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Patterns of Patronage in Renaissance Rome

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


Paul Gwynne

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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 2: The Golden Age Restored: Literary Patronage in Renaissance Rome


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The Golden Age Restored: Literary Patronage in Renaissance Rome

Papal Patronage

A Latin poem, be it recited after careful preparation or extempore, is worthy of the ears and spirits of only a highly select company.1

Sperulo’s time in Rome coincides with that full flowering of humanist culture that usually goes by the name of the High Renaissance.2 His career spans the pontificates of six Popes (1492–1531) and, as he dedicated works to three of these, or members of their families, and other high-ranking members of the Curia, the literary patronage of these papal families must be briefly outlined.

While poets and literary figures at other Italian courts composed in both Latin and the vernacular, at Rome Latin was de facto the common language of an increasingly international Curia. A pure Latin style stripped of the ‘barbarisms’ of the Middle Ages, with Cicero as the model for prose and ← 253 | 254 → Virgil as the model for verse, was the ultimate goal. Indeed, in his Elegantiae (1439) the humanist Lorenzo Valla, who worked in the papal chancery and had exposed the so-called Donation of Constantine as an eighth-century fraud, went so far as to proclaim a new imperium of pure Latinity. Success in Rome, both at the Curia and in the literary circles that grew up around the city demanded not only a profound knowledge of the classical canon but also an ability to imitate their...

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