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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 7: Sed durus hic et sui iudicii ubique: Sperulo and Imitatio


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Sed durus hic et sui iudicii ubique: Sperulo and Imitatio

In his review of contemporary poets (above, Chapter 1) Francesco Arsilli remarked that Sperulo was competent in all the poetic genres and able to adapt his style accordingly: he was arduus [lofty] when writing epic; cultus [refined] when writing elegy, and mollis [tender] in his lyric meters. Although these are standard adjectives defining the poetic genres, it should be noted that Arsilli does not apply the same distinction to the other 100 or so poets in his catalogue. It is worthwhile, therefore, reviewing Sperulo’s ability in the classical genres and his skill in imitatio.

Like all neo-Latin poets of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries Sperulo was greatly indebted to his classical models and, as we have noted, reminiscences of Catullus, Virgil, Ovid, Statius and other Roman authors occur frequently throughout his œuvre. The extent and purpose of this indebtedness is, however, often difficult to assess. As Paul Murgatroyd has warned:

Some scholars of Renaissance poetry are ready to embrace uncritically the presence of imitation without due caution, a caution especially necessary in view of (inter alia) Petrarch’s letter to Boccaccio, in which he says that authors like Cicero and Virgil, whom he has read again and again, are so lodged in his mind that he uses phrases from them without realizing whose they are or even that they are not his own.1


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