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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 4: The Poet and ‘the Prince of Painters’: Building the Villa Medici


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The Poet and ‘the Prince of Painters’: Building the Villa Medici

Sperulo’s poem Villam Iuliam Medicam versibus fabricatam on the building of Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici’s suburban villa on the slopes of Monte Mario (now the Villa Madama) is extraordinarily complex and rich in ideas.1 Just as the new villa was nominally in the ownership of Giulio de’ Medici to ensure that the property remained under Medici control, so Sperulo’s poem, although dedicated to Cardinal Giulio, is primarily a panegyric upon his cousin Giovanni de’ Medici, Pope Leo X and the principal branch of the Medici family, past and present. As such, the poet would naturally expect that his work be read and appreciated by both cousins. The title suggests the main theme: ‘The Villa of Giulio de’ Medici constructed in Verse’ (my italics). The poet imagines the villa as already complete and decorated with splendid interiors that surround the family with images of their achievements, past, present and future. In the literary tradition this notion that a villa reflects its owner is derived from Statius. With the rediscovery of the Silvae in the fifteenth century, Renaissance Cardinals also embraced the idea and ‘palaces, real or imaginary, were seen as external representations of the Cardinal’s new position’.2 Within this encomiastic framework, the ← 313 | 314 → controlling conceit is the superiority of poetry over architecture as a vehicle for immortality.3 Elaborating upon this idea, the poet has constructed a poem upon a palace...

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