Letizia Panizza – Battles for cultural hegemony between the Venetian Accademia degli Incogniti and Papal Rome under the Barberini



Event Date: 17 – 18 September 2011
British Library Conference Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB

The Italian Academies 1525–1700 Project presents:


This major international conference is being hosted as part of the AHRC funded research project The Italian Academies 1525-1700: the first intellectual networks of early modern Europe.

Academies represent a vital and characteristic dimension of early modern culture.
There were ca. 600 Academies in Italy in the period 1525-1700. Frequently international in membership, and in correspondence with scholars across Europe, they were fundamental to the development of the intellectual networks later defined as the ‘République des Lettres’, and to the dissemination of ideas in early modern Europe. Their membership included pioneering scientists, writers, artists, political thinkers, and representatives of both sexes and all social classes. The interests of the Academies ranged from the humanities, to the figurative and performance arts, natural sciences and medicine; many were interdisciplinary in their outlook and activities.

However, the social and cultural phenomenon of the Italian Academies has hitherto attracted relatively little research due in part to the wide range of their interests and difficulties in accessing relevant information.

The conference aims to explore research questions raised by the activities of Academies in this period.

Letizia Panizza (Royal Holloway, London) – Battles for cultural hegemony between the Venetian Accademia degli Incogniti and Papal Rome under the Barberini

The first half of the17th century was a time of a David-and-Goliath balance of power in the Italian peninsula, marked by continual strife. On the one hand Venice, the only remaining independent republic in the Italian peninsula, champion of a secular state governed by civil law, and proud of its vibrant press, relatively free from the Inquisition’s paws; on the other hand, the coalition of tyrannical Spanish Hapsburg rule in Italy locked together with authoritarian papal Rome, theocratic, intolerant of a mere whiff of deviant doctrine or behaviour, and still intent on territorial expansion.

Despite this seeming inequality, Venice, like David, asserted its cultural excellence and freedom of expression in all the arts against a Philistine Goliath: Rome under the Barberini family headed by Urban VIII in particular (pope from 1623 to 1644).  This paper will argue that this cultural rivalry is exemplified in two books emanating from two institutions,  an academy and a court functioning as an academy.   In 1633, the keeper of the Vatican library, Leone Allacci (1586-1669),  an eminent Greek scholar and theologian,  brought out Apes Urbanae (Urban’s Bees) , with the subtitle ‘on illustrious men’ meaning those  who resided in Rome at the time.  It listed in alphabetical order all the writers, poets, lawyers, physician, philosophers and theologians, most of them in religious orders, especially the Jesuits,  who contributed to the splendour of  Rome as the centre of artistic and intellectual achievement in Italy if not Europe. The pope was both lavish patron and participant in this grand academy of his urbane bees.

The Venetians had already stood up to Rome politically, employing Paolo Sarpi as their official jurist and theologian. A legal genius, he brilliantly defeated Rome’s infringements of Venetian sovereignty.  But Allacci’s glorification of Roman culture and the pope himself  must have played a part in the formation of the Accademia degli Incogniti in 1630, and later in the Academy’s  response to the Apes Urbanae with its own Le Glorie degli Incogniti, sub-titled ‘on illustrious men’, which saw the light in 1647, just after Urban’s demise and disgrace.   Listed, also in alphabetical order, were Venetians of cultural, artistic and political distinction – poets, novelists, satirists, historians, playwrights, librettists — and many non-Venetians as well, with a  portrait and  biography for each member, and a summary of published and unpublished writings. Allacci had composed in Latin; the Glorie were all in Italian. The Incogniti’s works, furthermore, were aimed at a wide literate public, not a restricted latinate elite. These two books, while undoubtedly tools of cultural propaganda setting forth each centre’s assertion of cultural hegemony, portray the Incogniti as the harbingers of a modern literature in the vernacular laying to rest a clerically dominated one.



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