.10.2020). Online.
3. 67th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA Virtual) (20.04.2021). Online.
4. Congresso Dantesco Internazionale / International Dante Conference, Ravenna (15-18.09.2022)
Contributions to edited volumes – conference proceedings (all of them include the Marie Skłodowska-Curie funding statement)
1. ‘Le forme metriche nella Vita nova’, in Dante e il prosimetro: dalla «Vita nova» al «Convivio», ed. by Paolo Borsa and Anna Maria Cabrini (Milan: Università degli Studi, 2021). Forthcoming.
2. ‘Dante nel quadro della Raccolta Aragonese’, in Oltre la Commedia. ‘L’altro Dante’ e il canone antico della lirica (1450-1600 ca.), ed. by Laura Banella and Franco Tomasi (Rome: Carocci, 2021), 59-75.
The project has contributed to advance the state of the art in different ways. Its main achievement has been the reconstruction of a collective intellectual endeavour of major significance, in which tools and skills already deployed for the classics were applied to the vernacular. The results of this undertaking have proved to be far richer and more complex than the current scholarly understanding. Among the many new findings produced by the project concerning the Renaissance reception of the medieval literary tradition, one can signal the following:
1. a new hypothesis on the precise composition of the opening section of the most important collection of early vernacular poetry of the later fifteenth century (the Raccolta Aragonese), that was commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici to be sent to Federico d’Aragona
2. new hypotheses regarding the inclusion of Dante’s prose and poetry in this collection,
3. a new interpretation of Lorenzo’s cultural operation that understands it as an attempt at widening the range of canonical authors;
4. new findings in relation to the knowledge and availability of some vernacular texts in Venice prior to the printing of some of them by Aldo Manuzio in an appendix in a 1514 edition that had considerable importance in the history of the study of medieval Italian verse (this appendix contained the first surviving editions of several important poems); these findings were accompanied by the analysis and publication of an unpublished original source never considered before in this regard;
5. a highly original and innovative demonstration that Pietro Bembo, the author of the work which provided the most influential canonization and marked a turning point in the history of Italian language, the Prose nelle quali si ragiona della volgar lingua, was progressively perfecting the historicizing perspective presented in this work, thanks to the acquisition of new knowledge and new sources, with a novel analysis of Bembo’s evolving outlook in his understanding of pre-Petrarchan authors.
A page from a manuscript of vernacular poetry commissioned by Lorenzo de' Medici