Accademia degli Infiammati
The Accademia degli Infiammati (Academy of the Burning Ones) was founded in Padua, on June 6, 1540, by Leone Orsini, in partnership with Florentine humanist Benedetto Varchi and Venetian humanist Daniele Barbaro, who drafted the academic statute. The choice of name stems from the impresa adopted by the Academy: the image of an inflamed Hercules on Mount Oeta, along with the motto “once burned, the mortal will go to heaven eternally,” which was meant to signify the search for immortality by means of devotion to scholarship. The head of the Academy was a prince, whose election occurred generally every 4 months and whose duty was to schedule lectures, which were usually held on Thursdays and Sundays.
The Academy remained active at least until May of 1542. Despite its brief existence, it is considered one of the most important sixteenth-century academies, because its influence on the culture of that century was ongoing and reached well beyond the Venetian area. This was primarily due to the fact that it absorbed the great philosophical-scientific tradition of the University of Padua; the influence of Pietro Pomponazzi’s mentorship, especially by means of his pupil Sperone Speroni; the heritage Pietro Bembo had bequeathed to that area; and the culture contributed by such eminent Tuscan figures such as Benedetto Varchi and Alessandro Piccolomini, who along with Speroni were the leading figures of the Academy. The Infiammati pursued a program inspired by a philosophically based system of knowledge that preferably hinged on ethics, rhetoric, and literature, a program to be divulged specifically through the use of the Italian vernacular language and culture. By actively working in order to extend the use of the vernacular to all aspects of knowledge, including philosophy and science, the Academy did not just adjust to new requirements for the dissemination of knowledge; it also set the foundation for a universal vernacular language.
KeywordsFellow Citizen Nicomachean Ethic Fellow Member Vernacular Language Lyric Poetry
Innovative and Original Aspects and Legacy
The specificity of the long-lasting influence of the Academy on the developments of late Renaissance culture derives from the peculiar cultural physiognomy of Padua: home to a University that had established itself as a prestigious hub of philosophical studies and stronghold of the Aristotelian-scholastic tradition, but also adoptive home of Pietro Bembo, who in that city had completed his Prose della vulgar lingua and gathered some of the best Venetian humanists of the time. The scientific-philosophical interests cultivated at the University of Padua and the literary and humanistic interests pertaining to Bembo’s heritage were, then, the two characterizing aspects of Paduan intellectual life that found in the Academy their ideal meeting place.
As a matter of fact, among the Infiammati, there were famous humanists and literati, prominent faculty of the University, along with promising students of various disciplines. Notable members of the Academy include Cola Bruno, most faithful follower of Bembo, Piero Valeriano, and Girolamo Fracastoro, all of whom joined the Academy in its early days, and literati and poets of the next generation such as Luigi Alamanni, Lodovico Dolce, Pietro Aretino, Paolo Manuzio, Francesco Querini, and philosopher Antonio Lapini. Fellow members and professors at the University of Padua were Giovanni Battista da Monte, professor of practical medicine and humanist as well as friend and colleague of the famous Andrea Vesalio, who occasionally also attended the meetings of the Infiammati; the illustrious Sienese jurist Mariano Sozzini; Lazzaro Bonamico, professor of Classics; philosopher Vincenzo Maggi; and young philosopher Bernardino Tomitano, professor of Logic, following in the footsteps of a far more prominent fellow Paduan such as philosopher, literary critic, and poet Sperone Speroni, who had held that same position until 1528 and who was also the last prince of the Academy, from November 1541 to the first months of the next year. Joining the ranks of the Academy and actively linking it to the University of Padua were also graduate students of natural philosophy, mathematics, medicine, and law, many of whom with brilliant careers ahead of them: an erudite Hellenist and prospective translator of Vitruvius like Daniele Barbaro, patriarch of Aquileia; Sienese philosopher and literary critic Alessandro Piccolomini, who had already joined the famous Accademia degli Intronati in his hometown and who served as prince of the Infiammati; Venetian Matteo Macigni who is expert in math and ancient Greek and Latin, Michele Barozzi, and Luca Girolamo Contarini; the jurist Celso Sozzini, son of Mariano; hailing from Istria Latinist Giovanni Battista Goineo and from Vicenza Conte da Monte, soon to become a luminary professor of medicine, with a passion for literature; hailing from Brescia, Fortunato Martinengo, Ippolito Chizzola, and Vincenzo Girello; and Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara, Giuseppe Betussi, and Francesco Sansovino. Among the most active members during the Academy’s first year of life, there was a small group of young Florentine law students: they were Hellenist and Latinist Ugolino Martelli, who became interested in the Italian vernacular during his Paduan years, as well as Lorenzo Lenzi, Alberto del Bene, and Carlo Strozzi. They were all protégées of fellow citizen of Florence Benedetto Varchi, who had left the city in 1537, because of his republican sympathies, and had made Padua his temporary home and place for study, until March 1541. After returning to his hometown with Martelli and Strozzi, he would have brought to bear his Paduan experience as Infiammato on the Florentine Academy, thereby allowing for a fruitful exchange between Venetian and Florentine cultures of the mid-sixteenth century.
The Academy, then, gathered professionals and specialists of various disciplines, such as physicians, jurists, and literati, all with parallel interests in the sciences, philosophy, poetry, and different forms of prose and with a sound humanist education. This allowed the Academy to configure itself as an active interdisciplinary circle. The result was a cultural program placed under the aegis of interdisciplinarity – lectures ranged from philosophy and poetry (Classical and modern) all the way to theology – and bilingualism (Latin and Italian vernacular), especially in the early stages of the Academy’s activity, under the rule of principi such as Leone Orsini (June–July 1540), Venetian aristocrat Giovanni Cornaro della Piscopia (August–November 1540), Galeazzo Gonzaga (December 1540–March 1541), and Alessandro Piccolomini (April–September 1541). That notwithstanding, it was Benedetto Varchi who inspired the cultural tendencies and initiatives of the Academy, up to Gonzaga’s leadership. As a matter of fact, the responsibility for public lectures rested almost entirely on his shoulders. Between September 1540 and the first months of 1541, Varchi held public lectures in Latin, on ancient Greek and Latin lyric poetry and in the vernacular, on Petrarchan sonnets and canzoni (Rvf CCX, CLXXXII, XXIX, LIII), and on contemporary poetry (sonnets by Bembo, Giovanni della Casa, Lodovico Dolce, and Daniele Barbaro). Besides Varchi, there were two fellow Tuscan lecturers: Ugolino Martelli, who devoted two lectures to Petrarch (on Rvf LIII and Triumphus Cupidinis I) and one to Bembo’s sonnet Se la più dura quercia, while Alessandro Piccolomini lectured on the sonnet Ora t’en va superbo, by fellow citizen of Siena Laudomia Forteguerri.
While the record of lecture tiles and extant texts is still incomplete, at least two observations are in order. The first concerns the canon of modern authors and texts: if Petrarch is obviously preeminent, nevertheless the avant-garde-like choices of the Infiammati also suggest a particular interest for coeval lyric poets, from Bembo all the way to a poet like della Casa, who, although still little-known at the time, was bound to going head to head with the great Venetian or even substitute his example of lyric poetry. Varchi’s lesson on della Casa’s sonnet on jealousy (Cura, che di timor ti nutri e cresci) started to circulate almost instantly, especially in Tuscany, and appeared in print already in 1545 in Mantua, contributing to the poet’s popularity. As far as Varchi’s referenced texts are concerned, the choice fell on examples of lyric poetry characterized by technical difficulty, lofty style, and elaborated conceit (thus pertaining to a less orthodox kind of Petrarchism) and appropriate for an interpretive reading particularly keen on the aptness of modern poetry and of the Italian vernacular to convey also doctrinal content. The second observation has to do with the methodology of Varchi’s lessons, where a focus on the content, which is explained in the light of Florentine neo-Platonic philosophy, is made to interact, as is typically the case for Bembo, with particular concerns about form (style and rhetoric). The result is a new typology of an academic lesson – on poetic texts – documenting the quest for a new prose and language for literary criticism. It will be widely popular also in Florence, in the Florentine Academy.
Varchi’s methodological innovations also had an impact on academic lectures of philosophical content. The cycle of lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics was held from October to November of 1540; also in that case, his method focused on a direct approach to the text, in opposition to many scholastic commentators, whom he considered useless and pedantic and whom he accused of substituting empty exercises with the primary source, obscuring rather than illustrating it and like sterile grammarians placing all their attention on elocution. Varchi instead advocated a direct relationship with the primary source, in order to comprehend it at the literal level and thus explain it clearly and faithfully to the original intended meaning, so as to enable the audience to participate in the search of the truth and thus achieve real knowledge of the content. Varchi’s greatest revolution, however, was that of contributing a vernacular translation and comment to the original Greek text of the Nicomachean Ethics: he succeeded in the first lesson centered on the meaning of philosophy, but then was forced to give the following lectures in Latin, both due to the high number of foreign students in the audience and perhaps most importantly because of criticism on behalf of uncompromising classicist fellow members, who did not find it acceptable that one would discuss philosophy in the vernacular. Varchi’s trailblazing choice was part of a wider program of translation into the vernacular of ancient philosophical texts, particularly Aristotle’s works, in an attempt to coin a modern philosophical language that would in turn prove the Italian vernacular to be competitive, also in this field, with respect to the languages of Classic antiquity: during his Paduan years, he attended to a translation and commentary of Aristotle’s work on logic (specifically the first book of the Analytica Priora), a discipline for which Padua was a prominent center of studies. It was a project that had met the opposition of Florentine humanists and that the Paduan entourage instead encouraged him to pursue, principally Speroni, the person responsible for the favorable orientation of the Infiammati with respect to the development of the vernacular language and culture. In his Dialogo delle lingue – written in the 1530s and widely read by learned Paduans, before it was edited along with the other dialogues by the Infiammato Daniele Barbaro (Venice, 1542) – Speroni, who features Pietro Pomponazzi as the principal interlocutor, has him first affirm the primacy of thought and concepts (res) over words (verba) and then logically justify the substantial equivalence of the different languages for the purpose of scientific and philosophical communication.
Such program – for which Varchi had been inspired by Speroni acting under the influence of Pomponazzi – was later carried on, still under the Infiammati banner, by Alessandro Piccolomini, whose experience in the Academy led to a challenging translation project of Classical works, specifically of philosophical and scientific content. It was a project founded on the conviction that divulging knowledge also to those who did not know ancient Greek and Latin had become a necessity. Moreover, the project aimed at elaborating a philosophical vernacular language that could be comprehensible and communicative, not at the expense of scientific accuracy and effective exchange of information. During that same period, in Padua, Piccolomini wrote two tracts De la sfera del mondo and Delle stelle fisse (both published in 1540 in Venice), which are the first scientific works in the Tuscan language. Other philosophical works in the vernacular ensued (once he had come back to Siena, in 1543, and then to Rome): first and foremost, L’instrumento della filosofia was published with the La prima parte della filosofia naturale (Rome, 1551), a great philosophical tract focused on logic, where he implemented the teachings of the Infiammati, not just with respect to the choice of language but also by electing logic as the basic means to acquire any kind of knowledge.
During his semester-long tenure as prince of the Academy, Piccolomini managed to finally put together, with Varchi’s help, a cycle of lectures on Aristotle’s Poetics. The project had been initiated by Leone Orsini, the first prince: he had tasked a famous philosopher like Vincenzo Maggi, who, however, had to renounce. The task was eventually assigned to Bartolomeo Lombardi, a prominent Veronese neo-Aristotelian philosopher. Several impediments, however, including Lombardi’s bad health, postponed the schedule between November and December, when Piccolomini had already passed on the baton to Speroni. Lombardi’s sickness (which eventually caused his death) did not allow him to go past the prolusion to the cycle of lectures, which was eventually held by Maggi. Nine years later, Maggi himself accomplished a great commentary to the Poetics (In Aristotelis librum de Poetica communes explanationes, Venice, 1550), which was born in collaboration with Lombardi and preceded by his prolusion delivered to the Infiammati. The Academy, then, was on the cutting edge also with respect to the interest for Aristotle’s Poetics that exploded halfway through the sixteenth century. To be sure, Piccolomini began an ongoing reflection on poetry and rhetoric that would eventually lead, in the 1560s and 1570s, to translations into the Italian vernacular of the said Aristotelian work (along with a substantial commentary) and of the Rhetoric.
Sperone Speroni’s tenure as prince of the Academy – beginning on October 14, 1541, but made official only one month later (November 13), due to Speroni’s own hesitations – marked a turnaround in its history: specifically, a separation from the University of Padua. Such separation was manifested by a program contemplating the exclusive use of the vernacular in formal lectures as well as a notable reduction of the disciplinary scope of the Academy’s interests, which were limited to just philosophy, eloquence, and Tuscan poetry. The new course of action was made apparent since Speroni’s induction speech, which he delivered in the vernacular. Some highlights of Speroni’s leadership were, besides the already mentioned lectures on Aristotle’s Poetics, lectures on the Nicomachean Ethics as well as on the Rhetoric, respectively, by Piccolomini and Ugolino Martelli; as for poetry, the interest shifted from lyric poetry to more extensive genres such as tragedy. Sperone himself read excerpts of his Canace, which was in progress at the time, to his fellow members. A precious source documenting the new tendencies in the program of the Academy is Ragionamenti della lingua toscana (Venice, 1545 and 1546). A tract cast in the form of a dialogue by Bernardino Tomitano, this work summarizes conversations held at the Academy, after Speroni’s election, between Speroni himself, some fellow members, and a group of students of the University of Padua. Following in the footsteps of his teacher (Pomponazzi), Speroni justifies the preeminence of philosophy in the Academy’s program by postulating that philosophy has a primary role in the quest for truth and wisdom, which are goals that also professionals dealing with words, such as orators and poets, strive for, in order to achieve, through the specificity of their own language – which differs from philosophy – the civic duties assigned to them. This also applies to modern poets and orators, who use the vernacular, which in turn needs to be promoted and developed, so that it may be able to become more sophisticated conceptually and thus equal to the ancient languages; the part of Speroni’s academic program devoted to rhetoric and Tuscan poetry intends to serve precisely to that purpose. Thus, Speroni’s reflections, as formulated under the auspices of the Infiammati and formalized by his pupil Tomitano, bring to the fore the distinction of languages – the proper language of philosophy and the proper language of poetry and oratory art. Similarly, coeval Infiammati readings of Aristotle’s Poetics focus on comparing and contrasting philosophy, poetry, and history. This is one more aspect that reveals the impact of the Infiammati, given that the process eventually leading to the specialization of disciplines did begin halfway through the sixteenth century, exactly by defining the specificity of different languages serving different purposes.
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