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Patterns of Patronage in Renaissance Rome

Francesco Sperulo: Poet, Prelate, Soldier, Spy - Volume I


Paul Gwynne

This book is also available as a set, together with Volume II.
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Patterns of Patronage in Renaissance Rome is the first full-length study of the life and works of Francesco Sperulo of Camerino (1463–1531). In a remarkable career during which the poet progressed from serving as a soldier of fortune in the service of Cesare Borgia to an Italian bishopric, Sperulo produced a significant body of Latin poetry, here presented in a critical edition for the first time. An impressive array of contemporary figures including Leonardo da Vinci, Isabella d’Este, Raphael and Baldassare Castiglione appear in his verse. By placing his work within the larger historical, literary, political and social context, this study, published in two volumes, sheds light on the role played by neo-Latin poetry at the papal court and documents the impact of classical culture in Rome during the period usually referred to as «the High Renaissance».
Volume I reconstructs Sperulo’s life and circle of contacts by placing the poet’s works in chronological order and setting them within the political and social circumstances of their composition. Archival documents scattered across Italy, penitentiary records from the Vatican Archives and a voluminous correspondence with the Duke of Urbino and members of the Varano family of Camerino show that Sperulo was intimately involved in papal politics and intrigue; indeed, he was almost assassinated for his involvement. A selection of this correspondence is included here to supplement the poet’s biography.

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Chapter 1: Sperulo’s People, Biography of a Network


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Sperulo’s People, Biography of a Network

Sperulo is refined in his elegiac verse while he sings of love, lofty while he celebrates the savage battles of heroes; he is no less skilled in lyric poetry when the lyre, emulous of the Aeolian bard, is plucked and harmonizes in soft measures.1

Francesco Sperulo is thus singled out for praise, and his skill in a variety of poetic genres admired, by Francesco Arsilli (c. 1470–c. 1540), in his catalogue of contemporary Roman poets, De poetis Urbanis (published 1524).2 In a similar vein Erasmus (1466–1536), no less, counted Sperulo among the learned friends he made during his trip to Rome in Lent 1509 and indeed ranked him alongside the renowned humanist Filippo Beroaldo: ‘I was on friendly terms with Francesco Sperulo and Filippo Beroaldo ← 3 | 4 → the younger’.3 Yet until now, Francesco Sperulo has remained an obscure figure. However, the internal evidence of his surviving corpus, occasional references to him in contemporary documents and his extensive correspondence with Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, allow his life to be reconstructed in some detail.

A virtually unknown biography by the eighteenth-century literary historian Gianfrancesco Lancellotti documents his early career and records his funerary inscription in the church of Sant’Onofrio in Rome (now lost):4


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