Considered among the greatest scholars of the seventeenth century, Lucas Holste (L. H.) (lat. Holstenius, it. Luca Holstenio) distinguished himself through his search for and study of manuscript and printed texts during visits and periods of research in the greatest libraries of Italy and Europe. After his conversion to Catholicism, he came to Rome (1627) where he put himself at the service of the Barberini and, in particular, of Cardinal Francesco. He established himself in Baroque Europe with scholarly studies in philology and antiquarianism but also through an extensive geographical knowledge and his interest in naturalism.
KeywordsFrequent Assignment Geographical Knowledge Ancient Philosophy Numerous Correction Negative Reputation
Born in Hamburg on September 27, 1596, into a family of humble origins, he studied first in the city of his birth, then in Rostock and, for around 6 years, in Leiden. At that university, he took an interest in Platonic philosophy. In 1618 he had traveled to Italy with Philipp Clüver, who had published his five-volume Italia Antiqua in Leiden in 1622. This experience stimulated his interest in geography and naturalistic studies. L. H. made numerous corrections to Clüver’s work, which were published posthumously in 1666. In 1621 he accompanied the senator Kaspar Vosperg on a diplomatic mission to Denmark. Afterward, he spent more than 2 years in England; in London and Oxford, he frequented the most famous libraries, which he appreciated not only for the richness of their collections but also for their openness to scholars. After arriving in Paris, he entered the service of Henry de Mesmes as a librarian. After converting to Catholicism on December 15, 1624, he met Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who was in Paris trying to reach a diplomatic solution to the military and political dispute between France and Spain over Valtellina. L. H.’s conversion has been linked to the presence of Francesco Barberini in Paris, which offered him the opportunity to access the Roman court, erudite culture, and Italian antiquarianism. He arrived in Rome in 1627 and began an ecclesiastical career. He was nominated to the Accademia dei Lincei (1629) and began to play a part in the famiglia of Francesco Barberini who appointed him as his librarian (1636). His vast correspondence with figures of libertine erudition such as Nicolas-Claude de Peiresc, Gabriel Naudé, and Jacques and Pierre Dupuy, and with representatives of the seventeenth-century Italian culture, shows that it was not easy for him to adapt himself to the way of life at the Roman court, which he often criticized, even if he did so with cautious prudence. Urban VIII appointed him protonotary apostolic and Canon of St Peter’s and, for his cartographic expertise, entrusted him with the restoration of the paintings in the Gallery of Maps at the Vatican Library. L. H. corrected errors and commissioned more precise representations of ancient and modern Italy (Morello 2007). Innocent X made him the first keeper of the Vatican Library (1653), a role that he retained under Alexander VII. Disappointed with the lack of organization in Italian and Roman libraries, he sought to remodel them as “open libraries,” experimenting with this project at the Vatican Library (Vian 2014). He carried out assignments and missions on behalf of the Barberini and Chigi popes: the most famous and celebrated of these is his presence in Innsbruck at the conversion of Queen Christina of Sweden, whom he then accompanied to Rome (1656). He recommended that Alexander VII acquire the library of the Duke of Urbino, which he visited during this journey (Vian 2014). On the death of Gaudenzio Paganini, Leopoldo de’Medici offered him the Chair of Humanities at the Studio di Pisa, but he declined (1648). His activity as a librarian and the frequent assignments entrusted to him by popes reduced the production and, above all, the publication of his works, which often remain incomplete and in manuscript. He died in Rome on February 2, 1666. He is buried in Rome in the Church of Santa Maria dell’Anima. In accordance with his last will and testament, L. H.’s library was left to the Roman Biblioteca Angelica for “public use” (Serrai 2000). Although L. H. did not claim to be a philosopher, thanks to his association with Daniel Heinsius, he was interested in ancient philosophy and Neoplatonism. This can be deduced from both his library and his correspondence with erudite friends. In the work De vita et scriptis philosophi Porphyrii Dissertatio (1630 and 1650), he sought to combine the Neoplatonism inherited from renaissance humanism with the culture of the Counter-Reformation, without its controversialist overtones. In the biography of Porphyry, he presented the Neoplatonist as an independent philosopher and, sometimes, as a critic of Plato. This work contextualized Porphyry’s Contra Christianos, the principal cause of the negative reputation of the philosopher whom L. H. wanted to bring back to the attention of seventeenth-century literary culture (Varani 2014).
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