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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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Introduction to Both Volumes


Many of the neo-Latin poets who frequented the literary circles of early sixteenth-century Rome are shadowy figures. Most are known only by their name or, at best, a solitary poem often found in a single manuscript or rare, early printed anthologies. With the exception of Poliziano, for example, most of the poets who contributed verses to the deluxe manuscript on the death of Orsini Lanfredini († 1488), the son of the Florentine representative in Rome, are unknown elsewhere, while few of the 120 contributors to the printed anthology, known as the Coryciana, are well-known (see below, Chapters 2 and 12).1 Occasionally a whole volume of verse survives from a poet, for example, the elegies written on a variety of themes by Guido Posthumo Silvestri (1479–1521).2

Francesco Sperulo (1463–1531), however, is particularly fortunate for three manuscripts of his Latin poetry have survived and are now preserved in the Vatican Library.3 Two are deluxe presentation copies written on fine ← xix | xx → parchment in coloured inks: BAV, Vat. lat. 5205, a brief epic on the siege of Faenza and a series of epigrams addressed to Cesare Borgia in 1501 (Colour Plates 1–2); BAV, Vat. lat. 5812, an extended description of the building of a suburban villa on the slopes of Monte Mario (now the Villa Madama) presented in 1519 to Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (afterwards Pope Clement VII; Colour Plates 3–4). The third manuscript is a collection of four books of elegiac verse (BAV,...

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