Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Academy of Fame

  • Valeria GuarnaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_704-1


The “Academia Venetiana” was founded in 1557 by the Venetian patrician Federico Badoer with the declared intention of launching a publishing project, which he announced with a sort of advance catalogue, first in the vernacular (1558) and then in Latin (1559), under the title Somma delle opere che in tutte le scienze et arti più nobili, et in varie lingue ha da mandare in luce l’Academia Venetiana. The Academy’s designated publisher was Paolo Manuzio, tasked with printing more than 300 titles in 20 different disciplines. The device chosen for the imprint pictured a winged female blowing a trumpet, perched one-footed on a globe, with the legend “Io volo al ciel per riposarmi in Dio.” The formal title of the institution, chosen by its founder, was the Academia Venetiana, which would soon be flanked, or superseded, by “Academy of Fame,” derived from the device.

Official depositions, dated November 1557 and December 1560, laid out the Academy’s publishing plan, revolving primarily around the printing of Latin and Italian texts and vernacular editions of key works.

The venture had a highly innovative cultural program, giving concrete expression to a new conception of learning, tending to the encyclopedic, according to which scientific, literary, and philosophical knowledge was to be developed syncretically. Simultaneously, the academy aspired to become the recognized organ for the political and social policies of the Venetian government, proposing to offer a “public interest” service aimed at turning young aristocrats into future statesmen.

In August 1561, the Badoer family was convicted of fraud and the Academy consequently closed. Despite its brief life, projects nurtured by the institute would live on after its demise, leaving a lasting impression on the structure of scholarship.


Heritage and Rupture with the Tradition

From the late 1540s, a group of intellectuals would gather at the house of the patrician Domenico Venier in Venice to discuss literary, philosophical and scientific matters. A co-conductor of these meetings was the politician Federico Badoer, who would launch, in a document dated November 1557, a formally constituted institution whose principal scope was to publish a large number of texts that would constitute a new “library” for the enlightenment of young Venetian aristocrats. The “Academia Venetiana,” as its founder named it, proposed itself to the government of the Serenissima as a potential official cultural organ, offering “public interest” services, including lectures and publications, with the specific aim of training the younger nobility to become the future intellectuals and statesmen of the Republic.

The internal organization was envisaged as imitating that of the human body, whose parts corresponded variously to aspects of the active and the contemplative life. The institutional make-up was divided into four main sectors: science, economics, politics, and oratory, entrusted by Badoer, respectively, to his three nephews, Giustiniano, Giovanni, and Luigi, and to his secretary Marlupino Marlupini.

The science sector, representing the main cultural thrust of the Academy, was subdivided into four disciplines – law, philosophy, mathematics, and the humanities, each of which were in their turn broken down into a variety of specializations: future jurists into canon and civil; philosophers into supernatural, natural logical medical, and moral; mathematicians into geometers, arithmeticians, astrologers, musical scholars, and cosmographers; humanists into rhetoricians, poets, and historians. The subdivisions reflect the way that knowledge was conceived at that time, essentially split into the active and contemplative sciences, according to the Aristotelian classification of scientific knowledge proposed in the sixth book of his Metaphysics (1, 1025 b1–1026 a35).

The internal disposition of the four “colleges’ of the Academy was also reflected in the ambitious multifaceted publishing program printed in Venice in 1558 (in Italian) and again in 1559 (in Latin), entitled Somma delle opere che in tutte le scienze et arti più nobili, et in varie lingue ha da mandare in luce l’Academia Venetiana, parte nuove, et non più stampate, parte con fedelissime tradottioni, giudiciose correttioni, et utilissime annotationi riformate (“Summary of the Works to be issued by the Academia Venetiana on all of the noblest arts and sciences, and in various tongues…”), entrusted to Paolo Manuzio, appointed the Academy’s official publishing house. This catalogue was a manifesto as much as a publisher’s list, announcing over 500 titles distributed among 20 disciplines: theology, metaphysics, physics, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, optics, music, astrology, geography, warfare, civil law, politics, economics, ethics, logic, rhetoric, poetry, history, and grammar – an encyclopaedic project in which knowledge was presented as all-encompassing and interconnected.

The distribution of scholarly categories envisaged by the administrative structure and by the division of disciplines within the Somma’s ambitious lists testified to the interdependence of the cultural and the publishing projects. It was through its publications, in fact, that the institution would meet the task it had set itself, that is, to perform a genuine civilizing role at the heart of the Republic’s governing class, educating young Venetian patricians in both Latin and their own language. The titles it planned to issue included new texts alongside editions of the classics kitted out with a full exegetical apparatus: scientific works by authors ancient and modern (Euclid, Galen, Tartaglia, Regiomontanus); commentaries on Aristotle (Themistius, Philoponus, Simplicius); theoretical and technical writings on music (Ptolemy, Glarean, Aristides Quintilianus, and for the moderns: Lodovico Fogliano and Giacomo Fabro); texts on rhetoric and poetics (Rudolph Agricola, Sperone Speroni, and the speeches of Philo of Alexandria, Plotinus and Cicero).

The plan was for many of the works to be translated into Italian. The Academicians’ cultural aims were clearly much influenced by the contemporary linguistic theories of Sperone Speroni, who had elected the vernacular to be the language of literary, philosophical, and scientific communication. The transmission of knowledge should henceforth be entrusted to this new instrument, whose reach was closely tied to the growth of printing. The catalogue announced the forthcoming translation of some of the most difficult scientific and philosophical texts both in order to make them better known and with the precise intention of making room for different theoretical approaches without having to definitively espouse one or the other. The encyclopaedic perspective of the cultural program proposed by the Academy was notable for its pronounced and explicit syncretism. That is to say that the choice of texts had been made with a view to including works representative of multiple critical viewpoints within the same field of knowledge. The Somma embraced different historical traditions in philosophy, for example, works of Aristotelian hue were to rub shoulders with Neoplatonic and Hermetic ones, the latter spanning writings attributed to the legendary Hermes Trismegistus, interpretations by Iamblichus and Syrianus as well as Marsilio Ficino’s more recent revisiting. The Aristotelian reading-list was slanted towards a rapprochement with Plato, indicated by the presence of commentaries by Syrianus and Simplicius, Themistius and Marco Antonio de’ Passeri (called Genova/Genua).

A highly eclectic attitude to all forms of knowledge was as apparent in the theological as in the philosophical sphere. Thus we find authors of reformist bent side by side with Counter-Reformation tracts, here again in token of a syncretic pluralism. It was the intention to print, in fact, texts by Reginald Pole and Jacopo Sadoleto, while works dedicated to Jacob Fugger and Alfonso Carafa were also present. At a time when religious tensions were at their highest, the Academy’s conscious publishing strategy was to encourage a dialogue between opposing positions. Similarly, among academic theologians the school of Aquinas was intermixed with followers of Giles of Rome and Duns Scotus.

Innovative and Original Aspects

The encyclopaedic vision outlined in the Somma was channelled through a reorganisation of knowledge laid out in visually accessible form so that learning could be the more easily transmitted and taught. The design of the project took shape mainly on the basis of the theories formulated by the Dutch humanist Rudolph Agricola, by the scholar Giulio Camillo, and by the Platonist philosopher Franciscus Patricius. Aristotelian logic seemed to these to be insufficient for dealing with the latest philosophical and scientific developments, and they therefore sought new cognitive models capable of imposing a different and unifying framework for all knowledge.

In his treatise De inventione dialectica (1479) Rudolph Agricola had elaborated what amounted to an “art of thinking,” that is to say a logical/pedagogical method that backed up the tools of rhetoric with reasoning of a dialectical type, involving, for example, the deployment of topoi as solid points of reference. The importing of elements of topical logic into the dialectical method, as posited by Agricola, was also to be found in Giulio Camillo’s writings, if explored on different lines, as he too worked towards the formulation of a new rhetoric. In the development of ideas in this reformist direction, marrying logic with traditional rhetoric, Camillo’s La Topica was a further attempt towards an ordering and visual representation of creative procedures. Furthermore his “universal theatre of memory” (and therefore knowledge) project, again organized according to the proportions of the human body and presented as a concrete realization of the “memory arch,” profoundly influenced the Academicians’ own ambition to schematize all of knowledge. The Academy’s attempt to give practical expression to Camillo’s idea of a single encyclopedic model was through the Somma’s listing of titles, in which the current state of learning was effectively tabulated.

Camillo’s treatise was published for the first time in 1560, edited by Franciscus Patricius, who in the same year formulated his own theory for founding a new rhetoric, starting out from the theories of Agricola and Camillo, in a Discorso introducing the Rime of Luca Contile. The Platonist philosopher identified the following elements as fundamental: “the hypothesis of a correlation between the structures and development of human discourse on the one side, and the structure of the cosmos and the creative development of divine thought on the other; and an amplified and renewed topical philosophy” (Bolzoni 1981b, p. 140). Patricius’s notion of a rhetoric renewed by the adjunct of topical philosophy strongly influenced the Academy’s promotion of a didactically oriented, visualized encyclopedism. He was himself, besides, elected to the Academy and appointed superintendent of St. Mark’s (Marciana) Library, which had been entrusted to the new institution’s management at the end of 1558, thus becoming part of a group already boasting over a hundred sodales who had signed up for the venture. These included Paolo Manuzio official printer-publisher, Bernardo Tasso chancellor (Tasso, Bernardo 1733), Luca Contile, director of the sciences committee, Agostino Valier, provost of the philosophers’ committee.

The educational initiative directed at the young Venetian patricians was to consist in public lectures and the recommended reading of key works by ancient and modern authors. The foyer of the Marciana Library, after the Palazzo Badoer the official venue for the academic sessions, also hosted gatherings of writers who found it a congenial forum for discussions of poetic theory and practice. Their theoretical approach to poetry was based on the assumption that it, alongside philosophy, was the repository of an arcane wisdom accessible only to the chosen few, rendering them in effect inheritors of a formulation belonging to the Platonic and hermetic traditions. The poet too could arrive through the application of a range of rhetorical devices at a knowledge of philosophical truth, at the same time, the audience for lyric writing would be provided with the necessary exegetical tools to become themselves sufficiently expert in the mechanics of poetic construction.

As far as rhetorical expression was concerned, the directions mapped by Giulio Camillo tended again to the exploration of a new poetical language. In particular, the speculations in his Idea del theatro (1550) on rhetorical devices would favor a certain artificiality in the unmemorable verses of the poets frequenting the Academia Venetiana, such as Bernardo Cappello, Girolamo Fenaroli, Giorgio Gradenigo, Celio Magno, Bernardo Tasso, and Giacomo Zane (Atanagi, Dionigi 1565a, b; Atanagi, Dionigi, and Irene da Spilmbergo 1561).

The employment of rhetorical stratagems, allied to the “sapient” reading of poetry, gave rise to a production that alternated between the profoundly serious and “inspired,” freighted with moral and civil reflections, and a mannered exploration of metrical and stylistic models. The notion of a poetry connected with their lyrical practice looked back to Pythagorean ritualism, according to which truth was not to be arrived at by the multitude. The inspired poet-philosopher was thus a conduit of real knowledge, could be said, in fact, to illustrate and reveal through his poetry the very idea of knowledge.

Impact and Legacy

The Academy, then, in the Somma delle opere set out its cultural stall, its commendable originality consisting in the desire to embrace disparate, even distant or opposing, philosophical, literary, scientific, and theological traditions, with the intention of representing the totality of learning. At the same time, it proposed the necessity of arriving at a new organization of knowledge in all its aspects and devising the didactic procedures indispensable to its memorization and propagation. The cultural and publishing program was strongly marked by an educative intent that would be realized through the exegetical and philological practices envisaged by the list of proposed titles and equally by a visual apparatus that would accompany some of the more abstruse philosophical works. The pedagogical aspect of the publishing venture would thus bear the main burden of institution’s self-imposed ambition, repeatedly declared to the Venetian authorities: that was to provide a “public interest” service.

The Academia Venetiana also made an attempt to export its cultural model and penetrate the foreign book market. On the occasion of the 1559 Frankfurt fair, then as now a key event in the commercial publishing year, it published specially, in Italian and Latin, a catalogue of Libri, che in varie scienze, et arti nella latina lingua, e nella volgare ha nuovamente mandato l’Academia Venetiana alla fiera di Francfort (“The Books on the various arts and sciences, in the Latin language and in the vernacular that the Academia Venetiana has lately sent to the Fair at Frankfurt”). This list of the titles so far, or about to be, published, again summarized the main concerns of the whole project: Aristotelian philosophy in its various interpretations together with the various theoretical currents it had launched (particularly as regards natural philosophy); theology, in variety of forms of the doctrine; and advanced education, civil, and practical as well as theoretical and rhetorical, particular as aimed at young aristocrats.

The fanfares notwithstanding, of the more than 500 titles announced in the Somma delle opere, only 23 would actually see the light of day. In 1561, Federico Badoer was indicted for fraud before the Senate, which took the opportunity to lay down that no private institution would thereafter assume a public role. Specifically proscribed, in fact, was the precise scope for which the Academy had been established, to perform a public interest role and become an integral part of the Republic’s government, with the status of an official cultural institution. The Serenissima would not in future permit that its name be attached to ventures so patently personal as that of Badoer and his academy.

None the less, the Academy did leave an important legacy for the whole cultural system, transforming the conception of knowledge, which would remain encyclopaedic in character, within a unifying philosophical project, in which different theoretical approaches could coexist. Learning would from now on assume an institutionalized form, organized in line with the reformist pedagogical and logical direction the Academy had proposed, and finding its chosen instruments in the devices offered by the new rhetoric. Elements too of the publishing project outlined in the Somma would resurface after its demise, inspiring such publications as: the ten dialogues of Franciscus Patricius’s Della historia (1560), the two volumes of Rime di diversi published by Dionigi Atanagi (1565), Orazio Toscanella’s Bellezze del Furioso (1574), Le Rime di m. Francesco Petrarca edited by Federico Ubaldini (1642), and more. The Academy had embodied impulses and pressures of various kinds and tried to channel them into a single cultural model and a certain institutional form. Although the actual life-span of the Academia Venetiana had lasted less than a half a decade, the experiment it represented left behind a legacy of integrative renewal in the methods and the form of a “universal” system of knowledge.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sapienza Università di RomaRomeItaly

Section editors and affiliations

  • Luca Bianchi
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly