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Visual Cultures of Secrecy

in Early Modern Europe

Habent sua fata libelli
Early Modern Studies Series
General Editor
Michael Wolfe
St. John’s University
Editorial Board of Early Modern Studies
Elaine Beilin Raymond A. Mentzer
Framingham State College University of Iowa
Christopher Celenza Charles G. Nauert
Johns Hopkins University University of Missouri, Emeritus
Barbara B. Diefendorf Robert V. Schnucker
Boston University Truman State University, Emeritus
Paula Findlen Nicholas Terpstra
Stanford University University of Toronto
Scott H. Hendrix Margo Todd
Princeton Theological Seminary University of Pennsylvania
Jane Campbell Hutchison James Tracy
University of Wisconsin–Madison University of Minnesota
Mary B. McKinley Merry Wiesner-Hanks
University of Virginia University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
Visual Cultures
IN Early Modern

Timothy McCall, Sean Roberts, and Giancarlo Fiorenza

Early Modern Studies 11

Truman State University Press
Kirksville, Missouri
Copyright © 2013 Truman State University Press, Kirksville, Missouri, 63501
All rights reserved

Cover art by Andrea Mantegna, Ludovico Gonzaga Confers with a Trusted Secretary, detail from the Camera Picta,
1465–74, fresco, Mantua, Castello di San Giorgio. Scala / Art Resource, NY.

Cover design: Teresa Wheeler

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Visual cultures of secrecy in early modern Europe / edited by Timothy McCall, Sean Roberts, and Giancarlo Fiorenza.
pages cmm. —  (Early modern studies ; vol. 11)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61248-092-3 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-61248-093-0 (ebook)
1. Secrecy in art. 2. Arts, European—Themes, motives. 3. Arts and society—Europe.  I. McCall, Timothy, editor of
compilation. II. Roberts, Sean E., editor of compilation. III. Fiorenza, Giancarlo, 1970–, editor of compilation.
NX650.S435V57 2013

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any format by any means without written permission from
the publisher.

The paper in this publication meets or exceeds the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for
Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48–1992.

Illustrations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vi
Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix
Revealing Early Modern Secrecy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts
1 The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Patricia Simons
2 On the Skins of Goats and Sheep
(Un)masking the Secrets of Nature in Early Modern Popular Culture. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
William Eamon
3 Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space
The Coretto of Torrechiara . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
Timothy McCall
4 Michelangelo’s Open Secrets. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
Maria Ruvoldt
5 Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s
Devotional Paintings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
Giancarlo Fiorenza
6 A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper
Cardinal Bibbiena at the Vatican Palace . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149
Henry Dietrich Fernández
7 Networks of Urban Secrecy
Tamburi, Anonymous Denunciations, and the Production of the Gaze in
Fifteenth-Century Florence. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162
Allie Terry-Fritsch
8 Tricks of the Trade
The Technical Secrets of Early Engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182
Sean Roberts
9 The Alchemical Womb
Johann Remmelin’s Catoptrum microcosmicum. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 208
Lyle Massey
About the Contributors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231

Introduction: Revealing Early Modern Secrecy

Fig. 1 Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, 1514, engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Fig. 2 Andrea Mantegna, Footmen Regulate Access to Ludovico Gonzaga, detail from
the Camera Picta, 1465–74, fresco . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Fig. 3 Andrea Mantegna, Ludovico Gonzaga Confers with a Trusted Secretary, detail from
the Camera Picta, 1465–74, fresco . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Fig. 4 Unknown Emilian or Lombard Artist, Gualtieri Reading Fake Papal Bull to Griselda
and Subjects, detail from the Camera di Griselda, originally from Roccabianca castle
(Parma), ca. 1470, fresco. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Fig. 5 Domenico Fetti, Portrait of a Man with a Sheet of Music, ca. 1614–1620, oil on canvas. . . . . . . . . . 12
Fig. 6 Agostino Carracci, Satyr and Sleeping Nymph, late 1580s, engraving . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Fig. 7 Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors, 1533, oil on canvas. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

Chapter 1: The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture

Fig. 1.1 Sandro Botticelli, Venus, 1480s, oil on canvas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Fig. 1.2 Giovanni Antonio di Brescia (after), Two Lovers, engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Fig. 1.3 Giovanni Antonio di Brescia (attr.), The Passionate Embrace, engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Fig. 1.4 Master BXG, The Lovers, ca. 1480, engraving . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Fig. 1.5 Titian (attr.), Lovers, ca. 1510–25, oil on canvas. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Fig. 1.6 Raphael, La Fornarina, ca. 1518–19, oil on wood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Fig. 1.7 Titian, The Triumph of Love, ca. 1545–50, oil on canvas. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Fig. 1.8 Gabriel Metsu, Woman Reading a Letter, ca. 1665–67, oil on wood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Fig. 1.9 Raphael, Study for the Fainting Virgin of the Baglione Entombment, pen and ink
over black chalk underdrawing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

Chapter 2: On the Skins of Goats and Sheep

Fig. 2.1 Snake Handler Catching Vipers, woodcut from Pietro Andrea Mattioli, I discorsi di
M. Pietro Andrea Matthioli (Venice, 1557). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Fig. 2.2 Charlatans in the Piazza San Marco, engraving from Giacomo Franco, Habiti d’huomini
e donne (Venice, 1609). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Fig. 2.3 Snake Handler in a Bologna Piazza, engraving from Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, Le arte
per via (Bologna, 1660). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Fig. 2.4 Nicolo Nelli, Portrait of Leonardo Fioravanti, woodcut from Leonardo Fioravanti,
Tesoro della vita humana (Venice, 1582). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
Fig. 2.5 Title page from Benedetto (called il Persiano), I maravigliosi, et occulti secreti
naturali (Rome, 1613). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Fig. 2.6 Title page from Dottor Gratiano Pagliarizzo, Secreti nuovi e rari (Bologna, Milan, n.d.). . . . . . . . . 67
Fig. 2.7 Bernardino Mei, Il Ciarlatano, 1656, oil on canvas. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
Illustrations vii

Chapter 3: Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space

Fig. 3.1 Coretto of Torrechiara, ca. 1460s, Milan, Castello Sforzesco, Civiche Raccolte
d’Arte Applicata. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Fig. 3.2 Torrechiara, built 1450s. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
Fig. 3.3 Bembo workshop, Camera d’oro, Torrechiara, late-1450s. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Fig. 3.4 Bembo workshop, Ceiling of camera d’oro, Torrechiara, late-1450s. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
Fig. 3.5 Chapel of San Nicomede, Torrechiara. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Fig. 3.6 Benedetto Bembo, Polyptych of San Nicomede (Madonna and Child with Saints
Anthony Abbot, Nicomede, Catherine of Alexandria, and Peter Martyr), signed and
dated 1462, oil and gold on wood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Fig. 3.7 Edgardo Minozzi, Coretto, ca. 1912 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
Fig. 3.8 Albrecht Dürer, Saint Eustace, detail from Paumgartner Altarpiece, ca. 1503, oil on wood. . . . . . . 90
Fig. 3.9 Rossi heart emblem, detail of Coretto of Torrechiara (fig. 3.1), 1460s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
Fig 3.10 Rossi heart emblem, tomb of Pietro Rossi, 1430s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Fig. 3.11 Interior, Coretto of Torrechiara (fig. 3.1), 1460s. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96

Chapter 4: Michelangelo’s Open Secrets

Fig. 4.1 Copy after Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Rape of Ganymede (detail), ca. 1533,
black chalk on paper. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
Fig. 4.2 Michelangelo, The Punishment of Tityus, ca. 1533, black chalk on paper. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
Fig. 4.3 Michelangelo, The Fall of Phaeton, ca. 1533, black chalk on paper. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
Fig. 4.4 Michelangelo, The Fall of Phaeton, ca. 1533, black chalk on paper. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115

Chapter 5: Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico

Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings
Fig. 5.1 Dosso Dossi, Jupiter, Painting Butterflies, ca. 1524, oil on canvas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
Fig. 5.2 Ludovico Mazzolino, Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet, ca. 1527, oil on wood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
Fig. 5.3 Ludovico Mazzolino, Christ Disputing with the Doctors, ca. 1522, oil on wood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Fig. 5.4 Ludovico Mazzolino, Dispute in the Temple, oil on wood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Fig. 5.5 Ludovico Mazzolino, Christ and the Adulterous Woman, ca. 1519, oil on wood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
Fig. 5.6 Ludovico Mazzolino, The Tribute Money, oil on wood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Fig. 5.7 Titian, The Tribute Money, ca. 1524, oil on wood. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144

Chapter 6: A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper

Fig. 6.1 Raphael and workshop, Stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 1516–17. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150
Fig. 6.2 Raphael and workshop, Loggetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 1516–17. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
Fig. 6.3 Marco Dente, Venus Pulling a Thorn from her Foot. ca. 1516, engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
Fig. 6.4 Raphael, The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel, ca. 1518, oil on panel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
Fig. 6.5 Temple of Vesta, early first century bce, Tivoli. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

Chapter 7: Networks of Urban Secrecy

Fig. 7.1 Map of Renaissance Florence, with locations of tamburi marked by black boxes. . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Fig. 7.2 Exterior of the Palazzo del Podestà (Museo Nazionale del Bargello), Florence. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168
Fig. 7.3 Interior courtyard and loggia of the of the Palazzo del Podestà . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
Fig. 7.4 Nicholas Beatrizet, Pasquino, engraving. Collected and published by Antoine
Lafrery in Speculum Romanae Magnificientiae (Rome, 1550) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
viii Illustrations

Chapter 8: Tricks of the Trade

Fig. 8.1 Albrecht Dürer, Sudarium with Two Angels, 1513, engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
Fig. 8.2 Albrecht Dürer, The Sudarium Spread out by an Angel, 1516, etching on iron . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Fig. 8.3 Attributed to Baccio Baldini, The Samian Sibyl, ca. 1470, engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
Fig. 8.4 Francesco Rosselli. Annunciation, after 1482, engraving from the series The
Mysteries of the Rosary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189
Fig. 8.5 Third Map of Africa (detail), engraving from Ptolemy, Geography (Rome:
Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, 1478). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192
Fig. 8.6 Map of the Holy Land (detail), engraving from Francesco Berlinghieri, Septe
giornate della geographia (Florence: Niccolò Tedesco, 1482). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192
Fig. 8.7 Map of “Modern” Italy, engraving from Francesco Berlinghieri, Septe giornate
della geographia (Florence: Niccolò Tedesco, 1482). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 194
Fig. 8.8 Attributed to Baccio Baldini, illustration for the third canto, engraving from
Cristoforo Landino, Commento sopra la commedia (Florence: Niccolò Tedesco, 1481). . . . . . . 197
Fig. 8.9 The Holy Mountain (frontispiece), engraving from Antonio Bettini, Monte santo di Dio
(Florence: Niccolò Tedesco, 1477). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198
Fig. 8.10 Andrea Mantegna, Battle of the Sea Gods (left half), ca. 1470–1480, engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200

Chapter 9: The Alchemical Womb

Fig. 9.1 Title page from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum (Augustae
Vindelicorum: Typis Davidis Francki, 1619), engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 210
Fig. 9.2 Visio prima from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum (Augsburg,
1639), engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212
Fig. 9.3 Visio secunda from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum (Augsburg,
1619), engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Fig. 9.4 Visio tertia from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum (Augsburg, 1619),
engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 214
Fig. 9.5 Plate 3 from Stefan Michelspacher, Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst un Natur, in Alchymia
(Augsburg, 1616), engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
Fig. 9.6 Plate 4 from Stefan Michelspacher, Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst un Natur, in Alchymia
(Augsburg, 1616), engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
Fig. 9.7 Adam and Eve from Thomas Geminus, Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio
(London, 1545), engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
Fig. 9.8 Detail of devil’s head in Visio prima, from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum
microcosmicum (Augustae Vindelicorum: Typis Davidis Francki, 1619), engraving . . . . . . . . . . 222
Fig. 9.9 Roundel with flaps in Visio prima, from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum
(Augsburg, 1619), engraving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223

The intellectual spark for this volume came from events organized by the editors in the spring of
2009 on the theme of “the secret spaces of early modern Europe.” The first of these was a sympo-
sium held at the University of Southern California under the auspices of the USC-Huntington
Library Early Modern Studies Institute, the Visual Studies Graduate Certificate Program, and the
Art History Department. The second was a panel at the College Art Association’s annual meeting.
We would like to thank the speakers, discussants, and audiences of these events for the vibrant
exchange of ideas fostered on these occasions. Bruce Smith especially provided a response to the
papers presented at USC, which helped to determine the shape of this volume. We are particularly
grateful to Peter Mancall for supporting the symposium with funding from EMSI and to Amy
Braden for her hard work ensuring that everything ran smoothly.
The editors would like to thank Stephen Campbell for his insightful comments on an earlier
draft of this manuscript, and additionally Jo Joslyn, Sheryl Reiss, and Rebecca Zorach for assis-
tance and advice along the way. Carolyn Murphy deserves our gratitude for helping to ensure that
the contribution of Henry Dietrich Fernández saw publication here. Michael Wolfe and the anon-
ymous readers for Truman State University Press provided numerous invaluable suggestions. We
thank as well Nancy Rediger for her enthusiasm for the project and Barbara Smith-Mandell for her
careful and attentive work in bringing this book to print.
We thank, above all, each of the contributors to this volume, without whose hard work and
generosity of ideas this book would most surely not exist.
Sean Roberts is grateful for the support of USC’s Art History Department, and especially to Nancy
Troy for her encouragement of this project. The Provost’s Office provided financial support for
publication through the Advancing Scholarship in the Social Sciences and Humanities program.
The students of several graduate seminars, including Jeremy Glatstein, Ellen Dooley, Sean Nelson,
and Rachel Amato provided thoughtful responses to both the introduction and Dr. Roberts’s
essay. Alexander Marr and Vera Keller provided the opportunity to present material related to this
book at the EMSI symposium, Ingenious Acts, in 2011. Likewise, Lilliana Leopardi and students
at Chapman University offered a valuable occasion to discuss early modern secrecy. Along with
those already mentioned, thanks are due to Eunice Howe, Naoko Tahatake, and the anonymous
readers of a related article published in Renaissance Studies. The British Museum, National Gallery
London, Getty Museum, and Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense generously granted permission to
reproduce works in their collections.
For assistance and suggestions for both the introduction and his essay, Tim McCall would like
to thank the faculty forum of the History Department of Villanova University, in addition to audi-
ences at Rider University, Bowling Green State University, the University of Southern California,
and the Penn Humanities Forum of the University of Pennsylvania. In particular—and in addition
to the coeditors, contributors, and others named above—gratitude goes to Jennifer Borland,

x Acknowledgments

Adriano Duque, Campbell Grey, Margaret Haines, Jennie Hirsh, Marc Gallicchio, Marco Gentile,
Adele Lindenmeyr, Cara Rachele, Sindhu Revuluri, Ingrid Rowland, Paul Steege, Wendy Steiner,
and Alessandra Talignani. For important assistance with images, thanks are due as well to Peta
Motture, Nick Humphreys, Laura Basso, Chiara Burgio, Francesca Tasso, and Annarita Ziveri.
Financial support was provided by the History Department and the Office of Research and
Sponsored Projects of Villanova University.
Giancarlo Fiorenza is indebted to Linda Halisky and Susan Opava, two former deans at
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, for their generous support of his
research. A State Faculty Support Grant provided financial assistance for his contribution to the
volume. Charles Dempsey, Paul Manoguerra, and Alexander Nagel kindly read earlier versions of
the essay, while colleagues in the Department of Art and Design lent a patient ear and offered
encouragement and sound advice. For the images, Sheryl Frisch was always quick to help.
Henry Dietrich Fernández passed away in September 2009. The editors wish to dedicate this
volume to Henry in memory of his scholarship, intellectual curiosity, and collegiality.
Revealing Early Modern Secrecy

Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

ecrets in all their variety permeated early modern Europe. From the whispers of ambassa-
dors at court to the emphatically publicized books of home remedies that flew from presses
and booksellers’ shops, women and men were bound in a web of arcane and privileged
knowledge. Secrecy, of course, is hardly an early modern invention. The notion, most expansively
construed, that knowledge must be revealed or unveiled, that signs and symbols stand at a thresh-
old to be peeled back by probing eyes and minds, is an integral part of an intellectual tradition that
stretches back at least as far as Egyptian and pre-Socratic Greek thought and encompasses medi-
eval exegetes and humanist poets alike. This volume, however, examines characteristics of secrecy
rooted in the particular intellectual, visual, and social conditions of European cultures between the
fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Novel forms of erudition (humanism foremost among these),
a certain fluidity between conceptions of public and private spheres while rigid stratification of
class and rank remained entrenched, and a rapidly changing fashioning of selves spurred by
unprecedented religious upheaval all might be seen as separating an early modern culture of
secrecy from its predecessors and successors. Perhaps what most characterized early modern
secrets, however, was the sheer quantity and vibrancy of the material and visual culture that
inspired and sustained performances of secrecy. Arcane, erudite, and sometimes perplexing images
and symbols were frescoed on the walls of princely palaces, woven in the threads of lavish tapes-
tries, and emblazoned in ink and paint on the printed and manuscript pages that filled the studioli
and cabinets of scholars.
Art historians, literary scholars, and historians have long labored to decipher the hidden con-
tents of Renaissance words and images. More recently, scholars of medieval and early modern
Europe have begun the crucial work of anatomizing secrecy, of disarticulating secrets to under-
stand how they work. They have focused increasing attention on secrecy as a driving cultural force,
pointing to its centrality in milieus ranging from alchemy to statecraft, medicine to theater.1 A
broad range of disciplinary concerns has motivated these reinvestigations in fields from the history
of science to anthropology and literary studies. While approaches have been as variegated as the
objects of their inquiries, these reconsiderations of the clandestine have been united by a

1. Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature; Cope, Secret Sharers in Italian Comedy; Lochrie, Covert Operations; Rasmussen,
“Introduction”; Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship; Engel et al., Das Geheimnis; Park, Secrets of Women; Biagioli, Galileo’s Instruments of
Credit; Kavey, Books of Secrets; Snyder, Dissimulation and the Culture of Secrecy; Long and Rankin, Secrets and Knowledge.

2 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

commitment to look beyond the “contents” of secrets to shed light on the act and means of their
disguise and revelation. In some cases, the secret itself gained meaning by the act of being hidden
and excluded from certain audiences. In other cases, the very public presentation of information
as having been previously occluded served to augment its significance. A unifying principle of
much recent scholarship investigating secrecy is that the revelation of secrets was as significant and
efficacious as their initial invisibility or hiddenness.
Among the best-known early examples, though hardly a unique starting point for Renaissance
conceptions of secrecy, is Petrarch’s enigmatically named Secretum (The Secret). This text, com-
prised of three dialogues between the fourteenth-century Italian poet and the Latin church father
Augustine, can tell us a great deal about how such secrets work. Petrarch explained the title of his
work with a command directed to the text itself: “So, little book, I bid you to flee from public
places. Be content to stay with me, true to the title that I have given you. For you are my secret, and
thus you are titled. And when I think about profound subjects, speak to me in secret what has been
in secret spoken to you.”2 The lessons proffered in the conversations that follow were not usefully
secret in the way that battle plans, libelous rumors, or alchemical recipes might have been. Yet
Petrarch’s invocation of secrecy was nonetheless tremendously significant in the clever way he
emphasized moral reflection and exercised the faculty of personal judgment. The poet designated
his text as a secret and thereby established a privileged community of readers, distinguished by
their virtuosic erudition, their discretion, and their ability to comprehend spiritual truths best hid-
den from the prying eyes of the uninitiated.
The revelation and withholding of secrets, as Petrarch’s Secretum demonstrates, have often
served as techniques not only of community building but, equally, of exclusion.3 A seventeenth-
century Londoner coming home from the bookshop, eager to learn the carefully guarded secrets
of fish, or a print collector in Nuremberg probing the enigmatic polygons and arcane glyphs of
Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I (fig. 1) each could have imagined him or herself as possessing infor-
mation hidden from others.4 If we say, “you, dear reader, we have a secret to tell you, something
that no one else knows,” what information we might have for you could very well be less significant
than the sense of importance you no doubt feel at being included in our intimate group, and less
efficacious than the distinction and privilege granted to you at the expense of everyone else not
fortunate enough to have picked up this volume. In the early modern period, no less than today,
the keeping and telling of secrets were communicative acts, and the sharing, offering, and hiding
of such secrets acted as a means of distinguishing between, excluding, and producing publics along
an axis of criteria ranging from education and social status to gender and age.5
As Karma Lochrie has shown in her groundbreaking study Covert Operations: The Medieval Uses
of Secrecy (1999), the “act of secrecy…is a social one that draws boundaries between ‘those who

2. Petrarca, The Secret, 47. See also Simonetta, Rinascimento Segreto, 25–28. For further on the intimacy between reader and
author activated by secrecy, see Campbell, Commonwealth of Nature, 21–59.
3. See, for example, Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet; Lochrie, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
4. Art history’s tradition of probing the Melencolia I for its secrets may be traced to Panofsky, Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer.
Michael Camille characterized the engraving as “almost a paradigm of the problem of meaning itself ”; Camille, “Walter Benjamin and
Dürer’s Melencolia I,” 59.
5. Bok, Secrets. See also de Luca, “Notion of Secretum.”
Introduction 3

FIGURE 1. Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I, 1514, engraving, London, British Museum.

© Trustees of the British Museum.
4 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

ought to know but do not’ and those who know and distributes power between them.”6 William
Eamon’s landmark Science and the Secrets of Nature (1996) has called needed attention to the ways in
which information available to any literate European of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
could be effectively framed as “hidden” knowledge in books like Alessio Piemontese’s Secreti (1555).7
Allison Kavey has argued that these only nominally arcane tomes moved rapidly beyond the conti-
nent, spawning a veritable industry in England as well.8 The seeming paradox of such open secrets is
announced to all, boldly proclaimed in printed books like Thomas Johnson’s Cornucopiae (1596).9
The first folio of Johnson’s book promises to reveal to readers the “rare secrets in man, beasts, foules,
fishes, plantes, stones, and such like.” Commonplace and often hopelessly outdated descriptions of
plants and animals are presented to inquisitive readers as privileged arcana. The cultural or artistic
currency of secrets often existed in their disclosure, and the keeping and sharing of secrets forged
social bonds and ultimately engendered exclusive (or more usually semi-exclusive) communities of
the knowledgeable.
Secrecy was and remains not simply a matter of differentiating public from private informa-
tion. Secrets, of course, require disparate publics that are socially demarcated; they also require the
construction of boundaries that can only be actualized by their crossing. Exclusion, distinction,
and privilege are amplified through boundaries that many recognize but that few can pass through,
or by boundaries that themselves suggest a plausible fiction of mediated traversal.10 One such
boundary—or better, a visualized policing of a barrier that is conspicuously difficult to cross—can
be found in the cadre of guards standing atop the steps leading into the court scene of Andrea
Mantegna’s Camera Picta, as Evelyn Welch has perceptively suggested. “Swaggering footmen”
dressed in expensive brocades mediate access to the marquis of Mantua, Ludovico Gonzaga, by
blocking the stairs and reaching toward (either gesturing while speaking with or perhaps aggres-
sively pushing back against) would-be visitors (fig. 2).11 Courtiers pleading their case seem visibly
anxious to surmount the stairs, while an armed sentinel nonchalantly turns his head to keep an eye
on the negotiations. Those who viewed these frescoes would have traversed actual boundaries and
barriers (closed doors and similar guards at gates and stairways) and, “admiring the images of
those refused imagery, their own sense of access would have been reinforced.”12 Visitors to the
room would have enjoyed this pointed representation of exclusion and admission, gaining plea-
sure from the recognition of their own exceptional access, akin to the satisfaction experienced
today by those who move quickly—and appreciate that they themselves are being seen moving—
past the velvet rope. Such pleasure is heightened by the knowledge that others, whether less
fortunate, esteemed, or fashionable, were left behind to wait in line and watch this conspicuous
exercise of privilege, not unlike those at the bottom of the steps in Mantegna’s fresco. Other courtly
frescoes might have similarly visualized exclusion in fifteenth-century Italy; particular courtiers

6. Lochrie, Covert Operations, 93.

7. Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature. Additionally, see Eamon, Professor of Secrets.
8. Kavey, Books of Secrets.
9. Johnson, Cornucopiae or divers secrets.
10. Massumi, “Everywhere You Want to Be,” 27; Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, 65.
11. Welch, “Painting as Performance,” 22. Additionally, for the room and for secrets, see Signorini, Opus hoc tenue; Arasse, “Il
programma politico,” 49; Starn, “Places of the Image.”
12. Welch, “Painting as Performance,” 22.
Introduction 5

FIGURE 2. Andrea Mantegna, Footmen Regulate Access to Ludovico Gonzaga, detail from the
Camera Picta, 1465–74, fresco, Mantua, Castello di San Giorgio.
Scala / Art Resource, NY.

(camerieri non da camera) who were by definition not admitted into Galeazzo Maria Sforza’s inte-
rior rooms in Pavia without special permission were to be depicted in frescoes significantly located
in an antechamber. These images thus would have articulated, simultaneously, these courtiers’
distinction and their “status of exclusion.”13
The secret whispered into the ear of Ludovico Gonzaga by a trusted segretario (secret keeper)
would have aroused interest among those not privy to the exchange (fig. 3).14 A number of ques-
tions might have followed. What could the secret be, one so consequential that it must be kept
from the rest of the otherwise exclusive company of the Gonzaga and their courtiers? Who is this
man flaunting his influence and access in front of audiences fictive and real, obtrusively communi-
cating to us that he possesses sought-after information? The proximity to the prince enjoyed by
this fellow—sometimes identified as Marsilio Andreasi—signified prestige and favor in early
modern courts, whether in idealized representations of hierarchy such as Mantegna’s frescoes or in

13. Welch, “Galeazzo Maria Sforza,” 361.

14. For these secretaries and connections with secrecy in early modern Italy, see Leverotti, “‘Diligentia, obedientia, fides,
taciturnitas’”; Simonetta, Rinascimento Segreto, and specifically Simonetta, Rinascimento Segreto, 127, for the etymological association
with secret keeping.
6 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

FIGURE 3. Andrea Mantegna, Ludovico Gonzaga Confers with a Trusted Secretary, detail from the
Camera Picta, 1465–74, fresco, Mantua, Castello di San Giorgio.
Scala / Art Resource, NY.
Introduction 7

the performance of court rituals as varied as hunting excursions, the distribution of alms, or the
prince’s morning routine of dressing.15 Just as near to Ludovico is the canine courtier Rubino, no
doubt the most relaxed soul in this image of the Gonzaga court and allowed a physical vicinity to
his prince that would make even the most confident courtier jealous.16 Beloved animals often were
rewarded with remarkably unfettered access within the closed and guarded doors of aristocratic
palaces; apertures were sawed into the doors of Ercole d’Este’s rooms in Ferrara’s Palazzo del
Corte, for example, so that his cats could come and go as they pleased.17
The diverse case studies in this volume are united by a shared attention to the performance of
secrecy and the rules that governed such performances in early modern Europe—what we iden-
tify as secrecy’s rhetorics. Karma Lochrie characterized secrecy as “a manner of rhetoric,” and it is
this tantalizing observation that, in part, suggested the shape this book has taken.18 Like Lochrie,
we are determined not to ask what in particular early modern Europeans kept secret, but rather to
investigate the communicability of these acts and the peculiarly similar means by which stagger-
ingly diverse sorts of secrets were kept and told. For this reason, the plural “rhetorics” seems best
suited to signify practices governed by rules whose operations were circumscribed and conven-
tional, yet hardly mechanistic or monolithic.19 We treat the secrets reliant on these rhetorics as
operations, performances, and processes, as well as objects. Structurally, we understand secrecy to
function dialectically, to hold in solution the indissoluble terms of binaries including keeper/
teller, hidden/revealed, and excluded/included. Rather than tell secrets, we aim to elucidate
secrecy, and we intend this difference to be clearly more than semantic.
In calling attention to the conventional nature of many early modern secrets, we must, how-
ever, be vigilant that we do not fall into a false dichotomy. In designating secrets as rhetorical we
do not intend to signal that they were in any sense meaningless. There is a danger in associating
“rhetoric” with its frequent companion “mere.” Michel de Certeau defined the secret as a particular
sort of “utterance.” Like any speech act, a secret is “addressed to someone and acts upon” that per-
son.20 Even the most conventional of written forms is capable of inciting social action and exerting
literary influence. This lesson has been aptly demonstrated by Ronald Weissman’s studies of
“merely” rhetorical Renaissance confraternal sermons. Once dismissed on account of their strict
adherence to convention, such sermons serve in Weissman’s analysis both as dynamic agents in
their own right and as rich sources for fifteenth-century Florentine attitudes on a wide array of
Likewise, the conventional nature of secrecy hardly rendered secrets hollow. Lorenzo Lotto’s
esoteric, hieroglyphic intarsia panels covering scenes from Jewish scripture at Santa Maria
Maggiore in Bergamo, by both concealing and revealing essential sacred truths, manifest and

15. Other suggestions for this man’s identity have included Ludovico Gonzaga’s brother Alessandro, as well as Raimondo de’
Lupi di Soragna; Signorini, Opus hoc tenue, 178, 367–70n.
16. For Rubino, a beast unlikely to reveal any secrets, see Signorini, “Dog Named Rubino”; Signorini, Opus hoc tenue, 254–65;
Calzona, “L’abito alla corte dei Gonzaga,” 227–31.
17. Tuohy, Herculean Ferrara, 84: “segare 4 bussette in 4 ussi in le camere del N.S. perche le gatte ge possono andare.”
18. Lochrie, Covert Operations, 93.
19. See Valesio, Novantiqua, 16–17.
20. de Certeau, The Mystic Fable, 97. For early modern rhetorics, moreover, see Levy, Propaganda and the Jesuit Baroque, 42–71.
21. Weissman, Ritual Brotherhood, esp. 98–101.
8 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

heighten the viewer’s obligation to uncover biblical secrets through exegetical erudition and men-
tal effort.22 When the papal secretary Paolo Cortesi recommended that rooms should be decorated
with “riddles” and “fables,” it was because he believed that the mental labor of uncovering and
interpreting secrets “sharpens the intelligence and [inspection of] their learned representation
fosters the cultivation of the mind.”23 Even carefully guarded state secrets made use of these con-
ventions, while apparently meaningless secrets could be used to erect very real barriers to social
access for those situated at the edges and margins of society. The rules that governed secrecy were
thus emphatically social. Perhaps most importantly our contributors ask who is included and who
excluded when things are secreted. De Certeau observes that a secret “repels, attracts, or binds the
interlocutors.”24 We investigate who these bound, ensnared, and curious interlocutors might have
been in early modern Europe. That is, whom is the secret kept from and with whom is it shared?
In place of seeking knowledge of secrets, the authors of these essays begin by examining to whose
benefit (and just as importantly to whose detriment) secrets function. We consider asking “cui
malo?” to be as productive as inquiring “cui bono?”
A fifteenth-century example will perhaps help to give some solid ground to these observa-
tions. The cartographic information found on early modern maps was often largely derivative and
was frequently copied directly from previous examples. Nonetheless, under certain circumstances,
even evidently conventional maps took on the status of valuable and dangerous secrets. A poignant
illustration is provided by a map supposedly carried by the sculptor and medalist Matteo de’ Pasti,
dispatched to Constantinople in 1461 from Italy’s Adriatic coast by Sigismondo Malatesta, lord of
Rimini. Sigismondo had entered into diplomatic correspondence with the Ottoman Sultan
Mehmed II the previous year and agreed to send Matteo in response to the sultan’s request for an
artist to paint and sculpt his likeness. The sculptor’s ship, however, was detained en route when it
stopped off in Crete and Venetian authorities on the island arrested Matteo. According to a con-
temporary report they confiscated a map he carried, along with a manuscript of Roberto Valturio’s
De Re Militari, intended as gifts to Mehmed, deeming these to be strategically valuable.25 Possession
of this map apparently rendered Matteo a spy in the eyes of the Venetians, yet there can be little
question that the image—never identified by modern scholars—was of a wholly familiar sort to
cartographically savvy Venetian and Ottoman viewers alike. Mehmed’s library included several
Italian maps, a fact well known to the Venetians who had themselves provided him with several as
diplomatic gifts in previous decades.26 Maps thus functioned as secrets by mutual agreement and
recognition. Such an arrangement allowed Sigismondo to communicate his desire for access and
intimacy with the sultan, and it allowed Venetian officials to take that arrangement seriously, flex-
ing their muscle as arbiters of diplomatic relations in the eastern Mediterranean. De Certeau called

22. Galis, “Concealed Wisdom.”

23. Cortesi, De Cardinalatu, II.2: “Eodemque modo in hoc genere aenigmatum apologorumque descriptio probatur qua
ingenium interpretando acuitur fitque mens litterata descriptione eruditior.” See, additionally, Weil-Garris and d’Amico, “Renaissance
Cardinal’s Ideal Palace,” 97. The authors want to thank the anonymous reviewers for this and other references.
24. de Certeau, Mystic Fable, 98.
25. Raby, “Sultan of Paradox,” 4; Raby, “East and West”; Brotton, Trading Territories, 92, 102–3. For a reevaluation of the
complicated circumstances of Matteo’s aborted diplomatic mission see McCall and Roberts, “Art and the Material Culture of
26. On Mehmed’s interest in European maps, see Babinger, “Italian Map of the Balkans”; Raby, “East and West,” 305–6; Casale,
Ottoman Age of Exploration, 20–21.
Introduction 9

secrecy “a play between actors,” and this performative aspect is laid bare in the case of these carto-
graphic secrets.27 Yet if secrecy was a kind of play, it remained one whose consequences were felt
long after the curtain had fallen, particularly by those like Matteo de’ Pasti caught in the margins
that such boundaries between inclusion and exclusion created.
In calling attention to how secret keepers and sharers employed these valuable commodities,
we are not recognizing something that our simpler early modern cousins accepted without com-
ment. John Florio, author of the popular bilingual English-Italian vocabulary of 1598, defined
secreto as “secret, close, hid, concealed, privy, separate, solitarie, all alone, privitie.”28 This combina-
tion of the close, solitary, and separate makes explicit the simultaneous invocation of distance and
proximity, occult and clandestine, that is at work in early modern visual productions and built
environments. Whether in explications of statecraft, natural philosophy, or commerce, moreover,
early modern Europeans openly avowed the role that the visible control of access could play in
constructing value.29 Niccolò Machiavelli’s Il Principe is only the best known of numerous period
musings on statecraft that recommend secrecy (or the appearance thereof) as effective strategies
of rule. Crucially, such masquerade serves the prince not by concealing dangerous truths but by
heightening the charismatic pomp of dissimulation.30
The widespread reliance of playwrights on dramatic irony—the narrative conceit by which
information known to the audience is concealed from characters on stage—serves as another
salient example of secrecy’s performative manifestation in early modern European culture. Though
such devices were far from uniquely early modern constructions, their prevalence increased mark-
edly in the period. Peter Hyland, for example, has recently explored the rising prominence of
characters recognized as dissimulative on the early English stage.31 The rapidly developing come-
dies of early modern Italy likewise laid bare the performative function of secrets through the
figures that Jackson Cope called “secret sharers” in his foundational treatment of the plays of
Machiavelli and his successors.32 Many readers will be familiar with this mechanism at work in
some of Shakespeare’s best-known comedies. The narrative action of Twelfth Night, for example,
hinges on a triple occlusion whereby Viola’s identity is hidden from Olivia, Sebastian’s from the
duke, and the siblings’ from one another. These deceptions—“most wonderful” to the astonished
Olivia—will be unveiled only in the play’s final act. Yet the audience holds this privileged knowl-
edge from the outset and serves as secret keeper and confidant for the shipwrecked twins.33
Such dramatic irony proved ubiquitous too in early modern visual culture. This narrative form
of secrecy operates in a key scene from the frescoes of the camera di Griselda from Roccabianca
castle, north of Parma, depicting the heartbreaking tale of patient Griselda, familiar to European
audiences through versions by, among others, Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Chaucer.34 Gualtieri, the

27. de Certeau, Mystic Fable, 97.

28. Florio, Worlde of Wordes.
29. Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature, esp. 38–90.
30. Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 14–15; Snyder, Dissimulation and the Culture of Secrecy, esp. 106–58. See also de Vivo,
Information and Communication in Venice, esp. 40–46.
31. Hyland, Disguise on the Early Modern English Stage, 15–16.
32. Cope, Secret Sharers in Italian Comedy, esp. 1–16, 185–90.
33. Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, act V, scene 1, line 218.
34. Boccaccio and Petrarca, Griselda. For these frescoes now in the Museo d’Arti Applicate of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, and
10 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

marquis of Saluzzo, reads aloud to his court and to his wife, Griselda, a papal missive ostensibly
granting permission to annul their marriage (fig. 4). That the letter is a forgery, however, is a secret
shared between Gualtieri and the viewers of the frescoes, one cruelly kept from both his wife and
subjects, and one deployed to advance the narrative by presenting yet another of the vicious trials
patiently suffered by Griselda.35 The forged document enacting this secret is conspicuously dis-
played by the seated prince, its abusive impact answered by Griselda’s docile expression and
downcast eyes. Gualtieri’s subjects and courtiers, moreover, crowd the corner of the room and
pointedly remind the frescoes’ viewers of the many from whom the secret is kept. Secrets transpar-
ently drive the Griselda tale, and ultimately, to reach narrative closure, these secrets must be
The narrative potential of secrecy found ready expression in early modern art theory, as in the
second book of the Latin version of Leon Battista Alberti’s treatise On Painting:
I like there to be someone in the historia who tells the spectators what is going on, and either beck-
ons them with his hand to look, or with ferocious and forbidding glance challenges them not to
come near, as if he wished their business to be secret, or points to some danger or remarkable thing
in the picture, by his gestures invites you to laugh or weep with them.36

Alberti described here what Michael Baxandall identified as choric figures (festaiuoli).37 Such
figures function as intermediaries between the fictive spaces of the painting and the ground occupied
by putative viewers, and they were recommended not only by Alberti, but by Leonardo da Vinci and
others who proffered advice for artists.38 These painted commentators introduce worshipers to
saints, serve as witnesses to narrative action, and provide emotional cues to viewers’ reactions to
such events. They serve a range of functions in early modern compositions, but Alberti specifies
one use with direct bearing on secrecy. This commentator wards us off with gestures and glances
because he wants his “business to be secret” (“negotium secretum”). The rhetorical function of
such commentators to designate as secret the thing seen is plain in Alberti’s text. These gestures
attract our attention not because any great secret is actually concealed on such canvases but
because many viewers understood the value of secrets and recognized the gestures and counte-
nances that gave away their keepers.
Painted invocations of secrecy served subjects ranging from dignified portraits to jocular
genre scenes and erotic fantasies. One complicated yet especially rich example of the way in which
artists drew on the visual operations of secrecy is Domenico Fetti’s Portrait of a Man with a Sheet of

for other early modern visual representations of the tale, see Baskins, “Griselda, or the Renaissance Bride Stripped Bare”; McCall,
“Networks of Power,” 272–306.
35. For an insightful consideration of what can and cannot be revealed by a comparable fictive letter in Andrea Mantegna’s
Camera Picta, see Starn, “Places of the Image.” For a rather different example of the rhetorical ways in which conspicuous envelopes
both conceal and reveal tantalizing secrets, see Meyer, Outlaw Representation, 3–5.
36. Alberti, On Painting, 77–78; Alberti, Della pittura, 75: “Tum placet in historia adesse quempiam qui earum quae gerantur
rerum spectators admoneat, aut manu ad visendum advocet, aut quasi id negotium secretum esse velit, vultu ne eo profiscare truci et
torvis oculis minitetur, aut periculum remve aliquam illic admirandam demonstret, aut ut una adrideas aut ut simul deplores suis te
gestibus invitet. Denique et quae illi cum spectantibus et quae inter se picti exequentur, omnia ad agendam et docendam historiam
congruent necesse est.”
37. Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators, 134; Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, 71–73.
38. For Leonardo’s proposed treatise on painting, see Kemp, Leonardo on Painting, 150.
Introduction 11

FIGURE 4. Unknown Emilian or Lombard Artist, Gualtieri Reading Fake Papal Bull to Griselda and
Subjects, detail from the Camera di Griselda, originally from Roccabianca castle (Parma), ca. 1470,
fresco, Milan, Castello Sforzesco, Pinacoteca del Castello.
Photo by author, © Comune di Milano, all rights reserved.

Music (ca. 1614–20) (fig. 5). In the foreground, the nearly life-size subject sits on a block of stone,
outdoors among classical ruins overgrown with vegetation.39 Clothed in the dapper threads of a
courtier and sporting a neatly trimmed beard and mustache, the sitter occupies the vast bulk of the
painting’s foreground and is a presence nearly as solid as the masonry wall against which he is set.
He holds a sheet of music in his hand and turns over his right shoulder to face the viewer. His lips
are slightly parted, perhaps having been arrested by the painter either in the act of singing or open-
ing his mouth to greet the recently arrived viewer.
At the lower right corner of this canvas, two men emerge onto a set of stairs. Framed against a
decaying marble arch in the deep background, the pair huddle close, one behind the other. The
man in the rear points to the sitter. His companion in the lead holds a leather hat or purse in his left
hand while with his right brings a single finger to his lips, his head turned to address an unseen
presence beyond the frame. The intrusion of these unidentified figures confronts the viewer of

39. Safarik, Fetti, 296–99; Safarik, Domenico Fetti, 1588/89–1623, 28–30; Waldman, “Domenico Fetti’s Philosophers”; Seydl,
“Domenico Fetti: Portrait of a Man with a Sheet of Music,” 217; Roberts, “Silence and Secrets.”
12 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

FIGURE 5. Domenico Fetti, Portrait of a Man with a Sheet of Music, ca. 1614–1620, oil on canvas,
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum.
© The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Introduction 13

Fetti’s work with any number of possible scenarios, leaving more questions than answers. Are
these men quietly sneaking up on the unsuspecting sitter? Does the one man seek to hush the
putative viewer, some yet concealed observer, or his coconspirator within the painting? Have we,
and these interlopers, wandered into a performance or have we stumbled upon the quiet contem-
plation of an unfamiliar composition? Perhaps there is no secret, no code, to be discovered in
Fetti’s canvas. Yet, if this furtive onlooker does not quite challenge the viewer with a “ferocious and
forbidding glance,” the finger placed before his lips nonetheless convinces us that something has
been held back. This withholding of what is not there piques the viewer’s interest and focuses
visual attention on this musician. Fetti frames our access as a kind of privilege, whether because we
share a secret with these marginal interlopers or, conversely, because we, unlike them, need not
approach surreptitiously. These festaiuoli erect a boundary that the viewer cannot help but cross in
the very act of looking.
Agostino Carracci’s Satyr and Sleeping Nymph (late 1580s) (fig. 6) provides an example of
such choric figures transposed into a rather different register.40 As the satyr approaches from the
shadows at the scene’s left edge, he turns to shush viewers, challenging them “not to come near,” or
at least admonishing them to tread softly if they must.41 Here, the conceit of the audience as secret
keeper is staged visually, and the bestial satyr’s surreptitious approach to his slumbering prey is
safeguarded by a plea to the viewer’s silence. Clearly he wishes his “business,” as Alberti might say,
to be secret. A young nymph lies sleeping against a thicket of brush, unaware of the dual presence
of lustful satyr and viewer alike. Her nakedness and vulnerability are emphasized by a conveniently
discarded bit of drapery. This sheet, surely of sufficient size to cover her nude body, is in Carracci’s
image cast aside and serves instead as makeshift bedding separating her body from the rough
leaves and hard ground.42 In keeping the satyr’s secret, Carracci’s viewer—one situated by the
image sharing the satyr’s sexual interest in the nymph’s body—is rendered a complicit voyeur of
the sexual violence enacted by the image. Here the network produced is not so much one of the
knowledgeable as of the spectacularly privileged, able to avail themselves, if only visually, of the
nude female flesh on display.
This volume emerged out of a shared interest in examining how early modern image makers
designated material as secret and how these visual secrets fashioned audiences and their responses.
Our contributors explore how secrets were performed and enacted and what functions they and
their revelations served. The objects of these inquiries range from staircases to narrative paintings,
printed books to artists’ drawings, ecclesiastical furnishings to engravers’ tools. Visual and material
insinuations of secrecy invite inspection, arouse suspicion, and arrest the viewer’s attention. These
procedures are insistently social acts of discrimination as much as inclusion, and indeed, the con-
tributors to this volume are interested not only in the networks and connections created by the
revelation of secrets, but equally in the exclusions generated by that process.

40. DeGrazia Bohlin, Prints and Related Drawings, 298 no. 184. For this image, see also the essay by Patricia Simons in the present
41. For more on this gesture, see de Luca, “Notion of Secretum”; Mancini, La lingua degli dei.
42. This sort of conspicuous unveiling “offers a critique or parody of a shaming culture by seeming to cover, yet inviting voyeuristic
focus and tactile fantasies”; Simons, “Anatomical Secrets,” 327.
14 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

FIGURE 6. Agostino Carracci, Satyr and Sleeping Nymph, late 1580s,

engraving, London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
Introduction 15

One prevalent line along which early modern secrets worked to divide their keepers and tell-
ers was that of gender. Unfettered access to information was often presented as the prerogative of
men, too complicated or too dangerous to fall into the hands (or under the eyes) of women.43 As
Katharine Park has shown this was true even, or particularly, when that secret knowledge was itself
centered on women’s own bodies and on the workings of sexuality and generation.44 In her essay
for this volume, Lyle Massey examines the occlusions and revelations activated by Johann
Remmelin’s flap-anatomy sheet first printed in Augsburg in 1613. Massey investigates how male
viewing of this highly interactive object depended on a voyeuristic gaze that situated bodies, and
especially women’s bodies, as harboring secrets. In particular, she explores Remmelin’s account of
the uterus as a site of alchemical experimentation, kabbalistic magic, and demonic transformation.
Remmelin’s flap anatomy, Massey shows, reinforces misogynistic conceptions of the secrets har-
bored by the female body while simultaneously privileging the reader-anatomist as one with the
power to reveal and comprehend those secrets.
As Petrarch suggested by designating a philosophical dialogue as secret, erudition and educa-
tion also proved powerful criteria for distinction. For Bernardo Bellincioni, a poet at Ludovico
Sforza’s court in Milan, it was precisely secret knowledge that separated apt rulers from ignorant
subjects. In his sonnet “Against those who presume to judge the deeds of lords” of circa 1490,
Bellincioni quipped that “Certain men, witty and blithe with words, though they know not the
secrets of lords, judge like a blind man choosing colors saying ‘they should do it like this, this is the
best way.’”45 Over a century later, Thomas Johnson advertised the origins of his “secret” knowledge
of the natural world in the works of “divers Latine Authors.”46 Of course, this strategy was effective
for establishing authorial privilege in a vernacular work. But it also served to offer those who could
not read Latin access to a supposedly exclusive company of cognoscenti, and it likewise reinforced
the sense that the knowledge at their fingertips was both powerful and previously available to only
a select few. William Eamon’s contribution to this collection focuses on the sellers of secret cures
in early modern Venice, examining the ways in which they visually enhanced the tantalizing power
of their wares. Eamon particularly draws our attention to the differentiated audiences addressed
by these charlatans, ranging from the learned magistrates who approved their remedies to the
unlettered craftsmen who constituted both the market for their products and the public for their
displays. Looking to the prevalence of the “secret” languages of Hebrew and hieroglyphics in
Ferrarese painting, Giancarlo Fiorenza similarly demonstrates the way in which secrets could
mark the boundary between the learned and unlearned. Inscriptions in these sacred and ancient
languages appear throughout Ludovico Mazzolino’s paintings of Christ’s ministry. Fiorenza argues
that these inscriptions at once reveal and conceal Christian teaching as divine wisdom, establish-
ing and maintaining a learned and discerning audience at court.
A critical exploration of early modern secrecy also provides one perspective from which to resist
the dichotomy of public and private—a binary that remains fundamental to a host of frameworks

43. Lochrie, Covert Operations, esp. 93–134. See, additionally, Rasmussen, “Introduction,” and the entirety of that special issue of
the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.
44. Park, Secrets of Women.
45. Bellincioni, Le Rime, 1:51: “Certi savj e gagliardi con parole / Che non sanno e segreti de’ signori / Giudian come il cieco de’
colori / A dir: Faccian così; così si vole.”
46. Johnson, Cornucopiae or divers secrets.
16 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

through which we understand early modern visual culture. This overdetermined division is espe-
cially pronounced in considerations of Renaissance studies or studioli and in many recent and
otherwise valuable studies of domestic art.47 To be sure, distinctions between public and private were
invoked and deployed in early modern Europe, and often for violently coercive ends in patriarchy’s
service. Yet as Alan Stewart, Patricia Fumerton, and Mary Thomas Crane have shown, ostensibly
occluded and secluded spaces like studies and closets often enacted a kind of “public privacy,” placing
activities including study and prayer on display.48 For much of the period here under discussion,
power and even sovereignty were constituted by forces that might today seem unequivocally private,
and the Habermasian divide between public and private spheres was only just developing, and irreg-
ularly.49 The contributors to this volume thus situate and historicize utterances and images within the
dynamics of specific early modern power relations.50
The porous nature of early modern public and private spheres serves as fertile ground for
several of our contributors. Timothy McCall examines a novel architectural furnishing from fif-
teenth-century Parma, the coretto of count Pier Maria Rossi. Prominently visible within a chapel in
one of Rossi’s castles, this wooden box might be seen as a private sanctuary that concealed the
count’s presence from prying eyes. As McCall demonstrates, however, the coretto generated mul-
tiple levels and plays of access, secrecy, and display for visitors to Torrechiara by calling attention
to Rossi’s presence (or potential presence) within and hiding Rossi, only ultimately to reveal his
presence to all. Henry Dietrich Fernández likewise considers an ostensibly private space that
enacted its own public display, the “secret” apartments of Cardinal Bibbiena, trusted segretario
(secret keeper) to Pope Leo X. Like most personal apartments, the interior of Bibbiena’s suite was
closed to casual visitors. Yet, visible high atop the façade of the papal palace, of which they com-
prised a small component, these rooms beckoned and tantalized viewers. Fernández explores the
ways in which this emphatic display of a secret space to those not privileged to gain access intensi-
fied the revelation of that same space to a community of invited guests, including Bibbiena’s
protégé Giulio Sadoleto. Likewise, while the secret of Michelangelo’s infatuation with the young
Tommaso de’ Cavalieri remains very much an open one, it is not its hiding to which Maria Ruvoldt
productively calls attention in her essay. Rather than asking from whom Michelangelo’s letters and
gift drawings were hidden, Ruvoldt instead invites us to consider to whom they were entrusted
and suggests that these precious traces of the artist created hierarchical networks of intimates. By
investigating the mechanics of their exchange, Ruvoldt elucidates the ways in which Michelangelo
used these letters to assert his social and artistic autonomy.
The veiling of panels and canvases with curtains and covers and the concealment of precious
and rare objects within cabinets and boxes were common early modern practices that made evi-
dent the power of secrecy to distinguish and exclude. Such objects have frequently been studied

47. Usefully, see Stewart, “Early Modern Closet Discovered”; Campbell, Cosmè Tura of Ferrara, 29–62; Rambuss, Closet
Devotions; Campbell, “Giorgione’s Tempest, Studiolo Culture, and the Renaissance Lucretius”; Campbell, Cabinet of Eros.
48. Fumerton, Cultural Aesthetics, esp. 67–76; Stewart, “Early Modern Closet Discovered,” 168; Crane, “Illicit Privacy and
Outdoor Spaces,” 5.
49. Habermas, Structural Transformation; Chittolini, “The ‘Private,’ the ‘Public,’ the State.”
50. For the early modern interplay between public and private and for valuable critiques of scholars’ overdetermined reliance on
the dichotomy, see Baskins, “(In)famous Men,” 109; Welch, “Public Magnificence and Private Display”; Randolph, Engaging Symbols,
8–12; Wilson and Yachnin, “Introduction”; Crane, “Illicit Privacy and Outdoor Spaces.”
Introduction 17

under the rubric of curiosity or the umbrella of the history of collecting, yet the rationale for their
hiddenness and the grammar of their cloistering also invite sustained attention. In her essay here,
Patricia Simons calls our attention to the inseparable bond between veiling and unveiling in early
modern visual culture. Simons examines the covering of erotic paintings and engravings as well as
the partial veiling of nude figures within those works. While such practices are often understood
as censorial acts that mitigate indecorous content, Simons instead argues that these veils con-
structed bodies, paintings, and prints as open secrets that not only beckoned and titillated their
viewers, but also united their audiences as secret keepers.
The inherent difficulties posed by interpreting the signs and symbols of a visually erudite
culture (and one in which the visual arts embraced a naturalistic approach to a vibrant material
culture) have long motivated the art historical quest to decode the secrets of Renaissance painting
and sculpture.51 Traditional iconographic studies have revealed secrets, but they have often told us
little about secrecy and even less about why paintings should hide secrets in the first place. The
anamorphic death’s head at the center of Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533) (fig. 7), has
cried out to countless scholars as a tantalizing secret beckoning to be deciphered.52 Holbein’s inter-
locutors have often probed what this skull means, but they have only tangentially sought to
understand how it means. The painter’s brush twists, refracts, and conceals the grim souvenir, yet
these very acts constitute a performance that calls Holbein’s viewers to inspect the painted surface
closely and to change their perception. Anamorphosis here erects a boundary that viewers cross,
once alerted to the skull’s presence, through the work of active looking, experiencing the fruits of
their labor as revelation.53 This process of engaged viewing is further heightened by the conceit of
the fictive curtain, pulled back at the top left corner of the canvas to unveil a grisaille crucifix.
Nearly as frequently as art historians have probed the hidden symbols on the surface of paint-
ings, they have sought the secret rules lying unseen beneath. Perspectively complex paintings with
their grids of paving stones, scattered lances, and ceiling beams have often stood as emblematic of
Renaissance art practices. Art historians, for their part, have often sought, even obsessively, hidden
or esoteric geometric schemes underlying these paintings. Pioneered by Charles Bouleau and
evaluated, ridiculed, and even rejected by scholars including Daniel Arasse and James Elkins, the
notion of the “painter’s secret geometry” has remained a stubborn art historical presence.54 Nor is
it only modern art historians who have framed the techniques of Renaissance art-making as eso-
teric or mysterious. Early modern writers often designated the technical elements of art practice as
secrets, akin to those of astrologers, necromancers, and alchemists. Artists were only too eager to
benefit from such beguiling mysteries. The Ferrarese painter Ercole de’ Roberti, for example, col-
laborated with Pandolfo Colenuccio to establish himself as an expert on the properties of the

51. For art history’s engagement with excavating hidden meaning from visual culture, see especially Warburg, Renewal of Pagan
Antiquity; Panofsky, Studies in Iconology.
52. One recent and extensive treatment of the work is framed as “an attempt to discover what lies behind Hans Holbein’s most
famous and most enigmatic painting”: North, Ambassadors’ Secret, xvii. See also Kenaan, “The ‘Unusual Character’ of Holbein’s
Ambassadors.” For the extensive bibliography on Holbein’s painting, see Foister, Holbein and England. The classic study of the
interpretive possibilities of Holbein’s anamorphosis is Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 17–26.
53. Only recently have the workings of such anamorphic displays been subject to structural analysis: Massey, Picturing Space,
Displacing Bodies, esp. 37–70.
54. Bouleau, Painter’s Secret Geometry; Elkins, Poetics of Perspective; Arasse, On n’y voit rien, esp. chapter 2, “Le regard de l’escargot.”
18 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

FIGURE 7. Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors, 1533, oil on canvas, London, National
Gallery of Art.
© The Trustees, The National Gallery, London.

pigment cinnabar, which Pliny held to be derived from a mixture of dragon and Indian elephant
blood.55 Pamela Long has traced trade secrets from late antiquity, through the workshops of medi-
eval craftspeople, and into those of Renaissance painters.56
Historians of painting, sculpture, and architecture have often privileged narratives of influ-
ence and described an effortless dissemination of invention and style in early modern Europe. A
focus on trade and technical secrecy, however, can reveal the difficulties and even risks that
attended to the frequently personal and intimate transmission of intellectual property and propri-
etary technologies. Further, art historians might productively revisit the introduction and
development of technologies whose origins and operations were shrouded in mystery—the print-
ing press and its products foremost among these. Sean Roberts’s contribution to this volume

55. Campbell, Cabinet of Eros, 134.

56. Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship. See, additionally, Wheeler, Renaissance Secrets.
Introduction 19

investigates frequently overlooked techniques of the earliest Italian engravers of book illustrations,
maps, and single-sheet prints. He examines the lengths to which engravers, including Mantegna,
went to keep technical know-how secret. Printers, engravers, and woodcutters, of course, diligently
guarded the tricks of the trade, including novel tools like burins and burnishers, from the prying
eyes of competitors. Yet, Roberts shows that these craftspeople also designated relatively simple
processes as secrets in order to discourage imitation or reverse engineering.
The period examined by these essays was also one of unprecedented change in the ways that
individuals fashioned selves, to use Stephen Greenblatt’s enduring formulation.57 Historians have
long identified numerous factors that contributed to this shift. Foremost among these was the
reorientation of early modern subjectivity along an axis of confessional identity, culminating in
the Reformation and its responses. The development of individuals defined, to a great degree,
through belief rather than social performance, through orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy, also
provided unprecedented opportunity both for the keeping of secrets and for the suspicion that
others were doing likewise.58 Early modern visual and material culture not only reflected but also
anticipated and contributed to this monumental shift. Allie Terry-Fritsch’s essay here treats the
material culture of civic denunciation in fifteenth-century Florence and its environs by examining
drop-boxes (tamburi) and the secret accusations they contained. She argues that these tamburi
and their (potential) contents constituted communities of accusers and accused: real, potential,
and imagined. These acts of surveillance and denunciation undoubtedly served to strengthen
some communal bonds. Yet Terry-Fritsch also calls our attention to a culture of secrecy in flux,
one in which sealed and anonymous denunciations also threatened each member of that commu-
nity by replacing the social act of confession with a hidden and pervasive surveillance. These
drop-boxes, as the most visible component of the process of denunciation, served as lightning
rods for those who saw in these operations a dangerous breach of social cohesion. Terry-Fritsch
examines the destruction and vandalism of the tamburi as indications of secrecy’s potential to
disrupt the social bonds between early modern individuals.
By their very performative nature, early modern secrets called out for, even demanded, revela-
tion. Indeed many secrets acquired meaning primarily through the possibility that they would be
disclosed. Above all, then, this volume investigates why secrets were hidden and from whom, through
what mechanisms they were performed and enacted, and by what means and to whom they were
divulged. While acknowledging that the task at hand is an emphatically interdisciplinary one, histo-
rians of artistic, visual, and material cultures have especially important roles to play in elucidating the
operations of these early modern secrets and their keepers.59 Because secrets often functioned visu-
ally, the skills of art historical intervention attuned to the sensory and intellectual experience of
secrets can expose the construction and reception of classified information. The disciplinary tools
now associated with visual culture studies, and the recent turn toward the study of vision, are likewise
valuable. The emphasis on the process of occlusion and revelation central to early modern secrecy
suggests that access to and exclusion from in-groups, networks, and communities were

57. Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, 1–9.

58. See, for instance, Fumerton, Cultural Aesthetics; Stewart, “Early Modern Closet Discovered”; Rambuss, Closet Devotions;
Jager, Book of the Heart.
59. Rasmussen, “Introduction,” 4.
20 Timothy McCall and Sean Roberts

often controlled visually, spatially, and materially. Though secrecy relies on tropes of the invisible and
hidden, it is precisely their opposites, the visible and uncovered, that must alert the viewer to the
secret’s presence and operation within painting, sculpture, and architectural spaces. The thing
secreted must by necessity present itself by unfolding in plain sight.

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Camera Picta.” In Place and Displacement in the Renaissance, edited by Alvin Vos, 207–30. Binghamton, UK:
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Introduction 23

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The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in
Early Modern Culture
Patricia Simons

J ust as secrecy has been understood as a process of hiding or obscuring, unveiling is conven-
tionally regarded as revelatory. That supposed opposite of secrecy is conceptualized as
sometimes intrusive but always uncovering visual or allegorical knowledge, often embodied
in the naked human form. It seems to be the quintessential act of penetrating to an inner secret.
Time thus unveils Truth in an iconographic pattern typified by aged Father Time grasping or
exposing a virginal, alluring personification in female form.1 Art historical scholarship has often
interpreted the nude female figure as a sign for Neoplatonic, abstract truth and divine beauty, or at
the opposite Aristotelian extreme, as it were, as merely sensual and material.2 Poetic veils are
understood by the literati (of any period) as deliberate masks to hide meaning from all but them-
selves, that is, those construed as the initiated elite who grasp underlying principles rather than
being deluded by superficial charms. So too, the lifting of veils could be a metaphor for the self-
conscious perspicacity of metapainting that reveals its creator’s ingenuity and virtuosity. Notably,
in such aesthetic and intellectual scenarios, access to the underlying, hidden “truth” is posited as
difficult and, like many other kinds of secretive knowledge, is restricted to an echelon distin-
guished by factors like gender, education, and status.
What is often left out, but will be broadly reviewed here, is a consideration of the dynamics of
power and privilege, chiefly in relation to reception. In terms of gender, it will be argued, not all
acts of exposure can be explained as merely prurient or voyeuristic. Furthermore, acts of unveiling
coexist with and imply a reciprocal covering; hence the orthographic duality of “(un)veiling” bet-
ter captures the layered, allusive nature of the visual and performative history of secrecy. Many
revealed secrets are touched on in this volume, and here the construction and dynamics of the

A version of this essay was delivered at a conference I organized, “The Rhetorics and Rituals of (Un)Veiling in Early Modern
Europe,” held at the University of Michigan in October 1997. I am grateful to Tim McCall and Sean Roberts for the opportunity to
unearth and reflesh that paper for this volume. I am indebted, too, for their comments, as I am also to Louise Marshall and Monika
1. Saxl, “Veritas Filia Temporis”; Panofsky, “Father Time” (first published in 1939, adapting work published in 1923).
2. Hence, “to deny a Renaissance picture of a nude woman her mythological garb is indeed to turn her out into the streets,”
according to Rosand, “Venereal Hermeneutics,” 273; repeated in Rosand, “So-and-So Reclining on Her Couch,” 110 (1997 reprint, p.

The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 25

open secret is outlined. To be a meaningful participant in a community of secrecy (that is, any
group that shared secrets and invested in the importance of secrets), one had to send visible signals
about that advantage while simultaneously maintaining concealment. During the Renaissance, the
interplay of secrecy and revelation, hiding and discovering, was presented by such means as words,
images, rituals, physical framing of cultural objects, and metaphors for artistic practice, each of
which is investigated here.
The hierarchy between the philosophical and the particular, cast in the form of the classically
ideal opposed to the shamefully excessive, was influentially applied to the unclothed body in
Kenneth Clark’s lectures on The Nude of 1953, which expanded the pronouncement of his mentor
Bernard Berenson that “the nude is not the naked.”3 Bared human bodies can apparently be readily
distinguished by way of a dichotomy that contrasts the naked with the nude, the obscene with the
seductive, the embarrassed with the confident, the view that should remain private with the sight
that ennobles the public realm. Almost like clothing, thought Clark, “the formula of the classical
ideal had been more protective than any drapery; whereas the shape of the Gothic body, which
suggested that it was normally clothed, gave it the impropriety of a secret.”4
Clark’s anachronistic assumptions about shame, privacy, and indecency were common at his
time but they still inform judgments made today about objects that are said to belong to what is
positioned as a clandestine, illicit, and furtive culture of early modern courtesans and mistresses.
The titillated, almost wistful closeting by some modern commentators of an urban subculture of
sexual commerce and of the long-standing, chiefly aristocratic habit of keeping mistresses and
begetting bastards neglects the degree to which such practices were open secrets, even well-known
possibilities available to elite men but also some women and which often aided their political
advancement or cultural reputation.5
Commenting on Freud’s claim to unveil truth in dream analysis, Derrida observed, “Exhibiting,
baring, stripping down, unveiling—this is an old routine: the metaphor of truth, which is as much
as to say the metaphor of metaphor, the truth of truth, the truth of metaphor.”6 The standard meta-
phor of unveiling truth posits delving beyond the surface to reveal pure truth, but that too is a
metaphor, one founded on privilege and insight assumed by the unveilers. My point here is to
avoid the “old routine” of claims to an end point of ultimate, universal, moral, or aesthetic truth,
and instead examine the entwined processes and rhetoric of secrecy and unveiling in the historical
and political context of early modern Europe, primarily Italy. Pervasive and meaningful in prac-
tices and texts, the displaying of secrets accrued varying degrees of power to producer, teller, and
audience alike.7 So too did their covering, acts that often left a residue in visual culture and the
language of artistic praxis. The modern antithetical conditions of the clothed and undressed, the

3. Berenson, Aesthetics and History, 86 (finished in 1941); Clark, Nude (first published in 1956).
4. Clark, Nude, 314.
5. For a useful recent study of Roman prostitutes and courtesans, see Storey, Carnal Commerce. A straightforward similarity
between the private, illicit, hidden, furtive, secret, shameful, and erotic was assumed in the foreword and certain essays and entries in
Bayer, Art and Love. In contrast to the romantic, personalized, and modern notion of secretive mistresses and jealous wives (for
example, Musacchio, “Wives, Lovers, and Art,” and her entry on Bianca Cappello’s portrait with reverse, in Bayer, Art and Love, 29–41,
272–74), see McCall, “Visual Imagery and Historical Invisibility.”
6. Derrida, “Purveyor of Truth,” 34; for an alternative translation, see Derrida, Postcard, 415.
7. For an illuminating focus on one painter, see Hills, “Titian’s Veils.”
26 Patricia Simons

overtly pictured and the ambiguously intimated, were instead constituted as layered, variously
veiled states. In a semi-Derridean vein, here intertwined with sociohistorical inquiry, the diametri-
cal opposition between the secret and the known can be collapsed or undone because the terms
rely on each other and even become one another in the field of visualization, where a secret para-
doxically only exists if it is seen to matter and have being.

In early modern culture, barriers between secret and explicit knowledge were permeable and inter-
active more than dichotomous or static. Clear separation between the public and private spheres,
crucial to modern assumptions about secrecy, subjectivity, and intimacy, was in many ways a
development of later centuries. Spaces tended to be porous and multipurpose, sometimes of equal
measure semipublic and pseudoprivate. The Dutch soldertje (a raised platform placed near a win-
dow, seen in figure 1.8 below) or window embrasures in the Palazzo Ducale of Urbino, for example,
demarcated a quieter, withdrawn space but were laminated between the street on one side and the
larger, sometimes bustling room on the other. Spaces supposedly inaccessible to all but an elite
few, in the pope’s Vatican Palace or Sistine Chapel or the French king’s château at Fontainebleau,
were nevertheless seen more broadly through the medium of reproductive prints that were either
actual or more often putative souvenirs of visits. The prints disseminated views of varying accu-
racy that relied precisely on the confidentiality of the original works in order to be marketable
commodities while also publicizing the renown and cultivation of their owners.
Boundaries circumscribing public and private zones of the body were also strategically
deployed and subtly charged. Many people bathed in special garments rather than baring their
bodies, and fifteenth-century advice on marital conduct reiterated medieval church doctrine that
husbands should never see their wives naked.8 Given these proprieties, Florentines might have
been especially impressed in the last decades of that century by Botticelli’s life-sized paintings of
naked women derived from his depiction of Venus at Her Birth (fig. 1.1).9 Variants by his hand or
workshop point to the popularity of the scheme, a glowing form standing on a narrow ledge against
a dark background, distinctly bereft of narrative particularities. The type engendered similar fig-
ures from other artists but also probably suffered during Savonarolan “bonfires of the vanities,” for
the destroyed objects included “painted figures of women” according to an eyewitness in February
1497, and a year later the “dishonest and lust-inciting paintings and statues” explicitly included
works by Botticelli.10
Still recorded in the sixteenth century by Vasari and others in numerous households, the overt
views of female nudes are instances of what could be called “public privacy” in that they intermingle

8. The 1483 inventory of the Sienese physician Maestro Bartolo di Tura listed “uno camiciotto da bagno”; Herald, Renaissance
Dress, 248. It was instead bathing barbarians (Northerners) who hid their genitals with “brache” (breeches) according to Luigini, Il libro
della bella donna, 254 (1554). On marital decorum, see Payer, Sex and the Penitentials, 61, 103, 165n56; McNeill and Garner, Medieval
Handbooks of Penance, 211, 336; Viglione, “Giovanni Dominici,” 120–21 (the Regola del governo di cura familiare of ca. 1405); Barbaro,
“On Wifely Duties,” 213.
9. Lightbown, Botticelli, 2:120–22, nos. C10–12; Sframeli, Myth of Venus, 70–71, no. 2 (Lorenzo di Credi’s panel in the Uffizi);
Negro and Roio, Lorenzo Costa, 124–25, 130–31, nos. 54, 61.
10. Klaniczay, “‘Bonfires of the Vanities,’” 34–36 and nn20–21, 26.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 27

FIGURE 1.1. Sandro Botticelli,

Venus, 1480s, oil on canvas,
Turin, Galleria Sabauda.
Scala / Art Resource, NY.
28 Patricia Simons

the showy with the not-to-be-seen. Ostensibly concealing hair at the genitals instead makes a mor-
phological reference to the vulva. Apparently modest gestures taken from the ancient pudica type
instead draw attention to the breasts and burrow between her thighs. A light veil in the Sabauda
example is so transparent and floating that it conceals nothing and animates the whole. Similarly, the
use by other artists like Lorenzo Costa of scanty draperies does little to dampen sexual allusion. The
pictorial format achieved international success into the sixteenth century, particularly in the output
of many standing Venus figures from Cranach and his workshop, some displaying diaphanous veils
and isolated against dark backdrops. Both popular and condemned, less secluded than the reclining,
naked figures on the underside of cassone lids and visible on palace walls to at least some visitors as
well as known by reputation, the paintings were neither entirely public nor exclusively private images.
Marmoreal against featureless darkness like a cult statue, the painted bodies capitalize on the titilla-
tion of well-known tales of masturbation inspired by Praxiteles’s statue of Aphrodite (famous
exemplar of the pudica type) and thus they might be understood as intensely private and intimate
objects. But they also work in defiant dialogue with censorship, displayed despite the strictures, and
attaining all the greater fame and allurement precisely due to efforts to keep them secret and unknown.
As suggested by the addition of veils and cloths to otherwise exposed figures, median states
between transparency and idealization, between zones of skin and fabric, could be as meaningful and
often as erotically laden and exhibitionist as the fully bare body, no matter how much the latter was
classicized as “nude.” In the language of piety or the vocabulary of classical and everyday sights, early
modern artists dared to visualize tactile sensation, made all the sweeter for its visually oblique or
ambiguous suggestion. The gesture of a male hand slipping between layers of female flesh and cloth,
in successive moments or in a single gesture, was pictured in both religious and secular registers. The
infant savior sometimes engages in playful intimacy with his mother, clasping her bodice or sliding
his hand under that clothing in an attempt to assuage his charmingly human hunger, yet at the same
time foreshadowing his erotic relationship with her as the mystic Bride of Christ.11
That the Christ child’s gesture was an eroticized one is indicated by several prints attributed to
Giovanni Antonio di Brescia (formerly identified as Zoan Andrea), probably datable to the 1510s, in
addition to numerous paintings based on a Venetian composition. An anonymous copy in reverse of
one of Giovanni Antonio’s engravings (fig. 1.2) pays witness to the gesture’s enticing attraction.12
With a little less modeling, the variant print nevertheless captures the buxom, sleeping woman rest-
ing against a cushion and supported by the bent arm of a male youth who takes the opportunity to
slip his fingers surreptitiously beneath her bodice. Giovanni Antonio explored the crucial feature of
tactile sensation felt between layers in another composition too, in which a grinning fool clasps a
simpering maiden by placing one arm around her back and inserting his right arm between her dress
and outer cloak under her left armpit (fig. 1.3).13 In the Ambrosiana collection’s sheet of the woman

11. Examples include Antonello da Messina’s Virgin and Child (ca. 1475) and Raphael’s Niccolini-Cowper Madonna (1508), each
in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. For erotic embraces between Virgin and Child, see Steinberg, Sexuality of Christ,
110–18 and passim.
12. Zucker, Illustrated Bartsch 25 (Commentary), 276–79. For the reidentification of the artist, see Boorsch, “Mantegna and His
Printmakers,” 57–61.
13. Zucker, Illustrated Bartsch 25 (Commentary), 279–81 (Hind, V, p. 67 no. 16). Studies of the Titianesque trio (see below) often
refer to the influence of a print by Zoan Andrea, but they seem to mean the sheet in the Ambrosiana, rather than the composition I
reproduce as figure 3, and hence scholars now dismiss his relevance. See, for instance, Shearman, Early Italian Pictures, 70. As far as I
know, the print in the Louvre has not previously been brought to bear on the Venetian paintings.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 29

FIGURE 1.2. Giovanni Antonio di Brescia (after), Two Lovers, engraving, London, British Museum
© Trustees of the British Museum.
30 Patricia Simons

FIGURE 1.3. Giovanni Antonio di Brescia (attr.), The Passionate Embrace, engraving, Paris,
Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Image courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 31

asleep, by means of either pen and ink or intervention on the plate (probably the former), someone
awkwardly continued the man’s fingers over the still-visible patterning of the dress’s neckline in order
to make the gesture appear more decorous. But the copyist (see fig. 1.2) aimed at buyers interested
in the subtle yet undeniable sensuality of the hidden fingers. Unlike either Clark’s nude or naked
figures, these two North Italian compositions simultaneously acknowledge secret spaces and hidden
layers while at the same time pictorially pronouncing their thrilling contravention.
Notwithstanding the frequent attribution of Giovanni Antonio’s figures or compositions to
Leonardo and his Milanese circle, the engraver’s fascination with intimate gestures probably
derives, at least in part, from Northern prints. Around 1480, the German engraver known as
Master bxg had already depicted a man’s incursion within a woman’s costume, cupping her clothed
breast with one hand while sliding the other beneath that outer layering (fig. 1.4).14 Like the Italian
image of the fool’s embrace (see fig. 1.3), the German engraver concentrates on two half-length,
conscious lovers standing close together, though in the earlier case the female figure looks out at
the viewer and lifts the man’s sleeve, suggesting that she is more sexually knowledgeable and active
than Giovanni Antonio’s later allegedly coy performer. Central to the works of both printmakers is
erotic evocation and satisfaction brought about by the combination of feminine acquiescence with
masculine initiative and physical daring to cross the boundaries of what should ostensibly remain
hidden and secret.
Similar gender differences inform the eroticism of a Venetian composition much debated in
origin but often attributed to Titian. It was popular enough to survive in at least ten variants, of
which the damaged canvas in the Royal Collection is considered the prototype due to pentimenti
(fig. 1.5).15 Scholars date the invention anywhere between 1510 and 1525, so its relationship to
Giovanni Antonio’s engravings cannot be fixed in a causal chain. His two prints and the paintings
share a gesture of intimate intrusion; in particular, much of the arrangement of the fool’s embrace
(including the left hand at the woman’s back, the right slipping between breast and dress) appears
in the canvases. However, the Venetian painter bares more flesh and invents a trio by adding a male
figure at the upper right, thereby introducing a crucial homoerotic element. The composition also
presents a somber, enigmatic mood rather than the print’s sly parody. The coloristic, tonal, and
textural possibilities of oil paint are exploited to sensual effect, especially when, as x-rays show, an
initial cloth covering was replaced by a more visible right breast, the nipple just escaping its con-
fines to rub exquisitely against the physically raised edge of the white, disordered chemise. The
woman’s left breast is cupped in the man’s hand, her nipple resting in the sensitive crook of the V
formed between his thumb and index finger, while his fingers and palm are nestled beneath her
golden-green dress.16

14. Boorsch and Orenstein, The Print in the North, 18. To my knowledge, this engraving has not previously been associated with
the later Italian images.
15. For painted copies or variants, especially versions in the Royal Collection and Casa Buonarotti, and a drawing by Van Dyck,
see Cust and Cook, “Notes on Pictures in the Royal Collections,” 71–79; Procacci, Casa Buonarroti, 191; Wethey, Paintings of Titian,
214–15, no. X-23; Shearman, Early Italian Pictures, 69–72, no. 65; Joannides, Titian to 1518, 216, 253–54; Whitaker, Clayton, and
Loconte, Art of Italy, 191–93.
16. Presumably because it was considered indecorous, the thumb in the Casa Buonarroti version (then probably in the Vendramin
collection) was painted over by the time Van Dyck sketched it in pen and ink sometime between 1621 and 1627 (and attributed it to
Titian): Jaffé, Devonshire Collection, 123, no. 1119 (115 recto). But the thumb is visible in a copy by Figino (d. 1608): Ciardi, Giovan
Ambrogio Figino, 38–39, 45n26, 122, 211; Shearman, Early Italian Pictures, 71. For its restoration, see the reproduction in Ragionieri,
32 Patricia Simons

FIGURE 1.4. Master bxg, The Lovers, ca. 1480, engraving, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image Source: Art Resource, NY.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 33

FIGURE 1.5. Titian (attr.), Lovers, ca. 1510–25, oil on canvas, Hampton Court, Royal Collection.
Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2012.
34 Patricia Simons

Like Master bxg’s female figure or Giovanni Antonio’s male fool, each on the left of the com-
position, the chief Venetian protagonist looks out, forcing viewers’ direct engagement with his
confidential actions. Insertion of the third figure on the right stresses that witnessing is part of the
fantasy, and of the multiple erotic stories that could be spun. Its presence further makes the tender-
ness and familiarity of the embrace a communal, knowable event rather than a private secret kept
solely between a single couple. Since the amusing, sexual closeness of the pairs in the prints is
related to the pictorial type of “unequal lovers” or “ill-matched couples” popular in Germany and
the Netherlands, so too the painted Venetian onlooker may be reminiscent of the third figure who
sometimes appears in that scenario. In those cases, the third character can be a fool, a pimp, or a
procuress in collusion with the central figure’s underhand appropriation of the dupe’s resources;
alternatively, it is a male husband or suitor contrasted in age to the other man receiving favors from
a temptress. For instance, while a siren chucks the chin of a leering old man in Quinten Massys’s
painting of ca. 1520–25 in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, her other hand surrepti-
tiously passes his money bag to the greedy fool hiding at her back.17 Of special interest in this
instance is the suitor’s thumb pressing against the flesh of her chest whereas the rest of his hand is
concealed behind her clothed elbow, a variant on the telling thumb in the Venetian paintings—
which are not, however, satirical or condemnatory in tone. In both cases, the viewer is granted the
privilege of knowing and seeing more than each of the represented figures.
Rather than trying to pin a single profession or iconographic identity on the third character in
the Venetian pictures, it is more fruitful to concentrate on visual effect. The figure introduces com-
plex narrative and triangulated interaction within the frame, and ensures that a simple title like
“Amorous Couple” does not satisfy because his presence cannot be neglected.18 The suggestion,
first made in passing in 1871, that the painted narrative bears some similarity to tales in Matteo
Bandello’s Novelle is worthy of reconsideration, albeit in a modulated form.19 In the interests of
brevity, I can only point to his version of the famous thirteenth-century story about the châtelaine
of Vergi, which Bandello first wrote for a courtly wedding in 1518.20 At the end, the divulging of a
man’s “segreto amore” leads him to commit suicide after his lady has expired from grief over that
betrayal. The duke, who had leaked the secret to his jealous wife, arrives on the scene too late to
prevent the tragic death of his especially favored, beloved courtier. Many of the painting’s details
do not correspond closely, but the important point is that early sixteenth-century viewers were

Casa Buonarroti, 25–26.

17. See the classic study of the type, Stewart, Unequal Lovers; and Silver, Paintings of Quinten Massys, 143–145, 223–224, no. 35.
18. The first recorded attempt to fix the story may have been Carlo Ridolfi’s description in 1648 of what could be this work, listing
amongst Titian’s oeuvre a half-length “Cornelia isvenuta in braccio à Pompeo”: Le maraviglie dell’arte, ed. von Hadeln, 1:170 (first
published in 1914). That title, Cornelia Fainting in the Arms of Pompey, proposed for the surviving painting by von Hadeln, has been
revived by Joannides, Titian to 1518, 253, although the subject is too recondite and different in its details, including the absence of a
meaningful third figure, to match the tone and scene plausibly. A search through the work of poets like Bembo and Sannazzaro may
prove fruitful, though I suspect the most likely allusion is to romances and novelle.
19. Crowe and Cavalcaselle, History of Painting in North Italy, 149; elaborated in Borinski, “Novellenbilde.” Shearman, Early
Italian Pictures, 72, thought inspiration from Bandello was “probably nearer the truth” than other suggestions. Most of Bandello’s stories
were first published as a collection in 1554, including his version of Romeo and Juliet, which is sometimes connected with the painting.
Objections to the association on the grounds of the late date have overlooked two crucial facts: first, many tales had earlier iterations
(for example, Shakespeare’s plot first began to take shape in Masuccio Salernitano’s Novellino of 1476), and second, some of Bandello’s
stories circulated before their printing, as was the case with his version of the Châtelaine of Vergi.
20. Bandello, Quarta parte de la novella, 55–74 (tale 6) (first printed in 1573).
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 35

familiar with accounts of misplaced trust, undeserved loyalty, lost honor, obstructed desire, clan-
destine affairs, separated lovers, and secret marriages. While couples unequal in age were the butt
of visual jokes and noisy charivari, disparities in wealth, social status, familial accord, dynastic
ambition, or sexual norms gave somber piquancy to tales about star-crossed lovers. Stories about
amorous obstacles always had the potential to provoke homoerotic subtexts, and the tension
between different kinds of desire is central to the painting’s appeal. More allusive than the prints,
the Venetian composition intensifies and enriches the erotic possibilities of unresolved, suggestive
longing. In the fictional world, obstacles to romance stoked desire to yet more anticipatory heights.
Betrayal, of the “secret love” of Bandello’s ill-fated couple and of the bonds of male friendship,
is a plot scenario that entertained and moved viewers while reinforcing societal norms. The tragic
consequences of dishonorable publicity are paradoxically conveyed in visible terms and viewers
are implicated in the telling of tales while remaining themselves safe from innuendo and free to
continue savoring secrets. The viewer is an active witness as the secret becomes open, but it is not
disclosed to all because it is enigmatic and evocative besides being displayed to a relatively small
circle. The depicted gestures of sensual insinuation encapsulate the delicate nature of boundaries
and layers of access to restricted knowledge and bodies. Visceral delight at such complexity is simi-
larly prompted by Venetian prints of a courtesan, standing near the water’s edge, whose masculine
breeches are revealed when a paper flap representing her skirt is lifted.21 It is not only the two sepa-
rate images, of unusually public femininity and tantalizing ambiguity, that delight, but also the
kinesthetic involvement necessary to enact a transition back and forth, as though the paper were
cloth and the manipulator had control over fictive and actual material alike. Earlier in that region
Vesalius pioneered cut-and-paste education, enabling students of anatomy to assemble their own
layered illustrations. Around the same time, multilayered, often vernacular flap anatomies pro-
vided voyeuristic, vicarious access to organs and what were called “secret” parts, that is, the genitals
and a woman’s reproductive system.22 Acquisition of knowledge was constructed like a narrative
sequence, as complex, multilayered, moral yet prurient. Farthest away, neither the story nor the
secret had much impact or effect, but through a serial process of approach and withdrawal, expo-
sure and concealment, seekers of knowledge were able to manipulate systems of signification and
increase their power.
The dialectic between a body’s flesh and its costumed parts interested Giovanni Antonio di
Brescia in a third print too, depicting a servant girl, her own skirt partly raised, lifting high the dress
of her large mistress to reveal a great deal of bare flesh. The concept may rely on the case of a
woman “of high rank, a Venetian” (probably a courtesan), executed in Rome in July 1501 for “hav-
ing molested [pedicato] a girl of eleven or twelve years, whom she kept in her house.”23 The
forbidden was vividly imagined by way of playing on one character’s access beneath the garments
of another, a clearly evident power differential adding to the frisson. Other representations of
physical relations with servants, especially pages attending to their masters, also concentrate on the

21. Linda Wolk-Simon’s entry in Bayer, Art and Love, 210–11, no. 103, also illustrating the 1578 view of a gondola whose lifted
cover reveals two lovers. On the type, see Karr Schmidt, “Art, a User’s Guide.”
22. Carlino, Paper Bodies; Simons, “Anatomical Secrets.”
23. For the engraving and a copy in reverse see Zucker, Illustrated Bartsch 25 (Commentary), 281. The quotation is from Agostino
Vespucci’s letter from Rome to Machiavelli, dated 16 July 1501, Machiavelli, Opere, vol. 6, Lettere, 61–62.
36 Patricia Simons

process of dressing/undressing, often ambiguous as to what the future result will be so that a
viewer can imagine a variety of sexual partners as well as fantasize either draped or exposed splen-
dor or, rather, delight in the play of both possibilities and in the sensual pleasure of textures and
anticipation. Is, for instance, Titian’s reclining figure in the Venus of Urbino about to dress or has
she finished her disrobing? The standing attendant in the background may be waiting for another
item to emerge from the chest, since she makes no attempt to hand the kneeling maid the sumptu-
ous dress hanging over her shoulder. In the process of rolling up a sleeve as though she still has
much work to do, the senior woman may be waiting for night attire, or further items of day wear,
or she will soon hand the maid the last costume needing storage. Does the light at the window
indicate the magic hour of dusk, when the lady might receive her nocturnal visitor, or is dawn
breaking as she bids him farewell?
If a definitive closure is sought to the narrative possibilities, an important part of the painting’s
affect and evocative indeterminacy is missed. It displays the transitional moment between states of
dress/undress. Therein lies some of the erotic charge, as it does in Botticelli’s lightly veiled Venus
in Turin (see fig. 1.1), Raphael’s cascading linens and transparent chemise in Donna Velata,
Giorgione’s tension between soft fur and flesh in Laura, Palma Vecchio’s courtesan in the Poldi
Pezzoli museum with her heated nipples flaring near soft, golden tresses and pure white chemise,
and many other paintings that celebrate teasing, imprecise boundaries between skin and cloth.
Most often, either the Madonna exhibiting her naked and often sleeping infant or a satyr or
Cupid is represented in the act of lifting a veil. The latter characters reveal the body of a naked
female figure that can be variously identified as Natura, Terra, Venus, or a nymph, sometimes
asleep. These images offer concrete metaphors for the artist’s capacity to reveal and arouse, grant-
ing permission to the presumably male audience to enjoy the spectacle while nevertheless feeling
superior to the antics of lusty satyrs or the cheeky infant Amor. Viewing engagement is sometimes
heightened by means of acknowledgment, with a figure gazing out at viewers or signaling them to
discretion through the gesture of silence. Agostino Carracci’s smiling satyr calling for quiet in one
of his engravings in the Lascivie series of the late 1580s thus creates a pact with the viewer to keep
a shared secret (see fig. 6 in this volume’s introduction).24 The subject of that conspiracy is the
overt view of the naked body of a sleeping woman, and what she does not know but will soon hap-
pen. Carracci’s satyr is a parodic intruder, superficially miming the prohibition against disturbing
the sleep of a nymph that had characterized earlier images inspired by a pseudo-antique inscrip-
tion.25 However, his smile and satiric nature involve viewers in jocular complicity, for he will ignore
propriety and pastoral etiquette, instead rudely awakening her.
The plot of artist and viewer sharing in a pact of secrecy is also central to the implied narrative
of many images of Diana or nymphs bathing, especially but not only if interrupted by Actaeon. As
she splashed that young hunter with water that turned him into a stag, Diana’s vengeful, forebod-
ing words threatened, “Now you are free to tell that you have seen me all unrobed—if you can tell”
(which, of course, he cannot, being rendered mute as an animal).26 On the other hand, artists mak-
ing the images and viewers enjoying them can tell tales, freely seeing the forbidden sight of bathing

24. DeGrazia Bohlin, Prints and Related Drawings by the Carracci Family, 298, no. 184.
26. Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Miller, 1:137 (3.192–93).
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 37

beauties, their pleasure heightened by their triumphant escape from punishment. Although the
normative model of viewing heavily gendered such imagery, a female artist like Artemisia
Gentileschi parlayed her own sex and her decorous access to female models into a trade secret, as
it were. She often specialized in producing images of naked female bodies, reclining or bathing,
like Susannah or Bathsheba, and these could be marketed as distinctive not merely because they
were produced by a woman but because they made manifest her expertise in the knowledge of
women’s bodies.27 In many images, as in the theorization of art as concealment, the artist was con-
structed as the creator and purveyor of secrets, and viewers benefited too, postulated as worthy of
sharing such confidences because they were endowed with sufficient wit and cultural knowledge.

(Un)veiling was not primarily about obscuring and revealing that which was considered prurient,
for it strategically controlled access and enticed viewers of many kinds of images, activating rather
than restricting interest. Physical interactions and common circumstances of display ensured that
the layering of secrecy and power was embedded in cultural memory. Familiarity with ritualized
(un)veiling was especially due to liturgical practices. On a regular basis, from the humblest parish
church or nunnery to the highest chapel in Christendom, priests were privileged to reveal and
curtain objects of veneration including the tabernacle and ciborium housing the Eucharist, use the
humeral veil so as not to touch the Body of Christ directly during mass, place then remove veils
over crosses, pictures, and statues during the Lenten cycle, and bestow garments of grace at bap-
tism and monastic investiture. On feast days and other special occasions, the imagery of an
altarpiece was disclosed by the pulling aside of curtains or the raising of hangings (each often
decorated).28 The most basic of Catholic rituals in early modern Europe was the sight of the
Eucharist during the Elevation of the Host. Removal from a tabernacle and exposure of Christ’s
symbolic body to the congregation before it was again stored out of direct sight was particularly
meaningful since actual ingestion of the Host was restricted. What replaced it was oft-repeated
liturgical theater, the spectacle of a Host (sometimes large) visible from far down the nave to an
avid populace who rushed into the church at the ringing of the bell simply to see the bared Corpus
Christi. In this core moment of the observance of faith, the population was absorbed in the process
of unveiling, then withdrawal of access.
Potent pictures like the Florentine Madonna housed in a special tabernacle within SS.
Annunziata were uncovered at moments of crisis or worship. So emotive could be the response
that crowd control necessitated a reveiling, and usually she was shown only to “the greatest
personages.”29 Esteem was also due the cult image itself: a Florentine regulation of 1435 restricted
the number of appearances by a miracle image from Impruneta because “sacred objects…are

27. See Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi, figs. 4, 28, 38–39, 72, 98, 101, 115, 118, 120–23, 126. I draw this conclusion both from
Gentileschi’s oeuvre and its context, and from the way in which she drew attention to her use of female models in several letters to
patrons, for which see the translations in ibid., 392, 393, 397, 398. On trade secrets, see the essay by Sean Roberts in this volume.
28. See Nova, “Hangings, Curtains, and Shutters,” and, more generally, for the religious iconography of unveiling and “discovery”
see Hills, Renaissance Image Unveiled.
29. Trexler, Public Life, 98, 355.
38 Patricia Simons

normally respected and held in greater reverence if they are rarely seen.”30 Noting that “pictures
representing the divine beings [are] constantly kept under coverlets of the greatest price,” Leonardo
linked this veneration for the rarely seen with the unique nature of painting because it stimulated
devotion and made the multitudes react “exactly as if this goddess were there as a living presence.”31
Immediately before that, Leonardo recalled the habit of “the greatest kings of the Orient going out
veiled and concealed, believing their fame to be diminished by showing themselves publicly and
divulging their presence.” Thrill at the sight of secreted king, goddess, holy figure, or other
esteemed representation was in part about the privilege that ensued for both viewer and viewed,
and the benefits were shared amongst others involved in the nexus too, such as priest, patron, or
The combination of devotional and visual practice is central to Piero della Francesca’s
Madonna del Parto of the 1450s in Monterchi, in which a stately mother dressed in a pregnancy
gown draws attention to her gravid tabernacle with a hand placed over the spreading seams that
reveal her shimmering white undergarment. Angels pulling aside brocaded curtains further stress
the metaphorical motif of revealing the timeless mysteries of incarnation, advent, and transubstan-
tiation. Incorporating the manipulation of curtains within the pictorial composition was perhaps
first ventured on a large scale in Fra Angelico’s innovative altarpiece for S. Marco of 1443. Fictive
curtains gathered at either side accentuate the central opening-out to a bedazzling vision of the
courtly audience in heaven. Thereafter, the scenario of revelation and thus implicit mystery was oft
repeated in religious imagery, including the green curtain on its brass rings and sagging rod repre-
sented at the top of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (1512–13). Layers of unveiling and ceremonial
approach are accentuated in such paintings just as they are for viewers observing the Elevation of
the Host or crowding to see one of Leonardo’s unveiled “goddesses.” Liturgy was also remembered
in paintings of the Virgin delicately fingering and sometimes lifting a veil that is usually placed near
the genitals of her babe.32 The drama of concealment and revelation further accentuates the
human, masculine reality of the Incarnation, foreshadows the reuse of the Virgin’s veil when she
girds his naked loins at the Crucifixion, prefigures Christ’s winding sheet, alludes to the clerical
privilege of manipulating liturgical veils, and embodies the disclosure of theological truths.
It was common to cover by cloth or panel not only ecclesiastical objects but also devotional
and secular paintings in the home, and neither erotic subjects nor female figures were the only
ones thus secluded.33 In the inventory of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s property drawn up after his death in
1492, sportelli (hinged shutters or doors) served on several cupboards, including one with figures
for a little cabinet (armadietto) that contained an anonymous female portrait, as doors for a framed
portrait of a woman by Domenico Veneziano, and as the single bronze portal for the Eucharist.34

30. Trexler, Public Life, 98.

31. Leonardo, Leonardo on Painting, 19–20.
32. See Steinberg, Sexuality of Christ, 33–45, 157–61, and passim. For the influential example of Raphael’s Madonna di Loreto of
ca. 1511–12, in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, which spurred over one hundred replicas or variants, as well as the workshop Madonna of
the Diadem of ca. 1512, see Meyer zur Capellen, Raphael, 2:43, 89–97, 251–54, nos. 51, A9.
33. Lorenzo Lotto, for example, referred to several covers, including an inscribed silk cloth for a Venus but also a “velo” for a Virgin
Mary, a cover for St. Andrew, covers for five men’s portraits and one family portrait, and a “timpano” with the “impresa” of Jerome’s lion
over a painting of that saint; Lotto, “Libro di spese diverse,” 6, 26, 42, 45, 78, 98, 102, 122, 148, 186, 211, 215, 229, 233; Dülberg,
Privatporträts, 33, 37–39, 45–47, 281–82 nos. 288–94. For domestic religious objects see Cooper, “Devotion,” 192.
34. Spallanzani and Gaeta Bertelà, Inventario, 27, 53, 72, 107, 133. For saints on the sportelli flanking a standard fifteenth-century
domestic painting, of an Annunciation, see Dülberg, Privatporträts, pl. 701.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 39

From what is known of his oeuvre and the visual conventions of the time, Domenico’s portrait was
likely to have been as demure as the tabernacle door. In northern Italy, including Venice, the tim-
pano or cloth cover fitted into a painting’s frame was used for a variety of subjects, including
religious figures and portraits, of male as well as female figures.35
Yet it has been said of sportelli recorded in the seventeenth century protecting Raphael’s por-
trait of a seminaked woman called La Fornarina (fig. 1.6) that they indicate “concealment” and “its
private and therefore implicitly erotic nature.”36 Similar comments emerged after the cleaning in
2009 of Titian’s canvas dated to the mid-1540s and later cut down into a roundel (fig. 1.7). Cupid
stands triumphantly atop a lion and this picture, thought to have been the cover for a woman’s
portrait once in Gabriel Vendramin’s collection, is occasionally assumed to indicate that the sitter
was a courtesan or mistress simply because her visage was initially concealed and, presumably,
because the exterior theme was amorous.37 The evidence, however, points to a more nuanced and
multivalent, less personalized, privatized, or lewd meaning and function for such covers.
Titian’s conquering Cupid, for instance, can be interpreted as signifying that “love triumphs
over every great ferocity and cruelty in people,” the theme adduced of an ancient sculpture in
Vendramin’s collection showing Cupid atop a lion, according to Doni’s report published in 1552.38
The idea applies equally as well to political or marital circumstances, or allegorical morality, as to
illicit affairs. Newly remarried marquis of Ferrara, Leonello d’Este, is presented on a medal of 1444
as both king of beasts (his namesake, Leo) and lord of love, conveyed in the reverse image of Cupid
teaching a lion to sing.39 Attentive to his instructor, that lion has been tamed by amorous devotion
within marriage. If music brings harmony in Ferrara, the associated art of poetry may be key among
the elite of Venice. Whereas the medal of the Venetian poet Sperone Speroni showed a putto play-
fully engaged with a recumbent lion, a theme reiterated on the lost cover of his portrait painted by
Titian ca. 1544, in the slightly later roundel that beast has been overcome by the more powerful
passion of desire.40 Amorous poetry has grown more triumphant, and the female sitter may be
muselike, a manifestation of Beauty that inspires the pen.41 Vendramin was a patrician bachelor,
whose family collection contained at least nine anonymous portraits (five female, four male) by

35. Dülberg, Privatporträts, 45–58 and passim; Penny, Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. 1, Paintings from Bergamo, Brescia,
and Cremona, 99–101.
36. Wolk-Simon, “Rapture,” 45. This author several times assumes that “mistress portraits … were often covered by shutters or
curtains” and that voyeuristic unveiling was a key thrill for male (only) observers (185, and see similar comments about “concealment…
of forbidden, carnal love” scattered throughout, for instance on 211, 219, 226). On the shutters, anachronistically deemed “surely
another earmark of a rather private picture,” see Brown and Oberhuber, “Monna Vanna and Fornarina,” 48, 78–79n144.
37. Jones, “Great Renaissance art cover-up”: “apparently a cover for a portrait of a woman—but was she a mistress, a courtesan?
What made her portrait illicit?” For other possible portrait covers by Titian and his school, but without mention of the roundel, see
Dülberg, Privatporträts, 51–56, 241, 280–81, 295–96, nos. 192, 287, 335–38. On Titian’s roundel, see Whistler, “Titian’s Triumph of
Love”; Whistler, “Uncovering Beauty.”
38. Doni, Marmi, pt. III, 40: “un Leone con un Cupido sopra … l’Amore doma ogni gran ferocità e terribilità di persone.” An
ancient bronze of Cupid trampling on a lion was inventoried in the Vendramin collection in 1567–69; Anderson, “Further Inventory,”
641; Dülberg, Privatporträts, 37–38, 282, no. 297.
39. Syson and Gordon, Pisanello, 123.
40. On Speroni’s portrait and its cover, see Dülberg, Privatporträts, 51–52, 241, no. 192. Pace Whistler, “Uncovering Beauty,” 220,
221, the Ashmolean lion appears to me neither “angry” nor “enraged,” for it has tears in its eyes, frowns, and pants or roars in despair at
its loss of command.
41. For portrayals of women that are neither strict portraits nor entirely generic, see Simons, “Portraiture, Portrayal, and
40 Patricia Simons

FIGURE 1.6. Raphael, La Fornarina, ca. 1518–19, oil on wood, Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica.
Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, NY.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 41

FIGURE 1.7. Titian, The Triumph of Love, ca. 1545–50, oil on canvas, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum.
Ashmolean Museum / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY.

the time it was inventoried in 1601, a half century after his death.42 So it is likely that the portrait
cover first recorded at that time, “con un Dio d’amor sopra un Lion,” represented not only his vir-
tual impresa but was also an echo of his antiquities; the female figure depicted beneath was
probably of symbolic and artistic significance more than of merely personal sentiment.43
It is also possible that there are political implications, as there were in the public affirmation of
Leonello’s dynastic alliance. Titian’s cowed lion refers on one level to the Venetian emblem the lion

42. Anderson, “Further Inventory,” 648.

43. A conclusion that agrees with the sitter’s identification suggested in Whistler, “Uncovering Beauty.”
42 Patricia Simons

of St. Mark, its wings amusingly appropriated by Cupid. Such a reading makes a wry comment on the
state of civic affairs, implying that amorous diversions weakened and distracted the city’s aristocratic
ruling class. That theme might suit an unmarried patriarch who worried about the luxurious ways of
his nephews and whose civic offices included censor late in his life.44 Positioned in a landscape with
buildings to the left, distant mountains to the right, all opposite a watery expanse, perhaps the
emblematic figures instead wittily suggest that amorous dalliance in the countryside need not extend
to urban environs. By generating several potential meanings, the cover functions as a conversation
piece, attracting attention and raising the stakes regarding who will be granted the favor of viewing
the image beneath. In general, the favor was accentuated because the ornamentation of covers was
usually of a more summary, preparatory kind, executed in thinner paint and quicker brushstrokes,
and often of less challenging visual interest.45 To see the exterior was honor enough for many, no mat-
ter its degree of elaboration, but especially if it was a work by a renowned master like Titian; to be able
to delve further was a mark of even greater status.
Whether an image is erotic or not does not depend on the existence of a physical cover, a hid-
den space, a solitary or leering viewer, or a strict divide between public and private spheres. The
allegorical or emblematic type of cover foreshadowed the persona below, requiring viewers to
engage in the imaginative play of interpretation. The secretive practice of covering portraits, male
and female, did not so much create a complete separation between layers as invite inquisitiveness
and awaken a desire to see and know more about both the owner and the depicted personage, and
to share in various intellectual conversations and particular reveries.
Paintings were exhibited in a variety of ways beyond straightforward fixing to a wall, for they
were often curtained or covered with hinged, fitted, or sliding fixtures; some folded as diptychs or
triptychs and in certain instances they then formed self-contained, portable boxes or display cases.
Little is known about the presentation circumstances of reverses, common especially on portraits
and deschi da parto (polygonal birth trays). While some covers and backs focus on coats of arms,
which proclaim ownership and familial identity, others carry inscriptions, emblems, mottos, or
allegorical scenes, such as Titian’s Cupid or the memento mori object of a skull. Rather than secrete
the inner or obverse scene, they brand, decorate, foreshadow, or amplify it. Those not able to
examine the entire assemblage were given clear indications that they were missing out on the full
picture. Like sacred objects or important rulers, access to the sight of them had to be managed
carefully in order to foster and maintain their potency and honor.
Furthermore, opening the shutters of a painting like La Fornarina was just one stage in a
sequential viewing experience, starting far back when one noticed the object set apart by its fram-
ing arrangement and continuing through to a view that may have been as close as that of the
painter. The female figure’s pudica pose at breasts and lap refers to classical ideals and modesty, but
the red cloth over her thighs is countered by the thin, loosely painted veil that fails to conceal the
differently painted compact, highly polished flesh underneath, while her breasts and upper torso

44. For the biographical details see Anderson, “Further Inventory,” 641; Anderson, Giorgione, 162, 164–65. He died in 1552.
45. For instance, one of Titian’s assistants decorated a timpano: Penny, Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, vol. 1, Paintings from
Bergamo, Brescia, and Cremona, 100, and see also 101; and Dülberg, Privatporträts, 49, 56 on the execution of covers. Wooden covers
painted by Lorenzo Lotto and Pontormo are among the exceptions, which are also rare because they are documented and have
survived: Dülberg, Privatporträts, 238–39, 241, 293, nos. 187, 191, 329.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 43

are entirely bare.46 Her evasive acknowledgment of the viewer’s presence and the highlighted body
set against dark foliage and night sky are other double-sided features that reinforce the innate
ambiguity of the pudica gesture, pure yet provocative, genteel but exhibitionist. The shutters help
to establish drama and anticipate longing (by which I mean more than blatant sexual desire),
which carry on within the painting itself. The modern sense of lascivious, shameful secrecy does
little to get at the ensemble’s enticing subtlety.
Shutters and other covers also functioned as shields protecting works valued for their subject
and/or their artist. Imitated porphyry or marble surfaces surviving on the backs of some paintings
assert their overall object’s prestige, and the theme of preciousness seems to me of more import
than rather bourgeois notions of personal privacy. Around 1686, La Fornarina, for instance, was
valued four times higher than Titian’s Venus and Adonis in the same collection.47 Raphael’s market
and connoisseurial value is also central to Poussin’s seemingly self-effacing homage to the master.
Poussin’s Ecstasy of St. Paul was commissioned by Paul Fréart de Chantelou in order to accompany
what was thought to be Raphael’s Vision of Ezekiel in the French secretary’s collection. On 2 July
1643 Poussin wrote to the patron that he undertook the task with trepidation and asked that his
work serve merely as the cover (“couverture”) to Raphael’s esteemed painting rather than be hung
nearby, for the latter arrangement might provoke detrimental comparisons.48
In actuality, the envisaged display would hide Raphael’s picture from all but an elite circle of
visitors and only Poussin’s work would be on overt show. Poussin constructs his “cover” as a seem-
ing protection of Raphael’s work and a deflection from his own (which would supposedly follow
in the tradition of exterior paintings often being of lesser quality), but it is a rhetorical ruse this
strategy, a “cover” of another kind, upstaging his predecessor. To work sufficiently as a mode of
courtly modesty, his notion that a painting’s cover protected Chantelou’s prized possession had to
be plausible. The cover is presented as preliminary and subservient to the famed master’s work
but, like painted covers themselves, the game played with the rhetoric is layered. By means of
Poussin’s veiling, the precious antecedent becomes even more valuable, like a secret, existing in a
codependent arrangement that works to his advantage and reputation.
Far from being secretive, covers advertise themselves as well as what lies beneath. Or rather,
their success depends not only on their outward appearance but also upon their appeal to curios-
ity. Shown only the silk bundle or wrapping (“invoglio di seta”) within which the Spanish
ambassador to Venice kept a woman’s portrait as though it were a precious reliquary (“a guisa di
reliquia”), in 1542 Aretino found that almost allegorical encasement a spur to poetic invention.49
His sonnet imagines a contest between Cupid’s arrows and Titian’s brush, and trumps both with
his own pen, speaking openly of the man’s “secreto che s’asconde in lui,” the secret that hides within

46. For a report on its recent cleaning, with commentaries, see Mochi Onori, Raffaello. Bibliography and a succinct overview are
available in Meyer zur Capellen, Raphael, 3:144–49 no. 78.
47. Lavin, Barberini Documents and Inventories, 421 nos. 2, 6; see other descriptions, 170 no. 311 (1644), 301 no. 199 (1671), 347
no. 275 (1672), 380 no. 423 (after 1672), 399 no. 109, and 408 no. 329 (1686). Titian’s larger painting was in an ornamented, gilded
frame but without a cover (264 no. 6, 390 no. 682, 399 no. 125).
48. Félibien, Entretiens 4:50–52; Blunt, Paintings of Nicolas Poussin, 60–61 no. 88.
49. Aretino, Lettere, 433–34 no. 441 (to Don Diego Mendozza, 15 August 1542). Wolk-Simon, “Rapture,” 45, and 185, mistakes
“invoglio” for a curtain. Mendozza’s presentation of the encased portrait follows elite habits. For a velvet pouch containing the portrait
diptych of the King of Naples, René of Anjou, and his second wife, Jeanne de Laval (1476), see Dülberg, Privatporträts, 230, no. 174,
pl. 114.
44 Patricia Simons

both his heart and his apartment. In Aretino’s poetic conceit, the actual viewing of the portrait
becomes less important than the owner’s courtly reverie about it alongside Aretino’s own clever
self-promotion. Pictures of outstanding seventeenth-century collections, such as Willem van
Haecht’s fictive Studio of Apelles (ca. 1630) in the Mauritshuis or several views of Archduke
Leopold Wilhelm’s actual collection by David Teniers, but also images and inventories of more
ordinary households, indicate that curtains (placed over individual pictures with the aid of a thin
rail attached at the frame’s top) signaled the location of some of the most valued rather than neces-
sarily erotic paintings, protecting them but also announcing their presence.50 For visitors to ask to
have a curtain pushed aside made them especially beholden, to the owner and the guides. Notably,
Aretino found a way around such an obligation, instead indebting the ambassador by giving him
the sonnet and then benefiting them both by printing the verse about a secret that same year. It
appeared in his second volume of letters, which began with letters addressed to Henry VIII of
England and the king of Portugal, thereby enmeshing himself, his friend Titian, and the ambassa-
dor in an international world of culture and power. They all understood that a secret only carries
weight and endows power if it is known to exist.
In the case of Metsu’s maid lifting the curtain from an ebony-framed seascape in Woman
Reading a Letter of ca. 1665–57 (fig. 1.8), her deceptively incidental action functions as an ana-
logue for traversing a series of layers.51 Unlike visitors to aristocratic collections, the maid takes the
charming initiative of lifting a curtain without permission, to reveal a subject that, far from indeco-
rous or secret, alludes to the distance and transportation necessarily involved in the exchange of
letters. The yearning of the absorbed letter reader seated on a soldertje at the window to the left is
echoed in the maid’s imaginary travel to a storm-tossed sea; each woman is separately intent on her
close reading of graphic marks and the visionary crossing of limits so that the divide between inti-
macy and solitude is both reinforced and suggestively overcome.

Veils in Poetry and Artistic Praxis

Ideas about layering, covering, and revealing imbued both the theoretical language and the mate-
rial practice of artists. Along with the patron class, artists were familiar with thinking in terms of
the exegetical tradition of creating meaning through the layers of allegory, for it was widely applied.
When expounding on the unveiling of drunken Noah’s genital shame, St. Augustine explained that
“the garment stands for a mystery” but also that “all the…events recorded in this story were laden
with prophetic meanings and covered with prophetic veils.”52 Dante’s reference in the early four-
teenth century to doctrine “hidden under the veil of the strange verses” was later developed in a
Neoplatonic vein, but in the meantime it resonated in poetic theory.53 According to Boccaccio’s
influential study written from ca. 1360 on, poetry “covers truth with a comely veil of fable.”54 The

50. See Filipczak, Picturing Art in Antwerp, figs. 2, 29, 34, 37, 65–66; Honig, Painting and the Market in Early Modern Antwerp, fig.
91, pls. 21–22; Loughman and Montias, Public and Private Spaces, 119–24.
51. For the painting in the National Gallery of Ireland, see Sutton, Love Letters, 129, 132–33, no. 19. The seascape is usually read
only in terms of the letter reader’s inner state.
52. Augustine, City of God, 649, 651.
53. Inferno 9.63: “la dottrina che s’asconde / sotto il velame de li versi strani.”
54. Pardo, “Savoldo’s Magdalene,” 85.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 45

FIGURE 1.8. Gabriel Metsu, Woman Reading a Letter, ca. 1665–67, oil on wood, Dublin, National Gallery
of Ireland.
Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.
46 Patricia Simons

allegorical mode of uncovering matched the metaphors Michelangelo used in his poetry to
describe his sculptural process of removing the bodily veil from the concetto hidden within the
stone block.55
Around the same time as Boccaccio, Petrarch also presented poetry as a “veil of delightful fic-
tions,” understanding that “truth uncovered is all the more pleasant, the more difficult its quest has
been.”56 Hence, truths were to be wrested from beneath their fictional covers, which functioned
like secrets to filter access and understanding. Power was bestowed on those who could represent
themselves as more astute and discerning, like Michelangelo, or imaginative in the case of an artist
like Lorenzo Lotto. Responding in 1528 to his Bergamesque patrons who were puzzled by his
hieroglyphic intarsia covers for choir stalls, Lotto would only assert visual primacy: “know that
these are things which are not written: imagination is needed to bring them to light.”57
Coverings conversely enabled the theater of revelation, and in the field of the visual arts the pro-
cess was especially ambiguous and teasing because a two-way dialectic was necessarily set up between
secretive veils and equally fictive revelations. Alberti’s deployment of a thinly woven velo “so that the
visual pyramid [of rays of light] may pass through the translucency of the veil” was not just a copying
device for concentrating the eye but, as Pardo has elucidated, it represented the artfully woven textus
of the painting itself (both text and textile).58 Translucent on the one hand and allegorical on the
other, it was also opaque material, a surface to be drawn on. More than high-flown rhetoric is engaged,
for Alberti’s metaphor was partly based in the materiality of studio practice at his time. The ground
of a panel painting was prepared with sizing or glue, layers of gesso or plaster, and strips of what the
painter Cennini referred to as “old thin linen cloth, white threaded.”59 Working on that plane, artists
were conceptualized not only as revealers but also as clothiers or tailors. They applied flesh in a
Promethean manner to the bones, producing the finished object in a series of additive materials, in
the fine, layered, blended strokes of tempera or, as more oily substance was added to the pigments, in
increasingly more flowing, visible marks. Even when using oil paint, artists such as Titian could
mimic tempera technique and add a light veil or skin of egg white before applying the varnish, coher-
ing their art with final, nearly invisible layers.60
Alberti recommended that the painter “first…sketch in the bones.… Then add the sinews
and muscles, and finally clothe the bones and muscles with flesh and skin.”61 To the objection that
these things were not visible, he responded by emphasizing the order of superimposed layers: “just
as for a clothed figure we first have to draw the naked body beneath and then cover it with clothes,
so in painting a nude the bones and muscles must be arranged first, and then covered with appro-
priate flesh and skin.” Theoretically, the discerning viewer worked back to the innermost structure,
judging the skill with which an artist had begun the veiling at the skeletal level and thus demon-
strated adequate anatomical knowledge. Practically, the painter applied the covert armature of

55. Saslow, Poetry of Michelangelo, 238, 305, 464, with other examples on 317, 348, 371, 377, 389.
56. Pardo, “Savoldo’s Magdalene,” 86.
57. Lotto, Il ‘Libro di spese,’ 286.
58. Pardo, “Veiling the Venus of Urbino,” 112–19.
59. Cennini, Craftsman’s Handbook, 70 (ca. 1400). See also Vasari, Vite, 1:183, on first covering panels with linen.
60. del Serra, “Conversation on Painting Techniques,” 8.
61. Alberti, On Painting, 75.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 47

disegno (in preparatory drawings, underdrawings, and in the artist’s mind). The many drawings
executed by Raphael for his Baglioni Entombment (1507)include a study for the Virgin’s swooning
body (fig. 1.9), which makes it clear that the realization of flaccid and draped flesh in the final
painting nevertheless depended upon an investigation of skeletal engineering.62 The literature of
medical learning and natural philosophy had long reinforced the use of corporeal metaphors for
art-making. Aristotle, for example, likened embryo formation to the way in which “painters…first
of all sketch in the figure of the animal in outline, and after that go on to apply the colors,” a parallel
also drawn in Alessandro Benedetti’s anatomical text published in Venice in 1502.63
Secrecy, I would argue, was a fundamental dynamic that informed the very basis of artistic
illusion. When discussing communicative body language and facial expressions, Alberti’s De
Pictura of 1435 advised artists to always imitate expressive movements, “and those [are] preferred
in a painting which leave more for the mind to imagine than is seen by the eye.”64 In other words,
the painter kept some things secret and unseen, in order for the viewer to join in the projects of
fiction-making and naturalistic deception. Realistic details were moderated through the gover-
nance of abstract, idealizing principles, for the sake of engaging the viewer’s memory, imagination,
and aspiration. Erotic traces heightened what was a more fundamental pleasure in the repression
of the real and the strategy of secrecy.
In the sixteenth century, Vasari valued “that sweet and facile grace which hovers midway between
the seen and the unseen [fra’l vedi e non vedi], as is the case with the flesh of living figures.”65 The
limbs should be “true to nature…but veiled [ricoperte] with a plumpness and fleshiness that should
not be awkward, as they are in nature, but refined by draftsmanship and judgment.” He adapts the
fundamental understanding that the intellectual and poetic enterprise of allegory operated according
to veiled meaning. Art, in its rivalry with Nature, was about improving merely superficial naturalism
with layers of graceful material and purifying it through the application of skillful disegno and elite
discrimination. Members of art’s elite audience practiced their own form of hiding in plain sight,
learning from Castiglione’s manual for courtiers that sprezzatura was the wellspring of art. One
should “practice in all things a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make
whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought.… True art…
does not seem to be art; nor must one be more careful of anything than of concealing it.”66 Facilità,
appearing uncontrived, was paramount according to Aretino too, as voiced by Dolce in 1557, for “Art
is the hiding of art’s presence,” a virtual maxim that echoes Ovid’s praise of Pygmalion’s deceptively
real statue.67 The choice of the myth of Pygmalion for a man’s portrait cover, which Bronzino exe-
cuted ca. 1530–32, was particularly apposite for it cleverly concealed the art of the lifelike Halberdier

62. For an overview of the drawings, see Ames-Lewis, Draftsman Raphael, 42, 50–59; also Meyer zur Capellen, Raphael, 1:88–89,
233–41, and 3:33, 220.
63. Aristotle, Generation of Animals, trans. Peck, 225 (743b20); Benedetti, Anatomice, 86, 172 (1.2, 2.23). The analogy between
paint, cloth, and flesh was often reiterated in art theory, for instance, in Pino, Dialogo di Pittura, 124 (first published 1548); Vasari, Vite,
1:180; Roskill, Dolce’s ‘Aretino,’ 142, 174, 190.
64. Alberti, On Painting, 81; discussed, in relation to Timanthes’s veiling of the face of a grieving man, by Pardo, “Savoldo’s
Magdalene,” 87–89 (which also quotes a similar passage of 1582 by Cardinal Paleotti).
65. Vasari, Vite, 4:8; trans. in Lives, trans. de Vere, 772 (proemio to pt. 3).
66. Castiglione, Book of the Courtier, 32 (1.26) (first published in 1528).
67. Roskill, Dolce’s ‘Aretino,’ 91 (“è arte a nasconder l’arte”); Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.252 (“ars adeo latet arte sua,” so does his art
conceal his art).
48 Patricia Simons

FIGURE 1.9. Raphael, Study for the Fainting Virgin of the Baglione Entombment, pen and
ink over black chalk underdrawing, London, British Museum 1895,0915.617.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
The Visual Dynamics of (Un)veiling in Early Modern Culture 49

produced by Pontormo.68 Literally and figuratively, the viewer shifted the cover to penetrate
Bronzino’s tiers of art, becoming seduced by the artist as well as by the delusion of both images, cap-
tivated like Pygmalion. Art was about concealment, revelation, and the layers in between.
Naturalism itself, seemingly the most transparent and unmediated of pictorial strategies, was
represented as an astute unveiling. At the turn into the fifteenth century, Cennini was not interested
in naive replication of external superfluities. Instead, his manual taught that a painting “calls for imagi-
nation, and skill of hand, in order to discover things not seen, hiding themselves under the shadow of
natural objects,…presenting to plain sight what does not actually exist.”69 About a quarter of a cen-
tury later, the architect credited with devising perspectival illusion was criticized for thinking that
“uncertain things can be made visible,” but Brunelleschi insisted that his kind of vision was, like
Cennini’s, of a sophisticated, less literal kind. As he put it in a sonnet, “We rise above corruptible mat-
ter / And gain the strength of clearest sight.… / For wise men nothing that exists / Remains
unseen;… / Only the artist, not the fool / Discovers that which nature hides [natura invola].”70 The
artist worked at balance, improving any one model by selecting the best from several in the oft-cited
case of the ancient painter Zeuxis, correcting Nature’s deficiencies and uncovering general principles.
Discerning judgment was considered the core of art, penetrating beyond surfaces to find underlying
secrets. In a sense, naturalism trumped Nature, stripping her to find a fabricated truth.
In 1548, the Venetian painter Pino succinctly expressed a common idea already evident in the
writings of Cennini and Alberti, amongst others, and thus of no particular Neoplatonic valence. He
defined painting as “truly poetry, that is, invention, which makes that which is not seem to be.”71 Art
hid its own artificiality through sprezzatura, yet it also brought forth what Nature had hidden, thus
being simultaneously secretive and revelatory. Optical hints about secrets lured viewers and intensi-
fied their power and prestige. By coming close to or crossing boundaries of knowledge, they increased
their erotic pleasure but even more their understanding and judgment of artistic skill or of instructive
fields like anatomy. In turn, they helped maintain secrets, engaged in the superimposition of layers
and enmeshed in the reciprocal process of visual concealment and display.

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On the Skins of Goats and Sheep
(Un)masking the Secrets of Nature in Early Modern Popular Culture

William Eamon

n March 1580, a healer by the name of Bartolomeo Riccio appeared before the Venetian
Provveditori alla Sanità, or Public Health Board, to apply for a license to sell his secret remedy
to cure poisonous snake bites.1 Riccio was from Lecce, a city in the southern Italian region of
Puglia, which gave rise to a host of empirical healers who fanned out across Italy in the sixteenth
century, plying their trade in cities large and small. A snake handler who collected vipers to sell to
pharmacists to make theriac (vipers being the active ingredient in that exotic preparation), he
could catch poisonous snakes with his bare hands and could kill them barehanded without causing
any danger to himself. He did this, the archival record states, “to the marvel and stupor of every-
one” (fig. 2.1).
Under ordinary circumstances, obtaining permission to sell drugs in the public squares was a
routine procedure. In order to sell their remedies in Venice, empirics like Riccio had to obtain a
license from the Public Health Board. Usually this was a fairly simple matter of submitting the
recipe for the medicament to the physicians so that they might make a judgment about whether it
was safe. The Public Health Board was more concerned about whether the remedies might be
harmful than with whether or not they were efficacious.2
Riccio already had a license from the Public Health Board to sell his antidote. But a prior of
the Venetian College of Physicians had observed him at work in the Piazza San Marco, and was so
impressed by the snake charmer’s skill that he recommended him to the Sanità. With the prior’s
recommendation in hand, Riccio went to the Health Board and applied to have his license turned
into a ten-year privilege. In order to prove the worth of his antidotes, Riccio appeared before the
committee with his box of serpents and proceeded with a “demonstration” of the drug’s effective-
ness. Under the watchful eyes of the provveditori, Riccio caused himself to be bitten on the torso by
his snakes. Bare-chested, he stood resolutely as the bites swelled up and turned black. The physi-
cians began to worry, but then Riccio calmly reached into his medicine chest and took out a vial of
his secret ointment and applied it to the bites. Immediately and seemingly miraculously, the

1. The relevant documents are in ASV, Provveditori alla Sanità, Reg. 734, c. 177v (1580) and Reg. 735, c. 135v (1583). Montinaro,
San Paolo dei serpenti, 69–70.
2. On the regulation of medicine in sixteenth-century Venice, see Vanzan Marchini, I mali e I rimedi.

On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 55

FIGURE 2.1. Snake Handler Catching Vipers, woodcut from Pietro Andrea Mattioli, I discorsi di M.
Pietro Andrea Matthioli (Venice, 1557).
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD.

swelling subsided. The examiners were so impressed that they ruled that for ten years no one other
than Riccio be allowed to mount a bank and sell the remedy.
Now let us imagine Riccio as he leaves the office of the Public Health Board, license in hand,
and follow him as he walks the short distance from the Salt Office, where the Health Board met, to
the Piazza San Marco, where he practiced his trade. The scene on the piazza might have looked
something like the one in an image from Giacomo Franco’s famous costume book, Habiti d’huomini
et donne Venetiane (Venice, 1609), depicting charlatans performing their theatrical routines to
attract crowds in order to vend their nostrums (fig. 2.2).3 In performances ranging from full-length
shows to theatrical displays of themselves as wonder-working healers, the charlatans flaunted their
supposed therapeutic prowess. In the foreground of Franco’s picture, we see a snake handler, just
like Riccio.
Riccio must have been quite a sight on the Piazza San Marco. We might imagine him appear-
ing something like the character in an image from Giuseppe Maria Mitelli’s book of etchings, Le
arte per via (1660), a portfolio of drawings on the humble trades (fig. 2.3). Of course, the picture

3. Katritzky, “Marketing Medicine.”

56 William Eamon

FIGURE 2.2. Charlatans in the Piazza San Marco, engraving from Giacomo Franco, Habiti
d’huomini e donne (Venice, 1609). London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 57

FIGURE 2.3. Snake Handler in a Bologna Piazza, engraving from Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, Le
arte per via (Bologna, 1660). London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
58 William Eamon

does not really portray Riccio; instead, Mitelli’s drawing illustrates a charlatan performing on a
portable stage in a Bologna piazza. Mitelli’s stout, bearded figure wears thick eyeglasses and points
to a serpent that he daringly holds aloft. The table beside him displays neatly arranged jars contain-
ing his remedies. Although Mitelli’s figure is not Riccio, imagining it to be so would not be too far
off the mark; for Mitelli’s charlatan is a sanpaolaro, one of the so-called Men of Saint Paul, snake
handlers who sold an antidote for poisonous bites under the trade name St. Paul’s Grace (Gratia di
S. Paolo). One of his snakes menacingly slithers out of a basket onto the stage floor as a fascinated
audience looks on.
Like many others who plied his trade—the profession of the ciarlatano, or charlatan—
Bartolomeo Riccio had to play on two radically different stages: the open, public space of the
piazza and the closed, official space of established medicine. In order to sell his remedies, he had
to perform in the public square; but to get a license to sell his wares, he had to prove himself in the
private space of the doctors. This microcosmic snapshot of the relationship of popular culture
versus official culture will be my point of departure for exploring two contrasting spaces for veiling
and unveiling secrets: one public, the other private; one popular, the other official.
To begin that exploration, let us go back a few centuries and look briefly at the medieval ethic
governing transmission of knowledge. That excursion will help us understand the answers given to
the leading question regarding the dissemination of natural knowledge: who gets to know?
The thirteenth-century Franciscan friar and philosopher Roger Bacon articulated the standard
medieval view toward the dissemination of natural knowledge. In the Opus Majus, Bacon wrote,
The wise have always been divided from the multitude, and have veiled the secrets of wisdom not
only from the world at large but also from ordinary philosophers. Aristotle says in his book of
secrets that he would break the celestial seal if he made public the secrets of nature. For this reason
the wise, although giving in their writings the roots of the mysteries of science, have not given the
branches, flowers, and fruits to the rank and file of philosophers. For they have either omitted
these topics from their writings or have veiled them in figurative language. Hence, according to
Aristotle, the secrets of the sciences are not written on the skins of goats and sheep so that they
may be discovered by the multitude.4

The text that Bacon refers to in this passage—he calls it “Aristotle’s Book of Secrets”—was, in fact,
a tenth-century Arabic work attributed to Aristotle and translated into Latin in the twelfth century
under the title Secretum secretorum, or “Secret of Secrets.” This pseudo-Aristotelian treatise, one of
countless medieval texts attributed to Aristotle that entered the West with the wave of translations,
was said to comprise the letters that Aristotle sent to Alexander the Great while the young king was
on his Persian campaign.5In contrast to Aristotle’s public doctrine contained in the works on logic
and natural science, the Secretum supposedly revealed the philosopher’s esoteric teachings, which
he reserved for a few intimate disciples.6 The Secretum secretorum was a kind of manifesto of the
medieval doctrine of esotericism. Central to the doctrine was the idea that nature is inherently

4. Bacon, Opus Majus, 1:11–12.

5. Bacon, Secretum secretorum, 176–77. In addition, see Manzaloui, “Pseudo-Aristotelian Kitāb Sirr al-Asrār.”
6. On the scholarly reception of the Secretum, see Williams, Secret of Secrets.
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 59

arcane; the veil of nature’s outer appearances conceals hidden qualities and virtues—the “secrets
of nature”—that lie within.7
The doctrine of esotericism implied in the idea of arcana naturae gave rise to a peculiarly
medieval view about intellectual curiosity, specifically with respect to curiosity about the secrets
of nature. In the Middle Ages the word curiosity (curiositas) had a far more pejorative meaning
than it has today.8 To be curious about something was neither innocent nor virtuous. Instead, it
implied being a meddlesome intellectual busybody who pries into things that are none of his busi-
ness. Nor, according to patristic opinion, could scientific curiosity be considered fully legitimate,
because God intended nature to be a mystery and had so fashioned the world as to make its secrets
occult and unintelligible. The popular image of the goddess Natura, usually depicted covering
herself with a veil in order to hide her secrets from mortals, reinforced this theological view.9
The twin themes of arcana naturae and forbidden knowledge carried a warning that was con-
tinually repeated in the medieval and early modern periods: the secrets of nature were hidden from
the vulgus with good reason; be not curious about them.10 The admonition not to cast the pearls of
knowledge before swine was a key component of the moral economy of medieval science.11
The widespread currency of the “secrets of nature” metaphor testifies to a firm partition
between learned and popular cultures. In the Middle Ages, literacy was the principal criterion that
determined on which side of the boundary one fell. Since “literacy” almost invariably meant
knowing how to read and write Latin, knowledge of the Latin language became the norm that
separated the learned elite from the rest of society. The identification of literacy with rationality,
and of illiteracy with credulity and superstition, solidified the barrier between insiders (academ-
ics) and outsiders (others).12
As long as literate culture was the exclusive property of academics, that boundary was rela-
tively secure and the “secrets of nature” remained hidden within the cloak of Latin Scholasticism.
Two events occurred in the early modern period to create conditions that threatened to remove
the veil surrounding nature’s secrets: the first was the advent of printing, which made the written
word more widely available to a broad spectrum of society, and the second was the commercializa-
tion of culture, which turned “secrets” into commodities. With the emergence of popular culture
in the sixteenth century, the secrets of nature could not only be read about in books, but could also
be purchased or viewed in the marketplaces and piazzas. Whether in popular “books of secrets” or
on the mountebank’s stage, revealing and vending nature’s secrets subverted the academic monop-
oly over medicine and natural knowledge. As we will see, in the domain of popular culture,
attempts to break down the barrier of esotericism in scientific discourse were at the same time
either burlesques or travesties of high culture, depending only upon how seriously the audience
was expected to take them. The “professors of secrets” who flooded the marketplace with their

7. Eamon, Science Secrets, chap. 2. On esotericism, see Bagley, “On the Practice of Esotericism.”
8. On curiosity in the Middle Ages, see Blumenberg, Legitimacy of the Modern Age, 269–360.
9. Economou, Goddess Natura.
10. Ginzburg, “High and Low.”
11. Eamon, “Secrets of Nature.”
12. Grundmann, “Litteratus—illiteratus”; Stock, Implications of Literacy, 27.
60 William Eamon

books of secrets denounced in high moral terms the pretensions of academics, and in turn saw
themselves caricatured by mountebanks in the piazza.
The year 1555 may be said to mark, symbolically, a watershed year in the history of the treat-
ment of the secrets of nature. It was in that year that the last Renaissance edition of the Latin
Secretum secretorum was published in Naples.13 By the time the edition appeared, practically all
scholars knew that the work was spurious. Sixteenth-century editors of the Aristotelian corpus
rarely bothered to mention the work.
Quite coincidentally, that same year the Venetian bookstalls displayed a book of secrets whose
content and intended audience were entirely different from that of the Secretum secretorum. The
book, The Secrets of Alessio Piemontese, contained the expression of the new attitude toward the
“secrets of nature.” Confidently advertising itself as “a most useful and universally necessary work,”
the Secrets opened up to readers a new world of exotic secrets and practical recipes. Alessio’s secrets
included remedies unknown to the doctors, recipes for cosmetics used by the Turks, exotic per-
fumes and oils, dyeing techniques, tricks of the metalworking trades, alchemical secrets supposedly
tried out by Alessio himself, and many more.14
Alessio’s Secreti was an instant best seller. The first edition sold out within a year and was
reprinted by three different publishers. More than seventy editions of the book were published in
Italian, French, German, Dutch, English, Spanish, Polish, and Latin. The work unleashed a torrent
of books of secrets. So sensational were these works in their day that the social critic Tommaso
Garzoni, writing in 1585, identified their authors as making up an entirely new profession. Garzoni
called the writers on secrets the “professors of secrets.” He described them as intrepid seekers of
hidden knowledge and rare experiments who devoted themselves so zealously to their calling that
they often forsook the necessities of life.15
The Secreti was largely responsible for creating the familiar topos of the wandering empiric,
the tireless explorer who, forsaking fame and fortune, travels the world over in search of the secrets
of nature. Alessio, the prototypical professor of secrets, collected secrets from scholars, clerics,
empirics, artisans, and even peasants. There can be little doubt that Garzoni’s inspiration was the
Secreti’s famous preface, in which Alessio portrayed himself as a wealthy intellectual who had
turned away from the books of the authorities in order to devote his life and fortune to searching
for secrets of nature, trusting only experience to reveal the truth.
But Alessio also suffered from the disease that afflicted all seekers of the rare and exotic: vanity.
So possessive was he of his secrets that he refused to reveal them out of fear that they might be vulgar-
ized and hence lose their rarity. He was persuaded to renounce secrecy when, in Milan, a surgeon
approached him asking for a remedy to cure an artisan who was tormented with a painful bladder
stone. The old professor of secrets—Alessio was eighty-two at the time—refused, perceiving that the
surgeon would use the secret for his own profit and glory. The poor artisan paid the price of Alessio’s
vanity, for by the time he arrived at the patient’s bedside, “I found [him] so nigh his end, that after
lifting up his eyes, casting them pitifully toward me, he passed from this into a better life, not having

13. Schmitt, “Francesco Storella.”

14. On this work, see Eamon, Science and Secrets, chap. 4.
15. Garzoni, La piazza universale, 324. On this work, see Martin, “Imaginary Piazza.”
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 61

any need of my secret nor any other to recover his health.”16 Gripped by remorse over the incident,
Alessio relinquished all of his wealth and retired to a secluded villa, there to live the life of a solitary
monk. Renouncing secrecy, he resolved to publish his secrets to the world.
The morality play acted out in Alessio’s dramatic conversion to the ethic of openness rings,
frankly, of fiction. And, as it turns out, it was; for “Alessio Piemontese” was no wandering empiric
at all, but was the invention of the Venetian popular writer Girolamo Ruscelli, who published the
Secreti under the pseudonym of Alessio.17
But now the story becomes even more interesting, because according to Ruscelli, Alessio’s
secrets were in fact the experimental results of a secret academy that he and several others had
founded in Naples. The academy, which Ruscelli called the Accademia Segreta, devoted itself to
making “a true anatomy of things, and of the operations of Nature.” They set up a laboratory and
furnished it with alchemical equipment, which they used to try out the recipes they collected.
They had an herb garden that supplied the materials for their experiments and gathered in a meet-
ing room to discuss them. All this was done in secret, Ruscelli claims, despite the fact that the
meeting house (called La Filosofia) was built in the central plaza of a “prominent city” in the
Kingdom of Naples.18
A “secret” was supposedly a unique recipe or technique. Often would it bear the name or trade-
mark of its inventor to distinguish it from other, “common” recipes. The famous Bolognese professor
of secrets Leonardo Fioravanti (fig. 2.4) gave his remedies catchy trade names like Angelic Oil (Olio
angelico) and Fragrant Goddess (Dia aromatica).19 Ironically, however, by flooding the marketplace
with secrets, the professors of secrets made their recipes anything but unique, anything but secret.
Even Garzoni, who identified the professors of secrets as a “profession,” never imagined such an out-
pouring of rare, exotic, and pretentious secrets that he had seen paraded in the piazzas:
When has there ever been such an abundance of those looking for new secrets? Why, in Bergamo
there’s even one who brags about having a secret to convert the Turk, and would have sold it to a
physician friend of mine for a forty-piece if he so pleased—something to have made Fioravanti of
Bologna, had he known of it, despair of himself for not having included it among his medical
caprices under the title of Fioravanti’s Angelical and Divine Elixir.20

Alessio Piemontese’s worst fears had come true: secrets, once rare and precious, had become “pub-
lic and common,” hence no longer secrets. But if all secrets were equivalent, what was to prevent
anyone from making up his own or peddling those he lifted from a printed book?
In fact, that is precisely what did happen. Not only did early modern European readers witness
an explosion of books of secrets in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, but the piaz-
zas themselves became spaces—or rather, stages—for the trade in secrets. Theatrical elements
were essential in the marketplace defined by the piazza. In order to attract the throngs of people
that became the buyers of their nostrums, mountebanks performed a sort of slapstick comedy,

16. Piemontese, Secretes, preface (spelling modernized).

17. Eamon, Science and Secrets, 143.
18. Ruscelli, Secreti nuovi, fol. 1r. See Eamon and Paheau, “Accademia Segreta.”
19. On Fioravanti, see Eamon, Professor of Secrets.
20. Garzoni, L’Hospidale, 246.
62 William Eamon

FIGURE 2.4. Nicolo Nelli, Portrait of Leonardo

Fioravanti, woodcut from Leonardo Fioravanti,
Tesoro della vita humana (Venice, 1582).
Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections,
University of Wisconsin Libraries.

using the characters and tricks of what would later be called (in politer circles) commedia dell’arte.21
Indeed, contemporary descriptions of the charlatans are practically indistinguishable from those
of the more sophisticated commedia troupes, suggesting that the commedia dell’arte was born in the
piazza, not in the court, as often argued.22 Giovan Domenico Ottonelli gave this account of one of
these troupes in the mid-seventeenth century:
From time to time a company of these gallant men comes into a city with their women (without
whom they are given little applause), and spread the word that they will serve the public by selling
excellent secrets and presenting a free comedy. They choose a place in the public square, where they
put up a scaffold.… Every day at an appropriate hour a Zanni or similar character begins strumming
an instrument or singing to attract an audience. In a moment another actor appears, then another,
and often a woman joins the show. They all perform tricks and mix it up with one another and with
the audience. Then comes the head charlatan [Archiciarlatano], the seller of secrets, and with a fine
manner introduces the great and incomparable glory of his marvelous remedies.… Finally the head
charlatan cries, “Bring on the comedy! Let the comedy begin!” The boxes and trunks are packed, the
bench changed into a scene, every charlatan becomes a comedian, and there begins a comic perfor-
mance that will last around two hours, filling the people with laughter and delight.23

21. The most authoritative study of Italian charlatans is Gentilcore, Medical Charlatanism. On charlatans and commedia dell’arte,
see Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, esp. 17–128; Katritsky, “Was commedia dell’arte performed by mountebanks?”; Henke, “Italian
22. Henke, Performance and Literature.
23. Ottonelli, Della Cristiana, 489–90.
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 63

Thomas Coryat, an Englishman who visited Venice in 1608, left a similar account. Each day, he
reported, the mountebanks set up their portable stages in the Piazza San Marco:
Twice a day, that is, in the morning and in the afternoon, you may see five or six stages erected for
them.… These mountebanks at one end of their stage place their trunk, which is replenished with
a world of new-fangled trumperies. After the whole rabble of them is gotten up to the stage,
whereof some wear visards, being disguised like fools in a play, some that are women (for there are
diverse women also amongst them) are attired with habits according to the person that they sus-
tain. After they are all upon the stage, the music begins, sometimes vocal, sometimes instrumental,
and sometimes both together. This music is a preamble and introduction to the ensuing matter. In
the meantime, while the music plays, the principal mountebank, which is the Captain and ring-
leader of all the rest, opens his trunk and sets abroach his wares. After the music has ceased, he
makes an oration to the audience of half an hour long, or almost an hour. Wherein he doth most
hyperbolically extol the virtue of his drugs and confections.… After the chief mountebank’s first
speech is ended, he delivers out his commodities by little and little, the jester still playing his part,
and the musicians singing and playing upon their instruments. The principal things that they sell
are oils, sovereign waters, amorous songs printed, apothecary drugs, and a commonweale of other
trifles. The head mountebank at every time that he delivers out any thing, makes an extemporal
speech, which he presently intermingles with such savory jests (but spiced now and then with
singular scurrility) that they minister passing mirth and laughter to the whole company, which
perhaps may consist of a thousand people that flock together about their stages.24

Fynes Moryson, another sixteenth-century English traveler, was equally fascinated by the charla-
tans that he observed in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, although he wasn’t too impressed by their
wares. “Many of them have some very good secrets,” he reported, “but generally they are all
cheaters.”25 Cheats or not, the ciarlatani attracted large crowds. No visit to Venice would have been
considered complete without a walk through the Piazza San Marco to watch their performances.
We can get a closer look at the charlatans’ secrets by examining the medical chapbooks they
sold, along with their nostrums, in the public squares.26 They are little tracts, most just a single
signature folded into a quarto, or eight pages, printed on cheap paper and containing about twenty
or thirty recipes. Sold in the piazzas for a few pennies, they represent the books of secrets tradition
at its commonest level. Though popular in their day, they are now extremely rare. In my research,
I was able to identify more than eighty of these pamphlets, although doubtless many others were
lost or worn out by use.27
The authors of these tracts—let’s call them the professorini di secreti, or “little professors of
secrets”—identified themselves by their stage names, all stock commedia dell’arte characters.
Tommaso Maiorini, for example, played the character Pulcinella on the mountebank’s stage and
sold a pamphlet titled Frutti soavi colti nel giardino (Delicate Fruits Cultivated in the Garden). A
certain Francesco, who took the part of Biscottino, published a tract called Giardino di varii secreti
(Garden of Various Secrets). Pietro Maria Mutii, “il Zanni bolognese,” sold a tract called Nuovo

24. Coryat, Crudities, 1:410–11 (spelling and punctuation modernized).

25. Moryson, Itinerary, 424–25 (spelling and punctuation modernized).
26. For a discussion of these pamphlets, see Eamon, Science and Secrets, chap. 7.
27. A census of the pamphlets is contained in Eamon, Science and Secrets, appendix.
64 William Eamon

lucidario di secreti (New Illumination of Secrets). Another charlatan, who styled himself “il
Marchesino d’Este” (Little Marquis of Este), wrote Il Medico de’ poveri, o sia il gran stupere de’
medici (The Poor Man’s Physician, or The Amazement of the Physicians).28
The title pages of these pamphlets fairly ring with the cries of the mountebanks extolling the
virtues of their remedies. Some boasted exotic secrets from distant lands. Benedetto “il Persiano”
(Persian) claimed that he translated his “marvelous occult secrets of nature” from the Persian lan-
guage (fig. 2.5), while another charlatan, nicknamed “Americano,” wrote about “A True and
Natural Fountain, from which flows forth a living water fountain of miracles and health-giving
secrets.”29 Despite the pretension of the author’s name, this little chapbook was hardly exotic,
being a reprinting of a pamphlet by the Brescia charlatan Andrea Fontana, Fontana dove n’esce fuori
acque di secreti (Fountain Spouting Water Full of Secrets).30 Fontana, who also practiced as a sur-
geon and distiller, made cosmetics and facial waters for “honored ladies” and offered to teach the
art of distillation to anyone interested. Another charlatan, Guglielmo Germerio advertised a cabi-
net of curiosities that included “ten very stupendous monsters, marvelous to see, among which
there are seven newborn animals, six alive and one dead, and three embalmed female infants.”31
The professors of secrets themselves became stock characters in the comic performances on
the piazza, as a chapbook by the Venetian charlatan Lorenzo Leandro, titled Tesorodi varii secreti,
suggests. “Fioravanti Cortese,” the pseudonym used by the author of the Giardino et fioretto di
secreti (Garden and Bouquet of Secrets), was a play on the names of Leonardo Fioravanti and
Isabella Cortese, two famous professors of secrets. Similarly, Il gran Piemontese, the author of
another medical tract, may have been a takeoff on Alessio Piemontese. Biagio, Il Figadet, wrote a
booklet of secrets “collected from various clever men,” while Giovanni Cosson, a French mounte-
bank who called himself “Il Bontempo Francese” (The Good-Time Frenchman) wrote a booklet
of practical jokes that “have greatly delighted the French, Spanish, and Italian princes and gentle-
men who experimented upon them.” All of these pretensions were comic parodies of the book of
secrets, from which the professorini di secreti appropriated their recipes and cures.
Obviously, the charlatans’ impersonations of the professors of secrets were calculated both to
entertain and to win audiences in order to sell “secrets.” In these little chapbooks, we see the charla-
tans at their most jocular and disrespectful, mocking physicians, professors of secrets, and societal
norms. The play on secrets—including the mountebank’s sham reluctance turned into willingness to
reveal secrets to the public, as well as the obvious fact that once published in a chapbook intended for
the crowd they are anything but secret—was part of the joke. In burlesquing the professor of secrets
onstage, the mountebank pretended to have rare secret remedies that, just like those of the real pro-
fessors of secrets, he discovered by long experience in the ways of nature. But he would give them up
for the public good. Thus Domenico Fedele “il Mantoianino” (Little Mantuan), in his little chapbook
of secrets, copied out verbatim the dedication from Timotheo Rossello’s more serious Summa de’
secreti universali (1561), extolling humanity’s natural desire to search for secrets, and used it as a pref-
ace for his booklet, Con il Poco farete assai (With a Little You’ll Do a Lot). But he left off at the point

28. Complete bibliographical information may be found in Eamon, Science and Secrets, appendix, 361–65.
29. Benedetto, I Maravigliosi, et occulti secreti; Americano, Il Vero, e natural fonte.
30. Fontana, Fontana.
31. Tolosano, Gioia preciosa.
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 65

FIGURE 2.5. Title page from Benedetto

(called il Persiano), I maravigliosi, et occulti
secreti naturali (Rome, 1613).
Courtesy of the Department of Special
Collections, University of Wisconsin

where Rossello began addressing his exalted patron, the archdeacon of Ragusa, and concluded with
the words, “I am compelled to present to you—O people!—this little garden of lovely flowers, in
their variety pretty to look at, but in substance beneficial to the human body.”32 Mountebanks on
every corner of the piazza making similar claims to be revealing rare and precious secrets obviously
heightened the ludicrousness of the situation.
If the professors of secrets were mimicked in the piazza, the official doctors were positively
lampooned. Dottor Gratiano Pagliarizzo da Bologna, the author of a chapbook on Secreti nuovi et
rari (New and Rare Secrets)—almost exactly the same title as a treatise on secrets by Girolamo
Ruscelli—was undoubtedly modeled on the commedia mask of Graziano, the quack doctor and
astrologer (fig. 2.6). One can imagine him in his tight knee breeches, ruffled doublet, and cloak,
holding forth with his learned platitudes and his ridiculous malapropisms. “He who is sick cannot
be said to be well,” he would expound in a mock-serious tone, parodying the physicians, and he
would prove it on the analogy that he who walks cannot be said to stand still.33

32. Fedele, Con il Poco farete assai, 1.

33. Pagliarizzo, Secreti nuovi. Cf. Scatalone, Il vero et pretioso thesoro. On Graziano, see Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, 25–41.
66 William Eamon

The thought of a charlatan parodying a quack doctor in a comedy, then peddling his own
quack nostrums to the audience, may at first glance seem ludicrously ironic. Doubtless, the irony
was intended. But the stark contrast between the physician’s complex regimens and the charlatan’s
instant, surefire remedies struck a responsive chord in the audience gathered around the mounte-
bank. The charlatan was more deeply connected to the social realities of the people than the
official Galenic physician, whose humoral theories were far removed from the rules and beliefs by
which most of his patients lived.34 Whether or not his remedies worked, because they often relied
on purges and chemical skin treatments, at least they had the merit of producing visible results.
Purges that purge can be said to be efficacious; whether or not they cure is another matter. Then
as now, the people wanted results, not an intellectual understanding of the causes of their ailments.
Regimens that produced no physiological changes were easy targets for unorthodox healers.
In these little chapbooks, we see the charlatans at their most jocular and disrespectful, mock-
ing physicians, professors of secrets, and societal norms. In the culture of the piazza, the popular
healer doubled as an entertainer and a salesman. The mountebank’s portable stage was his store-
front, his medical theater a form of advertising that was well suited to a society that was becoming
more and more commercialized.
The assault on the learned professions’ monopoly over the “secrets of nature” reveals much
about the dynamics of cultural change in early modern Europe. First of all, it shows that popular
culture was not a mere imitation of elite culture. Rather, it often involved aggressive appropriation
and creative adaptation of elements of both literate and folk cultures.35 It also underscores the
importance of the comic in early modern popular culture and illustrates Bakhtin’s claim about the
insurrectionary import of laughter. To paraphrase Bakhtin, early modern laughter was directed at
precisely the same objects as early modern seriousness.36
However, the connection between healing and dramatic performances was also a traditional
one. That is how shamans operate.37 The power and charisma of the charlatan is vividly captured in a
painting by the Sienese artist Bernardino Mei (fig. 2.7).38 The painting, titled The Charlatan, depicts
an aged, bearded charlatan seated on a wooden platform and surrounded by an astonished and won-
dering crowd of onlookers. The scene takes place in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, with the Torre del
Mangia clearly visible in the background. The view of the charlatan from below accentuates his
imposing figure, while the dark, foreboding sky above him heightens the drama of the scene. On the
floor of the stage is an assortment of glass bottles and vials containing his remedies. Next to the
healer’s cane is a handbill bearing the title, “L’Olio de’ filosofi di Straccione” (Straccione’s Philosophers’
Oil), identifying both the charlatan and his remedy. Most dramatically, on the back of his tightly
fisted hand, thrust out to the crowd, Straccione (Ragamuffin) balances a vial of his miraculous elixir.
His penetrating gaze and authoritative gestures arouse expressions of wonder and fear in the crowd

34. Lingo, “Empirics and Charlatans.”

35. Burke, Popular Culture; Ginzburg, Cheese and Worms.
36. Bakhtin, Rabelais.
37. Burke, “Rituals of Healing,” 207–20.
38. The picture, painted in 1656, is now in the Banca Monte dei Paschi in Siena. For further discussion, see Gentilcore, Medical
Charlatanism, 28–29.
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 67

FIGURE 2.6. Title page from Dottor

Gratiano Pagliarizzo, Secreti nuovi e rari
(Bologna, Milan, n.d.).
Courtesy of the Department of Special
Collections, University of Wisconsin

below, which listens in rapt attention as the charlatan proclaims that its very health and well-being is
contained in the powerful contents of that little vial.
Now let us return to Bartolomeo Riccio in the Piazza San Marco. Unfortunately, we have no
contemporary description of him at work. However, we do have the testimony of the sixteenth-
century English traveler Thomas Coryat, who reported seeing a charlatan just like him:
I saw one of them hold a viper in his hand and play with his sting for a quarter of an hour alto-
gether, and yet receive no hurt—although another man should have been presently stung to death
with it. He made us all believe that the same viper was lineally descended from the generation of
that viper that leapt out of the fire upon Saint Paul’s hand, in the Island of Malta, and did him no
harm; and told us moreover that it would sting some, and not others.39

Tommaso Garzoni observed similar performances, including one by Master Paolo da Arezzo, who
“appears on the piazza with a long standard unfurled, on which you can see St. Paul with a sword
in one hand and in the other a swarm of hissing snakes.” Master Paolo was one of the wandering

39. Coryat, Crudities, 1:411–12 (spelling and punctuation modernized).

68 William Eamon

FIGURE 2.7. Bernardino Mei, Il Ciarlatano, 1656, oil on canvas.

Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY.
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 69

“Men of Saint Paul” (Uomini di San Paolo), or sanpaolari, healers who claimed descent from St.
Paul, in reference to Paul’s experience in Malta. As the apostle warmed himself before a fire, accord-
ing to the Acts of the Apostle, “there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand…and
he shook off the beast into the fire and felt no harm” (Acts 28.3–5).40 This passage gave rise to the
folk belief that Maltese earth was an antidote against snake venom. The sanpaolari sold it under the
trade name “St. Paul’s grace” (Gratia di S. Paolo). Yet it was certainly not the folk tradition alone
that convinced people of the efficacy of Maltese earth. The theatrical part of Paolo da Arezzo’s
profession was equally if not more important. “He struck such fear in the crowd,” Garzoni related,
“that the people trembled, and did not want to leave the city gates without taking some of the
powder with them.”41
The boundary between public performances, advertising stunts, and traditional healing rituals is
not easy to draw in the context of early modern culture. Certainly snake-handling was a good stunt;
but it was also a tradition associated with local healing traditions.42 When the sanpalari brought their
methods to the urban marketplaces, the quasi-religious elements of folk medicine gradually became
commercialized and transformed into advertising gimmicks. In the charlatan, the folk healer emerged
as a sort of “commercialized shaman.”43
As control over unauthorized medical practice tightened in the late sixteenth century, the bal-
ance between pretense and reality in the professional life of the charlatan became ever more
precarious.44 For the mountebank’s relation to the physician had two conflicting sides. On the one
hand, he played upon the image of the physician as a pretentious fool in order to maximize the eco-
nomic value of ridicule. On the other hand, the physician’s authority could, and often necessarily had
to, authorize his nostrums. Thus the empiric and distiller Zuanne Veronese, in registering his “artifi-
cial philosophical oil” with the Venetian Health Board, attested that the recipe was the same as that
prescribed by Mesue and was “made according to the description of Dioscorides.”45
Moreover, in order to obtain the assent of the medical colleges, which authorized their practice,
empirics had to enter into a doubly risky form of deception: the game of fooling the physicians. In the
sixteenth century, virtually all Italian cities required empirics to obtain licenses from the local health
boards before being able to dispense their medical secrets in the piazza.46 In Venice, the licensing
procedures required that itinerant healers display their recipes and in some cases demonstrate the
efficacy of their remedies.
As the case of Bartolomeo Riccio suggests, the sanpaolaro did this by appearing before the
Health Board and essentially doing the same stunts they performed before the crowds gathered in
the piazza—although, doubtless, in a more sober and serious manner. In fact, such appearances

40. Buhagiar, “St. Paul’s Shipwreck.”

41. Garzoni, Piazza universale, 747. Mario Galasso, one of the professorini di secreti, appears to have been a sanpaolaro. His chapbook,
Thesoro de poveri, begins with a section on “The true method you should follow if you want to use St. Paul’s grace…for the benefit of the
human body.”
42. See Turchini, Morso.
43. Burke, “Rituals of Healing,” 220. In addition, see Park, “Country Medicine.”
44. On the control of medical practice, see Gentilcore, Medical Charlatanism, 118–51.
45. ASV, Provveditori alla Sanità, Reg. 731 (1563–1573) c. 15v.: “Questo et e quell’oglio philosophico artificiale et latoribus, Il
qual descrive Zuanne Mesue et molti lo chiama oglio benedetto, divino et santo, bono alle sottoscritte virtu distilado per me Zuanne
Veronese distilattor.…[et] sicondo descrive dioscorides…a 251.”
46. Gentilcore, Medical Charlatanism, chap. 4.
70 William Eamon

occur with some regularity in the archive of the Venetian Provveditori alla Sanità. In 1563, Maffeo
Bertolani, a Brescia empiric, when applying for a license to sell his antidote for poisonous animal
bites, made a demonstration before the Health Board to the one that Riccio did when applying for
his privilege. He and a member of his traveling “company” brought their boxes of poisonous ani-
mals to the Health Board offices and had themselves bitten in order to demonstrate the efficacy of
Maffeo’s poison antidote.47
The descriptions of these rather extraordinary-sounding events, like most archival records,
are bare, factual, and perfunctory. Yet when given the chance, such as in their petitions, the charla-
tans who did these astonishing “experiments” before the amazed provveditori did not hold back,
and their applications enable us to imagine a more lively scenario. In his supplica to the Health
Board for a ten-year license to sell his remedy, Riccio reminded the provveditori of the “many exhi-
bitions” (“molte experientie”) that he had made on the piazza, including demonstrating how “with
my own hands, without using a knife, I capture vipers and kill them without any harm to me, to the
marvel and stupor of all.”48 He furthermore reminded the examiners, “I also did a very excellent
experiment before the esteemed provveditori, causing myself to be bitten in their presence by a
poisonous viper, whence they saw me swell up, and with my remedy I immediately cured myself.”49
In these incidents of performative experimental science, our attention is drawn to the locked
boxes filled with remedies and, in some cases, vipers that charlatans took with them to the open
spaces of the piazza and the closed spaces of official medicine. The charlatan’s locked chest was
one of the symbols of his craft, and the presence of a trunk or similar container of remedies was
one of the most characteristic aspects of mountebank iconography (see figs. 2.2 and 2.3). In his
diary, the Swiss physician Thomas Platter noted that a troupe that he observed in 1598 used a
“large locked chest” to transport their tins of ointment and envelopes of medicinal powders.50 In
opening their trunks and revealing secrets that astonished the physicians, the charlatans imitated
the performance of unlocking their chests and revealing secrets to the people on the piazza.
Experimental “demonstrations” of the sort that Riccio made before the Venetian Health Board
elicited a variety of reactions from literate culture. On the one hand, the rise of the ciarlatani coin-
cided with and perhaps reinforced the idea that the common people possessed “secrets” making up a
body of knowledge unknown to the savants. Leonardo Fioravanti, for example, insisted that the com-
mon people’s empirical knowledge about the “rules of life” was superior to the medical learning of the
schools.51 The Neapolitan magus Giambattista Della Porta thought that popular “superstitions” con-
cealed profound truths about nature, while the Danish Paracelsian Peter Severinus urged natural
philosophers to study the “astronomy and terrestrial philosophy of the peasantry.”52

47. ASV, Provveditori alla Sanità, Reg. 731, c. 1v, 8v.

48. ASV, Provveditori alla Sanità, Reg. 735, c. 135v: “ch’io con le proprie mani senza pigliarle con ferro alcuno, hò pigliate le
vipere, e fatte morire senza alcun detrimento mio, con maraviglia, et stupore di tutti.”
49. ASV, Provveditori alla Sanità, Reg. 735, c. 135v: “[F]eci anco un esperienza ecce[le]ntissima inanzi li predetti Cl[arissi]mi
S[igno]ri Proveditori faccendomi in presentia loro morsicar da una vippera velenosa, dove esse viddero gonfiarmi, et con il mio rimedio
subito risanarmi il tutto.”
50. Katritzky, “Marketing Medicine,” 127.
51. Similarly, Giovanni Battista Zapata reported that the poor people had simple remedies they learned from experience, for
which they spent only a few pennies, yet received the same medicinal benefits as rich men who spent hundreds of ducats for their exotic
cures. Zapata, Li Maravigliosi secreti, 1–2.
52. Idea medicinae philosophicae, quoted in Debus, English Paracelsians, 20.
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 71

The physicians, on the other hand, understandably refused to remain silent in the face of the
ridicule aimed at them by empirical healers. Alongside works extolling the people’s wisdom
emerged an equally large body of literature on “popular errors.” Physicians rallied to the defense of
medicine and lashed out against popular superstitions, folklore, and what they termed the “errors
of the people.”53 Interestingly, the academic physicians did not contest the efficacy of St. Paul’s earth
as a poison antidote. Instead, they attacked the sanpaolari for their dissimulation, for counterfeiting
Maltese earth and for deceiving the people with various tricks to protect themselves against ven-
omous bites.54 Above all, they attacked the empirics for intruding into the territory of the physician.
The secrets of medicine, they insisted, would remain locked behind the closed door of the learned
The main problem, concluded Laurent Joubert, the chancellor of the Faculty of Medicine at
Montpellier, was that “everybody makes medicine his business.” There were just too many “med-
dlers” out there trying to cut in on a portion of the profession with their quack remedies and
panaceas. He reserved special contempt for midwives, who made extravagant but foolish claims
for secrets they alone supposedly knew. “What disgusts me,” wrote Joubert indignantly, “is how
these women share among themselves a few small remedies, which, after all, are not even of their
own invention but were taken at some time or other from physicians and later passed around
among themselves. For women have never invented a single remedy; they all come from our
domain or from that of our predecessors.”55
Similar attacks followed. In 1603, the Roman physician Scipione Mercurio lashed out against
“errors committed in the piazza” by empirics and charlatans, who endangered the public with their
ridiculous and often poisonous drugs.56 He was amazed that people could be so foolish as to credit
such remedies as those “made of useless junk and sold in the piazza to the imprudent public,
authorized by the presence of a vagabond dressed in velvet and wearing a gold tricorne, approved
by a clown, registered by the doctrine of Dr. Graziano, proved by an unbridled whore, sealed by
Burattino’s jokes, confirmed by a thousand false testimonies, and accompanied by as many lies.”
Besides being vagabonds, he continued, the charlatans have absolutely no understanding of the
causes of diseases. They imagine that practically all ailments are caused by worms, which they
claim their potions will quickly eradicate. In reality, Mercurio observed, diseases have complex
causes relating to humoral imbalances. “Since a medication cannot take into account all these
things unless it is composed by a very learned physician,” he pronounced, “the charlatans, who are
very ignorant, cannot compose them safely.”57 Guarding the secrets of the doctors was essential to
preserving the superiority of official medicine.
The declaration of total war against popular superstitions makes it clear that the ridicule of
official medicine was more than just harmless tomfoolery in the piazza. Mercurio noted that the

53. Eamon, “Physicians and Reform.”

54. To prevent the counterfeiting of Maltese earth, some physicians recommended that the Order of Malta certify the authenticity
of the earth with a seal.
55. Joubert, Popular Errors, 69 (italics mine).
56. Mercurio, Errori populari. Like Joubert, Mercurio was especially alarmed about errors committed by women healers and
midwives, “because most errors are committed by women, who intrude too much in medical matters,” 1. In addition, see Gentilcore,
“Was there a ‘Popular Medicine’?”
57. Mercurio, Errori populari, 265–68.
72 William Eamon

common people even played tricks on the physicians, for example by bringing the urine of an ass
or a horse for diagnosis, pretending it came from a patient.58 Clearly, there was an economic issue
at stake in the moral crusade against popular culture. The nostrums vended in the marketplace
competed with conventional remedies and cut into the physicians’ monopoly over the medical
marketplace. Mercurio regarded “secrets” as charlatanism’s greatest fraud, because they deceived
the public and endangered patients.59 But it was not just the credulous common people who fell
for their frauds. The English physician James Primrose knew a gentleman who paid twenty pounds
for a secret he could have bought from an apothecary for a fraction of that amount.60 Primrose
observed that the empirics often represented common remedies as “great secrets, which they will
reveal to no one.” In reality, Primrose pronounced, “they have nothing that is worthy the name of
a secret.”61 Primrose did not deny the value of secrets; instead, he appropriated them, claiming they
were invented by physicians in the first place.
With Primrose, we seem to have come full circle. Initially, official culture had a monopoly over
the “secrets of nature.” Secrets were valuable because of their rarity. But when empirics appropri-
ated them, published them in books of secrets, and sold them in the piazza, academics turned
around and declared that science abolished the need for secrets. “Those remedies are the best
which are no secrets,” Primrose contended, “but best known, as being confirmed with more cer-
tain experience.”62
Yet even after being incorporated into the “new philosophy,” secrets did not lose their ambiguous
status. If anything, they became more problematic than ever. On the one hand, demonstrations of
rarities and wonders were important resources in expanding the public culture for science.63 But the
danger that experiments might simply bedazzle onlookers instead of enlightening them persisted
into the eighteenth century. The English virtuoso John Evelyn’s account of an experiment with phos-
phorus performed before the Royal Society in 1641 illustrates this danger. The experiment reminded
Evelyn of having witnessed a mountebank in the Piazza Navona in Rome performing tricks with a
phosphorescent ring, “and having by this surprising trick, gotten Company about him, he fell to prat-
ing for the vending of his pretended Remedies.”64 The concern about confusing charlatans and
experimental philosophers was the underlying theme of Thomas Shadwell’s satirical attack on the
Royal Society of London, The Virtuoso (1676).65 In the form of Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, Shadwell’s
caricature of the new philosopher, the charlatan gained entrance to the parlor in order to fool an
upscale audience with his secrets and experiments.
In order to ensure that the virtuosi would not be mistaken for mountebanks, the early Royal
Society restricted its experimental spaces to sober, reliable, and friendly witnesses.66As Steven Shapin
and Simon Schaffer pointed out, the virtuosi had to observe certain social conventions about how

58. Mercurio, Errori populari, 175.

59. Ibid., 267.
60. Primrose, Popular Errours, 18.
61. Ibid., 42–43.
62. Ibid., 44–46.
63. Golinski, “Noble Spectacle.”
64. Evelyn, Diary, 4:253.
65. Shadwell, Virtuoso.
66. On the development of experimental conventions, see Shapin and Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump.
On the Skins of Goats and Sheep 73

knowledge was produced, about what may be questioned and what may not, and about what counts
as evidence. The result was “a public space with restricted access,” that is, a space “restricted to those
who gave their assent to the legitimacy of the game being played within its confines.”67 Another
means by which the Royal Society attempted to reduce the “wonder” of experiments was to insist
that experiments be replicated. Replication, the virtuosi believed, would make experimental “facts”
out of what were commonly perceived as wonders. It would also reinforce the distinction between
the true experimental scientist and the dilettante or charlatan whose concern was merely to exhibit
novelties. As one Fellow of the Royal Society warned, an experimenter “is not to be taken for a maker
of gimbals, nor an observer of Nature for a wonder-monger.”68
Although the new philosophers loudly rejected the tradition of esotericism and upheld the
virtues of open disclosure of scientific knowledge, experimental knowledge in the Royal Society
was never completely open. Nor is it in modern science. Although nature’s secrets are no longer
arcana, they are no less esoteric and privileged. If anything, the secrets of nature are more the
monopoly of an autonomous corporation of specialists now than ever before. In the modern set-
ting, the social function of esotericism has been increasingly performed by the construction of
disciplinary boundaries. Institutionalization may have replaced esotericism in science, but socio-
logically its goals are the same: it is a mechanism for protecting the discipline from external
criticism and from pollution by outsiders. The paradox is that a form of knowledge that is the most
open in principle has become the most closed in practice.

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Secrecy and the Production
of Seignorial Space
The Coretto of Torrechiara

Timothy McCall

hrough mechanisms of secrecy, hiddenness, and revelation, the coretto of Torrechiara castle
(fig. 3.1) conspicuously generated the impression of privilege and piety for its seignorial
patron, Pier Maria Rossi of Parma.1 Displayed today in the Museo d’Arti Applicate of Milan’s
Castello Sforzesco, this remarkably dynamic, even charismatic structure—dating to the 1450s or
’60s and attributed to Arduino da Baiso or, more convincingly, the brothers Lorenzo and Cristoforo
Canozzi da Lendinara—seems originally to have been located in the ground floor chapel of San
Nicomede within Torrechiara just south of Parma.2 The eleven-foot-tall edifice of intarsiated wood is
comprised of polychrome panels bearing Rossi emblems and geometric carvings and is surmounted
by a hexagonal pyramid decorated with intarsia floral designs (see figs. 3.1, 3.9, 3.11). Occupying the
coretto, Pier Maria and perhaps others participated in masses and court rituals from an honored posi-
tion. The imposing coretto would have drawn the immediate attention of viewers and would have

For her generosity and wisdom, I dedicate this essay to Margaret Haines.
1. The coretto (Castello Sforzesco, Museo d’Arti Applicate, Inv. Mobili 926) measures 360 cm x 163 cm x 164 cm. Some scholars
have wondered if the coretto might be a pastiche: Tinti, Il mobilio fiorentino, 71; Colle and Zanuso, Museo d’Arti Applicate, 470. Recent
studies have argued persuasively that the woodwork and metal fastenings date to the fifteenth century, and in the late nineteenth
century Corrado Ricci thought even the polychrome to be original: Ricci, “Il Castello di Torchiara: Cappella di S. Nicomede,” 24;
Bagatin, Le pitture lignee, 122; Salsi, Il mobile italiano, 34. Similarly sophisticated spaces and contraptions in Ferrara and for Torrechiara’s
studiolo (discussed below) provide further evidence of a local, creative team of woodworkers and additional grounds to consider the
coretto genuine. Though Colle and Zanuso (Museo d’Arti Applicate, 467) asserted that the coretto was first published by Corrado Ricci
in the 1890s, a previous reference dates from the 1830s and would seem early for the art market for reconstituted furnishings, which, as
Ellen Callmann has shown, first flourished in the late nineteenth century, and primarily in Florence: Molossi, Vocabolario topografico,
550–51; Callmann, “William Blundell Spence.” The possibility remains, however, that the coretto has been reconfigured or reconstructed
(potentially using components of the studiolo’s portoni, discussed below), or that it has been repainted or heavily restored.
2. Arduino da Baiso (d. 1454) trained the Canozzi brothers and headed the workshop responsible for the Este studioli. For these
workshops, see Quintavalle, Cristoforo da Lendinara; Franceschini, Artisti a Ferrara, passim; Bagatin, Le pitture lignee; Toffanello, Le Arti
a Ferrara, 337–41, 346–48. For the most thorough discussion of the coretto, see Colle and Zanuso, Museo d’Arti Applicate, 467–71.
Additionally, and for wide-ranging attributions, see Tinti, Il mobilio fiorentino, 71; Ragghianti Collobi, La casa italiana, 40; Podestà, “La
casa italiana,” 174; Terni de Gregory, Vecchi mobili italiani, 54–56; Pignatti, Mobili italiani del rinascimento, 73; Camorali, “Gli arredi
della cappella”; Ferrazza, Palazzo Davanzati, 56; Roettgen, Italian Frescoes, 359; Bertelli, King’s Body, 145–47; Bagatin, Le pitture lignee,
122–25; Salsi, Il mobile italiano, 32–34.

Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space 77

FIGURE 3.1. Coretto of Torrechiara, ca. 1460s, Milan, Castello Sforzesco, Civiche Raccolte
d’Arte Applicata.
Photo by author, © Comune di Milano, all rights reserved.
78 Timothy McCall

encouraged active and determined looking within. The structure framed its occupants and magni-
fied their status, and consequently, those located inside the coretto would have been made
increasingly aware of their own privilege and of their separation from the other visitors to the
This essay situates the coretto within Torrechiara’s built and experienced environment, inves-
tigating the mechanics of the coretto’s portals—its door and window—and courtly actors’
movements in and through these spaces, to account for the ways that it facilitated both connec-
tions and exclusions. Considering potential views and sounds from and into the coretto recognizes
the significance of embodied, multisensory phenomena—what Bruce Smith has recently called
“historical phenomenology”—activated by the structure for the few who inhabited it and for the
many who beheld it.3 As scholars have suggested, occupants could have listened to religious func-
tions while hidden within. The coretto, however, animated much more energetic mechanisms of
power and revelation through its spatial activations of secrecy. As my discussion of the coretto’s
operations will establish, those located inside were never completely hidden, but were rather hid-
den to be revealed. Ultimately, this essay interprets the ways that social identities and networks
were constructed through distinction and exclusion and argues that Torrechiara’s dynamic coretto
amplified power, status, and piety through a rhetoric of secrecy.

The Count and His Mistress

Constructed in the 1450s, Torrechiara (fig. 3.2) was one of over thirty castles subject to the Sforza-
allied Pier Maria Rossi who controlled much of the Parmense, and at times Parma itself, from the
late 1440s until his death in 1482. The historiography of Rossi’s substantial art patronage has been
dominated by and filtered through the prevailing interpretation of his most stunning commission,
Torrechiara’s camera d’oro (golden chamber) (figs. 3.3–3.4), a lavish multimedia room with gold
and azurite frescoes depicting Rossi’s aristocratic mistress, Bianca Pellegrini, wandering through
her signore’s territory and performing rituals of courtly love.4 Corrado Ricci’s formative studies
(1894) of the camera d’oro established the amorous relationship between Pier Maria and his mis-
tress as the prevailing interpretive mode for these frescoes and indeed for the entirety of the lord’s
artistic and architectural patronage.5
Largely sharing Ricci’s sentimental, bourgeois notions of family and individual subjectivity,
scholars have followed his lead and have idealized the imagery as reflecting Pier Maria and Bianca’s
ostensibly private, authentic, and monogamous love for each other. The construction of
Torrechiara, called an “eternal, ideal nest of peace and love,” has consistently been connected to a
period of utopian peace—a “happy interval of peace and prosperity…dedicated exclusively to love
and its diverse phenomenologies”—and Rossi’s commissions for the castle, including the coretto,
have been interpreted in predominantly private and personal terms, as art solely for his mistress or

3. Smith, Key of Green, 257.

4. For the camera d’oro, see Woods-Marsden, “Pictorial Legitimation”; Roettgen, Italian Frescoes, 358–73; Coerver, “Donna/
Dono”; Campbell, “Pier Maria Rossi’s Treasure”; McCall, “Networks of Power.”
5. Ricci claimed that Bianca “era Dea del luogo. Tutto era stato fatto per lei”; Ricci, “Il Castello di Torchiara: Cappella di S.
Nicomede,” 24. See also Ricci, “Il Castello di Torchiara: La Sala d’Oro.” The two studies were reprinted together in Ricci, Eroi, Santi, ed
Artisti, 65–81.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  79

FIGURE 3.2. Torrechiara, built 1450s.

Photo by author.

merely celebrating their love.6 These interpretations have been characterized by a concomitant,
and at times moralizing, emphasis on the secret nature of this love, from the early-nineteenth-
century assertion by Lorenzo Molossi—reading quite literally the oxidized silver face of the
pilgrims frescoed on the camera’s ceiling—that Bianca furtively visited her lover in the disguise of
a Christian pilgrim having colored her face to appear as a Moor (see fig. 3.4), to more recent claims
that the camera d’oro celebrated a secret marriage or that Torrechiara was Bianca’s “secret refuge”
or a “secret love nest.”7 Rossi’s chivalric devotion to this aristocratic mistress was hardly a secret
intended to be kept from his subjects or peers, however. Imagery relating to Bianca Pellegrini was
insistently publicized and was deployed to construct a multivalent Bianca: as mistress within
regional political networks, as devout pilgrim, as chivalric damsel, and as watchful peregrine fal-
con. This imagery, moreover, was represented in a wide variety of media, including fresco,
manuscript illumination, medals, and painted and sculpted images on the exterior and throughout
the interior of castles.8 Pier Maria and Bianca’s love was nothing if not an open secret, though per-
haps here the phrase itself might be considered essentially redundant.

6. Mulazzani, “La pittura,” 140; Ghirardini, Presente e passato a Torrechiara, 11. For Torrechiara as “nido d’amore,” see Ceruti
Burgio, Parma rinascimentale, 51; Mendogni, Torrechiara, 8.
7. “Parrebbe che allora l’amata Bianca sotto le vesti di pellegrina, e tinta il volto siccome mora, venisse a ritrovarlo nel castello di
Torchiara”: Molossi, Vocabolario topografico, 550. For the more recent claims, see Quintavalle, “Arte a Torrechiara,” 114; Ciavarella,
“Jacopo Caviceo,” 208–9; Holthaus, “La camera d’oro,” 10–11.
8. For these arguments, see McCall, “Networks of Power,” 120–36. See, additionally, Jean Campbell’s sophisticated discussion of
80 Timothy McCall

FIGURE 3.3. Bembo workshop, Camera d’oro, Torrechiara, late-1450s.

Photo by author with permission of Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali.

Falling back on the dominant narrative explaining Rossi’s art patronage, scholars have approached
the coretto with suspicion. Many claim that Rossi commissioned the structure to provide a secret or
hidden place to pray, assuming that the coretto straightforwardly maintained Pier Maria’s privacy by
separating himself “poco cristianamente” from other worshipers and by providing a place from which
the two lovers could attend mass in “total isolation.”9 This analysis, it should be said, reveals an aware-
ness of the plays of privilege performed by the coretto, even if these interpreters have tended to
moralize such a “scarcely Christian detachment from lesser worshipers,” or Pier Maria and Bianca’s
“guilty love,” made even more reprehensible as it played out under “the view of the saints and of the
Virgin.”10 Following Corrado Ricci’s interpretation of the coretto as a place where Pier Maria (whose
only faith was love for his mistress) and Bianca “substituted kisses for prayers,” art historians have

rhetorics of address and (un)covering in the camera d’oro and her more recent investigations of secrecy: Campbell, “Pier Maria Rossi’s
Treasure”; Campbell, Commonwealth of Nature, 21–59.
9. Tinti, Il mobilio fiorentino, 71; Pignatti, Mobili italiani del rinascimento, 73; Camorali, “Gli arredi della cappella,” 54; Battisti, Cicli
pittorici, storie profane, 78; Cortesi, I castelli dell’Emilia Romagna, 157.
10. Tylney, “An Oratory from Italy”; Ricci, “Il Castello di Torchiara: Cappella di S. Nicomede,” 24.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  81

FIGURE 3.4. Bembo workshop, Ceiling of camera d’oro, Torrechiara, late-1450s.

Photo by author with permission of Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali.

suggested that the coretto was constructed to provide a space for Rossi’s unholy seduction of Bianca
and that it was “probably (used) for love” and was “rather than a secret place for prayer, a refuge of
love.”11 The scandalized superintendent for Lombard artistic monuments, for instance, worried in a
letter to Ricci in 1933 that the hundreds of drinking, singing, and dancing revelers at a recent banquet
“con grande buffet” held at Torrechiara would have assuredly utilized the structure for lascivious
ends and would have “played at Pier Maria Rossi and Bianca Pellegrini” (“giocano al Piermaria Rossi
e alla Bianca Pellegrini”) had the coretto not by that time been sold from the castle.12
Recent publications assert that Torrechiara was an amorous “refuge” and, presuming that mis-
tresses must necessarily be shameful, that the coretto was used to hide Rossi and his mistress from the
rest of the faithful.13 A monograph on the brothers Lorenzo and Cristoforo Canozzi da Lendinara, a

11. Ricci, “Il Castello di Torchiara: Cappella di S. Nicomede,” 24; Ragghianti Collobi, La casa italiana, 40; Podestà, “La casa
italiana,” 174.
12. Balestri, Il colore di Milano, 284. Within a few years of the letter, the superintendent Ettore Modigliani would be transferred to
L’Aquila and shortly thereafter lose his post altogether as Mussolini’s anti-Jewish laws were intensified; Haskell, “Botticelli, Fascism and
Burlington House,” 471. For the eventual sale of the coretto and the castle’s other furnishings, see below note 45.
13. Bagatin, Le pitture lignee, 125; Salsi, Il mobile italiano, 32.
82 Timothy McCall

thorough and authoritative evaluation of the woodworkers and their oeuvre, stumbles over the con-
viction that imagery relating to Bianca Pellegrini indicates that the coretto must have been produced
after the death of Pier Maria’s wife, Antonia Torelli, in 1468, a date the authors have great trouble
reconciling with stylistic evidence.14 The assumption that any visual celebration of Bianca Pellegrini
must postdate Antonia’s death, however, reveals more about modern, bourgeois conventions of
morality than it does about courtly representations of mistresses in fifteenth-century Italy.15
Mistresses were commonly celebrated in visual and literary productions. Many court rulers deployed
representations of mistresses to advertise virile authority and amplify networks of political power.16
Some scholars have written off or apologized for the secret within Rossi’s coretto as essentially shame-
ful and thus having to remain hidden; this study, however, explores the coretto’s secrets through its
operations of invisibility and hiddenness, not in terms of disgrace or embarrassment, but in terms of
power and authority and the meanings generated by acts of revelation.

Spatial Operations of Secrecy

To reframe and better understand the coretto’s functions and operations, it is necessary to avoid natu-
ralizing the divide between public and private as an inevitable binary. As resilient as the Habermasian
public and private spheres have been for modern definitions of family and love, for quattrocento
aristocracy the dichotomized construction of a private or familial sphere and a public and political
one seems much less tenable.17 The “private,” of course, was largely constitutive of political power in
early modern Italy. Power was generative and proliferating rather than proceeding straightforwardly
from the top down. Authority was organized and exercised by robust nuclei of powers assembled
horizontally, diagonally, and vertically.18 The palaces, castles, and other spaces of these clans, factions,
and regimes must not be equated with the enclosed, private dwellings of modern, bourgeois nuclear
families; they are, rather, extensions, symbols, and arenas of rule.
Access to these political, factional spaces (indeed, contact with the prince) was continually and
vigilantly mediated. Space is, of course, not a static container, but rather the relations between things
that reproduce and embody culturally contingent modes of power and social relations and interac-
tions. Spaces are produced through their uses, and allowing or prohibiting access was a potent tool.19
Admittance established boundaries separating insiders and outsiders, constructed social identities
based on access and exclusion, and solidified networks and communities through the formation and
affirmation of power structures.20 The appearance of privacy, secrecy, and privilege is created, as
Brian Massumi and Elizabeth Grosz have argued, by the construction of boundaries that can only be

14. Bagatin, Le pitture lignee, 122–25. Cristoforo da Lendinara was active not far from Torrechiara (in both Modena and Parma)
through the 1460s and into the early ’70s; Toffanello, Le Arti a Ferrara, 346.
15. McCall, “Visual Imagery and Historical Invisibility.”
16. Ettlinger, “Visibilis et Invisibilis”; Coerver, “Donna/Dono”; McCall, “‘Traffic in Mistresses.’”
17. Habermas, Structural Transformation. See now Randolph, Engaging Symbols, 8–12; Wilson and Yachnin, “Introduction”;
Crane, “Illicit Privacy and Outdoor Spaces.”
18. Chittolini, “The ‘Private,’ the ‘Public,’ the State.”
19. Lefebvre, Production of Space.
20. Lochrie, Covert Operations, 61, 96.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  83

actualized by their crossing.21 Thus, the more access, connections, and networks could be mediated
or layered, the greater would be their efficacy.22 As valuable as an audience with the prince no doubt
was, just as important could be the act of making known that one was received. The most ostensibly
intimate spaces of fifteenth-century Italian courts—Rossi’s coretto among them—were never truly
personal or absolutely private or hidden. To be known, they had to be entered into or displayed.
Recent interrogations of secrecy and its operations, moreover, underscore the essential func-
tion of revelation.23 The effectiveness of secrets often exists in their disclosure. It is not the content
of the secret that is most significant, but the process of its revelation. Secrets, of course, require
publics that are differentiated and socially structured. As Karma Lochrie argues, secrecy is “less a
function of individual secrets than of social networks” and of power; secrecy’s efficacy “lies less in
what is kept hidden than in the dynamic between the ‘knows’ and the ‘know-nots.’”24 Exclusion
and distinction are only made possible through boundaries that many recognize but that few are
permitted to cross (or through barriers that create, at minimum, a plausible fiction of restricted
traversal). The coretto was one such boundary, indeed an efficacious and productive one. More
than just hiding the occupants from the chapel’s other worshipers, the coretto of the chapel of San
Nicomede displayed and fashioned piety and social hierarchy by activating mechanics of hidden-
ness, secrecy, and revelation.

Torrechiara and the Chapel of San Nicomede

The interiors of Renaissance castles and palaces were dynamic social arenas in which movement
was assiduously scrutinized. Ground floors, particularly near entrances, courtyards, and porticos,
were relatively, yet emphatically, open to and traversed by multiple, well-regulated publics.25 As
Evelyn Welch has shown through a perceptive reading of Andrea Mantegna’s contemporary depic-
tion of the armed guards mediating access to Ludovico Gonzaga and his court in the Camera Picta
in Mantua (see figs. 2–3 in “Introduction”), visitors to fifteenth-century seignorial spaces were
visibly watched and their progress and access were conspicuously mediated.26 Guards and uscieri
were strategically positioned for surveillance at stairways and gates and controlled the flow of visi-
tors and subjects, and indeed Rossi’s contemporaries would have had to pass through no fewer
than five gates to reach Torrechiara’s courtyard. In the late quattrocento, the Rossi ambassador
Jacopo Caviceo described the circuitous route into Torrechiara, writing of a journey through six
porte and at least five walls, through gardens, past fountains, fishing ponds, deep moats, cisterns,
stables, and the castle’s armory before reaching the seventh door marked with the inscription of

21. Massumi, “Everywhere You Want to Be,” 27; Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, 65.
22. For access and intimacy structured through the revelation of English portrait miniatures, see Fumerton, Cultural Aesthetics,
67–77. Also useful is Michael Warner’s investigation of the interplay between modern public and private discourses; Warner, Publics
and Counterpublics.
23. See this volume’s introduction, in addition to Bok, Secrets; Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature; Lochrie, Covert Operations;
Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship.
24. Lochrie, Covert Operations, 93.
25. Kent, “Palaces, Politics and Society”; Welch, Art and Authority, 203–20; Preyer, “Planning for Visitors.”
26. Welch, “Painting as Performance,” 22.
84 Timothy McCall

foundation and a marble statue of Pier Maria Rossi.27 Though Caviceo may have exaggerated his
description, Torrechiara retains a remarkable sense of this zigzagging, circuitous route through
three imposing porte: the rivellino, the long, covered passage adjacent to the parish church of San
Lorenzo, and the final gate bearing the castle’s inscription. Once through this entrance (perhaps
the seventh then, but the third today due to the destruction of walls), one reaches the castle’s
courtyard and the chapel of San Nicomede (fig. 3.5), but only after surmounting an additional
ramp and set of stairs and passing through yet another door.
Moving into the courtyard, a visitor might enter or look into San Nicomede through the chapel’s
massive wooden doors.28 Saint Nicomede, who appears in Benedetto Bembo’s altarpiece for the
chapel (fig. 3.6), had been venerated in and around Parma for centuries. Believed to be a first-century
priest, Nicomede was put to death for renouncing idols and ministering to Saint Peter’s apocryphal
daughter Petronilla. The cult of Saint Nicomede seems to have been particularly fervent in the region,
and by the tenth century a church at Fontanabroccola and an altar in Parma Cathedral were dedi-
cated to the saint.29 The importance of the chapel to Pier Maria Rossi is suggested by the fact that his
will of 1464 prescribed perpetual masses to be said there for the sake of his soul and for that of Bianca
Pellegrini by the Franciscans of nearby Felino. Because numerous period sources record that Pier
Maria died at Torrechiara and one fifteenth-century voice specifically claims that he was buried in the
chapel of San Nicomede, it seems likely that Rossi and perhaps his wife, Antonia Torelli, and/or his
mistress, Bianca Pellegrini, were indeed buried there.30
As I have suggested, the many guarded gates, walls, courtyards, and doors of early modern
castles and palaces created a carefully controlled and layered arena of access and privilege, produc-
ing and visualizing distinction through insiders and outsiders whose traffic was constantly watched
and judged. But these surveyed subjects did indeed move through the outer and lower spaces of
Rossi’s castles, which functioned as centers of administration, trade, justice, protection, and in the
case of the chapel of San Nicomede, religious devotion. Documents demonstrate that this ground-
floor chapel served the community of the borgo or town of Torrechiara located within the castle’s
outermost wall. The Rossi were obliged to provide the chapel with the liturgical garments and
furnishings necessary for the “decent and honorable celebration of the mass” and were granted,
from the bishop of Parma, rights of patronage (ius patronatus) over the chapel, including the nomi-
nation of priests, who would then have to be approved by the bishop.31 Because two churches
associated with Pier Maria Rossi stood in the immediate vicinity of Torrechiara but beyond the
castle’s inner walls (the Badia of Santa Maria della Neve along the nearby Parma River and the
borgo’s church of San Lorenzo), some scholars have assumed that the chapel of San Nicomede

27. Caviceo, Vita Petrimariae de Rubeis, 4v. For the lost marble statue, see McCall, “Networks of Power,” 88–89.
28. The chapel is a square room surmounted by a tall, vaulted ceiling; the frescoes of the ceiling and upper walls of the chapel date
to the seventeenth century, after the chapel had been divided into two floors. This later ceiling has since been removed, and today’s
visitor experiences the chapel’s original height; di Giovanni Madruzza, “L’architettura,” 107.
29. Affò, Storia, 1:188; Pettorelli, “La chiesa di San Nicomede.” For Petronilla, see Steinberg, “Guercino’s Saint Petronilla.”
30. Cronica gestorum, 114; Pezzana, Storia, 4:300. One sixteenth-century source claimed that Antonia Torelli was buried in San
Nicomede; Sansovino, Della origine. Rossi’s will of January 1464 (Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Fondo Casapini, Cass. 28, fasc. 12, cart.
6) stipulated that Bianca and her son Ottaviano would be buried in the chapel, though scholars disagree about who was eventually
buried there.
31. Pelicelli and Testi, Memorie intorno all’oratorio, 6–9. For the legal concept of ius patronatus, see Burke, Changing Patrons,
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  85

FIGURE 3.5. Chapel of San Nicomede, Torrechiara.

Photo by author with permission of Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali.

FIGURE 3.6. Benedetto Bembo, Polyptych of San Nicomede (Madonna and Child with Saints
Anthony Abbot, Nicomede, Catherine of Alexandria, and Peter Martyr), signed and dated 1462, oil
and gold on wood, Milan, Castello Sforzesco, Pinacoteca del Castello.
Photo by author, © Comune di Milano, all rights reserved.
86 Timothy McCall

served only the Rossi family.32 However, Laudedeo Testi and Nestore Pelicelli convincingly dem-
onstrated that the cortile was not a domestic, private space and that citizens of Torrechiara’s borgo
would have regularly visited the chapel of San Nicomede.33 Masses were performed, in fact, for
Torrechiara’s community until the early twentieth century, and Testi and Pelicelli rightly pointed
out that no more than one door would have been necessary if this castle was a private and enclosed
residence and the chapel was a private ecclesiastical space for the Rossi.34 San Nicomede, even
located as it was five walls and seven doors within Torrechiara, was founded with the authority of
the bishop and remained the shared jurisdiction of the bishop of Parma and the Rossi.35
These spaces were sites of struggle between powerful dynasties and institutions, and of course
even the labels “private” and “domestic” often given to chapels in seignorial palaces and villas
hardly align with modern conceptions of those terms. Pier Maria Rossi, moreover, had fraught
relationships with a number of Parma’s bishops and many disputes over access to cults, benefices,
and, in particular, the town’s episcopal palace, which Rossi argued that his fourteenth-century
bishop ancestor Ugolino had left to the dynasty, at least in times of episcopal vacancy. Disputes
with Delfino della Pergola, who sued Rossi over control of castles and canals, escalated to the
point that Rossi had one of the bishop’s messengers assaulted and left for dead after leaving
Torrechiara.36 Pier Maria additionally arranged for the monastery of San Giovanni Evangelista in
Parma, controlled by Rossi family members and partisans, to refuse to allow the bishop’s represen-
tatives to perform their pastoral visit in 1452, even though the church is located immediately
behind Parma’s Duomo.37 The bishop, for his part, threatened the rights of Rossi partisan priests
and eventually took his case to Rome, where it was decided in Rossi’s favor.38 Authority over lucra-
tive ecclesiastical benefices, even those located within ostensibly familial residences, was always
mediated and contingent. Not only do the many walls and gates of Torrechiara betray the pene-
trated and layered access within the castle, but the coretto within the chapel of San Nicomede
reveals multiple, overlapping publics.
Rossi’s familiari, parenti, clienti, and sudditi would have encountered numerous lavish, expen-
sive furnishings within the chapel of San Nicomede. Benedetto Bembo’s Madonna and Child
polyptych (see fig. 3.6), still enclosed within the original frame possibly produced by the same
artisans who crafted the coretto, manifests Rossi’s magnificent piety and dynastic devotions.39 The

32. Additionally, the chapel of Santa Caterina, located above the passage leading from the rivellino, probably served Torrechiara’s
castellan and soldiers. For Santa Caterina and San Lorenzo, see McCall, “Networks of Power,” 97–99. For the Badia (which was built in
the early 1470s and likely after the coretto was in place), see Galletti, “Erezione dell’abbazia”; Tonelli and Zilocchi, L’Abbazia Benedettina.
33. The recent sale of the furnishings spurred the scholars who argued that the sale by the private owners of the castle had been
illegal since the chapel remained under the jurisdiction of Parma’s bishop.
34. Pelicelli and Testi, Memorie intorno all’oratorio, 9; Galletti, “Chiesa e religione,” 190.
35. Pelicelli and Testi, Memorie intorno all’oratorio, 6–9, 22–26.
36. For the dispute over Parma’s episcopal palace, see Pezzana, Storia, 2:643; 3:239; Allodi, Serie cronologica dei vescovi, 1:660,
768–70. For the structure more generally, see Marina, Italian Piazza Transformed, 26, 41–44, 49. For Rossi’s discord with Parma’s
bishops, see McCall, “Networks of Power,” 18, 231–33.
37. Pezzana, Storia, 2:643; 3:83, 90; Allodi, Serie cronologica dei vescovi, 1:702–67; Battioni, “La diocesi parmense,” 150.
38. For the bishop’s threats, see Gentile, Terra e poteri, 118–19. The importance to the Rossi family of the decision in 1452 by the
jurist Martino Garati da Lodi in Pier Maria’s favor is attested to by its many copies—both contemporary manuscript documents and
later printed sheets with woodcut images of warriors on horseback—surviving today in Parma’s archives; Archivio di Stato di Parma,
Feudi e comunità, Rossi, 206.
39. The altarpiece is now in the Castello Sforzesco’s Pinacoteca; Tanzi, “Benedetto Bembo.” For a photograph in situ, see Capelli,
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  87

terracotta niche to the right of the main altar (see fig. 3.5) could have encouraged individual piety
or served in the chapel’s liturgy. The niche may well have contained a frescoed imago pietatis, an
iconography to which Rossi seems to have been particularly devoted, similar to those surviving in
the Valeri chapel at Parma Cathedral or the parish church of Sant’Ilario Baganza.40 Even with
Bembo’s gilded polyptych dominating the altar, however, for many viewers the most conspicuous
of Rossi’s commissions within the chapel of San Nicomede would have been the massive coretto.

The Coretto and Similar Structures

The coretto’s lack of a precise, immediately discernible function is betrayed by the fact that it has
been variously labeled by scholars, typically as coretto (small choir), though alternatively as tri-
buna, tribunetta, inginocchiatoio, cabina, garitta, and bussola.41 The closest surviving parallel,
chronologically and geographically at least, may be Federico da Montefeltro’s alcove in Urbino’s
Palazzo Ducale, though exactly what form that reassembled object originally took is far from
clear.42 Other potentially analogous spaces include prince’s boxes from which royalty participated
in masses; raised, enclosed, and often grilled viewing spaces such as that constructed in Roger II’s
Palatine Chapel in Palermo or the many deployed throughout Europe to separate nuns or noble
women from the presence of men; the space of the Lateran Sancta Santorum or that built for Piero
de’ Medici at Santissima Annunziata; or Islamic maqsuras. To my mind none of these putative
parallels can be considered direct sources for the coretto. What they share with Rossi’s coretto, how-
ever, is that many operate in comparable ways, by enacting spatial rhetorics of secrecy, hiddenness,
and revelation to frame and enhance the status and power of their occupants visually.
The coretto has been considered very much sui generis, at least in fifteenth-century Italy.43 The
closest extant derivation of this coretto is, in fact, an early-twentieth-century fake crafted by the
Paduan artisan and restorer Edgardo Minozzi, active in Parma from 1910 (fig. 3.7).44 The produc-
tion of this counterfeit coretto in 1912 was encouraged by the profitable sale of the genuine item
from Torrechiara two years prior and was likewise inspired by the celebrated reimagination of the
camera d’oro by a group of Parmense artisans and scholars for Emilia-Romagna’s pavilion in the
Roman Ethnographic Exhibition of 1911. This reconstruction patriotically celebrated the fiftieth

“Vicende storiche e architettoniche,” 88. For the frame, see Colle and Zanuso, Museo d’Arti Applicate, 414.
40. The studiolo of Torrechiara contained a similar image. For devotion to the imago pietatis and the fresco at Sant’Ilario Baganza,
see Zanichelli, I conti e il minio, 68; McCall, “Networks of Power,” 77–79.
41. These terms can be translated, more or less, as tribune, small tribune, kneeler, kiosk, sentry-box, and cabin. For “tribuna,” see
Camorali, “Gli arredi della cappella.” For “tribunetta,” see Roettgen, Italian Frescoes, 359. For “bussola,” see Ragghianti Collobi, La casa
italiana, 44. For “inginocchiatoio,” see Molossi, Vocabolario topografico, 550–51. For “cabina privata,” see Terni de Gregory, Vecchi mobili
italiani, 54. For “garitta,” see Balestri, Il colore di Milano, 357.
42. Like the coretto, the Urbino alcove seems to have been set in place so that the room’s wall served as one of the structure’s walls;
dal Poggetto, La Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, 60–61; Binaghi, “I Mobili della Corte Milanese,” 167. Sergio Bertelli suggested that the
coretto might be a holdover from a category of imperial Byzantine tribune (prokypsis), such as that represented on Theodosius’s base for
the obelisk of Thutmosis III in the Hippodrome of Constantinople; Bertelli, King’s Body, 145–47. The differences between the uses and
locations of the respective structures are immense, however.
43. The amount of intarsia work that has been lost over time, particularly in studioli, and even the fact that the Urbino alcove also
has been called recently “esempio assolutamente unico nel suo genere” (dal Poggetto, La Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, 60), might
suggest caution with definitive declarations regarding any structure’s uniqueness.
44. Althöfer, Fälschung und Forschung, 86–87; Colle, “Un coretto parmense.”
88 Timothy McCall

FIGURE 3.7. Edgardo Minozzi, Coretto, ca. 1912.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  89

anniversary of Italian Unification and, following the Italian press’s effusive praise for the reconsti-
tuted room, brought Torrechiara to the attention of all of Italy.45 Though Minozzi based his coretto
on Torrechiara’s, the artisan utilized a rather free mix and match of imagery, with a large figure of
St. George adapted from St. Eustace of Albrecht Dürer’s early-sixteenth-century Paumgartner
altarpiece (fig. 3.8). For decades this geographically and chronologically inconsistent imagery
confused scholars.46 Minozzi’s coretto was sold to an English collector in 1913, passed to the
London antiquarians Crowther and Son, and finally entered the collection of the Victoria and
Albert Museum where it was eventually recognized as a modern fabrication.47
As singular as the coretto seems at first glance, however, documentary evidence from Milan and
Ferrara and the remnants of additional intarsia at Torrechiara suggest that mid-fifteenth-century arti-
sans produced similar structures for Northern Italian courts. In the late 1460s, Galeazzo Maria Sforza
ordered from the Cremonese woodworker Bartolomeo Stramiti a “camera de asse” (“room of
planks”) that could be dismantled and transported between the lord’s various residences.48 Possibly
enclosing a bed of some sort, this moveable and versatile furnishing would have served multiple pur-
poses potentially analogous to those of the coretto. The Canozzi intarsia workers, “Christofori et
Laurentii fratrum intaliatorum lignaminis”—to whom the coretto has been most recently attrib-
uted—were employed at both Ferrara and Parma, moreover, and perhaps should be considered
responsible for a number of sophisticated wooden constructions that functioned through dynamics
of the concealment and revelation of interior inhabitants and spaces.49 A wooden “oratorio,” for
instance, was constructed for duchess Eleanora of Aragon within the choir of the Augustinian con-
vent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, though the document, like that referring to Stramiti’s camera delle
asse, is unsurprisingly vague about the structure’s precise configuration.50
A potential parallel to Rossi’s coretto might have been the “busolla” for the chapel of Ferrara’s
Palazzo del Corte located, much like Torrechiara’s San Nicomede, immediately adjacent to a major
courtyard. In 1471, the painter Gerardo Costa was commissioned by Ercole d’Este to paint the
interior of this bussola green. Though “busolla” in this case has been translated as the chapel’s
“inner door,” documentary evidence seems to suggest that the duke conspicuously listened to the

45. Objects produced for the exhibition were inspired by the coretto: Romagnoli, “Romanticismo, medievalismo, e castelli
rossiani,” 188. For the sale of the coretto, polyptych, and the chapel’s cassapanca, see Pelicelli and Testi, Memorie intorno all’oratorio,
27–29, 36; Camorali, “Gli arredi della cappella”; Ciavarella, “L’espropriazione del castello di Torrechiara”; Ferrazza, Palazzo Davanzati,
114, 139; Colle and Zanuso, Museo d’Arti Applicate, 468–70. I will explore these issues in greater depth in a forthcoming article
investigating Parma’s entry in the exhibition (“The New Nation’s Neo Renaissance: The camera d’oro of the Roman Exhibition of 1911
and the Sale of Torrechiara’s Quattrocento Furnishings”). See, additionally, Romagnoli, “Romanticismo, medievalismo, e castelli
46. For the coretto in London considered Renaissance, see Tylney, “Oratory from Italy”; Thorpe, “Oratory in Intarsia”; Terni de
Gregory, Vecchi mobili italiani, 54; Pignatti, Mobili italiani del rinascimento, 73; Battisti, Cicli pittorici, storie profane, 78.
47. Commissioned by the Brasi brothers—prominent antiquarians in Parma with a shop in Piazza Duomo—the coretto was
executed by Minozzi in 1912 and sold the following year to Lady Aberconway; it then passed to the London antiquarians Crowther and
Son and from there to the Victoria and Albert Museum: Baker, “Noble Works or Base Deceptions?,” 385; Colle, “Un coretto parmense.”
48. For this structure and other potentially mobile Milanese sale delle asse (antecedents to Leonardo da Vinci’s fixed sala for
Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d’Este), see Binaghi, “I Mobili della Corte Milanese,” 166–67. For contemporary intarsiated structures
for Milan’s Duomo, see Albertario, “Marmo, legno e terracotta,” 27–28.
49. See above note 2 for the Canozzi; they are identified thus in a Ferrarese document of 1454 regarding work in the studiolo of
Belfiore and published in Franceschini, Artisti a Ferrara, 2:431.
50. Tuohy, Herculean Ferrara, 373.
90 Timothy McCall

FIGURE 3.8. Albrecht Dürer, Saint

Eustace, detail from Paumgartner
Altarpiece, ca. 1503, oil on wood,
Munich, Alte Pinakothek.
Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  91

mass from within the structure.51 Bussola today indicates the wooden boxlike constructions at the
entrances to Italian churches that protect the interior from outside noise and weather, but that also
serve to prepare the visitor to enter a sacred space; of course, Torrechiara’s coretto would have
served as a transitional structure and would have protected the body in similar ways, from the
perspective of anyone entering San Nicomede through it.52 That bussola refers to an enclosed
space in fifteenth-century courts, moreover, is further suggested by the fact that the Sforza chan-
cellor Cicco Simonetta, guarded by dozens of armed and mounted men, was transported from
Milan to Pavia in a “carretta da bussola” shortly before being executed on Ludovico il Moro’s
order.53 It is additionally worth pointing out that the green interior of Ercole d’Este’s bussola would
have been considered by the prince and his contemporaries a particularly appropriate or decorous
place for prayer and contemplation, as green (terra verde) commonly decorated studies and librar-
ies in fifteenth-century Italy.54
The built environment of Ercole’s chapel constructed within the ducal stables indicates that
the Este and their artisans had a sophisticated understanding of the rhetorics of secrecy, space, and
privilege deployed by this manner of structure. This chapel was built in the early 1470s to enshrine
a Madonna on paper that had been placed on a post by a stable hand and had attracted a lively cult
soon after exercising its power and volition by performing miracles. Ercole’s transformation of a
portion of the stables into a lavishly decorated chapel can be read as one facet of the duke’s con-
sciously Herculean self-fashioning in which he is here presented as a Christian Hercules cleaning
up the Augean stables, though in this case to honor Mary and Christ rather than appease Hera and
Eurystheus.55 The dukes and important guests would have viewed the mass separated from the
Madonna’s other devotees within this chapel, however, from behind the grilled windows of a bal-
cony. This space was suggestively referred to as a “via segreta,” and documents reveal that it was
outfitted with furnishings from the court’s tapestry workshop on special occasions.56 From this
“secret” though by necessity only partially covered space, plays of access, (in)visibility, piety, and
distinction would have engaged visitors to the chapel, as they did at Torrechiara. Indeed, the space
was located immediately above a wall of ex-votos, which of course manifested devotion to the
image and amplified both Mary’s prestige and that of the aristocratic sponsors potentially seated
above and hidden within.
Even within the context of works commissioned by Pier Maria Rossi to outfit Torrechiara, the
coretto of San Nicomede seems not to have been entirely unique. Inventive woodworkers and carv-
ers produced a second ingenious intarsiated structure for the castle, one that likewise imaginatively
played on rhetorics of secrecy and revelation: the studiolo (study) in the southeast corner of the
camera d’oro, originally covered by large, fold-out, intarsiated wings (portoni) that survived well
into the eighteenth century (studiolo visible in fig. 3.3). All that remains of this sophisticated

51. Tuohy, Herculean Ferrara, 90: “Gerardo Costa. Item, per avere dà de verde a una busolla nova in la Gisiolla del N. S. ala
Fontana, donde sta a oldire messa sua Ex.” It is not entirely clear if this suggests that Ercole heard the mass within the bussola or merely
within this particular chapel, though the former seems more likely.
52. For further on bussole, see Haines, “Sacrestia delle Messe,” 220–21; Frugoni, Medioevo sul naso, 142.
53. Simonetta, Rinascimento Segreto, 161.
54. Scudieri and Ciliberto, “Un’ipotesi per il verde”; McCall, “Networks of Power,” 69–70; Smith, Key of Green.
55. For Ercole’s Herculean imagery, see Ferrari, “La corte degli dei”; Matarrese, “Il mito di Ercole a Ferrara.”
56. Tuohy, Herculean Ferrara, 92–94.
92 Timothy McCall

construction, however, are four uomini famosi (illustrious men), intarsia panels adjacent to the
exposed frescoes, and a broken hinge from what once was a fold-down wooden platform fit within
a rectangular recess and used for writing, reading, and display.57 When the original portoni were
swung open, the study would have revealed numerous terra verde uomini on both the wall and
wings, a devotional image (apparently an imago pietatis), a Christological inscription, and the stu-
diolo’s reading surface.58 Though the quattrocento studiolo, epitomized by Federico da Montefeltro’s
example at Urbino, has come to exemplify the quintessential location for courtly cultivation of
secular, Renaissance knowledge, the devotional inscription and image of Torrechiara’s studiolo,
together with a documentary reference to this space as a “studiolo oratorio,” suggests that this terra
verde study was intended for both sacred and profane contemplation.59 The space’s original struc-
ture and its operations, moreover, dramatically activated secrecy and revelation. The studiolo could
be opened and revealed to Rossi’s visitors or, because intarsia paneling set the space out from the
rest of the room’s walls covered with (originally polychrome) terracotta tiles, it could be closed,
flat against the wall, and conspicuously unavailable to them. Through the deployment of each of
these intarsia constructions, the built environment was carefully crafted to manage admittance
and revelation and thus to amplify prestige and authority.
A closer examination of the coretto’s original placement within the chapel of San Nicomede—
ropes are hung on the walls in the chapel today to suggest this position—demonstrates the ways
that Rossi’s coretto both reveals and generates distinct publics (see fig. 3.5). Though most photo-
graphic reproductions of the coretto (as in fig. 3.1) might lead one to believe that the structure is
entirely enclosed, only two of its sides, those intended to face outward into the chapel, are built,
wooden constructions, which clearly suggests that the coretto was intended for the corner of a
room. The two sides placed against the chapel’s east and north walls are open or nonexistent.
Perhaps it is most accurate to describe the coretto as essentially two surfaces set at a ninety-degree
angle to form an enclosed space when set into the chapel’s corner. Similarly, only the three front-
facing surfaces of the hexagonal structure above are decorated with intarsia floral vases; the three
sides not facing outward are unarticulated planks of wood. A door through the chapel’s north wall
(visible to the left in fig. 3.5) directly connected the coretto to an adjacent room (and the ground-
floor rooms of one of the castle’s corner towers) and allowed the structure’s occupants to enter and
exit without being seen by visitors to the chapel. This door, significantly, was entirely occluded
behind the taller and wider coretto.
The coretto is ornamented with registers and borders of assorted patterns of intarsia toppi,
blocks of wood prefabricated and sliced to create varying decorative motifs.60 The most prominent
decorative components of the coretto, however, are the twenty-four panels—twelve on each of the
two façades originally displayed to worshipers—comprised of carved tracery placed over back-
grounds of painted wood (see figs. 3.1, 3.9). The foreground patterns are in some cases gilded or

57. Affò, “Descrizione della celebre stanza di Torchiara”; Holthaus, “La camera d’oro”; McCall, “Networks of Power,” 64–85. For
the studiolo in Renaissance Italy more generally, see Liebenwein, Studiolo; Campbell, Cabinet of Eros.
58. Ireneo Affò in the late eighteenth century described “dipinto a colori al naturale in picciolo quadretto a fresco un Ecce Homo”;
Affò, “Descrizione della celebre stanza di Torchiara,” 61.
59. Milan, Archivio di Stato, Autografi 102, Pittori S-Z, Francesco Tacconi, 7 November, 1475. I develop this argument in greater
detail in a forthcoming article on Torrechiara’s “studiolo oratorio.”
60. For toppi, see Haines, “Sacrestia delle Messe,” 56, 86–87.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  93

FIGURE 3.9. Rossi heart emblem,

detail of Coretto of Torrechiara
(fig. 3.1), 1460s, Milan, Castello
Sforzesco, Civiche Raccolte d’Arte
Photo by author, © Comune di
Milano, all rights reserved.

painted (vibrant polychrome primarily of blue, green, and red), and they alternate between geo-
metric patterns and Rossi emblems. Indeed, fifteenth-century intarsia seems to have been more
brightly colored than it often seems today. Arduino da Baiso, for instance, in 1443 received pay-
ment for pigments for testing azurite on the intarsia armadio for the sacristy of Ferrara Cathedral,
and wood, either naturally cultivated with green fungus or stained or painted, might also appear
green in studioli and similar spaces.61 The tracery and bright colors of Torrechiara’s coretto might
have invoked the vibrancy of stained glass for some viewers, and the red and blues certainly
enriched the magnificent structure. These intense colors align with the rich decoration associated
with Arduino da Baiso’s production, while the geometric designs recall the style of the early
Lendinara. Stylistically, the late gothic geometric tracery of the wooden square panels also closely
resembles midcentury Lombard woodwork, notably that of a door originally from the church of
San Maurizio at Ponte in Valtellina.62
Two emblems of the Rossi are displayed within the coretto’s panels: a crowned heart (accompa-
nied by the inscription “digne et in eternum”) and the rampant lion, in two instances supported by
putti.63 The heart imaginatively and poetically figures Pier Maria’s love for Bianca Pellegrini, who was
portrayed publicly and multivalently for numerous, overlapping audiences throughout Rossi’s realm.
These insignia, however, were not simple, static indices or reflections of Pier Maria’s authentic feel-

61. For Ferrara Cathedral: “Item die 8 mensis octobris expendi in media uncia azuri causa videndi experientiam quadrorum
armariorum”; Franceschini, Artisti a Ferrara, 1:233. For Arduino’s ornate and brilliantly colored blue and gold wooden canopies
commissioned by Palla Strozzi for the vestry of Santa Trinita in Florence, see Haines, “Sacrestia delle Messe,” 29. For green wood and
studioli, see above note 54 and Blanchette, Wilmering, and Baumeister, “Use of Green-Stained Wood.”
62. Legni Sacri e Preziosi, 108–9.
63. The west-facing side displays two panels depicting putti supporting the Rossi rampant lion, an additional shield with this
heraldic device without putti, three panels with crowned hearts bearing the inscription “digne et in eternum,” and six with unique
geometric designs. The south façade is also comprised of six distinct decorative panels: three crowned hearts and three rampant lions.
94 Timothy McCall

FIGURE 3.10. Rossi heart emblem, tomb

of Pietro Rossi, now on the exterior of
Sant’Antonio Abate, Parma, 1430s.
Photo by author.

ings for his mistress, but were, rather, dynamic images manifesting Rossi dynastic authority.64 These
emblems were adapted in various contexts, were visualized in a wide variety of media and in an
expansive geographical venue, and were deployed by several generations of Rossi patrons. While the
heart (see fig. 3.9), for instance, has been interpreted exclusively in relation to Pier Maria’s private
love for Bianca, this device decorated Rossi ecclesiastical spaces as far away as Ravenna and Berceto
(in the Apennines, towards Genoa and Lucca), was frescoed on the exterior of Rossi castles, and had
ostentatiously marked Pier Maria’s father’s burial monument as a grim relic celebrating the death of
his most bitter enemy, Ottobuono Terzi, whose heart had been interred in the elder Rossi’s tomb (fig.
3.10).65 The intarsia panels of the coretto can thus be interpreted as veils scarcely covering secrets,
drawing attention to and overtly revealing Pier Maria Rossi’s ostensibly hidden love for his mistress.66
Visitors to the chapel, in fact, would have derived satisfaction and pleasure from being in the know,
from being able to understand these emblems (which were, after all, omnipresent for Rossi’s sub-
jects), and from being let in on their lord’s most intimate secrets.
Moving from the conspicuous dynastic imagery on the exterior to the coretto’s less immedi-
ately visible portals and fastenings reveals the ways that operations of visibility and hiddenness

64. McCall, “Networks of Power,” 120–36.

65. Maddalena Rossi, tradition holds, ate a portion of Terzi’s heart and fed the rest to dogs; Gentile, “Alla Periferia di uno Stato,”
225; McCall, “Networks of Power,” 129–32. Inscriptions from Pietro Rossi’s tomb are located on the exterior of Sant’Antonio Abate in
Parma, though the tomb and lavishly decorated chapel were later destroyed; Mendogni, Sant’Antonio Abate, 26; McCall, “Networks of
Power,” 129–32. Ottobuono’s head, moreover, seems to have been displayed at the Rossi castle of Felino for decades; Somaini, “Una
storia spezzata,” 126.
66. Similarly, Lorenzo Lotto’s intarsia panels both concealed and revealed (exegetical) meaning and knowledge within the choir
of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo; Galis, “Concealed Wisdom.” For veiling and unveiling, see also the essay by Patricia Simons in
the present volume.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  95

could be manipulated from the inside, and the ways that secrecy could be made to function. Both
outward-facing façades were constructed with apertures that could be locked only from within
(see figs. 3.1, 3.11). The west side has a large door—nearly as tall as the main body of the entire
coretto and comprised of eight of the side’s twelve intarsia panels—with an interior handle, sliding
bolt, and three long, metal hinges artfully decorated at each end (fig. 3.11). When closed, this door
disappears into the surface of the coretto, from the exterior at least. Unless one had already seen the
door put to use or had inspected it quite closely, the average visitor to the chapel might not realize
that the coretto could open thus.
The south side of the coretto faced the chapel’s altar and was outfitted with a folding window
equipped with a small ledge (mensola). The mensola is decorated with borders of intarsia toppi pat-
terns on its narrow sides and upward-facing surface, both inside and outside the coretto. The
pilgrim staff with hanging wallets associated with the peregrine imagery of Rossi’s mistress, Bianca
Pellegrini, and the abbreviation of Rossi’s most commonly advertised noble title, CO[MES]
B[ERCETI] (Count of Berceto), are intricately carved on the top surface of the ledge.67 From the
exterior, this side of the coretto would also most likely seem, at first glance, to be a solid wall. Its
inhabitant, however, would know that the folding window is outfitted with strong and sturdy bolts
and with fanciful hinges (see fig. 3.11). Two sections of the window fold outwards, together, while
a third opens by turning away from those two. When entirely agape, most of the width of this side
of the coretto would be revealed above the ledge. The panels could be easily maneuvered to manip-
ulate the width of the opening, however, and the widow could be securely closed by two different
bolts, one latching together the window’s flexible components and another securing the window
panels to the coretto’s solid and stable framework.

The Coretto’s Operations of Secrecy

A less cynical or moralizing view than that typically offered to account for the coretto’s use (that
this was a secret space for lovemaking or the hidden—almost sacrilegious—confines of an arro-
gant lord), better frames an understanding of the object’s historical function and effects and is
more closely attuned to the mechanisms of secrecy and revelation enacted by it. The passage into
the structure from unseen ground-floor rooms just beyond the chapel facilitated movement to and
from the castle’s piano nobile through the adjoining tower’s embedded staircase. As this volume’s
contribution from the late Henry Dietrich Fernández discusses, hidden staircases and secret pas-
sages were common features of Renaissance palaces and castles that permitted princes to operate
unseen and to observe others unnoticed. Indeed, the staircase beyond the coretto was just one
aspect of Torrechiara’s system of hidden passages; the studiolo had its own secret staircase, decep-
tively hidden behind the study’s intarsia paneling, but no doubt on occasion revealed, and utilized,
to accentuate privileged access.68 The coretto thus allowed for unseen and dramatic entrances and
appearances and alerted the chapel’s visitors to the prominence of its occupants.

67. The initials PM, moreover, are carved into the base of one of the vases represented on the upper part of the coretto. For Rossi
peregrine traditions and imagery, see Gentile, “Un itinerario devozionale”; McCall, “Networks of Power,” 109–51.
68. The stairway is now enclosed, though it may have functioned as late as the eighteenth century because Ireneo Affò twice referred
to this door and stairway: “una picciola scala a chiocciola” and “scaletta a chiocciola”; Affò, “Descrizione della celebre stanza di Torchiara,”
fols. 188–90. See also, Quintavalle, I castelli del Parmense, 169; Roettgen, Italian Frescoes, 362. Oratories were placed between a room and
96 Timothy McCall

FIGURE 3.11. Interior, Coretto of Torrechiara (fig. 3.1), 1460s, Milan,

Castello Sforzesco, Civiche Raccolte d’Arte Applicata.
Photo by author, © Comune di Milano, all rights reserved.

The hidden door and staircase behind the coretto, moreover, allowed opportune escapes, for
both convenience and protection. Such a barrier providing a potential escape route would have
been exceptionally valuable in a time when assassinations took place inside churches, as the vio-
lent fates met by Pier Maria’s allies Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Giuliano de’ Medici, less than a year
and a half apart in the late 1470s, both demonstrate.69 Though the coretto’s thin wood is hardly
impenetrable, even a short delay against conspirators coming at the prince with weapons or brute

narrow staircase in palaces owned by the Medici and Sassetti; Lillie, “Patronage of Villa Chapels and Oratories,” 29.
69. For violent threats against Pier Maria, from his own sons, see McCall, “Pier Maria’s Legacy,” 36–38. For assassinations in
fifteenth-century Italy, see Villard, Du Bien Commun au Mal Nécessaire.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  97

force would have allowed Rossi to abscond to Torrechiara’s more secure environs. Strategic stair-
cases like the one immediately behind San Nicomede and accessible from the coretto, moreover,
usefully served signori in critical situations. Holed up in the Sacrestia delle Messe with Lorenzo de’
Medici and men loyal to the Medici following the violent attack on il Magnifico and his brother
Giuliano, Sigismondo della Stuffa scaled a spiral staircase to reach a vantage from which to look
out into the Duomo and determine whether it was safe to open the sacristy’s large bronze doors
and to hurry the wounded Lorenzo to the nearby Palazzo Medici.70
As mentioned above, both the door and window of the coretto were outfitted with metal
hinges and bolts, allowing the structure to be secured from within and further heightening the
sense of enclosure and safety (see fig. 3.11). These two openings, by their very existence, indicate
that the coretto was utilized not just to conceal, but to display and reveal. Likewise, the fact that the
coretto’s door and window could only be maneuvered from the interior clearly demonstrates that
appearances were intended to be manipulated principally from within. The ledge of the window
facing the altar was undoubtedly used to assist the performance of the liturgy for the coretto’s
inhabitants, standing or perhaps kneeling on a portable kneeler (prie-dieu or inginocchiatoio) or
upon luxurious cushions (if by some means raised), as Rossi does in a portrait from a book of
hours.71 Little visible evidence, in the form of remnants of textiles, hooks, or other fastenings, sug-
gests how the coretto might have been outfitted, though it is probable that furnishings or expensive
fabrics would have adorned the interior, as they did within the via segreta of Ercole d’Este’s stable
cum chapel mentioned above. Such furnishings would have made this rather stark, undecorated
space more comfortable for its occupants and more decorously lavish in the minds of Rossi’s sub-
jects gazing within. Depending on the size of (possibly moveable) furnishings, those ensconced
within could have knelt, stood, or sat. The thick interior plank a few inches above the ground on
the south side may have served to support such an accessory set up near the window and ledge.
Though the structure’s present wooden floor is not the original, a similar barrier separating the
inhabitants from the chapel’s floor would have additionally provided comfort and warmth.
When the prince remained within, the ledge with its window above allowed Rossi to partici-
pate in ecclesiastical functions while on display. The coretto—perhaps not coincidentally located
to the side of the altar that early modern Christians associated with the elect—efficaciously framed
a pious image of the signore for his subjects. Renaissance lords were keen to publicize their piety, a
fundamental seignorial virtue that Rossi’s visibility within the coretto both advertised and ampli-
fied.72 The coretto’s door and window suggest that Rossi would have been seen, perhaps only
glimpsed at an oblique angle or viewed by those closest to the altar, and indeed the insignia would
have made the lord’s presence all the more emphatic. If original, the surmounting pyramid may
have even served as something of a baldacchino or honorific canopy, further framing and highlight-
ing the prince’s distinction, as would have splendid decoration within. Entrance or exit through
the wooden door facing into the chapel, additionally, would have provided the opportunity for
ritual processions into or from the coretto. As ecclesiastical spaces were both religious and social

70. Haines, Intarsias of the North Sacristy, 51–54; Martines, April Blood, 118.
71. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Smith Lesouëf 22, fol. 285v: Zanichelli, “Tra Devozione e Studio,” 110–18.
72. For a treatise celebrating and indeed publicizing the seignorial piety of one of Rossi’s contemporaries, Ercole d’Este, see
Gundersheimer, Art and Life at the Court of Ercole.
98 Timothy McCall

arenas in fifteenth-century Italy, moreover, it is not inconceivable that the coretto could have facili-
tated audiences with Rossi or other officials before or after religious ceremonies. Because the
structure was at once separated from the chapel and the center of attention within it, further dis-
tinction would have been conferred upon those granted access to or perhaps the permission to
approach the coretto. As I suggested above, the benefits of being seen conversing with the prince
could be substantial. San Nicomede served the religious needs of various audiences, including but
not limited to subjects, courtiers, clients, relatives, and prominent visitors. Thus, for Rossi, occu-
pying the coretto located within the larger chapel might not be considered merely a private
withdrawal, but rather a public or conspicuously visible exercise of status, sovereignty, and piety.73
As important and efficacious as the views into and framed by the coretto were, Pier Maria
Rossi’s own position must also be considered. Situated within, Rossi could have heard and
observed his subjects in the chapel, and the structure’s very presence in the room would have
reminded them to be on their best behavior, that at any moment they may be watched by the
prince or one of his representatives.74 A suggestive early modern parallel might be found in a fasci-
nating eighteenth-century proposal for a network of interior cabinets and loges allowing a German
ruler to surveil his fiscal officials surreptitiously and thus “instill great fear in the prince’s servants.”75
Closer to Rossi, an early-sixteenth-century Italian treatise recommended that the ideal cardinal’s
palace be equipped with “concealed places [that] provide the opportunity to examine visitors with
care,” whether through listening or viewing tubes or the grilled windows with which Rossi’s ally
Pope Paul II had outfitted his audience chamber.76
Pier Maria too would have been the object of his subjects’ gazes, particularly when the coretto’s
window was opened. Perhaps the Rossi, like the Gonzaga just across the Po, had in their library
Suetonius’s De vita Caesarum (Lives of the Caesars). If so, Pier Maria might have been mindful of
Augustus’s lesson to avoid Julius Caesar’s bad reputation among the Romans for being seen by
them answering correspondence and appearing disinterested rather than visibly enjoying public
games.77 On display, Rossi would have had to be cognizant of his subjects’ expectations of their
lord and the need to present them with an image of a suitably seignorial ruler, magnificent and
pious, courtly and commanding. From within, moreover, the coretto provided Pier Maria a privi-
leged perspective from which to behold the adjacent altar and participate in the mass.
Fifteenth-century signori sponsored Corpus Christi confraternities and processions as a means to
associate their power and even person with the charisma of the Eucharist, and such a correlation
or comparison may have been at least suggested here for Rossi’s subjects.78 This honored and
immediate point of view for the liturgy and Eucharistic ritual would have bolstered Rossi’s prestige

73. Particularly useful for me, in wider contexts, have been Stewart, “Early Modern Closet”; and Campbell, Cabinet of Eros.
74. Ettore Modigliani referred to the coretto as a “specie di garitta” (“a type of sentry-box”) in a letter to Corrado Ricci of 7 January
1931; Balestri, Il colore di Milano, 357.
75. Wakefield, Disordered Police State, 12–16.
76. Weil-Garris and D’Amico, “Renaissance Cardinal’s Ideal Palace,” 82–83. For Rossi and Paul II, see Somaini, “Una storia
spezzata,” 170–83.
77. Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, 1:221–23. For the Gonzaga and Suetonius, see Signorini, Opus hoc tenue, 308–13; Campbell,
“Mantegna’s Triumph,” 92–95. Much work remains to be done to reconstruct the library of Pier Maria Rossi, though by far the most
useful source is Tissoni Benvenuti, “Libri e letterati nelle piccole corti padane.”
78. See, for example, Rubin, Corpus Christi; Manca, Art of Ercole de’ Roberti, 64–72; Moffitt, Painterly Perspective and Piety.
Secrecy and the Production of Seignorial Space  99

and piety. Because visual access to the elevation was a culminating moment of Christian sacred
experience in early modern Europe, this exceptional position provided a direct and privileged
view of the revelation of one of Christianity’s fundamental mysteries. In yet another way, secrets
were enacted by the coretto.
Operations of vision and visibility were crucial to the production of secrecy and the function
of Torrechiara’s coretto, though other sensations and phenomena, sound for instance, would have
been equally efficacious. Space is produced not only by architectural frames and boundaries, but
by words, movements, and actions, and by the energies, bodies, gestures, and sounds deployed
within it.79 Not only views into, but also sounds from within the coretto reinforced the sense of a
secret, somewhat hidden or occluded interior presence and may have called attention to the fact
that visitors here, as ever within a Renaissance court, were potentially surveilled.80 Traces of the
prince inside could certainly be heard in the relatively small chapel, perhaps surprising visitors,
further piquing their curiosity about this strange assemblage, and drawing worshipers and subjects
to it, thus amplifying the charisma of the coretto and its (real or imagined) inhabitants. Indeed, it is
not difficult to envision the ways such a structure could produce astonishment and wonder, par-
ticularly for uninitiated viewers who witnessed the window or door dramatically swing open for
the first time, emerging from the expertly crafted and only seemingly integral façade, and spec-
tacularly revealing their lord within. Other sounds—singing, for example—emerging from the
enclosed space may have likewise surprised or delighted worshipers in the chapel. Whispers and
other noises muffled by the structure itself or by interior textiles intimated a presence and perpetu-
ated the sense that Rossi was present. One could even imagine something like a body double
deployed here, producing sounds to be heard by the count’s subjects and palpably intensifying the
ever-present sense of seignorial surveillance. Secrecy and seignorial presence, thus, could have
been performed as a means to direct (or misdirect) the imagination of Rossi’s subjects, including
those from whom the revelation of the secret was delayed or entirely denied.
The coretto of Torrechiara served as a carefully designed social framing device; it bolstered
and visualized the authority of its occupants. To be sure, the coretto could have encouraged pious
concentration, yet by proclaiming that certain individuals were permitted to listen to religious
functions without being seen, if they so desired, the structure simultaneously distinguished one
class of devotee from another. Arousing the sense that the signore might be within, the coretto reso-
lutely marked Rossi’s presence when he was hidden or even absent. More than just hiding and
separating its residents from the chapel’s other worshipers, the imposing yet intimate coretto pow-
erfully displayed and fashioned piety and social hierarchy. The occupants themselves, moreover,
would have been made emphatically aware of their own status and privilege by the coretto. They
would have no doubt derived pleasure from increased recognition, and from the many visitors
who craned their necks and positioned themselves for better views into the coretto and, more
importantly, for better views of its inhabitants.
Meanings and insinuations proliferated through the coretto. The effects produced by this space
undermine any search for a singular reading of the furnishing and instead encourage the imagination
of an array of meanings for both Rossi and his court. The coretto allowed, indeed generated, multiple

79. Lefebvre, Production of Space; Grosz, Architecture from the Outside, 7; Smith, Key of Green.
80. For a recent interpretation of seignorial surveillance in contemporary Urbino, see Webb, “All is not fun and games.”
100 Timothy McCall

levels and plays of access, secrecy, and display for visitors to Torrechiara, to help fashion Rossi’s mag-
nificent piety. These plays, however, required revelation. In many ways Torrechiara’s coretto seems
emblematic of the economies of access of fifteenth-century seignorial space in general: both were
assiduously structured to mediate admittance and passage for various classes of subjects or viewers.
The coretto and its decoration were not inherently private or personal, but rather intricately manufac-
tured and made intimate through the activation of a rhetoric of secrecy, thus creating a dynastic,
social, and charismatic space that bolstered Rossi’s seignorial authority.

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Michelangelo’s Open Secrets
Maria Ruvoldt

ichelangelo’s infatuation with the young Roman nobleman Tommaso de’ Cavalieri,
was no secret. In December of 1532, the fifty-seven-year-old artist found himself
besotted with the young man, who was probably in his teens, and quite possibly as
young as twelve.1 A flurry of letters passed between them, quickly followed by the gift of a series of
highly finished drawings (figs. 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3), including the Rape of Ganymede, in which the god
Zeus, in the form of an eagle, abducts the young man whose physical beauty he cannot resist, the
Punishment of Tityus, showing the lustful Titan eternally punished for his attempted rape of Latona,
and the Fall of Phaeton, the tragic story of Apollo’s son who overreached—daring to drive his
father’s chariot, he lost control and lost his life.2 Stories of divine lust and the consequences of
human hubris, the drawings are narrative reflections on the attractions and dangers of desire. They
were the vivid visual expression of an attachment articulated in equally effusive terms in the letters
and poems that date from the same period. The creative results of Michelangelo’s relationship with
Cavalieri have long been subjects of study in art history and literature. This essay seeks to explore
the mechanics of their exchange, the methods that Michelangelo employed to protect the secrecy
of his infatuation from some while simultaneously advertising it to a select group of friends and
confidants. It will demonstrate that Michelangelo’s methods, although motivated by practical con-
cerns, served several functions: they defined the relationship as respectable, reinforced bonds of
friendship and intimacy within Michelangelo’s own circle, and allowed Michelangelo control over his
inventions and communications at a time when he himself had become a desirable commodity.
When Michelangelo met Cavalieri, he was at an exceptionally low period in his life, both profes-
sionally and personally. Between 1532 and 1534, he was not quite settled in either Florence or Rome,
moving between both cities as a consequence of his professional obligations and, more significantly,

1. For Michelangelo and Cavalieri, see Kirschenbaum, “Reflections on Michelangelo’s Drawings”; Frommel, Michelangelo und
Tommaso de’ Cavalieri; Liebert, Michelangelo: A Psychoanalytic Study; and Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance, 17–62. Precisely how
young Cavalieri was when the two met is a matter of some debate, but he was surely no older than nineteen and quite possibly as young
as twelve. For Cavalieri’s birthdate, see Panofsky-Soergel, “Postscriptum to Tommaso Cavalieri.”
2. Vasari, La vita di Michelangelo, 1:118. A letter from Cavalieri demonstrates that he was in possession of the Phaeton, Tityus, and
Ganymede compositions in September 1533. See Carteggio, 4:49. The literature on Michelangelo’s “gift” or “presentation drawings” is
vast. Wallace, “Studies in Michelangelo’s Finished Drawings,” offers the term “gift drawing” as an alternative to the conventional
“presentation drawing” coined by Johannes Wilde. See Popham and Wilde, Italian Drawings, nos. 423–24, 428–31. See also Hirst,
Michelangelo and His Drawings, chap. 10, “The Making of Presents”; Joannides, Michelangelo and His Influence; Nagel, “Gifts for
Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna”; and Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream.

106 Maria Ruvoldt

FIGURE 4.1: Copy after Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Rape of Ganymede (detail), ca. 1533, black
chalk on paper, Cambridge, MA, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Art Museum, Gifts for Special Uses Fund,
Photo: Alan Macintyre/Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

of his political choices during the failed Florentine Republic of 1527 to 1530.3 His pressing artistic
commitments included the unfinished tomb of Julius II in Rome, commissioned by the della Rovere
pope in 1505 and practically stalled from its inception. Under pressure from Julius’s heirs, who
accused him of embezzlement, and after much negotiation, he had signed a fourth contract for the
project in April 1532, reducing the size and scope of the monument and moving its location from St.
Peter’s to the less prominent site of San Pietro in Vincoli.4 His honor insulted, his ambitions for the
project thwarted, Michelangelo longed to be “free of this obligation,” complaining that he had “aged
twenty years and lost twenty pounds.”5 In Florence, he was responsible for two concurrent projects
at the Medici church of San Lorenzo: the Laurentian Library and the family funerary chapel in the

3. For Michelangelo’s movements between 1532 and 1534, see Wallace, “‘Nothing Else Happening.’” For a thorough analysis of
Michelangelo’s political beliefs, see Spini, “Politicità di Michelangelo.”
4. For a summary of the history of the Julius tomb project, see De Tolnay, Michelangelo, vol. 4: The Tomb of Julius II.
5. In a letter to Sebastiano, Michelangelo uses the word “disobbrigarsi” as he searches for a solution to the tomb problem;
Carteggio, 3:323. For the language of enslavement and obligation in Michelangelo’s letters, especially as relates to the tomb project, see
Parker, Michelangelo and the Art of Letter Writing. For “son venti anni e venti libbre invechiato e diminuito,” see Carteggio, 4:14–15,
translation in Ramsden, Letters, 1:195.
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 107

FIGURE 4.2: Michelangelo, The Punishment of Tityus, ca. 1533, black chalk on paper, Windsor, The
Royal Collection.
Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012.

New Sacristy.6 He had ceased his work at San Lorenzo in the wake of the Medici expulsion from
Florence in 1527, incurring the ire of Pope Clement VII and his nephew Alessandro de’ Medici, who
was installed as duke of Florence in 1532. Perhaps due to his political sympathies, Michelangelo
never recovered his enthusiasm for this dynastic complex, returning to work reluctantly in 1532, and
finally abandoning San Lorenzo altogether when he quit Florence for good in 1534. In addition to
these professional challenges, Michelangelo had suffered the deaths of his beloved brother,
Buonarroto, in 1528, his nephew, Buonarroto’s young son Simone, in 1529, and his father, Lodovico,
in 1531. Michelangelo found himself responsible for the care of Buonarroto’s two surviving children
and the maintenance of the extended Buonarroti clan as its new patriarch.
It was on a visit to Rome in the winter of 1532 that Michelangelo met Cavalieri. Despite the
fame their relationship now enjoys, its origins are somewhat obscure. Michelangelo was likely
introduced to Cavalieri by Pier Antonio Cecchini, a fellow Florentine sculptor who was attached
to the household of Cardinal Niccolò Ridolfi.7 Ridolfi, the grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent
through his mother, Contessina de’ Medici, and thus a cousin of Clement VII, was a pillar of the

6. Michelangelo had won the contract for the façade of San Lorenzo in 1516, but the commission was canceled in 1520 after the
untimely deaths of Giuliano de’ Medici Duke of Nemours and Lorenzo de’ Medici Duke of Urbino. From 1520, Michelangelo’s focus
at San Lorenzo was the family funerary chapel in the New Sacristy and the Laurentian Library, commissioned in 1520 and 1523,
respectively. For Michelangelo’s work at San Lorenzo, see Wallace, Michelangelo at San Lorenzo.
7. For Cecchini as the likely catalyst of the introduction, see Frommel, Michelangelo und Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, 14. Analyzing the
admittedly sparse evidence, Frommel concludes that “Everything points to Michelangelo and Cavalieri meeting in the Ridolfi circle”;
ibid., 72. In the first surviving letter between Cecchini and Michelangelo, Cecchini signs himself “Vostro minor servitore Pietrantonio,
familiar di monsignor reverendissimo de’ Ridolfi”; Carteggio, 3:414. For the alternative theory that Bartolomeo Angelini introduced
Michelangelo to Cavalieri, see Ramsden, Letters, 1:298–99. See also Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream, 76.
108 Maria Ruvoldt

FIGURE 4.3: Michelangelo, The Fall of Phaeton, ca. 1533, black chalk on paper,
Windsor, The Royal Collection.
Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012.
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 109

Florentine community in Rome, a patron of artists and scholars, and a passionate collector of
books and manuscripts.8 In spite of his Medicean lineage, he became an ardent Republican after
the Medici expulsion in 1527 and gathered a community of sympathizers around him.9
Michelangelo was drawn to Ridolfi’s circle by familial connection and political inclination, and
found three of his closest associates in Rome—Cecchini, the political theorist and writer Donato
Giannotti, and Ascanio Condivi, his future biographer—in Ridolfi’s household.10
In an undated letter, Cecchini regaled Michelangelo with stories of the delightful time he had
been having with a group of young men (“quantità di giovani”).11 Cecchini reported that he had
inquired after the health of “the magnificent Tommaso” de’ Cavalieri, who had apparently been ill,
and had learned that he was much improved.12 He urged Michelangelo to come out for “a few
laughs,” assuring him that “no one needs to know about it.”13 Cecchini’s affectionate invitation to
Michelangelo is one example of many in which the artist’s friends suggested social gatherings to
lift his spirits, and implies that Cecchini was aiming to broaden Michelangelo’s acquaintance in
Rome.14 Cecchini promised that Michelangelo would be able “to see in fact that which I’ve told
you so many times in words.”15 Dating the letter to late 1532 or early 1533, Christoph Frommel
interprets it as Cecchini’s attempt to arrange the first meeting between Michelangelo and Cavalieri;
Cecchini wished to let Michelangelo see for himself the magnificent young man he had already
told him so much about.16 Frommel’s reading is supported by the first documented letter that
Cavalieri sent to the artist on 1 January 1533, in which he acknowledges that Cecchini had praised
him to Michelangelo before they met, and refers to a recent illness.17
Reportedly an “incomparable beauty,” cultivated, and charming, Tommaso de’ Cavalieri
belonged to a noble Roman family whose origins in the city can be traced to the eleventh centu-
ry.18 His family palazzo was located not far from Michelangelo’s Roman residence in Macel de’

8. For Niccolò Ridolfi, see Ridolfi, “La Biblioteca del Cardinale Niccolò Ridolfi”; Starn, Donato Giannotti, 48–56; Byatt, “‘Una
suprema magnificenza’”; Costa, Michelangelo alle Corti, 13–60; and Muratore, La biblioteca del cardinale Niccolò Ridolfi.
9. For the complicated familial and political connections linking Ridolfi, Cardinal Salviati, Filippo Strozzi, and the other leading
Florentine aristocratic fuorusciti in Rome, see Costa, Michelangelo alle corti, 15–19. For Ridolfi’s political alliances, both pro- and anti-
Medicean, see Starn, Donato Giannotti, 48–52; and Costa, Michelangelo alle corti, 13–23.
10. For Donato Giannotti, see Giannotti, Dialogi; Starn, Donato Giannotti; and Costa, Michelangelo alle corti, 61–110. For Ascanio
Condivi, see Hirst, “Michelangelo and His First Biographers,” esp. 70–71; and Hirst, “Introduction,” in Condivi, Vita, I–XX, esp. II–V.
11. Carteggio, 4:69. The letter itself is undated, but Frey, Dichtungen, 527, dates it to 1535, long after Michelangelo’s first
documented contact with Cavalieri, based on his identification of “quello de’ Peruschi” as Baldassare Peruzzi. Barocchi and Ristori,
Carteggio, 4:69, accept Frey’s dating without comment. Frommel instead proposes a date in late 1532/early 1533, reasoning that
someone as prominent as Baldassare Peruzzi would not be referred to in this fashion, and observing that Sebastiano had referred to
Peruzzi in a letter to Michelangelo of 1520 as “Baldassare.” Frommel, Michelangelo und Tommaso de’Cavalieri, 15 and 113n21.
12. “magnificho meser Tomao”; Carteggio, 4:69.
13. Ibid.
14. See for example Carteggio, 3:157 and 4:142.
15. Carteggio, 4:69.
16. Frommel, Michelangelo und Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, 15–18.
17. Carteggio, 3:445.
18. Varchi describes Cavalieri as an “incomparable beauty” in his discourse to the Accademia Fiorentina on the sonnets in 1547;
Varchi, Due Lezzioni, 47. This is a notable instance of the more public reception of the “private” relationship between Michelangelo and
Cavalieri, but it is, significantly, some dozen years or more after they first met. For the Cavalieri family and their history in Rome, see
Kirkendale, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, 13–27; and Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream, 76–77.
110 Maria Ruvoldt

Corvi, and was a short distance from the palace of Cardinal Ridolfi near the northern edge of
Piazza Navona.19 Later in life, Cavalieri would fulfill the promise of his noble roots, occupying
significant public offices in Rome, including that responsible for construction on the Campidoglio.
He assembled a collection of ancient sculpture that attracted the attention of Ulisse Aldrovandi as
early as 1549 and continued to grace the Cavalieri palazzo at least until the eighteenth century.20
Perhaps with Michelangelo’s guidance, Cavalieri also formed an important collection of contem-
porary drawings and prints, of which drawings by Michelangelo were the crowning glory.21
Cavalieri’s artistic inclinations and aristocratic pedigree surely appealed to Michelangelo as much
as his physical beauty, and the two men remained close until the very end of Michelangelo’s life,
when Cavalieri stood vigil at his deathbed.22
The earliest secure communications between the two are the letters at the end of December
1532 and the very beginning of January 1533. Michelangelo wrote first, a letter that does not sur-
vive, and then wrote again, apologizing for his audacity at being the “first to move.”23 Unlike other
letter writers of his day, Michelangelo did not prepare his extensive correspondence with the aim
of future publication. Although a remarkable number of letters both from and to him survive, they
are, as William E. Wallace has pointed out, often simply about the mundane details of everyday
life, concerns about negotiating contracts, payment of workers, managing his household finances,
and family matters, offering little insight into Michelangelo’s interior life or philosophical reflec-
tions on his practice as an artist.24 But his letters to Cavalieri are exceptional in his correspondence,
elevated in tone and filled with emotional language such as Michelangelo’s declaration that
Cavalieri was “the light of our century, unique in the world,” and his pledge that he could sooner
“forget the food…that nourishes my body than forget the name [of Tommaso] who nourishes
body and soul.”25
With all that was on Michelangelo’s mind in late 1532, it is somewhat surprising to read the
effusive language of his letters to Cavalieri. The tone of the letters speaks not only to an intense
emotional connection, a state of infatuation, but also to an almost desperate desire to find meaning
in bleak times. Michelangelo closes the first draft of his letter to Cavalieri by marveling: “there is
no more cause for wonder that Rome should produce men who are divine, than that God should
perform miracles,” and later declares that Cavalieri fills his body and soul “with such sweetness,
that I feel neither sorrow nor fear of death.”26 Cavalieri appears to have been a promise of hope in
the middle of a very dark season in Michelangelo’s life.

19. For the location of the Cavalieri family palazzo, no longer extant, see Kirkendale, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, 16. For Cardinal Ridolfi’s
palace adjacent to the church of Sant’Apollinare, which he inhabited from 1529, see Byatt, “‘Una suprema magnificenza.’”
20. For Cavalieri’s public service, see Kirkendale, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, 52. For Aldrovandi’s response to the collection see ibid., 46.
See also Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream, 78, with further references.
21. See Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream, 78, with further references, and also Sickel, “Die Sammlung des Tommaso de’ Cavalieri.”
22. For Michelangelo’s aristocratic aspirations, see Wallace, “Michael Angelus.” For Cavalieri at Michelangelo’s deathbed, see
Carteggio Indiretto, 2:172. See also Vasari, La vita di Michelangelo, 4:1834.
23. Carteggio, 3:443–44. In this undated letter, presumably composed at the end of December 1532, Michelangelo refers to “my
first letter” (“la prima mia”), which does not survive. In his letter of 1 January 1533 to Michelangelo, Cavalieri refers to “one of your
letters” (“una delle vostre lettere”), which he had already received; Carteggio, 3:445.
24. Wallace, “Greatest Ass in the World.” See also Parker, Michelangelo and the Art of Letter Writing, 4.
25. Carteggio, 3:443, 4:26.
26. Carteggio, 3:444, 4:26.
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 111

Despite Michelangelo’s passionate language and copious artistic output for Cavalieri, his six-
teenth-century biographers insisted on the purely spiritual nature of the attachment. Giorgio
Vasari declared that Michelangelo’s love for human beauty was never tainted by “lascivious or dis-
graceful thoughts,” and Ascanio Condivi likewise reported that the artist was free of “any unseemly
or unbridled desire.”27 Modern scholars including James Saslow have pointed out that there was
much at stake in defining Michelangelo’s sexuality, in drawing a clear line between passionate but
chaste male friendship and illegal sexual activity.28 Michelangelo likewise insisted on the chaste-
ness of his love in his poetry, and condemned the “evil, cruel, and stupid rabble” that failed to
understand his “virtuous desire.”29
Whether or not we accept the notion that the attraction was purely spiritual, it must be said
that Michelangelo’s love for Cavalieri, however deeply felt, was nevertheless conventional within
the context of Petrarchan-infused Neoplatonism, which identified human beauty as a reflection of
divine beauty and theorized that physical desire could initiate spiritual transcendence. As formu-
lated by Marsilio Ficino, this theory of ideal love could be enacted through male friendship, often
between an older, more experienced man and a beautiful youth who inspired his devotion. This
model of eroticized friendship not only mirrored ancient practices, but also replicated the pattern
of typical male homosexual relations in Florentine society.30 In 1527, for example, a few years
before Michelangelo’s first encounter with Cavalieri, Benedetto Varchi, the Tuscan poet and future
academician—and future commentator on Michelangelo’s poems for Cavalieri—met and
promptly fell in love with the ten-year-old Lorenzo Lenzi, the son of a Florentine patrician and
nephew of Cardinal Niccolò Gaddi.31 Varchi’s infatuation endured for at least sixteen years, and
generated a series of Petrarchan love poems inspired by Lenzi. Their relationship is memorialized
in a portrait by Bronzino of the young Lenzi holding an open book with poems by Petrarch and
Varchi on facing pages.32 Cavalieri likewise served as a youthful muse to the much older
Michelangelo, inspiring both visual and verbal expressions of devotion in the drawings and poems
that Michelangelo produced for him.
The attachment to Cavalieri was not the first such that Michelangelo experienced, although it
would become by far the most significant of his life. In the early 1520s, he became close to
Gherardo Perini, with whom he exchanged letters and to whom he gave a group of drawings of
ideal heads, which Vasari christened the teste divine.33 Around the time he met Cavalieri,
Michelangelo also developed friendships with several young Florentine men, including Febo di
Poggio, for whom he composed verses and whom he promised to serve “with faith and with love,
more than any other friend you have in this world,” a certain “Simone,” who addressed him as “my
most beloved Michelangelo,” and, apologizing for unknown offenses, confessed to be “tormented

27. Vasari, Le vite di Michelangelo, 7:271–72; Condivi, Vita, 62.

28. Saslow, “‘Veil of Ice between My Heart and the Fire.’”
29. Poetry of Michelangelo, 195.
30. Rocke, Forbidden Friendships. See also Barkan, Transuming Passion; and Saslow, “‘Veil of Ice between My Heart and the Fire.’”
31. Busini, La vita di Benedetto Varchi; Pirotti, Benedetto Varchi; Cecchi, “‘Famosi Frondi du cui santi honori…’”; and Strehlke,
Pontormo, 100–103.
32. See Strehlke, Pontormo, 100–103.
33. For the letters, see Carteggio, 2:342–43, 352–53. For the drawings, see Hirst, Michelangelo and His Drawings, 107–9. See also
Schumacher, Michelangelos Teste Divine.
112 Maria Ruvoldt

by having lost you,” and Andrea Quaratesi, almost thirty years his junior.34 Quaratesi and the artist
exchanged affectionate letters and gifts of food, and the young man repeatedly professed to love
Michelangelo “like a father.”35 But Quaratesi’s promise that “I will come to dine tonight, even if I
have to crawl to you on all fours,” suggests something more than filial devotion.36 More telling than
these hints at a connection is the fact that Quaratesi is the subject of a portrait by the artist, a spec-
tacular drawing in the British Museum.37 It is the only surviving portrait by Michelangelo, one of
only two documented portraits by the artist. The other was a portrait of Cavalieri, now lost,
described by Vasari as a half-length depiction of the young man in antique dress, holding a medal
or a portrait in his hand.38
Michelangelo’s first, lost letter to Cavalieri was apparently accompanied by the gift of two
drawings, generally identified as Ganymede and Tityus.39 In his reply, Cavalieri refers to two draw-
ings (“doi vostri desegni”) that had been delivered to him by Pier Antonio Cecchini and had
occupied him for hours.40 Both the subject matter and the extremely fine execution of the draw-
ings account for Cavalieri’s absorption in them. Michelangelo chose a pair of mythological subjects
as his first offering to Cavalieri, the well-known story of Ganymede and the more obscure myth of
Tityus. Ganymede, variously identified as a prince of Troy or as a simple shepherd, was an excep-
tionally beautiful young man who caught the eye of Zeus.41 Overcome by desire, the god, in the
form of an eagle, swept Ganymede away to Olympus to be his cupbearer and, according to some,
his lover. Frequently represented since antiquity and allegorized in medieval sources as a Christian
metaphor for divine love, Ganymede would have been instantly recognizable to Cavalieri. Tityus,
on the other hand, would have presented more of a challenge. Although his story is told in a num-
ber of familiar sources including Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Tityus, the son of Zeus and Gaia, rarely
appears in the visual arts.42 Having attempted to rape Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana,
Tityus was sentenced to have his perpetually regenerating liver devoured by a vulture. In
Michelangelo’s rendering, the predatory bird is the twin of Ganymede’s eagle, making it possible
to read Tityus as Prometheus, the Titan who brought fire to humans and who endured the same
punishment as Tityus, but administered by an eagle.43 Whether Cavalieri identified Tityus on his

34. For the letters between Michelangelo and Febo di Poggio, see Carteggio, 4:66–68. For the letter signed “Simoni suo carissimo,”
see Carteggio, 4:65. For the basic outlines of the relationship between Michelangelo and Andrea Quaratesi (1512–1585), see Wilde,
Italian Drawings, 96–97. See also Barkan, Michelangelo, 197–99.
35. Carteggio, 3:292, 314, 431.
36. Carteggio, 3:431.
37. See Chapman, Michelangelo Drawings, 211.
38. Vasari, Le vite di Michelangelo, 3:775. A seventeenth-century artist viewed the Cavalieri portrait in the Farnese collection and
described it as “vestito all’antica, e in mano tiene un ritratto, o medaglia, che si sia/sbarbato, e in somma da spaurire ogni gagliardo
ingegno”; see Wilde, Italian Drawings, 97.
39. Scholarly consensus identifies the two first drawings as Ganymede and Tityus. Cavalieri records his receipt of the Phaeton in a
letter of 6 September 1533, and reports that a number of people have requested to see it, the Ganymede, and the Tityus; Carteggio, 4:49.
40. Carteggio, 3:445.
41. For the literary history of Ganymede from antiquity to the Renaissance, see Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance; and
Marongiu, Il Mito di Ganimede, 9–17.
42. See Panofsky, “Neoplatonic Movement.”
43. For the story of Prometheus and its history, see Raggio, “Myth of Prometheus.”
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 113

own or with Michelangelo’s help is impossible to know, but some months after receiving the draw-
ings, he referred to them in a letter as “Tityus and Ganymede.”44
Together, these two subjects can be read as a Neoplatonic commentary on the alternate paths
of desire, as Erwin Panofsky concluded; Ganymede’s transport on the wings of Zeus signifies the
transformative power of divine love, in which the soul is released from the body to commune with
the divine, while Tityus’s physical torment, brought on by his uncontrollable lust, represents both
the agony of love and the dangers inherent in pursuing the satisfaction of physical desire.45 Having
spent part of his youth in the company of Marsilio Ficino, Michelangelo continued to embrace a
Ficinian model of Neoplatonic love, which posited that sexual desire was the necessary catalyst of
love, but must be suppressed for the lover to progress to his true goal—a transcendent experience
of the divine. In his poetry, Michelangelo endorsed the doctrine of ascent through love and empha-
sized the incompatibility of spiritual elevation and the fulfillment of physical desire—themes that
are articulated in the pairing of Ganymede and Tityus.
The pairing of these subjects to elicit a Neoplatonic interpretation may have been intended to
temper a purely homoerotic reading of Ganymede. Despite its potential as an allegory of spiritual
transcendence, the myth nevertheless is the story of an older man’s desire for a beautiful youth, a
model of male homosexual relations that was as pertinent in sixteenth-century Italy as it was in
ancient Greece, and was particularly pointed as an analogue for Michelangelo and Cavalieri. Even
Plato, who proposed a spiritual interpretation of the myth in his Phaedrus, had suggested that the
tale had been invented by the men of Crete as license for the practice of pederasty.46 The figure of
Ganymede as an object of homosexual desire had popular currency in the Renaissance as well, as
James Saslow has amply demonstrated.47
Michelangelo’s choice of subjects was surely meant to appeal to Cavalieri on several levels.
They are tales of passion, both fulfilled and thwarted, and as such send a clear message about the
nature of Michelangelo’s feelings for Cavalieri. But they admit many interpretations. As Leonard
Barkan has argued, the Neoplatonic theory of the paths of amor sacro and amor profano implied by
the pairing assimilates the drawings to the moralizing traditions of Hercules at the Crossroads and
the Judgment of Paris, presenting Cavalieri with a lesson about virtue and vice appropriate for a
young man of his age and social position.48 Cavalieri may have been responding to that aspect of
the drawings when he suggested that Michelangelo’s affection for him sprung from Cavalieri’s own
love of virtue: “I think, in fact I am certain that the affection you bear me is because of this, that
you, being extremely virtuous, or rather virtue itself, are compelled to love those who follow and
love virtue, among whom I, according to my abilities, yield to few.”49 The mythological subjects
must also relate to Cavalieri’s taste for classical antiquity; Henry Thode and Johannes Wilde each
identified possible visual sources for the figure of Tityus in engraved gems and monumental

44. Carteggio, 4:49.

45. Panofsky, “Neoplatonic Movement.” For the Neoplatonic theory of love as a form of furor, and the alternate paths of amor
sacro and amor profano, see Ficino, El libro dell’amore.
46. Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance, 28.
47. Ibid.
48. Barkan, Transuming Passion, 84.
49. Carteggio, 3:445.
114 Maria Ruvoldt

sculpture, respectively.50 Both the moralizing interpretation and the erudite classical references
would have provoked the “hours [of] contemplation” Cavalieri devoted to the drawings, and
would have been flattering references to his intellect and education. The multiple levels of reading
that the drawings invite provide a veil of respectability to conceal what might otherwise be too
explicit an expression of desire.
For his third subject, Michelangelo chose another familiar Ovidian tale that would provide a
thematic complement to his prior gifts: the Fall of Phaeton.51 Informed by his mother, Clymene,
that he was the son of Apollo, Phaeton sought proof of his paternity by requesting a favor of the
god. Told he could have anything he wished, the daring youth asked to drive the sun god’s chariot
across the sky. Apollo feared disaster and begged the boy to choose another prize, but Phaeton
would not be dissuaded and boldly took the reins. His weaker hand could not control his father’s
horses and he soon scorched the earth, trailing fire and havoc in his wake. Zeus was forced to act,
hurling a thunderbolt to strike Phaeton and his chariot from the sky, whence they fell into the river
Eridanus. Phaeton’s sisters the Heliades, inconsolable in their grief, were transformed into poplars.
His kinsman Cygnus was likewise overcome and was turned into a swan. Michelangelo collapsed
this complicated narrative into a single vertically oriented scene, commencing at the top where
Zeus unleashes his thunderbolt, and moving through the fatal fall of Phaeton and his chariot to the
group of mourners and the river god below.52
The Phaeton is unique among the drawings for Cavalieri because three autograph versions
survive, two of which include inscriptions in Michelangelo’s hand. The version now in London
(fig. 4.4) bears a brief message from the artist to Cavalieri: “Messer Tommaso, if this sketch does
not please you, tell Urbino so that I may have time to do another tomorrow evening, as I promised
you, and if it pleases you and you want me to finish it send it back to me.”53 Although the sequence
of the drawings is not documented, the version at Windsor (see fig. 4.3) would seem to be the final
composition, indicating that Cavalieri indeed wished to see something different.54 It is the most
finished of the group and the only drawing that has no accompanying text.
Like the Phaeton itself, Michelangelo’s first surviving letter to Cavalieri exists in no fewer than
three drafts, as the artist reworked his language and perfected his “presumptuous” approach to the
young nobleman.55 It reflects the pains that Michelangelo went to in order to express himself, wary
of overreaching, but eager to convey the depth of his feelings. Both Michelangelo’s language and
his orthography are painstaking in the letters to Cavalieri, testifying to his anxiety about making a
suitable presentation.56

50. Thode, Michelangelo, 2:357; Popham and Wilde, Italian Drawings, 253. For the suggestion that the Tityus was inspired by the
Fallen Giant, found in Rome in 1514 and part of the Farnese Collection, presently in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, see
Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream, 114.
51. Precisely when Cavalieri received the Phaeton drawings is unknown, although his letter of 6 September 1533 provides a
terminus ante quem for their reception. The inscription on the London sheet indicates that it was executed when Michelangelo was still
in Rome, while Cavalieri’s letter suggests that the Windsor sheet was sent to him from Florence.
52. For the Phaeton myth, see Marongiu, Currus auriga paterni.
53. Carteggio, 4:12.
54. See Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream, 131–35, with further bibliography.
55. Carteggio, 3:443–44; 4:1–2, 3.
56. For Michelangelo’s penmanship, see Bardeschi Ciulich, Costanza ed evoluzione nella scrittura di Michelangelo, 48. See also
Bardeschi Ciulich and Ragionieri, Michelangelo: Grafia e biografia.
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 115

FIGURE 4.4: Michelangelo, The Fall of Phaeton, ca. 1533, black chalk on paper, London, The British
© The Trustees of the British Museum / Art Resource, NY.
116 Maria Ruvoldt

Michelangelo’s first draft of the letter urges Cavalieri to “read the heart and not the letter, since
‘the pen cannot keep pace with my true will.’”57 The quote is from Petrarch’s Canzone XXIII, “Nel
dolce tempo de la prima etade,” a poem that describes the transformative effects of the poet’s first
encounter with his beloved, Laura.58 Throughout the poem, Petrarch uses imagery drawn from
Ovid’s Metamorphoses, invoking the myths of Phaeton and Ganymede, among others, to cast his
experience of love as a personal metamorphosis, alternately painful and exalting. Using the quote,
Michelangelo simultaneously references the Ovidian themes of the drawings and signals that
Cavalieri has wrought the same changes in him that Laura provoked in Petrarch.
But Michelangelo omitted the Petrarchan reference in his subsequent drafts of the letter, substi-
tuting an enigmatic postscript: “it would be permissible to name to the one receiving them the things
that a man gives, but out of respect, it will not be done here.”59 Characteristic of Michelangelo’s indi-
rect and allusive manner—what his biographer Giorgio Vasari called his “masked and ambiguous”
speech—this much-interpreted passage cannot refer, as is so often assumed, to the first two draw-
ings, which Cavalieri had already received and acknowledged.60 It may relate to another drawing or
drawings sent with this letter, perhaps the first version of the Phaeton, or to some of Michelangelo’s
many poems for Cavalieri.61
In his written communications with Cavalieri, Michelangelo was particularly careful, produc-
ing multiple drafts of his letters, making poetic allusions and indirect statements. The drawings
offered a more immediate means of expression. Having initially presented Cavalieri with two fin-
ished drawings, Michelangelo expanded their connection by inviting Cavalieri to participate in the
creation of Phaeton. On a purely formal level, Michelangelo seems to have been working out a
compositional problem in the sequence of Phaeton drawings. The inscription on the London
sheet indicates that Michelangelo included Cavalieri in his creative process, either as a collabora-
tor or merely as a witness. The simple gesture of asking Cavalieri to approve the drawing transforms
the nature of Michelangelo’s gifts to him. It suggests another way of thinking about the drawings,
as a form of communication not only in their finished state, as messages from the artist to his
beloved, but as they are in the process of being made, as a means of developing and deepening the
bond through a reciprocal act of creation.
Vasari reports that Michelangelo gave the drawings to Cavalieri “because he was learning to
draw,” a claim that is often dismissed as an effort to conceal Michelangelo’s more private motives.62
But it is a claim that deserves to be taken seriously. Such instruction would have been an appropri-
ate part of Cavalieri’s education, and his earliest letter to Michelangelo indicates that Cavalieri had
already produced some works, likely drawings, which had earned Michelangelo’s praise.63 Referring
to “those works of mine which you have seen with your own eyes,” Cavalieri opined that Michelangelo

57. Carteggio, 3:444.

58. For the poem and its meaning, see Rivero, “Petrarch’s ‘Nel Dolce Tempo de la Prima Etade.’” See also Parker, Michelangelo and
the Art of Letter Writing, 116.
59. Carteggio, 4:3. The phrase first appears on the revised draft of the letter, written after Michelangelo received Cavalieri’s
response to his first missive; Carteggio, 4:2.
60. Vasari, La vita di Michelangelo, 1:125.
61. Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream, 90.
62. Vasari, Le vite di Michelangelo, 7:271.
63. Buck, Michelangelo’s Dream, 81.
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 117

had been moved to write to him because of them, and expressed his hope that he would soon be
able to see more of Michelangelo’s work.64 The letter suggests the beginning of a mutual exchange
of drawings and ideas; despite the fact that Cavalieri was a young amateur rather than a practicing
artist, Michelangelo apparently recognized a kindred spirit. This dynamic of collaboration helps
explain Michelangelo’s deference to Cavalieri’s judgment, asking Cavalieri to either approve the
“sketch” of Phaeton or send it back so that he may produce another. Their exchange was surely
enhanced by the fact that both Michelangelo and Cavalieri were familiar with the visual source for
the image. The central group of Phaeton and his team was inspired by an antique sarcophagus on
view outside the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, where the Cavalieri family chapel was located
adjacent to the high altar.65 William E. Wallace has proposed that Michelangelo and Cavalieri may
have visited the site together, on a pilgrimage to the family chapel, and to view the church’s trea-
sures, including the Phaeton sarcophagus and a tomb signed by Donatello.66 In that case, the
Phaeton would be a sort of souvenir of that visit, binding the two men together in a shared mem-
ory. It would have been a particularly poignant gift, for while the men would have visited the
church together in the early days of their acquaintance, by the time Michelangelo produced the
final version of the drawing, he had left Rome, forced to return to Florence to meet his obligations
to the Medici. In a letter sent to the artist in Florence, Cavalieri records his receipt of the drawing
with a teasing remark that may reflect the collaborative nature of their exchange: “Perhaps three
days ago I received my Phaeton, well enough done.”67
But if the Phaeton records an intimate, creative exchange between the two men, it also docu-
ments the presence of other witnesses to the process. As Leonard Barkan has observed, the great
paradox of the gift drawings and poems for Cavalieri is their double nature as both private and public
communications.68 Michelangelo’s missives to Cavalieri, both visual and literary, were sent through
intermediaries, passing through the hands of friends and servants before reaching their final destina-
tion. This mode of transmission underscores the secret, private nature of the relationship. But it also
expands the circle of its participants beyond the artist and his beloved. The message on the London
Phaeton is one trace of this method of exchange. Michelangelo instructs Cavalieri, “if this sketch
doesn’t please you, tell Urbino.” Urbino was the nickname of Francesco d’Amadore, Michelangelo’s
trusted manservant and assistant, who had evidently been charged with bringing the drawing from
Michelangelo’s residence in Rome to Cavalieri’s and returning with Cavalieri’s response.69 There is
nothing particularly extraordinary about such a mundane event—letters frequently passed among
friends in precisely this way, carried by a servant from one home to another—but the message is
evidence of a larger mechanism of exchange that I wish to explore here.

64. Carteggio, 3:445. In a letter sent to Michelangelo in Florence, Cavalieri alludes to his need for Michelangelo’s guidance to keep
him away from “bad practices,” perhaps referring to his artistic instruction; Carteggio, 4:30.
65. See Kirkendale, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, 19.
66. Wallace, “Studies in Michelangelo’s Finished Drawings,” 190–92; and Wallace, Michelangelo, 179.
67. Carteggio, 4:49.
68. Barkan, Transuming Passion, 81.
69. Urbino joined Michelangelo’s household in Rome sometime before the artist’s return to Florence in 1533, to replace Antonio
Mini, who had gone to France. He remained in Michelangelo’s employ until his death on 3 December 1555. See Wallace, Michelangelo,
118 Maria Ruvoldt

While in Rome, Michelangelo not only entrusted drawings to Urbino’s care, but also depended
on Pier Antonio Cecchini to carry drawings, letters, and private messages to Cavalieri. In the first
draft of his letter to Cavalieri, Michelangelo quoted Petrarch to signal his emotional state, but omitted
the quote from subsequent drafts. Rather than rely on Cavalieri’s ability to recognize the quotation
and its meaning, Michelangelo apparently decided to send an ambassador to help Cavalieri read the
contents of his heart. All three drafts of the letter refer to Cecchini, the mutual friend who may have
been the instrument of Michelangelo’s introduction to Cavalieri. In each draft, in slightly different
form, Michelangelo promises that “our friend” Pier Antonio—“Pier Antonio amico nostro”—will tell
Cavalieri in person all those things that remain unsaid in the letter.70 In his final draft, Michelangelo
writes: “So as not to bore you, I won’t write any more…our friend Pier Antonio will finish it in per-
son”—the precise phrase is “a bocha,” by mouth.71 By sending the letter and its unwritten messages
through Cecchini, Michelangelo was introducing a friend into his private relationship with Cavalieri.
Nor was Cecchini the only person to play such a role. From the beginning, Michelangelo’s feelings for
Cavalieri had the status of an open secret, shared among a trusted circle of intimates, who delivered
not only Michelangelo’s written messages, but also, and arguably more significantly, those unrecover-
able sentiments he did not wish to trust to pen and paper.
Once Michelangelo returned to Florence in the summer of 1533 to resume his work at San
Lorenzo under pressure from Pope Clement VII, it was no longer possible to dispatch Urbino with
drawings or to pass private messages along verbally through Cecchini. Instead, the distance sepa-
rating Michelangelo and Cavalieri activated a larger network of agents that included, among
others, Cecchini, the poet Bartolommeo Angelini, and Sebastiano del Piombo. They oversaw
Michelangelo’s affairs in Rome, providing practical assistance to maintain his household, kept him
apprised of the gossip surrounding the papal court, and assisted in keeping the flame of his love for
Cavalieri alive. Beginning in the summer of 1533 and continuing during Michelangelo’s absences
in Florence until his final return to Rome in September 1534, Michelangelo’s relationship with
Cavalieri was filtered through and managed by friends who acted as his intermediaries.
Cavalieri fretted about Michelangelo’s extended absence in Florence, fearful that the artist
would forget him. Michelangelo hastened to reassure him, expressing surprise that Cavalieri
could doubt the “very great, in fact immeasurable love” that Michelangelo had demonstrated in
Rome.72 He teased the young man, suggesting that perhaps his worry was calculated to increase
Michelangelo’s ardor. Michelangelo’s confident tone with Cavalieri is in stark contrast with his
palpable anxiety in communications with others. In a letter to Sebastiano, he begged for some
news of Cavalieri, to help keep his memory fresh. “For if I were to forget him,” he writes, “I believe
I would immediately fall down dead.”73 He expresses a similar sentiment to Angelini, telling him
that he wishes to return to Rome in order “to return to life,” for although his body is in Florence,
his soul is in Cavalieri’s hands in Rome.74 Privy to Michelangelo’s anxieties about the relationship,
Michelangelo’s friends served as his “ambassadors” to Cavalieri, as Angelini described himself,

70. Carteggio, 4:1–2, 3.

71. Ibid., 4:3.
72. Ibid., 4:26–29.
73. Ibid., 4:36.
74. Ibid., 4:14.
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 119

taking the measure of Cavalieri’s devotion and reassuring the artist that he could “live happily
because your desire and Tommaso’s are equal.”75 In another letter, Angelini reports that
Michelangelo’s eagerness to come back to Rome is exceeded only by Cavalieri’s desire to see him:
“If you are consumed with returning, he burns with desire for your return.”76
Part of Michelangelo’s motivation for the use of intermediaries was practical. In communicating
from Florence with friends in Rome, he relied on courier services, and typically sent letters together
in packets under a single cover.77 Michelangelo seems to have used private couriers and the services
of banks that had branches in both Rome and Florence and provided postal service for a fee, and,
when the opportunity presented itself, he relied on acquaintances who were traveling between the
two cities to carry letters as well.78 It was more economical to send multiple letters in a single packet,
and Michelangelo was notoriously stingy. Many letters to him reflect this arrangement, such as
Angelini’s assurance in July 1533 that “I’ve received your letter, together with one for Sebastiano,
which I’ve put directly into his hands…and last Saturday I sent you one of his together with one from
your messer Tommaso.”79 Bartolommeo Angelini appears to have been the person through whose
hands most letters passed, both from Michelangelo and to him. He faithfully reports that he has
delivered letters to Cavalieri, has agreed to send Cavalieri’s letters on to Michelangelo, and has waited
into the evening for a letter from Sebastiano to send along as well.80
As early as 1521, Angelini was helping Michelangelo manage his affairs in Rome, serving as
Michelangelo’s agent for a commission from Cardinal Domenico Grimani and passing along cor-
respondence from Sebastiano and other friends.81 While Michelangelo was absent in Florence,
Angelini supervised the upkeep of his house in Rome, and reported on the state of Michelangelo’s
garden and the conduct of Michelangelo’s cats and rooster, in much the same way, albeit more
playfully, that he chronicled Cavalieri’s emotional states. By 1531, Michelangelo was sending most
of his correspondence through Angelini. This arrangement had been reached in response to a cri-
sis. On 29 April 1531, Sebastiano wrote in alarm that his letters from Michelangelo were being
intercepted: “Your letter was given to me opened, which caused me great distress…and I have not
yet found a way to be able to write and send letters to you, or you to me, in such a way that they will
not be opened first.”82 But having consulted with Angelini, whom Sebastiano calls “a good man,”
Sebastiano proposed a solution. In order to protect the privacy of their correspondence, Sebastiano

75. Ibid., 4:25.

76. Ibid., 4:32–33.
77. Ramsden, Letters, 1:226.
78. In a letter dated 23 August 1533, Angelini reports that he has received two letters from Michelangelo, one “per mano delli
nostri Bastagi e l’altra per il bamcho”; Carteggio, 4:42–43. “Bastagi” were porters responsible for transporting merchandise; “il bamcho”
refers to the bank. For the history of the postal system in Italy, see Caizzi, Dalla posta dei re alla posta di tutti. For the period in question
see Melillo, Le poste italiane; and Chieppi, I servizi postali dei Medici.
79. Carteggio, 4:25.
80. Ibid., 4:13, 32–33, 40, 42–43.
81. Angelini’s first surviving letter to Michelangelo is dated 7 September 1521, in which he passes along letters from Sebastiano
and Giovanni da Reggio to Michelangelo and offers his services should Michelangelo need any assistance in Rome; Carteggio, 2:316.
By 23 June 1523, he was assisting Michelangelo to negotiate the terms of a commission from Cardinal Domenico Grimani; Carteggio,
2:376, 381. During the 1520s, however, Michelangelo’s primary advocate in Rome was Gian Francesco Fattucci, see Wallace,
Michelangelo at San Lorenzo; and Wallace, “Clement VII and Michelangelo.”
82. Carteggio, 3:303.
120 Maria Ruvoldt

suggested that Michelangelo send all of his letters indirectly—through Angelini—and instructed
the artist to have someone else address them “so that they will not be recognized as by your hand.”83
This need for secrecy and misdirection in the early 1530s likely relates to the role that
Sebastiano was playing at the time as Michelangelo’s advocate at the papal court, helping to negoti-
ate with the heirs of Julius II over his still unfinished tomb, and attempting to reinstate the artist in
the good graces of Pope Clement VII. It was crucial that Sebastiano’s dealings with the artist
remain confidential as he attempted to sway both Clement and the della Rovere heirs in
Michelangelo’s favor.84 Sebastiano recognized that sending anything between Florence and Rome
was risky due to unscrupulous couriers, bandits, and the poor conditions of the roads.85 In May
1532, he wrote of his concerns about Michelangelo’s plan to send him some drawings, worried that
they might “disappear, or…fall into hands other than my own.”86 Concluding that the risks were
too great, he warned Michelangelo that if he didn’t have a trustworthy means of sending them, he
should “wait until your return and you can bring them here yourself.”87
But Michelangelo’s circle of friends provided more than the practical assistance of a secure
post; they actively participated in Michelangelo’s relationship with Cavalieri. Sebastiano engaged
prominent musicians from the papal court to set Michelangelo’s poems to music and shared the
compositions with Cavalieri.88 He then sent the music to Michelangelo in Florence, where another
friend, Gianfrancesco Fattucci, arranged for it to be performed for the artist’s pleasure.89 When the
grapes in Michelangelo’s Roman garden ripened in August, Angelini sent some to Cavalieri as a
gift.90 In October, he harvested pomegranates from the garden and presented them to Cavalieri,
making another offering on Michelangelo’s behalf.91 These gestures were duly reported to
Michelangelo. When Michelangelo sent poems for Cavalieri, Angelini felt free to read and com-
ment on them. At least twice, Angelini reports unapologetically that he has made copies of
Michelangelo’s “beautiful sonnets” for himself before delivering them to Cavalieri.92 In another
instance, Angelini criticizes a sonnet destined for Cavalieri in which Michelangelo describes the
restlessness that love induces in him and counters with a poem of his own as a corrective.93
Michelangelo’s drawings and poems in their explicit, if ambiguous imagery, directed their mes-
sages to Cavalieri, but their means of exchange created a larger circle of initiates who partook of the
experience as well. In communicating with Cecchini, Angelini, and Sebastiano about his feelings for
Cavalieri, his desire to be reunited with him, his sense that without him his body was lacking his soul,
and whatever other private messages that were passed along “a bocha,” Michelangelo invited these

83. Carteggio, 3:304. Sebastiano instructed Michelangelo to address his letters to Angelini and to give them to Lorenzo Mannucci
in Florence to send along. Angelini confirms the arrangement on the same date; ibid., 3:307; 320.
84. Sebastiano even suggested that Michelangelo send along a “littera fictiva” that he could show to the Duke of Urbino to
mislead him about Michelangelo’s intentions; ibid., 3:318.
85. Melillo, Le poste italiane, 91.
86. Carteggio, 3:406.
87. Ibid., 3:306.
88. Ibid., 4:22.
89. Ibid., 4:36.
90. Ibid., 4:32–33.
91. Ibid., 4:56–57.
92. Ibid., 4:50, 56–57.
93. Ibid., 4:53–54.
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 121

friends to participate in a relationship that reinforced their sense of intimacy, of shared knowledge
among a select few. Perhaps paradoxically, Michelangelo’s passionate affection for Cavalieri was not
an impediment to intimacy in his other friendships, but rather a means of strengthening those bonds
of trust and affection as well. The promotion and facilitation of their relationship became a common
cause that knit Michelangelo’s circle closer together. Ulrich Pfisterer describes a similar dynamic in
his study of the Roman milieu of the fifteenth-century medalist known as the Pseudo-Lysippus, in
which an intense emotional attachment between two men could be the axis on which a much larger
circle of friends revolved.94 Relating these social dynamics to the humanist revival of antique culture
and describing the role of medals and other forms of portraiture in the promotion and publication of
such relationships, Pfisterer posits what he terms a “Socratic mantle,” a system of visual codes that
function publicly as erudite references to classical philosophy, but privately invoke homosexual love
to those “in the know.”95 Such images depend on a “performative context” of looking, designed to
elicit shared emotional response and discussion among a group of viewers, allowing an ostensibly
private experience of love between two individuals to bind a larger group of friends together.
Michelangelo’s drawings for Cavalieri, which can be viewed as straightforward visualizations of
ancient myths or as complex allegories layered with meaning, seem to encourage precisely such a
context of viewing and reception.
Michelangelo’s letters produced a kind of social currency for those who received them. Angelini
reports that Pope Clement continually asks Sebastiano if he has had any letters from the artist, and
Sebastiano acknowledges that he has allowed the pontiff access to Michelangelo’s letters.96 Both
Angelini and Sebastiano peppered their letters with gossip from Rome, and Michelangelo’s responses
themselves became fodder for gossip. Sebastiano writes that he has passed one of Michelangelo’s
more amusing letters around the Vatican, where “everyone in the palace talks of nothing else.”97
Michelangelo was clearly aware of and sensitive to the fact that his “private” correspondence had a
public function. In a letter to Sebastiano in August 1533, Michelangelo discusses both his feelings for
Cavalieri and his current work at San Lorenzo, mixing matters both personal and professional, and
closes with the explicit, perhaps exasperated, direction: “Don’t show this letter to anyone.”98 The line
between the private and the public communication was not always clear, and had to be marked
By making his private feelings for Cavalieri semipublic, sharing them openly within an exclusive
circle of friends, Michelangelo signaled that his motives were above reproach—Cavalieri was the
source of inspiration and elevating love, not the object of immoral or illegal desire. He was particu-
larly sensitive to the rumors of homosexuality or, more specifically, pederasty that were encouraged
by his intense relationships with young men like Gherardo Perini and Cavalieri. In an angry letter to
a friend, Michelangelo recounts an episode in which an importunate man encouraged him to hire his
son as an apprentice, “saying that if I were but to see him I should pursue him not only into the house,
but into bed. With his typical caustic wit, Michelangelo concluded, “I assure you that I’ll deny myself

94. Pfisterer, Lysippus und seine Freunde.

95. Ibid.
96. Carteggio, 4:17.
97. Ibid., 2:233.
98. Ibid., 4:36.
122 Maria Ruvoldt

that consolation, which I have no wish to filch from him.”99 Michelangelo’s supporters declared his
total chastity, but his enemies were quick to assert the opposite and could point to the gift drawings
as evidence. Pietro Aretino hinted as much when, frustrated in his own attempts to obtain a drawing
from Michelangelo, he resorted to thinly veiled threats. If Michelangelo refused to give him a draw-
ing, he warned, it would prove true the rumor “that only certain Gherardos and Tommasos are able
to get them.”100 At a time when acts of sodomy were punishable by fines, public whipping, and impris-
onment, such rumors were dangerous, to say the least. By framing his relationship with Cavalieri
within a Neoplatonic model of ideal love, and encouraging his friends and associates to promote that
model, Michelangelo was able to deflect potential criticism about it as an impropriety that truly
needed to be concealed.
Michelangelo’s methods of communication about Cavalieri mirror and expand the functions
of his gifts to him. Made by the artists as tokens of love for an intimate friend, the drawings were
exceptional in that they circulated outside the bounds of the traditional artist/patron exchange.
They could not be bought at any price. They were available only to those—as Aretino knowingly
hinted—who had earned Michelangelo’s particular affection. But beyond the question of personal
esteem, the drawings also represented a truly rare commodity. By the 1530s, access to an original
work by the hand of Michelangelo was extremely limited—only the fortunate few like Cavalieri
were favored with gift drawings as tokens of love. By the 1530s, Michelangelo was so overwhelmed
with obligations that even the pope had trouble getting his wishes satisfied, while a young man like
Cavalieri received unsolicited gifts of the artist’s latest inventions. Being in possession of the draw-
ings clearly granted Cavalieri considerable social capital, allowing Michelangelo to function as the
young man’s social patron. Through his network of friends, Michelangelo had folded Cavalieri into
a private circle of artists and literati; through the gift of the drawings, he brought Cavalieri to the
attention of some of the most powerful men in Rome, who were hungry for Michelangelo’s latest
inventions. Generated by desire, the drawings quickly became objects of desire themselves, attract-
ing the covetous attention of such exalted viewers as the Medici Pope Clement VII and his nephew
Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici.
On 6 September 1533, Cavalieri wrote to Michelangelo to report that a group of visitors had
descended upon him, including Pope Clement VII, his nephew Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici, and
“everyone” eager to see all of Michelangelo’s drawings.101 The cardinal, Cavalieri tells us, was so
taken with them that “he wanted to have the Tityus and Ganymede made in crystal, and I didn’t
know how to speak well enough to prevent him [from taking the Tityus]…and now maestro
Giovanni is doing it.”102 Ippolito de’ Medici commissioned the first copies after Michelangelo’s gift
drawings from the gem-engraver Giovanni Bernardi, initiating a series of copies in various media
that transmitted Michelangelo’s private images to a much wider audience, whose long and compli-
cated afterlife is the focus of my current book project.103 It is important to note that Bartolommeo
Angelini did not hesitate to copy and comment on Michelangelo’s poems for Cavalieri, because his

99. Ibid., 1:150; translation in Ramsden, Letters, 1:186.

100. Carteggio, 4:216.
101. Ibid., 4:49.
102. Ibid.
103. See Ruvoldt, “Responding to the Renaissance.”
Michelangelo’s Open Secrets 123

access to them was privileged and permissible. In contrast, Ippolito de’ Medici coerced a loan of
the drawings from Cavalieri, who struggled to find the words to prevent him, and wrote to
Michelangelo to apologize, because the cardinal was not entitled to them. The exchange was not
limited to the artist and his beloved, but it was still exclusive.
Michelangelo’s gift drawings, poems, letters, and the network of their exchange created a hierar-
chy of viewers that inverted the expected social hierarchy. Included in a select circle of Michelangelo’s
intimates who had privileged access to his literary and artistic inventions and to news from the artist
himself, those who participated in the circulation of the drawings and the letters were elevated above
other men who were arguably their social superiors. Among the most powerful men in Rome, and
important patrons of Michelangelo, the Medici and men like them could not compel gift drawings or
other expressions of affection and esteem from the artist himself. The traditional artist/patron rela-
tionship failed them in the face of the private exchange, and they found themselves relying on artists
like Sebastiano and young men like Cavalieri to achieve access.
In conclusion, Michelangelo’s methods of communication were indirect and complex. At a
time when he was under considerable pressure from the Medici pope and other patrons to com-
plete unfinished projects and embark on new ones, Michelangelo cultivated a carefully controlled
means of access not only to his private feelings for Cavalieri, but also to the artistic and literary
output generated by them. The open secret asserted Michelangelo’s artistic and social autonomy
at the very moment that he likely felt it most threatened.

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Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets
of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico
Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings
Giancarlo Fiorenza

ecrecy operated on many levels within Renaissance court society. At Ferrara, the mecha-
nisms of secrecy helped shape and define the rule of Alfonso I d’Este (1476–1534; duke
from 1505). His biographer, Paolo Giovio, observed that the duke frequently retreated to a
secret room (“stanza secreta”) in the Ferrarese castle, which was set up like a workshop (“bot-
tega”), in order to create a variety of decorative and sculpted objects, activities he performed to
relax his spirit and escape idleness (“per fuggire l’otio”).1 Within these private chambers—rooms
not so much hidden as separated from the common areas and reserved for the duke—Alfonso
combined solitude with industry, and leisure with sprezzatura, leaving his subjects to marvel at the
virtuosity fueling princely performance.2 Visitors granted access to these spaces bore witness to
the practice of seclusion as an agent of production and authority, an ideology that informs other
works of art celebrating the duke: from the inscriptions invoking quies and solus on Antonio
Lombardo’s marble reliefs (ca. 1508), once displayed in the private suite of rooms in the ducal resi-
dence known as the camerini d’alabastro (possibly near the stanza secreta mentioned above),3 to
Mercury’s gesture of silence in Dosso Dossi’s Jupiter Painting Butterflies (ca. 1524; National Art
Collection, Wawel Royal Castle, Kraków) (fig. 5.1), executed most likely for the Villa Belvedere, a

1. Giovio, Liber de vita, 7; Italian translation by Gelli, La Vita di Alfonso da Este, 15–16. Giovio’s observation is corroborated by a
letter dated 26 November 1523, in which the duke writes to his sister Isabella d’Este of Mantua, stating that he was sending her a gift of
ceramic dishes that he had made and decorated in his secret spaces (“nostri loghi secreti”); see Magnani, La ceramica ferrarese, 1:15.
2. For a study of these “secret” rooms and studioli, see Folin, “Studioli, vie coperte, gallerie,” 97–109; and Liebenwein, Studiolo.
Campbell, Cosmè Tura, 29, observes, “The symbolic force of the private study in figuring the ‘contemplative life’ was not itself new;
what distinguished the princely studio was its redirection of humanist ideals of privacy (otium) towards the political ends of display.…
In essence the studio was a backdrop against which the prince could stage the appearance of industrious solitude, thereby affirming the
humanist ideology of personal culture as an entitlement to rule.”
3. For Lombardo’s reliefs and their inscriptions, see the entries in the exhibition catalogue Il Camerino di alabastro: Sheard,
“Antonio Lombardo’s Reliefs,” and Goodgal, “Camerino of Alfonso I d’Este.” The precise location of the camerini d’alabastro in the Via
Coperta, a narrow stretch of residential quarters connecting the ducal castle to the palace quarters, remains unresolved. Certain rooms
in the Via Coperta display Alfonso’s name (ALFONSVS.DVX.III) carved on the architrave of the marble door frames, such as the one
leading into the Camera del Poggiolo; see Borella, “Lo ‘Studio de preda Marmora fina,’” 117; and Hope, “I Camerini d’alabastro.”

Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 127

FIGURE 5.1. Dosso Dossi, Jupiter Painting Butterflies, ca. 1524, oil on canvas, Kraków National Art
Collection, Wawel Royal Castle.
Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

private estate situated just outside the walls of the city and in the middle of the river Po.4 In Dosso’s
painting, Jupiter figures as an idealized image of a ruler, one who mandates privacy and silence so
as not to be distracted from his tranquil but nonetheless official duties of ordering nature, a meta-
phor frequently aligned by Ferrarese humanists with prudent statecraft.5
Alfonso sponsored a court culture heavily invested in secrecy, dissimulation, silence, and
visual and verbal ciphers, thereby perpetuating the recurring theme within Renaissance humanist
thought that “noble matters” are the possession of the elite.6 Celio Calcagnini (1479–1541), who
served as apostolic protonotary, Este court historian, and chair of the Faculty of Rhetoric at the
University of Ferrara, appreciated the paradoxical nature of secrets. He argued in various letters
and treatises that mysteries, whether verbal or visual, pagan or divine, are like treasures, being

4. For an interpretation of Dosso’s Jupiter Painting Butterflies, especially in relation to Lombardo’s reliefs, see Fiorenza, Dosso
Dossi, 21–77.
5. Fiorenza, Dosso Dossi, 56–63.
6. See, more broadly, Snyder, Dissimulation and the Culture of Secrecy, who also discusses such practices at Ferrara (51).
128 Giancarlo Fiorenza

valuable only when prudently unearthed, and not buried forever: “Mysteries are always mysteries,
so long as they are not conveyed to profane ears.”7
Secrecy was not exclusively elitist, but also very practical for Este rule. By advocating solitude
and silence in the making and meaning of works of art, Alfonso demonstrated his understanding
of the dual nature of secrecy: that it implies its own revelation and structures identity and subjec-
tivity through a body of knowledge. As Karma Lochrie explains, secrecy is never as solitary an
activity as it purports to be.8 Instead, secrecy operates in distinct social contexts, configuring
power relations, with reticence, prudence, and the dissimulation of effort in brilliant production
lending the Este duke a special veneer to his identity. It is from the complementary perspectives of
dissimulation and disclosure, of revelation and performance of what has been mystified that this
essay will investigate specific examples of Este artistic patronage, specifically small-scale, personal
devotional paintings, and how they served not only as instruments of piety for a Christian prince,
but moreover, as exoteric rhetorical devices.9
In the year 1527, the Ferrarese artist Ludovico Mazzolino (ca. 1480–after 1528) painted two
works for the duke: Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet (Philadelphia Museum of Art) (fig. 5.2) and
Christ and the Money Changers (Alnwick Castle, Northumberland).10 While not strictly pendants
owing to their different sizes, these two works present Christ as an exemplar of humility and as an
enforcer of justice, kneeling modestly before his disciples in one panel and driving the defilers out
of the temple of Jerusalem in the other. Christ’s deeds and actions constitute models of imitation
for Alfonso, who needed to rule his subjects benignly but with uncompromised authority. The
scene of the sacrifice of Isaac in the architectural roundel of the Philadelphia panel reinforces the
theme of obedience, from the unquestioning compliance to God’s command to gestures of com-
munal respect and service among Christ and his apostles.
In the Renaissance, Christ’s words were valued for their veiled wisdom. For Erasmus of
Rotterdam, Christ appears as a great teacher, with scripture as the book containing hidden spiri-
tual meaning.11 He explains in his adage Sileni Alcibiades (1515) that the intentional obscurity of
the biblical parables and the veils of figurative language employed by Christ exercised one’s cogni-
tive skills: “The parables of the Gospel, if you take them at face value—who would not think that
they came from a simple ignorant man? And yet if you crack the nut, you find inside that profound
wisdom, truly divine, a touch of something which is clearly like Christ himself.”12 Christ’s deeds
and sayings were not only moral but at the same time practical and adaptable to personal and
political contexts, witnessed, for example, by Christ’s statement of unity, “The servant is not
greater than his lord” ( John 13:16; KJV), spoken to his apostles after he washed their feet.

7. Calcagnini, Opera aliquot, 27, cited and translated in Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance, 11. On Calcagnini’s career, see
Tiraboschi, Storia della letturatura italiana, 7.3:870–73; Piana, Ricerche ed osservazioni; and Lazzari, “Un enciclopedico del sec. XVI.”
8. Lochrie, Covert Operations, 1–4. See also Eamon, Science and the Secrets of Nature.
9. On the importance of “small forms” for Renaissance rhetoric, see Colie, Resources of Kind, esp. 32–75.
10. See Zamboni, Ludovico Mazzolino, 26–27, 50n51 (Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet), and 25–26, 35n1 (Christ and the Money
Changers); and Ballarin, Dosso Dossi, 1:257 (Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet); 259–-60 (Christ and the Money Changers). I agree with
Zamboni (33) with regard to the patronage of these two panels and the corresponding documents cited.
11. See O’Malley, “Content and Rhetorical Forms,” 243–44, for Erasmus’s view of Christ as a great teacher and scripture as the
book containing his “philosophy.”
12. Mann Phillips, “Adages” of Erasmus, 276. Erasmus goes on to say that “when it is a matter of knowledge, the real truth always
lies deeply hidden, not to be understood easily or by many people.”
Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 129

FIGURE 5.2. Ludovico Mazzolino, Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet, 1527, oil on wood, Philadelphia,
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY.

Mazzolino’s images coincide with the development of a humanist theology in sixteenth-century

Italy, or what John O’Malley and Salvatore Camporeale, among others, define as sacred oratory
infused with classical rhetorical precepts, whereby the art of praise and blame concerning the
events of Christ’s life and his teachings (his beneficial ministry) overshadowed the focus on
abstract doctrines and dogma in preachers’ sermons.13 The image of Christ in the duke’s pictures
is one of an exemplary individual who combines wisdom, eloquence, and action to affect the
moral fabric of society. Through his artistic patronage Alfonso publicized his piety while structur-
ing his role as a caretaker and distributor of divine wisdom in the service of effective leadership.

13. See the essays by O’Malley, Religious Culture in the Sixteenth Century; and Camporeale, “Renaissance Humanism.” See further
Trinkhaus, “Religious Thought”; and O’Rourke Boyle, Erasmus on Language.
130 Giancarlo Fiorenza

Mazzolino specialized in small-scale paintings emphasizing Christ’s ministry, exemplified by

his frequent renditions of Christ’s disputations. Certain works depict episodes of Christ’s teach-
ings within elaborate portrayals of Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem, ornamented with hieroglyphic
and Hebrew inscriptions, two ancient languages that were valued in the Renaissance for their abil-
ity to simultaneously conceal and reveal the secrets of divine wisdom.14 The various forms of
ancient and arcane media in Mazzolino’s paintings did not merely target, but more readily helped
produce, shape, and maintain an exclusive audience, one able to decipher, deliberate on, and judi-
ciously explicate and apply the sacred mysteries of Christ’s teachings that are (at least notionally)
safeguarded by hieroglyphic and Hebraic veils. My emphasis will be on the humanistic nature of
Mazzolino’s imagery: how he shows Christ as subsuming, supplanting, and ultimately translating
into the sphere of action the secrets of divine wisdom embodied in the ancient paraphernalia. Not
only did Christ’s teachings and his miracles prove his divinity and fulfill God’s covenant, but they
also established a testimony to authority—an ultimate referent for the unveiling of sacred enig-
mas—for Christian princes and their courtiers.
Mazzolino worked extensively for the Este family, from decorating the private apartments of
Duchess Lucrezia Borgia to executing small-scale, personal devotional paintings for Alfonso and
his brothers Ippolito and Sigismondo.15 Relatively few documents survive that can be securely
connected to his existing works. Nevertheless, there was a long tradition in Ferrara of artists col-
laborating with the Este and their humanist advisers.16 While not all of the images discussed below
have a clearly documented Este provenance, Mazzolino’s use of Hebrew and hieroglyphs helped
construct a reconciliatory, catholic knowledge regarding divine wisdom for his courtly audience.
This form of participatory yet privileged viewing experience facilitated the diplomacy operating
within the Ferrarese court in the early sixteenth century, especially in light of the city’s well estab-
lished and growing Jewish community—a community tolerated and protected by the Este, often
in the face of opposition. Mazzolino’s work for the Ferrarese court also received attention by elite
patrons in nearby Bologna, resulting in paintings equally layered with meaning and containing
hidden treasures of divine wisdom.
The early provenance of Mazzolino’s Christ Disputing with the Doctors (fig. 5.3), completed
around 1522, and now in the National Gallery, London, is undocumented, but the painting serves
as a prime example of how the artist structures various media of varying origin and type to cele-
brate Christ’s sacred and secret wisdom.17 At the tender age of twelve, during the Passover feast,
Christ abandoned his parents and visited the temple of Jerusalem, where he debated with the
learned doctors and scribes on undisclosed topics. According to the Gospel of Luke (2:41–51),
this was the first occasion on which Christ taught, and the elders were amazed at his understanding

14. See Haitovsky, “Hebrew Inscriptions.” See also Busi, Enigma dell’ebraico, 73–97, for Hebrew inscriptions in Ferrarese paintings
(including those by Mazzolino) in relation to Ferrarese humanism.
15. On Mazzolino’s art and career, see Borsetti, Historiae almi ferrariae gymnasia, 2:451–52; Cittadella, Catalogo istorico de’ pittori,
1:96–101; Baruffaldi, Vita di Lodovico Mazzolino; Zamboni, Ludovico Mazzolino; Ballarin, Dosso Dossi, 1:232–61; and the various
documents transcribed by Franceschini, Artisti a Ferrara.
16. For specific case studies, see Gundersheimer, “Patronage of Ercole I d’Este”; Schwarzenberg, “Die Lunetten” (Italian
translation edited by Bargellesi, “Le lunette”); and Colantuono, “Dies Alcyoniae.” On a broader level, see Rosenberg, Este Monuments;
Campbell, Cosmè Tura; and Fiorenza, Dosso Dossi.
17. Zamboni, Ludovico Mazzolino, 21, 44–45; Ballarin, Dosso Dossi, 1:250.
Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 131

FIGURE 5.3. Ludovico Mazzolino, Christ Disputing with the Doctors, ca. 1522, oil
on wood, London, National Gallery.
© National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY.
132 Giancarlo Fiorenza

of scripture. The Hebrew inscription in the architectural lunette behind Christ reads, “The House
which Solomon built for the Lord” (1 Kings 6:2).18 This quotation is a conscious anachronism by
Mazzolino in an attempt to locate the event within the original temple of Jerusalem, the archetypi-
cal house of worship, constructed by Solomon under divine supervision in order to house the ark
of the covenant containing the Ten Commandments. Solomon’s temple, which was sacked by the
Babylonians in 587 bce, was subsequently rebuilt and later expanded by Herod in 20 bce. It was
in the so-called Second Temple that Christ held his disputations. Appropriately, Mazzolino depicts
Moses giving the Ten Commandments to his people in a monochrome relief just under the inscrip-
tion, thereby complementing the theme of the preservation and dissemination of God’s laws. The
first book of Kings equates Solomon with wisdom, namely the wisdom to execute justice within
the temple.19 As the inventor of parables and spiritual songs, Solomon used his divinely inspired
wisdom to preserve and dispense the laws of God. In Mazzolino’s composition, Christ appears as
Solomon’s successor, seated on an elaborate throne with sphinxes at its base, further corroborating
the belief that God masked his wisdom.20 Whereas the biblical identities of Solomon and Moses
are regulated by the written word and monochrome images, Christ springs forth in vivid colors
and spirited gestures: he represents the renewal and revelation of divine wisdom that challenges
and confounds the Pharisees and their laws.21 Mazzolino portrays Christ in the role of a public
orator, whose eloquence reaches a broad audience. His verbal performance stands in marked con-
trast to the ancient battle scenes shown in monochrome relief, visual examples of how the
breakdown of rational communication leads to conflict. In essence, the painting seeks to move and
delight viewers, promoting the peaceful ministries of Christ, beginning with his first public
address, equivalent to the revelation of Mosaic law.22
But it would be a mistake to claim that the Hebrew inscription and characters in Mazzolino’s
London panel produce a set of associations that are exclusively negative or obsolete, merely
intended to be overshadowed. On the contrary, by the late fifteenth century, Hebrew was being
studied as a philological tool for elucidating scripture.23 Although only a handful of Renaissance

18. Translations of the Hebrew inscriptions in Mazzolino’s paintings derive from Haitovsky, “Hebrew Inscriptions.” The author,
138, observes that the quotation from 1 Kings 6:2 appears in other paintings of the same subject by Mazzolino, as well as in his Ecce
Homo (Musée Condé, Chantilly).
19. See especially 1 Kings 3–4.
20. According to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94), who adapts a theory originally formulated by Plutarch, the Egyptians
adorned their temples with sphinxes “to indicate that divine knowledge, if it is committed to writing at all, must be covered with
enigmatic veils and poetic dissimulation”; quoted in Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance, 17.
21. See Kessler, “Medieval Art as Argument,” for medieval exegeses concerning the pictorial metaphor from the Epistle to
Hebrews (10:1), that the law is but a “shadow” to Christ’s “true image.” Notably, Barrufaldi, Vita di Lodovico Mazzolino, 14n1, observes
that Mazzolino painted with “hot and lively” colors, together with interesting portrayals of elders and saints in a manner all his own: “Il
colorito di lui è assai caldo e vivace, i suoi vecchi interessanti, e ogni cosa finitissima. Soleva coronare il capo de’ suoi santi d’una
particular luce a tante aureole concentriche; modo tutto proprio di questo artista.”
22. See O’Malley, “Egidio da Viterbo and Renaissance Rome,” 80, for the affective dimension of sacred oratory to produce the
desired effect of moral betterment.
23. See Resnick, “Lingua dei, lingua hominis”; Friedman, Most Ancient Testimony; and Ruderman, “Italian Renaissance and Jewish
Thought.” Ruderman observes that while many Christian missionaries and polemicists mined Jewish texts, from rabbinic homilies to
the kabbalah, to legitimate the Christian faith and point out the errors, shortcomings, and perversity of Judaism, the intellectual pursuit
of Christian humanists, chief among them Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, passionately sought to underwrite the essential
and catholic divine truths that were common possession of all humanity and all cultures, “a unity and harmony of religious insight, a
basic core of universal truth” (397).
Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 133

Christians could read Hebrew, there was a strong theological tradition commending Hebrew as a
privileged language, original to mankind and preserving the hidden order of nature as designed by
God.24 One Christian scholar claimed, “For when reading Hebrew I seem to see God Himself
speaking when I think that this is the language in which God and the angels have told their minds
to man from on high.”25 Because its script was largely “alien” and illegible, Hebrew was seen to
embody a talismanic quality in Renaissance painting.26 In this light, the presentation of Christ in
debate below the Hebrew inscription in Mazzolino’s London Christ Disputing with the Doctors can
be seen to offer his patron a more immediate and profound experience with the divine—a daz-
zling revelation of God’s secrets through Christ’s oratory.
How might Mazzolino’s paintings function at the Este court? Ferrara was an important refuge
for Jews expelled or fleeing persecution from other states throughout Europe, and the Este devel-
oped close ties with the Jewish community.27 On account of its politics of tolerance, the court
benefited greatly from Jewish money-lending practices. Under Duke Ercole I d’Este (1431–1505;
duke from 1471), Alfonso’s father, Ferrara had become an important center for the printing of
Hebrew texts. Jews enjoyed exemption from paying taxes by ducal order in 1473, and they estab-
lished a synagogue in the early 1480s. Ferrarese Christians also took a strong interest in Jewish
customs and rituals. In 1498, the Jewish scholar Abraham ben Mordecai Farissol (1452–ca. 1528)
performed a ritual circumcision in the Ferrarese house of Pellegrino Prisciani, the astrologer and
ducal librarian, who served as a witness in the company of other Christians.28 Farissol was highly
active in the Italian humanist arena and may have even taught Hebrew to Christians, among them
Prisciani, who knew Hebrew well. These events are characteristic of what Jerome Friedman sees as
a peculiar trend in the Renaissance of a Judaizing of the Christian religion, of a return to Hebraic
sources and practices to determine the meaning of God’s words and strengthen the faith.29 Farissol,
who originated from Avignon and lived for a time in Mantua before settling in Ferrara by 1472,
perhaps viewed the religious climate in Italy with a mixture of appreciation and criticism, noting
in his Magen Avraham (The Shield of Abraham) of 1500–1512, an anti-Christian treatise, that
Judaizing Christians abided by the following:
One of the sages described their faith in the following manner…one should take heed to keep all the
practices enjoined…in the Mosaic law…while remaining faithful to the mystery and prefiguration
that is alluded to or ordained in the new teaching of Jesus.… And he believed and affirmed that it was

24. Resnick, “Lingua dei, lingua hominis,” 51–74, has assembled a wide range of authorities from St. Jerome to St. Augustine to
Dante Alighieri who affirm that Hebrew was the language of Adam, with Hebrew scriptures, because they antedate all other ancient
writings, being “more reliable records both of the early history of man and of primordial divine truths” (56). See further Eco, Search for
the Perfect Language, 7–33.
25. Quoted in Friedman, Most Ancient Testimony, 73. The quotation is from the German lawyer Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522),
who pioneered the study of Hebrew for Christians, and who argued that “God wished his secrets to be known to man through Hebrew.”
26. See Wood, Forgery, Replica, Fiction, 278–79.
27. See above all Ruderman, World of a Renaissance Jew. Also informative are Campbell, Cosmè Tura, 99–129; Franceschini,
Presenza ebraica a Ferrara; and Robert Bonfil, “Judeo-Christian Cultural Relations,” with further bibliography.
28. On Prisciani, see Rotondo, “Pellegrino Prisciani.” Prisciani’s connection with Farissol is discussed by Ruderman, World of a
Renaissance Jew, 28, and moreover offers a comprehensive biography of Farissol. On Farissol’s connection with artists and humanists at
the Ferrarese court, see further Busi, Enigma dell ebraico, 73–97.
29. Friedman, Most Ancient Testimony, 182–94
134 Giancarlo Fiorenza

necessary to be circumscribed and baptized, to wear a prayer shawl and phylacteries and observe all
the practical precepts [of the law] and at the same time to remember the Christian concept of God.30

Such a convergence between Christian and Jewish cultures continued in Ferrara under the rule of
Alfonso I. The duke protected the city’s Jewish population, permitting their businesses to prosper
and allowing the establishment of a Jewish confraternity, a voluntary pious association known as a
Gemilut Hasadim, in 1515.31 Ultimately, however, the Este’s relationship with the Jews was utili-
tarian, and the court at times buckled under the pressure of the papacy and other religious
institutions. In 1508, for example, Alfonso acquiesced to a combination of thundering sermons,
political advice, and public pressure, establishing the Monte di Pietà in Ferrara, which curtailed
Jewish money lending.32 Tensions between Christians and Jews in Ferrara also manifested them-
selves in the compulsory theological debates sponsored by the Este.
Sometime between 1487 and 1490, at the request of Duke Ercole I and his wife, Eleanora,
Farissol engaged in a series of public debates with Ludovico Valena, a Dominican, and Petrus
Malfetta, a Franciscan.33 Farissol was also compelled to write down his arguments in order to fur-
ther defend his answers, all of which he records in his Magen Avraham. The topics of the
disputations focused on the legitimacy and relative superiority of Judaism or Christianity, and the
participants each deliberated on such issues as prophecy, miracles, divine intervention, Mosaic
law, usury, the Incarnation, and the Trinity. Public disputations occurred elsewhere in Italy, at
Rimini and Milan, for instance, and while peaceful, they nevertheless served to display the inher-
ent prejudice of the Christian population against the Jews. As has been noted, the spirited tenor of
the Ferrarese debates corresponds closely to the liveliness and emotional intensity of Mazzolino’s
paintings.34 Given Farissol’s connection with the inner circles of the Este court, in which he culti-
vated personal friendships with Prisciani and Calcagnini, it is tempting to speculate that he served
as an advisor to Mazzolino, spelling out the Hebrew inscriptions in his paintings, and in turn sup-
plying the translation to the artist’s patrons.35 Whether or not Mazzolino and his courtly patrons
actually knew Hebrew is a moot point, because his paintings give the appearance of literacy in the
language that God supposedly spoke to Adam. Possession of the painting implies knowledge of its
mysterious content. A patron could in turn let the painting “speak” for him without entering into
debate, allowing silence to act as a means of dissimulation and circumventing heated encounters.36
The use of Jewish imagery and Hebrew inscriptions played both a theological and a political role
in Ferrarese art since the fifteenth century. For example, Cosmè Tura’s Roverella altarpiece (ca. 1474)
and Garofalo’s extraordinary fresco of the Crucifix with Ecclesia and Synagoga of 1523, express

30. Friedman, Most Ancient Testimony, 188.

31. Ruderman, “Founding of a Gemilut Hasadim”; Horowitz, “Jewish Confraternal Piety.”
32. Ruderman, World of a Renaissance Jew, 85–97.
33. The dispute is analyzed by Ruderman, World of a Renaissance Jew, 57–84.
34. See the observation by Haitovsky, “Hebrew Inscriptions,” 141. Haitovsky fails to cite Ruderman’s essential study of Farissol
and his Magen Avraham, which clarifies the dating of the Ferrarese debates and Farissol’s proper life dates.
35. Busi, Enigma dell ebraico, 95–97, notes the connection between Calcagnini and Farissol, and also suggests Farissol as the
possible adviser for Mazzolino. As Haitovsky, “Hebrew Inscriptions,” 134–35, notes, Mazzolino must have had a Jewish adviser because
that name of God is abbreviated in his Hebrew inscriptions, complying with the customs of observant Jews that forbid the spelling out
or voicing of God’s name.
36. In Calcagnini’s dialogue Descriptio silentii, 491–94, he analyzes in detail the practical, rhetorical, and philosophical merits of
silence as exemplified by classical authors like Plutarch, Pindar, Xenocrates, and Aesop.
Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 135

anti-Jewish ideologies and the politics of toleration respectively.37 It follows that there is a political
currency to Mazzolino’s art as well, one that brokers the Este’s relationship with the city’s Jewish com-
munity. Christ and the Money Changers, noted above, presents a rhetorical enticement in support of
the Monte di Pietà established in Ferrara, especially given Farissol’s outspoken defense of Jewish
money lending. Yet one can also see a more diplomatic and reconciliatory theme operating in
Mazzolino’s works, which, like Garofalo’s fresco, are also cast in antiquity. Ancient customs and writ-
ings are brought under the umbrella of Christ’s ministry to strengthen Christian leadership.
Further evidence that the Este valued Hebraic learning and ancient Jewish rituals and customs
comes from another version of Mazzolino’s Christ Disputing with the Doctors, now in the Galleria
Doria Pamphilj, Rome (fig. 5.4).38 Although Mazzolino painted several versions of this subject, the
Doria Pamphilj panel is here identified with the one commissioned by Sigismondo d’Este (1480–
1524), the brother of Alfonso, and paid for on 26 January 1520. This provenance is based on the
dating of the panel on stylistic grounds, the overall high quality of the work in terms of technique and
composition, and the complexity of the Hebrew inscription. As in his other works of the same sub-
ject, Mazzolino stages an opposition between the Pharisees who, clutching their texts, are bent on
enumerating proofs, and Christ, who stands as a model classical orator, stirring his audience and
commanding admiration through his speech.39 The young Christ rests his arms on a lectern, confi-
dent in his debate with the Pharisees, who appear lost in their texts as they attempt a rebuttal. The
Hebrew inscription in the architectural roundel contains a unique command from God to Moses and
his people, recorded in Leviticus 23:42: “In the sukkah you will dwell seven days every citizen in
Israel.”40 The inscription makes reference to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths. This holi-
day comes five days after Yom Kippur and commemorates the Jews who fled Egypt and lived in
makeshift booths (sukkot) in the desert. Notably, the dedication of the temple of Solomon coincided
with the holiday of Sukkot.41 As Dalia Haitovsky observes, the inscription aligns the Jewish festival
with the consecration of Jerusalem’s original temple; subsequently, at the precocious age of twelve,
Christ inaugurates his reign of wisdom within that very temple.42
Reading the Hebrew permits the patron to make the connection for his audience between the
time of the dedication of Solomon’s temple and the time of Christ’s maturity: the public demon-
stration of his divine nature and the translation of sacred mysteries through his learning.
Sigismondo d’Este’s ability to translate and interpret the Hebrew message (even if it was provided

37. On the Roverella Altarpiece, see Campbell, Cosmè Tura, 99–129; and Busi, Enigma dell ebraico, 83–90. On Garofalo’s fresco,
see Katz, Jew in the Art of the Italian Renaissance, 69–98. Following the relaxation of the laws requiring Jews to wear earrings and yellow
badges, Hebrew script was one of the most “distinguishing signs” of Jewish identity for Christians; see Owen Hughes, “Distinguishing
38. Zamboni, Ludovico Mazzolino, 32, 54–55; Ballarin, Dosso Dossi, 1:244.
39. See O’Malley, “Content and Rhetorical Forms,” 240, for the emphasis on movere and delectare in sermons.
40. Haitovsky, “Hebrew Inscriptions,” 135–41, also notes the significance of this inscription in relation to Christ’s salvation. The
translation in the King James Version reads, “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths.”
41. On representations of the sukkot in Ferrara, see Manca, “Renaissance Theater and Hebraic Ritual.” See further Haitovsky,
“Hebrew Inscriptions,” 138–39. According to 1 Kings 6:38, the dedication of the temple was postponed for eleven months after its
completion. In addition, 1 Kings 8:2 reads, “All the people of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the festival in the month Ethanim,
which is the seventh month.”
42. The dedication of Solomon’s temple thus begins with the Sukkot, and conceptually ends with Ecce Homo, when Christ is
presented to the Jews in the temple just before his crucifixion, as noted by Haitovsky, “Hebrew Inscriptions,” 138–39. Mazzolino’s Ecce
Homo, now in Dresden, features the same inscription: “In the sukkah you will dwell seven days every citizen in Israel.”
136 Giancarlo Fiorenza

FIGURE 5.4. Ludovico Mazzolino, Christ Disputing with the Doctors, ca. 1520, oil on wood, Rome,
Galleria Doria Pamphilj.
Alinari / Art Resource, NY.
Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 137

for him) helped shape and affirm his power and superior learning in the face of Ferrara’s substantial
Jewish community, who might appeal to their own laws and customs as more ancient and there-
fore more authoritative. Through strategic pairings, Mazzolino’s Doria Pamphilj panel merges the
sacred laws and festivals of the ancient Hebrews with the public oratory of Christ, who figures as a
terminus for divine and benign authority.
Mazzolino’s ability to provide his courtly audience with a visual formula that conceals yet
reveals sacred wisdom extends to his Christ and the Adulterous Woman, painted around 1519, and
now in Florence’s Galleria Palatina (fig. 5.5).43 This small-scale panel confronts the viewer with the
convergence of Hebrew and hieroglyphic inscriptions in the context of Christ’s ministry. The orig-
inal patron is unknown, but the painting expands on the symbolism of the sphinxes found in his
London panel mentioned above, implying that Christ provides the doorway to the repositories of
ancient mysteries. Although Mazzolino incorporated hieroglyphs in other works, his Christ and
the Adulterous Woman is exemplary for staging boundaries of restriction and distinction through a
viewing experience.
Numerous Renaissance commentators defined hieroglyphics as a sacred language, seeing the
enigmatic ideograms and pictograms used by the ancient Egyptians as encoded with divine truth
at the time of God’s creation.44 A well-known example comes from Erasmus in his adage Festina
lente (1508), which states that hieroglyphs were used by priests and theologians in Egypt, “who
thought it wrong to exhibit the mysteries of wisdom to the vulgar in open writing, as we do; but
they expressed what they thought worthy to be known by various symbols, things or animals, so
that not everyone could readily interpret them. But if anyone deeply studied the qualities of each
object, and the special nature and power of each creature, he would at length…understand the
meaning of the riddle.”45 The language of images comprising hieroglyphics represented the lan-
guage of God, “because God,” in the words of the Marsilio Ficino, “has knowledge of things not
through a multiplicity of processes, but rather as a simple and firm form of the thing.”46 As a time-
less language, hieroglyphs enabled an immediate and all-encompassing comprehension of the
essence (or nature) of the things pictured, combining wisdom and knowledge in the design of
images. It should also come as no surprise that hieroglyphs were studied in conjunction with
Hebrew in the Renaissance, as both were employed as methods of exegesis, capable of expressing
a broad and continually expanding spiritual meaning.47

43. Zamboni, Ludovico Mazzoino, 25, 41; Ballarin, Dosso Dossi, 1:245–46.
44. Among the more recent studies on hieroglyphs and Egyptology in the Renaissance are Curran, Egyptian Renaissance; Curran,
“Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Renaissance Egyptology”; Eco, Search for the Perfect Language, 144–77; Wittkower, “Hieroglyphics in
the Early Renaissance”; Dempsey, “Renaissance Hieroglyphic Studies”; Galis, “Concealed Wisdom,” 363–75; and Iversen, Myth of
45. Mann Phillips, “Adages” of Erasmus, 175; and Greene, “Erasmus’s Festina lente.” In his 1517 translation of Horapollo’s
Hieroglyphica, the Bolognese humanist Filippo Fasanini also values the symbolic nature of hieroglyphic characters (“hieroglypha
grammatica”) because of their ability to conceal the most secret doctrines and the most worthy pieces of knowledge of Egyptian
religion, yet reveal this information to the learned, who could grasp “the enigma of meaning” (“aenigma sententiae”) through informed
deliberation, and subsequently obtain the highest honors; see Curran, Egyptian Renaissance, 156–58, 181–82.
46. Quoted in Wittkower, “Hieroglyphics in the Early Renaissance,” 116.
47. Dempsey, “Renaissance Hieroglyphic Studies,” 345, observes that hieroglyphic was not seen as the exclusive domain of
Egyptian culture, but was promoted “as a universal symbolic means of communication among the educated, a means, moreover,
inextricably intertwined with speculation about the origins of language and the language of God himself.”
138 Giancarlo Fiorenza

FIGURE 5.5. Ludovico Mazzolino, Christ and the Adulterous Woman, ca. 1519, oil on
wood, Florence, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti.
Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.
Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 139

In 1556 Pierio Valeriano (1477–ca. 1560) published his Hieroglyphica, a text that represented
at that time the sum of knowledge on hieroglyphs and Egyptian culture. The Hieroglyphica claims
that Christ and his apostles, following in the footsteps of Moses, David, and the prophets, used a
hieroglyphic method in veiling the primordial mysteries and sacred truths of their words through
parables and other forms of figurative speech.48 Valeriano’s appreciation of Christ’s hieroglyphic
method adds another layer of meaning to interpreting Mazzolino’s Christ and the Adulterous
Woman. The composition shows Christ disputing with the scribes and Pharisees over the fate of a
woman caught committing adultery. According to the Gospel of John (8:3–11), the Pharisees, in
their attempt to trap Jesus in a legal conundrum, believing him to be a false Messiah, appeal to
Mosaic law, which prescribes stoning any woman who has committed adultery. Appropriately
enough, Mazzolino depicts a scene in monochrome of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments.
The gospel relates that Jesus scrawled undisclosed words on ground with his finger, and one sees
in the painting a scribe bending down and straining to read those words in the shadows. When the
Pharisees continued to question him, Jesus replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him first
cast a stone at her” ( John 8:7). Christ’s retort caused the elders to disperse, and the woman’s life
was spared. In Mazzolino’s painting, Christ’s posture conveys superiority, whereas the Pharisee
kneels down to read Christ’s writing as if in supplication.49 At left, one elder walks away, visibly
stupefied. While the message is one of tolerance and Christian mercy, the artist presents the sub-
ject in such a way that Christ’s words are fundamentally civil and humane. The painting contrasts
the Pharisees, whose strict adherence to ancient law can only reach a fatal conclusion, with Christ,
whose response avoids proof in favor of moral and ethical reasoning.
The hieroglyphs on the temple are adapted from a famous and often-copied series of antique
reliefs that once adorned the early Christian church of S. Lorenzo fuori le Muri in Rome. These
same naval symbols also served as the basis for the fictive relief in Sebastiano del Piombo’s emblem-
atic portrait of Andrea Doria, the great naval admiral, of 1526 (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome).50
Like the hieroglyphs in the portrait, which both conceal and reveal the inner character of Andrea
Doria, the hieroglyphic frieze in Mazzolino’s Christ and the Adulterous Woman veils the deeper
spiritual message of Christ’s words. Conventional aids, such as the eyeglasses or literary compen-
dia used by the scribes in this and in other paintings by Mazzolino, fail to unravel the primordial
truths underlying his teachings. This reading is reinforced by the Hebrew inscription in the roun-
del, which again reads, “The House which Solomon built for the Lord.” As in his other paintings,
this citation is paired with a monochrome scene of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments,
highlighting the role of the Hebrews as protectors and bearers of God’s law. Mazzolino enables the
viewer to follow how the sacred mysteries and divine laws encoded in the ancient symbols of the

48. Valeriano, Hieroglyphica, fols. 3v–4r; quoted by Galis, “Concealed Wisdom,” 365n10: “Sed ne in conquirendis multis laborare
videar, cum hac hieroglyphica instituendi ratione similitudinem habere comperio divinas nostrorum literas, ita omnia mystico quodam
sensu scripta quaecunque Moses, quae David, quae Prophetae reliqui coelesti spiritu afflati protulerunt. In nova vero lege novoque
instrumento cum Assertor noster ait, Aperiam in parabolis os meum, et in aenigmate antiqua loquar, quid aliud sibi voluit, quam,
hieroglyphice sermonem faciam, et allegorice vetusta rerum proferam monumenta. Et illud, Iesus in Parabolis loquebat ad turbas,
nonne sermones suos arcano quasi velamine quodam contegebat. Pari modo videmus Apostolos ab usitato loquendi more recessisse,
ut sacra de Deo dicta e ceteris scriptis, sicut merita dignitate, ita et forma quadam discernerentur, ne coelestium mysteriorum maiestas
passim et indiscrete patesceret, sanctumque canibus, et margarita porcis exponerent.”
49. For an informative reading of Pieter Bruegel’s treatment of the same subject, see Kavaler, Pieter Bruegel, 13–20.
50. See Leoncini, “Deduzioni iconografiche”; and Gorse, “Augustan Mediterranean Iconography,” with further bibliography.
140 Giancarlo Fiorenza

Egyptians and in the writings of the Hebrews are subsumed and renewed through the public
teachings of Christ, the divine successor to Moses and Solomon. If there is a secret message
encoded in the series of hieroglyphs in the Galleria Palatina panel, it would have been up to the
artist or humanist adviser to reveal the meaning to the patron. In Filarete’s Trattato di Architettura,
written in Milan around 1460 to 1464, the ideal prince commissions his architect to devise a mon-
ument with an original and covert hieroglyphic inscription, desiring that its cipher be disclosed to
him only at a later date.51 Ultimately, Mazzolino’s courtly patrons could be seen to preserve and
perpetuate the dynamic process of spiritual thought through the ownership, display, and discus-
sion of the ancient inscriptions and aenigmata.
Leon Battista Alberti, in a discussion on ornament from his fifteenth-century De Re Aedificatoria
(8:4), suggests that hieroglyphs should replace ordinary letters and conventional inscriptions on
monuments, which would otherwise be forgotten and fade into oblivion. Alberti insists that hiero-
glyphs, just like Greek and Roman narrative relief sculptures honoring famous men, would always be
accessible to later generations, but only by “expert men…to whom alone noble matters should be
communicated.”52 The hieroglyphs that appear on Solomon’s temple in Mazzolino’s painting there-
fore provide a symbolic gloss on divine secrecy inherent in the scriptural episode. Christ’s words
combine universality and exclusivity, sacredness and permanence in their hieroglyphic mode of
address, accessible to privileged minds for all eternity.53 Following Alberti’s lead, it is possible to read
the entire imagery of Mazzolino’s Christ and the Adulteress Woman as a hieroglyph, connected with
the invention of the figurative arts.54 It is significant that Calcagnini, who also wrote a translation of
the Hieroglyphica of Horapollo sometime between 1505 and 1517, draws parallels between pictorial
design and hieroglyphs.55 In the dedication letter to his cousin Tommaso, Calcagnini states that his
translation was like a preparatory drawing for a large painting, which served as a preview, putting
before the viewer’s eye the difficulties that needed to be addressed by his intellectual faculties.56
Accordingly, with his exuberant display of Hebrew and hieroglyphs, Mazzolino exercises the intuitive
and interpretive faculties of his viewers regarding Christ’s actions and sayings.

51. “He also wanted an obelisk erected in the middle of these two theaters with the letters that I have mentioned in the forms of
animals and other things, almost like the Egyptian ones [quasi come quelle egiziache]. He wanted me to write his name and the date, that
is, the year. He said he wanted this done before he understood them, although, as he said, he wanted them explained to him later”;
quoted and translated in Curran, Egyptian Renaissance, 85–86. Burroughs, “Hieroglyphs in the Street,” 61, 77n29, also cites the relevant
example of Bramante’s invented hieroglyph for the Vatican Palace, a proposal rejected by Julius II because the rebus was not unique.
52. Alberti, On the Art of Building, 256. See also Burroughs, “Hieroglyphs in the Street,” 57–81. Burroughs (60) notes that Paolo
Cortesi’s De Cardinalatu (ca. 1510) recommends the use of aenigmata and apologi be reserved for the private arenas of a palace.
53. The mystical writings attributed to Dionysius the Aeropagite effectively confirmed for Renaissance humanists and theologians
that the sacred scriptures functioned allegorically by preserving “the holy and secret truth” through “unutterable and sacred enigmas”;
cited in Curran, Egyptian Renaissance, 74; and see Wind, Pagan Mysteries, 20.
54. Curran, “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and Renaissance Egyptology,” 160, observes that “Alberti appears to place the invention
of hieroglyphs at the beginning of the history of the figurative arts, ceding, in the process, the invention of this art to the Egyptians.” In
addition, Galis, “Concealed Wisdom,” interprets Lorenzo Lotto’s designs for the intarsia covers in the choir of S. Maria Maggiore,
Bergamo (1524) as functionally hieroglyphic.
55. Celio Calcagnini, Opera aliquot, 18–20, reprinted with an Italian translation in Savarese and Gareffi, La letteratura delle
immagini nel Cinquecento, 57–68.
56. Calcagnini, Opera aliquot, 18; Savarese and Gareffi, La letteratura delle immagini, 60: “Et profecto, qui sunt maiorem quampiam
picturam aggressuri, solent eius vestigia, quod ichonographiae beneficium est, praenotare, tum ut aliorum iudicia eliciant, tum ut
habeant prae oculis in quibus periclitetur ingenium.”
Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 141

Mazzolino’s use of ancient and arcane paraphernalia also draws attention to the temple as a
work of art in and of itself. Mazzolino’s highly ornamental style and portrayal of exotic oriental
costumes, colors, and inscriptions bypasses Greek and Roman cultures to offer a different kind of
antiquity and classicism from that of his contemporary Raphael, to whom he is so often negatively
compared. The first book of Kings, chapter 6, describes in great detail Solomon’s temple, with its
precious materials and elaborate figurative carvings. Mazzolino’s imaginative conception of the
temple of Jerusalem in his paintings emerges as a palimpsest of King Solomon’s divinely inspired
artifice. The Hebrew inscription celebrating Solomon’s role as architect effectively doubles as a
Solomonic identity for the artist. In other words, the Hebrew serves as type of emblematic self-
presentation of artistic wit, ingenuity, and the bizarre so admired by the Ferrarese court.57 Notably,
Lorenzo Costa (1460–1535), Mazzolino’s teacher, signed his Saint Sebastian in Hebrew.58 In this
way Costa deliberately concealed his identity from the masses and emphatically rewarded the
cognoscenti at court by honoring their noble minds.59
We can conclude our study by investigating Mazzolino’s patronage outside of his native Ferrara,
in nearby Bologna. Although documents regarding Mazzolino early career are scarce, he most likely
assisted Costa in Bologna, where he retained long-term personal and professional ties. In 1524,
Mazzolino painted his Christ Disputing with the Doctors, an extraordinary large-scale work for the
physician Francesco Caprara, which was designed for his family chapel in San Francesco in Bologna
(now in Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin).60 This altarpiece, one of his most celebrated
works, is filled with Hebrew inscriptions, curious ornaments, and exotically dressed characters.61 It is
no coincidence that Bolognese humanists, including Filippo Beroaldo the Elder and Giovanni
Filoteo Achillini, took a keen interest in the bizarre and the arcane in their own writings.62
Caprara was close friends with the Bolognese poet, courtier, and diplomat Girolamo Casio
(1464/67–1533).63 In 1524, Mazzolino painted a small-scale, private devotional painting represent-
ing The Tribute Money (Poznań, Muzeum Narodowe; fig. 5.6) for Casio, and it is this work that merits
closer attention.64 As an ambassador for the Bolognese state, Casio was on close terms with the courts
of Ferrara and Mantua, and the Medici family of Florence bestowed on him many honors, including
the privilege of using their last name, and he is sometimes referred to as Girolamo Casio de’ Medici.
A highly reputed antiquarian, he was also a significant patron of the arts, serving as an artistic broker
and writing numerous poems honoring contemporary artists and their works, including those of

57. See the relevant discussion by Campbell, Cosmè Tura, 126–27, as it relates to Ferrarese artists like Mazzolino.
58. Negro and Roio, Lorenzo Costa, 10, 81–82; and Campbell, Cosmè Tura, 26. For Costa’s use of Hebrew in his paintings, see
further Haitovsky, “New Look at a Lost Painting.”
59. See Campbell, Cosmè Tura, 26–27.
60. Zamboni, Ludovico Mazzolino, 36–37; Ballarin, Dosso Dossi, 1:252–53.
61. Lamo, Graticola di Bologna, 80–81, states that while Baldassarre Peruzzi praised this altarpiece as rivaling the works of Raphael
on account of its pictorial refinement (“molto diligentisima”), he nonetheless finds its ornament unsightly (“ma con bruto ornamento”).
For a translation of the Hebrew inscriptions in this altarpiece, see Haitovsky, “Hebrew Inscriptions,” 135–40.
62. See D’Amico, “Progress of Renaissance Latin Prose.”
63. On Casio’s life and career, see Fantuzzi, Notizie degli scrittori bolognesi, 3:130–40; Cavicchi, Girolamo Casio; and Berselli, “Un
committente e un pittore” (see 127n10 for the discrepancies of Casio’s date of birth).
64. Zamboni, Ludovico Mazzolino, 24, 51; and Ballarin, Dosso Dossi, 1:254. Mazzolino produced several versions of this subject,
another elegant example being housed in Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford.
142 Giancarlo Fiorenza

FIGURE 5.6. Ludovico Mazzolino, The Tribute Money, 1524, oil on wood, Poznań, Muzeum Narodowe.
Courtesy of Muzium Narodowe, Poznań, Poland.
Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 143

Leonardo da Vinci and Francesco Francia.65 In 1500, he commissioned from the Milanese artist
Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio the famous altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with Donors for his family
chapel in Santa Maria della Misericordia in Bologna (now in Musée du Louvre, Paris).66
Mazzolino’s Tribute Money would have had personal meaning for Casio, who was an avid col-
lector of rare coins and gems. According to the gospels (Matthew 22:15–21, Luke 20:20–26, and
Mark 12:13–17), the Pharisees sought Christ in the temple where he was teaching with parables.
They plotted to entrap him by tempting him to speak out on the question of whether it was lawful
to pay taxes to the emperor. If Jesus approved of paying taxes he would offend the Jews; if he
denounced payment he could be reported as disloyal to the empire. Aware of their ploy, Jesus
demands to be shown a coin and asks whose image it bears. When they respond that it is Caesar’s
image, Jesus silences them with a retort: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are
Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Hearing this, the Pharisees
departed from the temple in amazement. In Mazzolino’s painting one Pharisee shows Christ the
coin and another inspects it while the crowd reacts in wonder to the divine answer. The Tribute
Money privileges Christ’s intuition over the religious and political power of the Pharisees and the
secular laws of the Romans. His maxim offers a new solution to an age-old problem regarding the
power struggle between church and state. By evading potential conflict, Christ’s actions would
have been highly instructive and useful to the patron’s role as courtier and diplomat.
Not only did the subject have personal meaning for Casio, but it also emulates courtly patron-
age. In Ferrara, Alfonso I d’Este commissioned Titian to paint The Tribute Money (Gemäldegalerie
Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden) (fig. 5.7), datable to ca. 1516, possibly to
adorn one of his camerini that housed his collection of rare coins and medals.67 The biblical subject
was highly relevant to the duke, who had recently ended his role in bloody and prolonged Cambrai
Wars against the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, losing the important territories of Modena
and Reggio to Julius II, but nevertheless retaining the sovereignty of the Ferrarese state. Ferrara
was traditionally a papal territory with the Este serving as vicars, with the family owed their inves-
titures to the Holy Roman Emperor. For Alfonso, Titian’s Tribute Money could address his delicate
political position between the opposing forces of the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire at the
conclusion of the Cambrai Wars.68 In contrast to Titian’s dramatic close-up and psychologically
intense image, Mazzolino’s painting for Casio extols Christ’s rhetorical skills, his confidence and
divine conviction in the face of opposition. The scene of the Sacrifice of Isaac in the roundel of
Mazzolino’s painting also stresses obedience to God and is related to his Philadelphia Christ
Washing the Apostles’ Feet. Both Titian and Mazzolino adapt a form of humanist theology for their

65. For Casio’s writings on art, see Pedretti, Documenti e memorie riguardanti Leonardo da Vinci. Highlights include Casio’s poem
dedicated to Francesco Francia’s Adoration of the Child of 1499, commissioned by Anton Galeazzo Bentivoglio for the high altar of
Santa Maria della Misericordia in Bologna, in his Vita de’ Santi, 55v; and his poem dedicated to Leonardo’s St. Anne cartoon in his
Cronica, 126r, a volume which also contains epitaphs on artists, including Francia, Boltraffio, Leonardo, Mantegna, and Raphael
66. On Casio’s patronage of Boltraffio, see Berselli, “Un committente e un pittore,” 123–43; and Caprara, “Girolamo Casio e il
ritratto a Bologna.”
67. Weber, “La collezione di pittore ferrarese,” 39.
68. Alfonso’s delicate balance of power between pope and emperor is expressed by the inscription on his own double ducat, “Que
sunt Deo Dei,” which quotes Christ’s retort to the Pharisees regarding the payment of taxes (Matthew 22:21; Luke 20:25; and Mark
12:17). On the political currency of Alfonso’s coin, see Shepherd, “A Letter Concerning Coins”; and Rosenberg, “Money Talks,” 38–39.
144 Giancarlo Fiorenza

FIGURE 5.7. Titian, The Tribute Money, ca. 1516, oil on wood,
Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen.
Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.

private devotional paintings, which enable their respective patrons to rethink Christ’s divine mes-
sage as a means to overcome various historical or social predicaments.
Casio, who made pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Santiago de Campostela, was deeply reli-
gious and wrote extensively on the life of Christ, including a poem focusing on Christ disputing in
the temple.69 Mazzolino’s paintings for his Bolognese patrons complement Casio’s vernacular
meditational poetry in praise of Christ’s actions. Casio dedicated his La Clementina to Clement
VII when he ascended to the papal throne in 1523, and the Medici pope crowned Casio poet laure-
ate for his religious verses, which were published in that year. The Latin inscription recorded on

69. Casio, Vita de’ Santi, 13v.

Hebrew, Hieroglyphs, and the Secrets of Divine Wisdom in Ludovico Mazzolino’s Devotional Paintings 145

the entablature in his Tribute Money recognizes Casio as knight and poet laureate, honors and titles
awarded to him by the Medici: “ANNO DNI HIERO CASIVS DE MEDICIS EQVES ET
LAVREATVS MDXXIV.” Instead of a Hebrew citation acknowledging Solomon’s construction,
the Latin proclaims Casio as the temple’s patron. Casio’s name appears in the nominative, as if in
the title page of a book. In the sixteenth century, the parallel between book and building grew
increasingly familiar, testified by the emergence of architectural frontispieces in publications.70
Mazzolino transforms the biblical temple into a metaphoric storehouse of Casio’s intellectual trea-
sures, suggesting that he has committed to memory Christ’s teachings in order to assist his
professional role as a prudent diplomat. For Casio, knowledge equals power over the uncertainties
of the political climate in Italy, and power comes in the form of divine revelation of sacred myster-
ies.71 Through the contemplation of such a congratulatory image of Christ, the painting was
designed to awaken in Casio his poetic and deliberative faculties: to enrich the temple of his mind
with the secret treasures of divine wisdom.72

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A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper
Cardinal Bibbiena at the Vatican Palace

Henry Dietrich Fernández

ecrecy played a key role within the apartment belonging to Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi da
Bibbiena at the Vatican Palace, created by Raphael around 1516 at Pope Leo X’s behest to
supply Bibbiena, his boyhood tutor, with living quarters of exceptional quality. Bibbiena
was Leo’s segretario domestico, his confidential secretary, his “secret keeper,” as the early modern
world understood segretario to mean.1 The cardinal’s rooms included the stufetta with erotic gro-
tesques (fig. 6.1), the loggetta (fig. 6.2), and the chapel, and they were situated above the pope’s
own camerae secretae, connected to the pope’s chambers by a small, secret spiral staircase. Courtly
ritual at the Vatican Palace hindered private exchange, and the secret staircase thereby gave Leo
and Bibbiena the means to interact undisturbed and with discretion. This essay explores the spa-
tial operations and architecture that enabled this singular relationship between pope and secretary
to function.2
Numerous sources underscore the extent to which the notion of secrecy was embedded into the
role of the secretary in the Italian Renaissance. For example, the Venetian writer Francesco Sansovino,
in his 1564 Del Secretario noted that “the Secretary is named from the secrecy that one presupposes
must be in him, he must have eyes and mind, but not a tongue outside of counsel.”3 Forty years later,
Sansovino’s words were largely echoed by the Vicentian historian Giacomo Marzari, who in 1593
wrote that “Secretaries are now called a secretis presumably because they must have a constant and
solid secrecy in them, that they will never speak freely, for any reason whatsoever about the affairs of
their prince, but the secretary must keep these affairs to himself, as if he were mute.”4 For John Florio,
the secretario was plainly and unambiguously a “secret keeper.”5

This essay remained incomplete at the time of Dr. Fernández’s death in 2009. The notes that appear here have been added by the
editors. The editors want to thank Caroline P. Murphy for her assistance and support in publishing the essay and hope that it serves as
a fitting tribute to Henry, his scholarship, and the warm friendship he extended to us in Los Angeles.
1. For the etymological association with secret keeping, see Simonetta, Rinascimento Segreto, 127. See the book more generally
for the Italian Renaissance secretary/segretario and 230–32 for Bibbiena in particular.
2. On Bibbiena’s apartment, see most recently Pediconi, “Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena.”
3. Sansovino, Del secretario, 2v.
4. Marzari, La prattica, 1r, translated in Biow, Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries, 164.
5. Florio, Worlde of Wordes.

150 Henry Dietrich Fernández

FIGURE 6.1. Raphael and workshop, Stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 1516–17, Vatican Palace.
Nimatallah / Art Resource, NY.

Of equal importance to this essay on Cardinal Bibbiena’s Vatican apartments are source mate-
rials that demonstrate that “secret keepers” should work within a “spazio segreto,” meaning secret,
segregated, and apart. For example, in 1594, Angelo Ingegneri, secretary to Cardinal Aldobrandini,
stipulated in his Del buon segretario that the secretary should have a room of his own within his
master’s palace, “separated but luminous and airy…where he could avoid having to let certain
inappropriate people enter.”6 The cardinal and segretario domestico Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena
was to secure much more than just a “separate” room of his own in the palace occupied by his mas-
ter, Pope Leo X (1513–21), on the Vatican Hill. But Bibbiena was no ordinary “secret keeper.” He
had been tutor to Leo when he was the boy cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici and had even accompa-
nied his pupil into exile when the Medici were banished from Florence in 1494. On Leo X’s
election to the papacy in 1513, Bibbiena received the title of cardinal deacon and became the chief
administrator and writer of papal correspondence. More importantly, until about 1517, Cardinal
Bibbiena enjoyed the special position of segretario domestico (confidential secretary) that elevated
him above the pope’s own family member Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici. Consequently, as the pope’s

6. Ingegneri, Del buon segretario, 106. These “secret” rooms facilitated the privacy of secretaries and princes alike, for which see
Folin, “Studioli.”
A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper 151

FIGURE 6.2. Raphael and workshop, Loggetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 1516–17, Vatican Palace.
Scala / Art Resource, NY.
152 Henry Dietrich Fernández

tesoriere generale (treasurer), as well as chief advisor and confidant, Cardinal Bibbiena resided
within the safely guarded confines of the Vatican Palace.7
While other cardinals built palaces in the city, Bibbiena’s relatively modest background meant
that he was to live in the palace itself, which is perhaps not surprising given his important role at
the Vatican court.8 The importance of secrecy and the mechanics of spatial secrecy were well
appreciated by the builders and inhabitants of these palaces; according to one early-sixteenth-
century treatise, the ideal cardinal’s palace would be furnished with private spiral staircases, secret
doors, peepholes, listening tubes, and spy-windows.9 Nonetheless, there is an astonishingly pre-
scient, arguably intentional relationship between the secret nature of Bibbiena’s profession and the
secret nature of the space that was to be custom built and decorated for him by Raphael directly
above his employer’s own apartments within the Vatican Palace.10
Cardinal Bibbiena’s rooms were situated above the pope’s own camerae secretae and connected to
the pope’s chambers by a small private lumaca, spiral staircase. As such, the staircase is critical in under-
standing the spatial and psychological conception of both sets of apartments. From morning until
night, the pope was accompanied by a retinue—he was rarely alone—and the secret staircase gave Leo
and Bibbiena the means to interact undisturbed, to allow the segretario domestico to fulfill his duties to
the letter. Unfettered access to Bibbiena was equally difficult: the Ferrarese poet Ludovico Ariosto
observed that the cardinal was “always surrounded by a great circle of people whom one cannot get
past, and one must fight through ten doorways to get to where he is.”11 This strategically positioned
secret staircase gave Bibbiena and the pope access to one another at all hours. In this favored part of the
fourth level of the Vatican Palace, above the sala prima del papa, Raphael designed parts of Bibbiena’s
private apartment, one that might be described as a “palace within a palace.”
The desire to appear and disappear at will, to have a means of escape unknown to others, is
undoubtedly at the foundation of the invention of secret passages, cabinets, stairs, and other architec-
tural devices that conceal and reveal. Secret stairs provided the need for private, secure communication
and movement within already highly protected and ostensibly secure environments. Within the
physical spaces of the Renaissance court, secret stairs constructed power relations by means of privi-
leged access, but at the same time their function could also be quite practical. For instance, the
“service stairs” at Urbino’s Palazzo Ducale were designed by the Sienese Francesco di Giorgio Martini
as part of the palace’s third building program from 1474 to 1482, for the purpose of hauling water up
from the well. The well is located deep within the walls of the palace—protecting the water and
ensuring a continuous, safe water supply. Such a staircase could be described as an open secret; it
could not be seen from outside the palace walls, but everyone that lived in the palace certainly knew
about it and its location. In addition to these substantial service stairs, there were several minor secret
stairs connecting living quarters to different parts of the palace. Pope Julius II’s architect, Donato
Bramante, was from Urbino, and perhaps had some knowledge of Francesco di Giorgio’s stair designs.
Around 1507, he incorporated a secret staircase within the “guarded area” of Julius II’s cubiculum

7. Moncallero, Il cardinale Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena.

8. On cardinals and their place at court in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, see Lowe, Church and Politics, esp. 46–52.
9. Weil-Garris and d’Amico, “Renaissance Cardinal’s Ideal Palace,” 78–79, 82–83.
10. For Raphael’s relationship with Bibbiena, see Jones and Penny, Raphael, 190–94; Talvacchia, Raphael, 106–7, 230–31.
11. Quoted and translated in Pediconi, “Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena,” 95.
A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper 153

(bedroom), which was later used by Leo X. One of these stairs is located to the north of the cubiculum
adjoining a small audience room (perhaps the same room in which Julius II is portrayed in Raphael’s
painting of the pontiff in the National Gallery, London); this staircase led all the way down to the
Cortile del Pappagallo and offered the pope a quick and expeditious entry and escape route. The
second secret stair located within the pope’s apartment is probably the design of Bramante’s legatee,
Raphael, just south of the cubiculum.
From 1514 to 1516, under Leo X’s papacy, Leonardo da Vinci lived in Rome at the Palazzo
Belvedere at the Vatican. Residing in this northernmost part of the Vatican complex, Leonardo
would certainly have known Bramante’s spiral stair (ca. 1507), which was designed to give access
to Julius II’s Secret (secluded or segregated) Sculpture Garden, the Giardino Segreto.12 In 1516
Leonardo traveled to France where he entered the service of Francis I. While there is no documen-
tary proof that Leonardo designed the famous double spiral stair built within the core of Francis
I’s château at Chambord, it is reasonable to suggest that his then-current experimentation with
secret stair designs may have at least informed the Chambord stairs.13 The centrally placed
Chambord stairs are hardly secret. Nonetheless they offer a simultaneous means of ambulating up
and down to the palace’s inner precincts, ensuring the regulation and maneuvering of communica-
tion to protect and suggest privacy and secrecy.
The spiral staircase leading up to Bibbiena’s rooms offered the cardinal and the pope a differ-
ent type of escape and sense of seclusion, one based on classical notions of privacy and leisure
(otium), pleasure and delectation (voluptas), humanist virtues promoted in the Renaissance that
correspond not with excessive luxury, but with the vita contemplativa.14 The new rooms designed
and decorated in fresco by Raphael and his workshop between 1515 and 1517 included a stufetta
(or stufa) facing the Cortile del Pappagallo and a loggetta facing the Cortile de Maresciallo, and
other improvements. The earliest documentation for Raphael’s related work in this part of the
palace is an agreement of 15 January 1515 between Giuliano Leno and a master mason Jacomo,
among others, for a cornice required by Raphael for Cardinal Bibbiena’s specially positioned
apartment.15 Even prior to the documented involvement of Raphael, construction is recorded in
this segregated part of the palace, as early as six months after Leo X’s election. New construction is
documented again on 19 June 1514, in which Francesco dello Guelfo stipulated he had produced
measurements on behalf of Giuliano Leno for Cardinal Bibbiena’s apartments located above those
of Pope Leo X.16 The noise and inconvenience of such construction directly above Leo’s private
apartment explains why the pope vacated his rooms while the renovation of Bibbiena’s special
space took place, but Leo must have felt that this temporary displacement was worth the effort.
After all, its locus would soon provide expeditious and secret access to Bibbiena, his new palatine

12. For staircases at the Vatican, see Fernández and Shapiro, “La Scala di Bramante.”
13. It is also worth noting the series of staircases in the fifteenth-century Castello di Pavia, which enabled restricted access to the
chambers of the duke, his secretaries, and visiting dignitaries. When François I entered Pavia in 1515, for example, a wooden staircase
was added to the piano nobile on the park side of the castle so that the king could go to his “rooms and hall without having to return
through the galleries”; Welch, “Galeazzo Maria Sforza,” 359.
14. Vickers, “Leisure and Idleness,” 129–30.
15. Shearman, Raphael in Early Modern Sources, 2:197. See also Pediconi, “Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena,” 99.
16. Shearman, Raphael in Early Modern Sources, 2:198–99.
154 Henry Dietrich Fernández

count. As we shall see, this architectural program would also ensure that this access was visually
marked for all, evident to the wandering eyes of those assembled in the piazza below.17
The dating of Bibbiena’s new rooms, which include the stufetta and the loggetta, has been
deduced by Deoclecio Redig de Campos on the basis of correspondence from Pietro Bembo to
Cardinal Bibbiena. The first letter dated 6 May 1516 from Bembo in Rome, while Bibbiena was in
Florence, comments on the current state of the work: his new rooms and loggia were finished and
the stufetta nearly so.18 In another letter, dated 20 June 1516 and cited by Redig de Campos and
John Shearman, Bembo writes again to Cardinal Bibbiena to say that his apartment, which includes
his loggetta and stufetta, is finished, complete with leather wall hangings.19 About a year later, in a
letter dated 19 July 1517, Bembo comments on the loggetta: “Once more your Lordship’s
[Bibbiena] loggia is being built and is turning out most beautifully.”20 The decoration of Bibbiena’s
apartment by the highly esteemed Raphael would itself have been indicative of the new cardinal
deacon’s special status within Leo X’s inner circle, despite the modest size of the loggetta and the
stufetta. The dimensions of the plan of the loggetta measure 3.12 x 15.74 meters with a height of
4.64 meters, while the plan of the stufetta measures only 2.5 x 2.5 meters and is 4.34 meters high.
Nonetheless, the scale of these small additions to Bibbiena’s apartment was enhanced by their
decorative splendor, albeit scandalous by contemporary sixteenth-century taste, which in turn
embellished Bibbiena’s privileged position at Leo X’s court.21 In particular, the decorations in the
stufetta were distinguished by Raphael’s use of erotically laden grotesques, “secret pictures” both in
terms of subject matter, and also in the circumstance of their discovery, within “secret” places such
as the ruins of Nero’s Domus Aurea within what were likened to “underground grottoes.”22 These
mythologies do not survive, save in damaged fragments, but an engraving usually attributed to
Marco Dente—an associate of Raphael, Marcantonio Raimondi, and Giulio Romano—probably
records one of these compositions, Venus Pulling a Thorn from Her Foot (fig. 6.3).23 These eroti-
cally charged mythological scenes with their sexually explicit ornamentation of flora and fauna
parallel those designed by Raphael for the Psyche Loggia of the Villa Farnesina (ca. 1511–13)
owned by Agostino Chigi.24 While the Farnesina provided the stage for elaborate banquets and the
convivial cultivation of the arts, Bibbiena’s stufetta offered a more intimate deliberation on amo-
rous experiences that are the source of art (figurative and poetic) and inspired thought.
On 4 June 1517 Bibbiena wrote a letter to his young clerical protégé Giulio Sadoleto, having
just arranged for Sadoleto to be accommodated during his own absence from Rome in his Vatican

17. On these renovations, see also Fernández, Bramante and Raphael in Renaissance Rome.
18. Redig de Campos, I Palazzi Vaticani, 109–10.
19. Ibid., 110; Shearman, Raphael in Early Modern Sources, 2:241–42.
20. Shearman, Raphael in Early Modern Sources, 2:291.
21. For an important study of the stufetta within the context of the sexual culture of Leo X’s court, see Wyatt, “Bibbiena’s Closet.”
These decorations, while putatively private, were made popular by the engravings of Marcantonio Raimondi and his assistants, for
which see Thompson, Poets, Lovers, and Heroes, 5, 36.
22. For the rediscovery of the Domus Aurea, see Weege, “Das Goldene Haus des Nero”; Dacos, La decouverte de la Domus Aurea.
On Raphael’s engagement with the paintings of that complex, see Dacos, Le Logge di Raffaello; Dacos, “La Loggetta du Cardinal
Bibbiena”; Joyce, “Grasping at Shadows.”
23. Thompson, Poets, Lovers, and Heroes, 36; Bette Talvacchia, Taking Positions, 270.
24. On Agostino Chigi’s patronage and the Farnesina, see Rowland, “Render unto Caesar”; Jones and Penny, Raphael, 92–111;
Rowland, Culture of the High Renaissance, 179–82.
A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper 155

FIGURE 6.3. Marco Dente. Venus Pulling a Thorn from Her Foot. ca. 1516, engraving,
London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
156 Henry Dietrich Fernández

rooms, with various instructions regarding his property. “The bathroom may be used and praised
by you, now and then,” Bibbiena instructed Sadoleto, though he was not otherwise to touch the
cardinal’s things.25 He fully anticipated the appeal to the young cleric of the erotic grotesques,
whose salacious and sensational nature immediately denoted them as sights to be viewed only by
a select group of cognoscenti. Indeed the proscription not to touch anything else served to jokingly
activate the play between the forbidden and the revealed. The inner circle of men like Sadoleto
who could be permitted access to the stufetta also constituted the sanctioned audience for Giulio
Romano’s now lost drawings of I Modi, sights emphatically barred to a wider viewing public
through the censure of Raimondi’s prints based on those drawings.26
The cardinal went further than most in claiming ownership of this most secret space; where it
was customary for only the papal coat of arms to be recorded in papal sponsored spaces, Bibbiena
actually had his own coat of arms, two cornucopias filled with flowers in the form of a cross, perma-
nently inscribed into the fabric of his private stufetta. Collectively these new spaces, along with the
restoration of some preexisting rooms, his cubiculum (a bedroom) and sale (reception halls), shaped
the identity of Cardinal Bibbiena’s very private palatine living quarters within the papal famiglia.27
As stated previously, this suite of rooms was more than just an apartment; it was, for all intents
and purposes, a “palace within a palace,” one secretly lodged within the greater fabric of the palace.
As such, it was fitting that this “secret palace” should also contain a palatine chapel; indeed no true
palace would have been complete without such accommodations for prayer. This sacred space
would offer the cardinal deacon more than just a place for prayer or a locus for the ritual of the
mass. A chapel strategically positioned above Bibbiena’s rooms, one that was accessible exclusively
through his apartment and therefore viewed from the public side as emphatically his, visibly posi-
tioned Cardinal Bibbiena within the public realm populated by his ecclesiastical colleagues and
Rome’s popolo.28
From the steps of St. Peter’s below, the excitement and anticipation of identifying a seemingly
important chapel—but one mysteriously private, at the very top of the Vatican Palace in clear public
view—was undercut by the realization that it was in fact a small chapel with a plan measuring just
7.75 meters wide, east to west, and 4.45 meters deep, north to south. As is the case with many revealed
secrets, it was the semblance of something grander and more monumental, rather than its actual
appearance, which set up an aesthetic dissonance that must have resulted in its owner occupant’s
visual pleasure and delight. A similar paradox between scale and grandeur is expressed in Raphael’s
painting, Vision of Ezekiel (fig. 6.4) of circa 1517, measuring only 40 x 30 centimeters, but endowed
with a magnificence and gravitas more commonly associated with much larger pictures.29 Raphael
challenged the expectations of viewers by conveying a moment of visionary revelation, an image
even of divinity, in a precious handheld object. In so doing, the painter espoused the pictorial equiva-
lent of a device familiar to Renaissance poets and writers as multo in parvo. The fables of Aesop or the

25. Shearman, Raphael in Early Modern Sources, 2:287.

26. For I Modi, see Talvacchia, Taking Positions; Turner, “Marcantonio’s Lost Modi.”
27. For the terminology of domestic architecture see Thornton, Italian Renaissance Interior, esp. 26–27.
28. On this chapel see also Fernández, “Raphael’s Bibbiena Chapel.”
29. Jones and Penny, Raphael, 189–92. On “small forms,” see Colie, Resources of Kind, 32–75; Struever, “Proverbial Signs.” See
also Fiorenza, Dosso Dossi, 127–60.
A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper 157

FIGURE 6.4. Raphael, The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel, ca. 1518, oil on panel, Florence, Galleria
Palatina, Palazzo Pitti.
Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY.
158 Henry Dietrich Fernández

adages of Erasmus were understood to present an elegant contrast between brevity of form and depth
of erudition. Similarly Raphael’s audience delighted in witnessing this vast landscape and the sculp-
tural monumentality of the Ezekiel’s “four living creatures” in a remarkably compact physical space.
Likewise, privileged visitors to Bibbiena’s apartments would have experienced the revelation of the
chapel’s small scale as a surprising and marvelous contrast to the impression of grandiosity that the
structure conveyed to the pointedly excluded onlookers in the piazza.
For the few who knew the chapel up close and intimately, the ambiguity of this perceptual dif-
ference was clearly evident. From forty meters below, at the entrance to the Old Basilica where a
much greater number of people were able to admire the clarity of Raphael’s novel design, however,
the means by which he achieved such an effect were not so readily apparent. Only upon thoughtful
reflection could one discern how Raphael’s calculated design effects sustained the chapel’s sharp
optical legibility over such a long distance, from the basilica entrance porch up to Bibbiena’s terrace,
or from the Janiculum Hill as seen in Maarten van Heemskerck’s drawing of 1534.30 In part, this
effect was accomplished by Raphael’s use of architectural chiaroscuro, the balance of light and
shadow, which was achieved through his dimensional exaggeration of the cornice. The overhang of
the cornice creates a deep shadow all along the frieze of the western elevation of the chapel and
continues around the corner of the façade over the pilasters that define the corners. Consequently,
the central bay of the façade is given greater visual emphasis when viewed from afar, an optical illu-
sion that heightened its mystery, secrecy, and special status. The visibility of Bibbiena’s chapel was
enhanced when viewed by the pope and the public alike from the steep sight line down below. In
this manner, one can recognize yet another example of Raphael’s courtly sprezzatura; the optical
effects appear both clear and effortless yet were the result of a highly complex demonstration of
architectural ingegno.31
The visual model from the ancient Roman world that may have had the greatest aesthetic
resonance for Raphael was the so-called Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, of the early first century bce
(fig. 6.5).32 Just as Bibbiena’s chapel would perch atop the façade of the Vatican Palace, this circular
temple was situated high above the banks of the Aniene River. A heavy, overhanging cornice casts
a dramatic shadow on the columns below, imparting a sense of the monumental on this structure
of rather modest scale. In a letter from Pietro Bembo to Cardinal Bibbiena, dated 3 April 1516,
Bembo describes a private excursion to Tivoli that included Raphael among its participants.33
Raphael’s personal appropriation of the dramatic chiaroscuro activated by that temple’s cornice
allowed him to establish a parity with ancient architects and ultimately to invest Bibbiena’s secret
apartment with all’antica resonance.34
Raphael’s sophisticated composition endowed upon Bibbiena’s chapel a monumentality usu-
ally reserved for larger buildings and even greater patrons. “Stay safe in your sweet little rooms,”
Bibbiena encouraged Sadoleto, his words suggesting occupancy of a bijoux pied à terre, albeit one

30. Van Hamskeerck, Die römischen Skizzenbücher.

31. On Raphael’s sprezzatura, see Louden, “Sprezzatura in Raphael and Castiglione”; Shearman, “Castiglione’s Portrait of
Raphael.” For Raphael’s architectural ingegno, see Rowland, “Raphael, Angelo Colocci, and the Genesis of the Architectural Orders.”
32. On the Temple of Vesta, see Stamper, Architecture of Roman Temples, 75–79.
33. Bembo, Lettere, 83–84.
34. Gombrich, “Style all’antica”; Barkan, Unearthing the Past.
A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper 159

FIGURE 6.5. Temple of Vesta, early first century bce, Tivoli.

Scala / Art Resource, NY.
160 Henry Dietrich Fernández

closer to the sky.35 At the same time, he admonished Sadoleto “don’t touch anything from the
guardaroba.”36 For those few intimates of the papal court who knew that the private chapel led to
Cardinal Bibbiena’s suite of rooms in the palace, the façade functioned as the public front to his
“secret palace within the palace of a pope.” Yet the splendid modesty of Raphael’s design allowed
Cardinal Bibbiena to maintain an appropriate level of public decorum without upstaging his
friend, employer, former pupil, and now benefactor, Pope Leo X. Thus the chapel within the
secluded apartment, its occupant, and its patron encapsulate the paradoxes of papal culture—
indeed early modern court culture more generally—in which visibility and prominence, rank and
decorum all had to be carefully managed and negotiated. It is these architectural underpinnings
that enabled and supported this very singular relationship between pope and secretary, and simul-
taneously allowed them to function equally well in public and in secrecy.

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Yale University Press, 1999.
Bembo, Pietro. Lettere. Rome: Valerio Dorico, 1548.
Biow, Douglas. Doctors, Ambassadors, Secretaries: Humanism and Professions in Renaissance Italy. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2002.
Colie, Rosalie. The Resources of Kind: Genre-Theory in the Renaissance. Edited by Barbara Lewalski. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1973.
Dacos, Nicole. La découverte de la Domus Aurea et la formation des grotesques à la Renaissance. London: Warburg Insti-
tute, 1969.
———. Le Logge di Raffaello. Rome: Istituto Poligrafico, 1977.
———. “La Loggetta du Cardinal Bibbiena: Décor à l’antique et rôle de l’atelier.” In Raffaello a Roma: Il convego del
1983, 225–36. Rome: Edizioni dell’Elefante, 1986.
Fernández, Henry Dietrich. Bramante and Raphael in Renaissance Rome . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
———. “Raphael’s Bibbiena Chapel in the Vatican Palace.” In Functions and Decorations: Art and Ritual at the Vatican
Palace in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, edited by Tristan Weddigen, Sible De Blaauw, and Bram Kempers,
115–30. Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 2003.
Fernández, Henry Dietrich, and Barbara E. Shapiro. “La Scala di Bramante e Raffaello nei Palazzi Vaticani.” In Raffaello
in Vaticano, edited by Fabrizio Mancinelli et al., 136–41. Milan: Electa, 1984.
Fiorenza, Giancarlo. Dosso Dossi: Paintings of Myth, Magic, and the Antique. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univer-
sity Press, 2008.
Florio, John. A Worlde of Wordes. London, 1598. Reprint, Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1972.
Folin, Marco. “Studioli, vie coperte, gallerie: Genealogia di uno spazio del potere.” In Il Camerino di alabastro: Antonio
Lombardo e la scultura all’antica, edited by Matteo Ceriana, 97–109. Milan: Silvana, 2004.
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122–28. London: Phaidon, 1966.
Ingegneri, Angelo. Del buon segretario libri tre. Rome: Guglielmo Faciotto, 1594.
Jones, Roger, and Nicholas Penny. Raphael. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

35. Moncallero, Il cardinale Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena, 228.

36. See Pediconi, “Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena,” 100.
A Secret Space for a Secret Keeper 161

Joyce, Hetty. “Grasping at Shadows: Ancient Paintings in Renaissance and Baroque Rome.” Art Bulletin 74 (1992): 219–46.
Louden, Lynn M. “Sprezzatura in Raphael and Castiglione.” Art Journal 28 (1968): 43–53.
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Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
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Olschki, 1953.
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a Cardinal: Politics, Piety, and Art, 1450–1700, edited by Mary Hollingsworth and Carol Richardson, 92–112.
University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.
Redig de Campos, Deoclecio. I Palazzi Vaticani. Bologna: Cappelli, 1967.
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UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
———. “Raphael, Angelo Colocci, and the Genesis of the Architectural Orders.” Art Bulletin 76 (1994): 81–104.
———. “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s: Humanism and the Arts in the Patronage of Agostino
Chigi.” Renaissance Quarterly 39 (1986), 673–730.
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Shearman, John. “Castiglione’s Portrait of Raphael.” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz 38 (1994):
———. Raphael in Early Modern Sources: 1483–1602. 2 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.
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Networks of Urban Secrecy
Tamburi, Anonymous Denunciations, and the Production
of the Gaze in Fifteenth-Century Florence

Allie Terry-Fritsch

his essay examines the phenomenon of secret denunciation in fifteenth-century Florence.
It traces the material history of tamburi, special containers that were used to collect anon-
ymous denunciations, and investigates how their insertion into the physical and ritual
center of the city altered its symbolic content and impacted modes of sociability. Although tam-
buri have been largely forgotten in art historical investigations of the material and visual culture of
Renaissance Florence, they were in common use throughout the fifteenth century (fig. 7.1).
Erected in strategic architectural locations such as the cathedral and governmental palace, these
denunciation boxes were easily accessible to a wide Florentine public, who were encouraged by
authoritative agencies to use them actively. Anyone who witnessed deviant behavior in the city
could use a tamburo to transmit an anonymous denunciation against the malefactor; the witness
would write down information regarding the identity or identities of the deviant(s) along with a
description of the incident, then place it into one of the tamburi without signature. Once the
denunciation was inserted into the box, it remained locked inside for up to a month, the whole
time shielded from public view. Eventually an administrator of the authoritative agency opened
the tamburo and its contents—the written denunciations—were transported to the judicial courts
and entered into an official registry.1 Each denunciation was evaluated and investigated, and, ulti-
mately, the individual implicated in the denunciation was judged and forced to accept the
appropriate consequences.2

An early version of this essay was presented at the Annual Conference of the College Art Association in Los Angeles in 2009, and
I thank Tim McCall and Sean Roberts for their key insights on the project, as well as the audience for their feedback. I am also grateful
for the critical discussion of the essay by my colleagues in the Division of Art History at Bowling Green State University, as well as
members of the Visual and Cultural Studies Faculty Group at the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at BGSU, especially
Scott Magelssen, Jolie Sheffer, Bill Albertini, Emily Lutenski, and Clayton Rosati. Special thanks also go to Michael Rocke and Nicholas
Terpstra, who read and commented on earlier drafts. Lastly, I thank Stefan Fritsch, Chriscinda Henry, Fabian Lange, and Matthew
Shoaf for their assistance in locating and photographing extant denunciation boxes in Florence and Venice, and Rebecca Zorach for
sharing her photograph of Pasquino.
1. These registers, known as tamburagioni, survive in the Archivio di Stato, Florence (e.g., Esecutore degli ordinamenti di
giustizia). See also Dorini, Il diritto penale e la delinquenza; Zorzi, “Judicial System in Florence,” 44; Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, 49.
2. In order to verify an accusation of sodomy in Florence, for example, the Ufficiali di notte “needed the confession of at least one

Networks of Urban Secrecy 163

FIGURE 7.1. Map of Renaissance Florence, with locations of tamburi marked by black boxes.
Map by Allie Terry-Fritsch.

The practice of secret denunciation in Florence began at the beginning of the fourteenth cen-
tury as a means of encouraging members of the popolani to speak out against powerful magnates.3
It was believed that the anonymity of the denunciation process would protect informers from
vendetta or social backlash, while at the same time, allowing for a form of resistance against the
abuses by those who had disproportionate power in the city. Yet, in the fifteenth century, the
denunciations took on a new form—moralized tattling—that exposed the secrets of fellow citi-
zens’ sexual, social, or religious behaviors. The boxes used to collect the denunciations were
controlled by several branches of a Florentine moral task force, including the Conservatori delle
leggi, Ufficiali di notte, Conservatori dell’onestà dei monasteri, Ufficiali dell’onestà, and the Otto
di guardia, who worked together to channel communication between the society and the judicial
authority.4 Other cities, including Venice, Lucca, and Genoa, also had task forces and methods for
policing deviance, yet the city of Florence was, as Michael Rocke and others have discussed, a
central focus of this campaign due to its widespread reputation as a sodomitic city that was filled
with deviant activities.5 As such, the Florentine officers of all branches of the task force had much

of the partners (but not both) or two eyewitnesses or one eyewitness and two persons who attested to public knowledge of the fact or
four persons who confirmed public knowledge”; Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, 50.
3. Zorzi, “Judicial System in Florence,” 44.
4. See ibid.,” 44–45.
5. The group of Florentine officers known as the Ufficiali di notte, or Officers of the Night, were given the singular task in the
164 Allie Terry-Fritsch

greater autonomy than the other “public morals” commissions and were encouraged to use cre-
ative means to locate offenders.6 These included the use of spies and monetary incentives for
informants to come forward, but, most importantly, the officers relied on the secret denunciations
collected from the tamburi located throughout the city center.7
The task forces sought information, above all, about immoral and illegal activities performed
by Florentines, from sexual crimes to gambling to blasphemy, that were largely unknowable to a
general public and therefore difficult to enforce. To gain access to knowledge on the ground, they
imposed certain framing devices on the denunciation process itself that encouraged individuals to
offer this information about family members or neighbors freely despite the disruption of sociabil-
ity that often arises from interfering with and policing others. By formulating the denunciation
process as a civic duty imperative to perform, the moral task forces, assisted by religious and politi-
cal figures, urged citizens to place the integrity of the city above the social bonds of family and
neighborhood.8 Telling the secrets of others was portrayed as the ultimate act of contributing to
the good of the community, since the revelation of hidden deviance within the city would effect its
removal and contribute to the purity of the city.9 In this way, the denunciations were used to bridge
the space occupied by those on the ground with those above and thereby negotiated the dynamic
of power perceived and experienced by both.
This essay considers the strategies and tactics of the denunciation system in fifteenth-century
Florence to examine how the placement and use of tamburi within key ritual sites impacted com-
munal interaction in the Renaissance city. Drawing on Michel de Certeau’s use of the terms
“strategies” and “tactics,” the essay designates strategies as the various methods used by those in
control of spaces to police and manipulate behaviors within them and tactics as the methods
employed by the actual users of those spaces. These users were not in possession of the space, but
nonetheless they occupied it and maneuvered through it according to either preestablished rules
or by alternative routes.10 The tamburi may be approached as strategies that fostered heightened
awareness of visibility within the Renaissance city, both the visibility of individuals to others and

fifteenth century to expose and convict sodomites in Florence and her surrounding territories. By the middle of the sixteenth century,
the Florentine administrative focus on the containment and punishment of sodomitic practices had dissipated; Rocke, Forbidden
Friendships, 7.
6. Labalme, “Sodomy and Venetian Justice in the Renaissance”; Ruggiero, Boundaries of Eros, 134; Zazzu, “Prostituzione e
moralità pubblica”; Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, 46.
7. While the Ufficiali di notte verified denunciations with eyewitness reports, the Conservatori delle leggi, Conservatori
dell’onestà dei monasteri, Ufficiali dell’onestà, and the Otto di Guardi almost exclusively used the information gleaned from anonymous
and secret denunciations to move forward with criminal cases against corruption, blasphemy, gambling, and sexual trafficking; Zorzi,
“Judicial System in Florence,” 44–47; Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, 45–84. On the visual aspects of punishment of sodomy in Florence,
see Terry, “Craft of Torture.”
8. See, for example, Gellately, “Denunciations in Twentieth-Century Germany.”
9. Although, as has been widely discussed in the scholarship of the Stalinist, Nazi, and GDR’s use of denunciations, communities
who were complicit in this demand produced dire situations of violence and corruption through their tattling. For several poignant
modern examples, see the special issue dedicated to the denunciation process in modern Europe in The Journal of Modern History 68
(1996). On the US Army’s use of “snitch boxes” in their war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and the perceived ineffectuality of them,
see Magelssen, “Rehearsing the ‘Warrior Ethos,’” 62.
10. de Certeau, Practice of Everyday Life, xix. Space, considered in terms of tactics, may be understood as a shifting construct of its
users, for each individual brings to it his or her own sense of behavioral propriety, spatial memory, and lived experience. And yet the
spatial field of the Renaissance city must also be understood in terms of strategies, which imposed decidedly collective behaviors on
groups of individuals based on the terms set by those in control of the spaces. In this sense, the historian’s task is to endeavor for a “thick
description” of space; Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures, 3–30.
Networks of Urban Secrecy 165

of others to the individual. Their physical placement within select architectural spaces impacted
the perceived layers of control already implied in these buildings’ function and use, and the moral
agencies in charge of their erection and upkeep anticipated how the symbolic meaning and social
value of these spaces would underscore the moral imperative to use them both to reveal informa-
tion about others and to avoid the behaviors that would lead to denunciation. Nonetheless, the
tactics employed by individuals and groups within the city—those time-based interactions within
the spaces themselves—were unpredictable and therefore never fully visible. Ultimately, these tac-
tics counteracted the power of the tamburi, and in certain cases, caused their failure.
For at least the last three decades, from Richard Trexler’s groundbreaking work on public life and
ritual to Roger Crum and John Paoletti’s insightful anthology on the social history of Florence,
scholars of the medieval and early modern periods have increasingly acknowledged that the space
of the Renaissance city cannot be disengaged from the bodily presence of those who inhabited it.11
Urban spaces were theaters of performative activities and, like the saint represented in the holy
image, only came alive in the presence of the beholder.12 The center of the Renaissance city was
the key zone of the social drama of everyday and festal life.13 The diverse publics who were given
access to it generated a collective, or shared, gaze of the spectacle of the everyday; these visual
interactions were operations of seeing and being seen with the urban theater.14 As though per-
forming on a circular stage, the populace on the streets and in the collective spaces of civic and
religious buildings participated in a continuous interchange of gazes that bound them together.
As John Najemy has discussed, the inner city was purposefully redesigned in the late thir-
teenth and early fourteenth centuries to reveal its openness to the Florentine community and,
through ritual engagement, its spaces became “loci of political action [and] performance” that
were accessible to the populace as a whole.15 Urban planning in the fifteenth century further
defined this space through the focused attention of public works projects, which visually con-
nected the city’s buildings and monuments to the political rhetoric of the Republic and represented
the Florentine populace as part of a community defined by its libertas.16 At the same time, newly
constructed, large private homes within the center of the city oriented their palace façades toward
the public on the street and in the piazze.17

11. Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance Florence; Crum and Paoletti, Renaissance Florence.
12. Trexler has argued that “the image was born of devotion and dead in its absence”; Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance Florence,
70. This can be extended to the notion of space as well. In a sermon of 1424, San Bernardino of Siena claimed that people brought with
them guardian angels inside the church. When the people were absent, so too were their saints; ibid., 53.
13. For an excellent analysis of the spatial and performative aspects of the urban theater in Florence, see Strocchia, “Theaters of
Everyday Life.”
14. This form of interchange operates in a Bahktinian conception of the shared gaze; Bahktin, Rabelais and His World. On the
semantic range of labels that marked the center of Florence, see Muir and Weissman, “Social and Symbolic Places,” 93.
15. Najemy, “Florentine Politics and Urban Spaces,” 33.
16. Hartt, “Art and Freedom in Renaissance Florence.” However, see important challenge to Hartt, especially in consideration of
his definition of republicanism; Najemy, “Civic Humanism and Florentine Politics”; McCall, “Gendering of Libertas and the
International Gothic.”
17. In political terms, however, the construction of these new palaces initiated a displacement of the working class toward the
periphery and increasingly shifted political activities to the palaces; Najemy, “Florentine Politics and Urban Spaces,” 38–45.
166 Allie Terry-Fritsch

The tamburi were concentrated in this most public arena of everyday life. Indeed, their posi-
tioning created a focused inner ring of surveillance within the most highly trafficked area of the
city center in the fifteenth century (see fig. 7.1).18 Situated within Florentine churches and courts
of law, the tamburi were placed in “open spaces”; that is, spaces that fostered public access and
interaction and thereby opened this public to mutual inspection and visibility.19 Sites included the
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Palazzo della Signoria, San Piero Scheraggio, Orsanmichele,
and the Palazzo del Podestà. These spaces were socially significant to every Florentine, not just to
individuals or communities on the neighborhood or parish level.20 As key ritual sites in the city,
these locations were connected to Florentine identity through their real and symbolic associations
to the church, government, and labor guilds. Each site was framed by its collective purpose, and
the users of these spaces generally were guided into them by collectively recognized behavior.
The selection of these particular architectural sites to house the tamburi was contingent on
the buildings’ function as symbolic frames for the staging of institutional and individual perfor-
mances of civic duties and the upholding of civic virtues in Florence. For example, in addition to
the heavy symbolic weight of Santa Maria del Fiore as the religious anchor of the city, visualized by
its massive dome that embraced the entire city under its shadow, the cathedral also increasingly
became a showcase for the celebration of famosi cives throughout the fifteenth century.21 Leon
Battista Alberti claimed that the placement “in sacred and easily visible places the portraits of
those who have been benefactors of humanity, or whose memory…deserves to be venerated as a
divinity, in order that, through this worship, future generations in their thirst for glory strive to
imitate their virtues.”22 Monuments and painted cenotaphs dedicated to men who brought honor
to the city were commissioned and erected inside the Florence Cathedral from 1395 and contin-
ued through the end of the fifteenth century, including monuments to famous condottieri,
theologians, poets and artists.23 In such a holy and respected space, the images of famous citizens
of Florence ideally inspired their spectators to emulate their behavior and to contribute also to the
good of the city. On the other hand, the tamburo that was erected within the sacred space drew
attention to infamous deeds that were occurring outside the church walls. The contrast between
the honorific setting of the cathedral and the disgrace of being named in a denunciation drew
attention to the moral performance at play in the use of the tamburo: an individual asked to
denounce a citizen-deviant did so within the symbolic frame of the performance of civic, as well as
divine, duty.

18. On the notion of the city center as a site of “truth,” see Barthes, Empire of Signs, 30.
19. Strocchia, “Theaters of Everyday Life,” 56. On the politics of public inclusion in such open spaces, see Bennett, The Birth of
the Museum.
20. Zorzi has noted a general trend away from the local or parish level toward more centralized administrative agencies in the
fifteenth century in Florence; Zorzi, “Judicial System in Florence,” 47.
21. Alberti, On Painting, 35; Frosinini, “Paintings and Church Furnishings.”
22. Alberti, De re aedificatoria, 658.
23. In 1395, designs for the tomb monuments for Piero da Farnese and John Hawkwood were raised (although the Hawkwood
monument was completed only in 1436). By 1396, the monuments to Accursio, Dante, Petrarch, Zanobi da Strada, and Boccaccio were
planned (although not completed in the manner originally discussed); the painted cenotaph for Pietro Corsini was completed by 1422,
Luigi Marsili’s by 1439, and the monument to Niccolò Tolentino was finished by 1456. A sculptural monument to Brunelleschi was
erected in 1447, with others, including that for Giotto and the musician Antonio Squarcialupi, completed in the last decade of the
fifteenth century.
Networks of Urban Secrecy 167

The placement of a tamburo within the Palazzo della Signoria, the government headquarters
of Florence, likewise built upon the rhetoric of civic participation and authority inspired by both
the material structure of the actual palace and the reverent actions that it housed. The soaring
tower of the fortified edifice projected the image of the political strength of the Republic onto its
citizens in the piazza below, and the co-sacredness of the site and the institution it housed were
augmented through the addition of altars and ceremony.24 A tamburo placed in this highly charged
space would have communicated a civic imperative to the users of the building to uphold the val-
ues embedded in its history.
Another tamburo was placed within the Palazzo del Podestà, located between the cathedral
and the governmental palace to the east, which served as the judicial headquarters and residence
of the chief magistrate of the city (fig. 7.2). Its monumental structure and crenellated bell tower,
like that of the governmental palace, visually conveyed the impression of the authority and strength
of the city and its administration.25 The palace and its civic function were critical to the collective
perception of security in the city, and this was reiterated at times with spectacles of justice per-
formed within its spaces. A tamburo placed here held particular significance as an active agent in
the rituals of civic cleansing performed by the building’s inhabitants and seen both inside its walls
and throughout the urban landscape.26
The remaining locations of tamburi in fifteenth-century Florence were all spaces attributed with
sacred and civic weight, and their geographical positions in the city were located on the major thor-
oughfares connecting the Piazza del Duomo with the Piazza della Signoria, forming a pedestrian ring
in the very center of the city. In addition to their symbolism, the popularity and accessibility of these
locations to the Florentine community at large would have ensured that the tamburi at least were
seen, if not used. For example, Orsanmichele, positioned in the highly trafficked zone of the guilds
and the market, drew in a large and diverse audience of devotees to its miracle-working icon of the
Virgin,27 and the church of San Piero Scheraggio, located next to the Palazzo della Signoria to its
south, was highly visible within the urban landscape.28 The task force in charge of administering the
tamburi strategically selected these spaces for their usefulness in publicizing their cause.

24. Bruni, “Panegyric to the City of Florence.” For the creation and sustainment of sacredness at the palace, see Trexler, Public Life
in Renaissance Florence, 49–51. On its history, see Rubenstein, Palazzo Vecchio. On the palace as a “public icon,” see Trachtenberg,
Dominion of the Eye, 87–147.
25. On the shifting symbolic identity of the Bargello from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries, see Terry, “Criminals and
26. On the visual culture of civic cleansing, see Terry, “Criminal Vision in Early Modern Florence.”
27. Orsanmichele functioned as a grain market before its enclosure and transformation around the sacred altar. Its strong connection
to the guilds ensured the popular use of the building. As investigated by Frederick Hartt and others, the decorative program of Orsanmichele
contributed to a growing visual rhetoric of civic humanism in the first decades of the fifteenth century that emphasized the collective unity
of the Republic. However, as Najemy has argued, the positive assertion of civic humanism may have functioned on the level of myth as
opposed to reality, since the political arena was largely controlled by an oligarchic elite class; Najemy, “Civic Humanism and Florentine
28. The church housed the ceremony of the election of priors to government, and also served as a site of political refuge or asylum
for members of the government during times of disturbance; Villani, Nuova cronica. The church is no longer extant. During the fifteenth
century, the church was altered significantly when the left nave was destroyed in order to enlarge Via della Ninna, which had become
too narrow as a result of construction on the Palazzo dei Priori; Rinaldi, Favini, and Naldi, Firenze Romanica, 90. The right side of the
nave then became the seat of the Compagnia degli Stipendiati; Busignani and Bencini, Le Chiese di Firenze, 113. Recent studies have
promoted the hypothesis that the interior of the church was similar to that of San Miniato al Monte. That is, it was configured on three
interconnected levels: the nave led to an exposed crypt below and a presbytery above. This spatial configuration would have allowed for
168 Allie Terry-Fritsch

FIGURE 7.2. Exterior of the Palazzo del Podestà (Museo Nazionale del Bargello), Florence.
Photo by author.
Networks of Urban Secrecy 169

For the denunciation process to have functioned according to the design of the moral task
force, individuals had to first witness deviant behavior, then take the initiative to communicate this
deviance to the authorities. This entailed the writing down of the denouncement, travel to one of
the sites featuring a tamburo in the center of the city, and the deposit of the note in the box. The
denouncer in Florence was not obliged to reveal his or her identity, although those who did so
were offered an award for information.29 Most extant denouncement records are left unsigned,
which suggests that there were heavy social consequences that accompanied the open transmis-
sion of the secrets of members in the community.30 The anonymous transmission of these secrets,
however, was widely practiced. Thousands of unsigned denunciations are recorded in registers—
called tamburagioni—throughout the period under discussion, indicating that the strategies used
by the task force to convince members of the Florentine populace to tell on their fellow citizens
were effective. To this end, the agencies were assisted greatly by the mendicant preachers, who
advertised the locations of the boxes and gave instructions on how to use them. Sermons delivered
from the pulpits of churches throughout the city urged citizens to consider the spiritual welfare of
both the offending individuals and the civic body as a whole.31 It was presented as the moral
imperative of every Florentine to alert the authorities of wrongdoings so that the city could be
purified and protected.
Yet one obstacle to complete anonymity in the Florentine denunciation process was the
highly visible localities of the tamburi themselves. As mentioned above, each building that housed
a tamburo in Florence was a ritually significant and well-frequented site within the city center. If
the social pressure against openly telling on other members in the community was so great as to
force a denouncer to remain anonymous and thus to forgo a financial reward, then how did the
identity of the denouncer remain a secret when he or she had to transmit it in plain sight of the
community? The introduction of the tamburi into such openly accessible and highly visible spaces
suggests that a cycle of surveillance was placed into effect in these ritual zones of the city. The
watching for and telling on the immoral behavior of others inspired a new kind of watching out for
those who informed.
More information on the specific locations of the boxes within each of the buildings would
enable a deeper analysis of how space, place, and the gaze functioned within each site, yet the
recovered documentation is silent in this regard. It is unknown, for example, if the tamburi were
located in private or secluded zones within the churches and courts or whether they were placed
at entrances or other highly trafficked areas. Furthermore, the physical fabric of these buildings
was altered, sometimes considerably, over the course of the fifteenth century; thus it is also unclear
whether the boxes moved and adapted to these architectural and decorative changes. For example,

multiple fields of observation in the context of the placement and use of a tamburo.
29. Zorzi noted that, for this reason, some anonymous denunciations actually bore personal markers of identity; Zorzi, “Judicial
System in Florence,” 47.
30. Of course, anonymous denouncers could not claim the cash rewards for the information that they revealed, so certain
denouncers, albeit few, included marks of their personal identity. In these cases, however, the task force protected the informant’s
identity and did not share it with the public at large.
31. San Bernardino’s famous Lenten sermon of 1424 in Florence is but one example of this phenomenon. For the larger context
of preaching and its impact on the community, see Mormando, Preacher’s Demons. For an interpretation of this vigilance and complicity
to the government as a response to homophobic propaganda, see Micheler and Szobar, “Homophobic Propaganda and Denunciation.”
170 Allie Terry-Fritsch

until the consecration of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore by Pope Eugenius IV in 1436,
masses were only performed in the nave and aisles since work on Brunelleschi’s cupola prevented
any congregating in the tribunal areas.32 Throughout the fifteenth century, altars were situated
along the walls of the aisles and the interior wall of the façade, and paintings were erected on the
pilasters throughout the church.33 Certain areas within the cathedral received particular attention
due to popular devotional practices, such as the veneration of the so-called Madonna della Pila that
was located near a basin of holy water in a corner of the church, or the gathering of the people
around the altars of the Trinity and Madonna gratiarum plenissima that were located on the inner
façade wall.34 Perhaps the tamburo in the cathedral was placed in proximity to one of these, in order
to capitalize on the traffic of the congregation?
The most detailed information on the position of a tamburo within Florence is that once
located within the Palazzo del Podestà, placed in the loggia on the primo piano of the inner court-
yard (fig. 7.3).35 The tamburo’s position illustrates how the identity of a secret denouncer could
become public through the delivery of the written note, for the loggia was exposed visually to the
community, who gathered in the adjacent courtroom as well as in the open courtyard below. In
this spatial configuration, the one who performed the denunciation had the potential to be under
the visual scrutiny of the attending members of the community. That is, the watcher became the
watched. Even individuals who were not denouncing, but who stood in close proximity to the box,
could be associated with the act, and this too could produce damaging consequences to reputation
and social ties.36 Thus the spatial placement of the tamburo in visually accessible locations extended
the notion of policing others to include self-regulation as well. Individuals needed to be mindful
of how they acted and where they moved lest others misinterpret their behavior.
Self-regulation within the Renaissance city was not a new phenomenon introduced by the pres-
ence and use of the tamburi. Each space that housed one already functioned within collectively
understood layers of control and the users of these spaces behaved accordingly.37 Yet each building
also was designed to accentuate the powerful control of a top-down gaze, with God, of course, at the
top of the ultimate panopticon in heaven.38 The invisible surveillance of the all-seeing eye of God
created a permanent visibility of the public whether inside or out. To enhance visually the presence

32. Frosinini, “Paintings and Church Furnishings,” 201.

33. These altars were all removed by Gaetano Baccani in the nineteenth century. See Fantozzi, Nuova guida della città di Firenze,
34. The popularity of this painting of the Madonna della pila (Madonna and Child) was so great that crowds would gather around
it, thereby causing traffic flow problems within the cathedral. It was later moved into the tribunal, and then, in the nineteenth century,
into the Museo del Duomo. For the Trinity Altar before its dismemberment by Baccani and eventual placement in The Cloisters in New
York, see Richa, Notizie istoriche delle chiese fiorentine, 115–17. For the Madonna “gratiarum plenissima,” see Poggi, Il Duomo di Firenze,
35. As early as 18 January 1293, a tamburo was set up in the loggia of the Palazzo del Podestà for secret denunciations; Archivio
di Stato, Firenze, Statuti del Comune, 1, c.11r. The use of the tamburo increased during the principate of Cosimo I; Uccelli, Il Palazzo del
Podestà, 53–54.
36. For a discussion of the different problematics bound to denouncing and snitching, see Fitzpatrick and Gallately, “Introduction
to the Practices of Denunciation.”
37. As Trexler and others have emphasized, frames provided guidelines for behavior although they cannot be taken as fixed
prescriptions. The multipurpose use of the space gave complexity to its meaning. Bad behavior did, however, occur within churches
despite regulations against it (one can easily think of urinating dogs, spitting parishioners, begging, even murder). For San Bernardino
of Siena’s sermon on crimes committed within churches, see Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance Florence, 53.
38. Bentham, Panopticon Writings; Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 195–228.
Networks of Urban Secrecy 171

FIGURE 7.3. Interior courtyard and loggia of the of the Palazzo del Podestà (Museo Nazionale del
Bargello), Florence.
Photo by author.

of the divine gaze, the architecture and decoration of both church and court emphasized God’s con-
tinual presence as a judge of actions on earth. Religious structures within the city were considered to
be, in the words of San Bernardino of Siena, “the place and hotel of God.”39 In the courts of law too,
God’s penetrating gaze was once visualized in frescoed Judgment imagery in the courtroom and con-
fession chapel, and in the deliberation chambers of the chief magistrate, stars filled the ceilings to
indicate the open channels of communication between heaven and earth.40
Thus the surveillance inspired by the tamburi built on the visual rhetoric of divine regulation
and the subsequent behavioral practices of self-regulation already inspired by the frames of the
buildings. Yet several documented instances of tactics employed by individuals on the ground
indicate that the sacral weight and authority of the heavenly panopticon was not easily translated

39. Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance Florence, 53.

40. Although the frescoes of Sala dell’Udienza (courtroom) in the Bargello are no longer extant, Giorgio Vasari recorded a
description in his Life of Giotto; see Edgerton, Pictures and Punishment, 51. For a discussion of Last Judgment scenes within juridical
spaces, see Edgerton, “Icons of Justice.”
172 Allie Terry-Fritsch

to the modes of surveillance instigated by the tamburi. In the nearby town of Prato, governed dur-
ing the fifteenth century by the same moral agencies as Florence, an individual or group of
individuals tore down the tamburo that was affixed inside the local parish church in 1482.41 The
vandal, or vandals, then escaped back into the night, never to be identified by the local authorities.
The Prato tamburo became a repeated target: less than a year before, another tamburo had been
anonymously destroyed within the church, and two more boxes would suffer the same fate within
the next few years.42 Other churches in Pisa, Empoli, and Arezzo also recorded incidents of vandal-
ism against the boxes, and thus similarly point to the ways in which the denunciation process
caused unwanted social disruption.43 Whether the individual or individuals who destroyed these
boxes were part of a communal effort is unknown, although their actions may be read as a critique
of the religio-political system. Through tactics of resistance in the form of destruction of the inani-
mate agent of this system, the box itself, these individuals rejected the moralized tattling put into
play by the denunciation process.44
The denunciation system was flawed both in terms of the corrupt practices it inspired and in
the way the tamburi significantly changed the mode in which transgressions were revealed within
Florentine society. Since accusers were not required to identify themselves, spurious denuncia-
tions found their way into the tamburi. It is difficult to pin down what the motivations were for the
creation of false accusations. They could, in part, represent the response of an overly watchful and
morally righteous citizenry within the hypervigilant environment of moral policing.45 The full-
scale campaign by the Florentine government to impose control on deviant practices in the
fifteenth century extended from official revisions of the law and increased regulations imposed on
taverns and other sites associated with male sociability to the unofficial, but in many ways much
more powerful, sermons on the moral imperative to expose the deviance of neighbors and family.
In this light, the false denunciations may be read as zealous attempts to benefit the community.
However, the anonymity of the denunciation process also allowed for the purposeful falsifica-
tion of information for political or social reasons.46 Indeed, as Andrea Zorzi has demonstrated, the

41. Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, 296n98.

42. Ibid., 203.
43. Ibid., 203. These incidents of vandalism also give insight into the physical characteristics of tamburi, which were most likely
three-dimensional boxes affixed to the wall or atop a pole or column. They therefore are unlike the better known and still extant
examples of Venetian denunciation boxes—called bocche del leone—at the Palazzo Ducale that were integrated into the physical fabric
of the wall of the loggia of the palace. These denunciation boxes offered a permanent opening, much like an open mail slot on a door,
for the insertion of notes. The denunciations were deposited and stored in a box that opened on the interior wall of the palace and was
thus inaccessible to the depositor or the public at large. Also unlike Florence, the authors of Venetian denunciations had to identify
themselves and vouch for the accuracy of the information transmitted; if the denunciation was discovered to be false, then the
individual who had generated it was forced to suffer the penalty of the accused crime. Thus, the transmission of information in the
Venetian denunciation process was guided by internal verification methods.
44. According to San Bernardino, the destruction of sacred property was considered to be one of the sins most offensive to God.
Sins against non-sacred things in a sacred place, however, were least sinful; Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance Florence, 53. Within the
discussion of vandalism and destruction of the tamburi, this notion holds parallels to the destruction of postal boxes in the United
States. Despite strict laws forbidding the tampering or destruction of these postal boxes (Title 18, USC Section 1705), “mailbox
baseball” (i.e., hitting and damaging the postal box with a baseball bat while driving in a car) still remains a favorite pastime of teenagers.
The mailboxes’ “sacral” character is not emphasized apparently enough to demand their preservation.
45. For example, Michael Rocke has traced thousands of denunciations regarding same-sex activity in Florence that were never
sustained by concrete evidence in the archives of the Ufficiali di note; Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, 47.
46. Zorzi, “Judicial System in Florence,” 48.
Networks of Urban Secrecy 173

defamation of political rivals or personal enemies through the exposure of their real or falsified
deviant behavior was a consistent feature of the denunciations that were retrieved by the
Conservatori delle leggi.47 The damage to political or social reputation that the denunciations,
even if unsupported by evidence, could bring upon an individual was potentially quite significant
and often led to partisan attempts to discredit officeholders in the city.48 Tamburi provided the
concrete means for social disruption and damage.
The erection and use of the tamburo also challenged the social fabric of the community
through its production of non-negotiated acts of confession for others. In fifteenth-century
Florence, the efficacious revelation of particular secrets—including confessions of sin and confes-
sions of crimes—depended on the embodied presence of the informer. As a form of ritualized
telling and listening, the confession of the sinner in church or the criminal in court was a social
performance ideally instigated by the offending individual. The verbal utterance of the confession,
coupled with appropriate bodily gestures, served to open the secret to the public, and created new
social bonds between the teller, listener, and other witnesses to the secret’s revelation. The denun-
ciation box, on the other hand, denied the critical social function of confession by eliminating the
social negotiation of the secret and its revelation. It substituted the sociability of the secret with an
invisible field of surveillance.
Since the Lateran Council of 1216, all Christians were required to confess their sins to a priest
at least one time per year.49 These confessions were socially negotiated through their openness—
confessions occurred on the altar and in front of members of the parish—and, as a consequence,
they provided a direct verbal and visual connection of the past deed to the confessant.
Choreographed movements of the body, such as lowered eyes, kneeling to the side of a confessor,
and tears, were visible signals of a penitent’s shame and humility. Fra Jacopo Passavanti, the
Dominican prior of Santa Maria Novella, preached to Florentines in the trecento, “To be the per-
son who wants to confess well, one has to go to the feet of the priest sorrowfully and repentant of
every sin.… What the malefactor must do before the judge who has to judge him, is to throw
himself humbly at his feet, either sitting or kneeling, in such a manner that he is at his side rather
than before him.”50 The performative nature of confessions—both the verbal ownership of the
transgression through the utterance of the sinful act and the gestural performance of kneeling,
bowing the head, and so on—created a visual spectacle of penitence for the community, who,
along with the priest, witnessed the embodied confession as a part of the healing process.51
Furthermore, unlike the aftermath of the denunciation process, confessions within the church
could be followed by the negation of the sin through absolution by the priest.
Confessions were also stressed as premeditated acts that were the result of self-reflection and
preparation. In his confessional manual, Lo specchio de’ peccati, Domenico Cavalca told his readers
that confessions “should be simple…humble, pure, faithful, true, frequent, naked, tearful, rapid,

47. Ibid., 48.

48. For a modern example of how the denunciation process was manipulated for political ends, see Alexopoulos, “Victim Talk.”
49. C. Lateran. IV. Ann. 1216, cap. 21; Watkins, History of Penance, 748–49. Pope Martin V reiterated this obligation for all
Christians in 1418; Lea, History of Confession and Indulgences, 37, 214.
50. Jansen, Making of the Magdalen, 213.
51. On performative utterances, see Austin, How to Do Things with Words.
174 Allie Terry-Fritsch

whole, and prepared beforehand.”52 Likewise, San Bernardino of Siena, urged the laity to “prepare
yourself beforehand, and so you will begin to recollect your misdeeds.”53 Passavanti even went so
far as to encourage the laity to write down their transgressions and bring these written notes to
confession.54 In exchange for a confession performed well, an individual could expect absolution
of sin and full confidence that the confessor would keep what had been confessed by the confes-
sant a secret.55
Confessions within the context of the criminal justice system likewise insisted on the bodily
presence of the confessant. Indeed, the perception of efficacy within the Florentine justice system
depended on the connection of the criminal with the crime through the choreographed display of
the convicted body during rituals of execution.56 The confession of a crime needed to be embod-
ied in order to legitimate the judicial process and to underscore the righteousness of the community
at large. As a revelation of “truth” by the criminal, the confession was the proof of both justice and
the criminal’s willingness to accept responsibility for his or her actions.57 The subsequent exposure
of the criminal to the community, often upon a raised cart, during the procession to the gallows
was a recognized indication that the confession had been uttered and witnessed, so that the pro-
cess of justice could be fulfilled.
In both the confession of sin within the church and the confession of crime within the justice
system, the community had the opportunity to bear witness to what Foucault has described as the
“production of truth.”58 The confessant “was authenticated by the discourse of truth he was able or
obliged to pronounce concerning himself.”59 The introduction of tamburi into the spaces of the
church and courts of law in Florence, however, denied that self-authenticating function of confes-
sion. It ruptured the ritual of discourse “in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the
statement” by introducing a third, invisible or anonymous party into the power relationship of the
confession process.60 In other words, it upturned the confessional discourse by making it an invol-
untary process, as opposed, ideally, to a self-obligation to confess.
The tamburo literally encased secret denunciations within its hidden interior and thus con-
cealed them from public consumption either in verbal or visual form. The truth produced through
this process, therefore, denied the critical function of confession to outwardly display the signs of
shame felt by the confessant at the sin or crime committed.61 The community was excluded from

52. “Sit simplex, humilis confessio, pura, fidelis, vera, frequens, nuda, lacrimabilis, accelerata, integra, et sit patere parata”;
Cavalca, Lo specchio de’ peccati, fol. 25r.
53. Bernardino of Siena, Prediche volgari inedited, 470.
54. Passavanti, Lo Specchio di vera penitenza, 178; Zimmermann, “Confession and Autobiography in the Early Renaissance,” 124.
55. According to the Lateran Council of 1216, the priest “must be careful not by word or sign in any way to betray the sinner, and
if in need of wiser counsel he shall cautiously seek it without mentioning the sinner, for we decree that he who shall venture to reveal a
sin known to him in the pentitential judgment shall not only be deposed from the priestly office but shall be thrust into a rigid
monastery to perform perpetual penance”; translated in Lea, History of Confession and Indulgences, 229.
56. This notion of the spectacular punitive theater is emphasized in Foucault’s analysis of the premodern judicial system;
Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 32–69.
57. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 38.
58. Foucault, History of Sexuality, 58.
59. Ibid., 58.
60. Ibid., 61.
61. The development of the confessional box was a means to encourage the full transmission of the secret (sin) without the social
implications of shame that may have previously been experienced through the public/collective act of confession. For theoretical
Networks of Urban Secrecy 175

both the staging of the actual denunciation (i.e., one party verbally accusing another while at the
same time providing a visual spectacle of the accusation), and the socially negotiated reaction to
the denunciation as well (i.e., the coproduced communal response to the spectacle of accusation).
In this context, the anonymous denunciations within the tamburi must be seen in contrast to the
transmission of disgruntled voices of Rome in the sixteenth century on so-called speaking statues
like Pasquino (fig. 7.4). Through verbal witticisms and satirical verses attached to the base of the
statue, the ancient statue became animated as a transmitter of resistance against the institutional
powers of Rome. The statue was thus a site of staged confrontation. Yet, Pasquino’s allure then
(and now) was precisely due to the public platform for words that were transmitted. As Verity Platt
has discussed, visitors to the statue are there not simply to look, but to read.62 The openness of the
anonymous words—both their physical accessibility and their often carefully crafted content—
explicitly signaled that they were created for a public audience who would gather to either concur
with or refute their claims. Through the accumulation of voices in the form of anonymously writ-
ten words, and their subsequent public revelation in the form of crowds arranged around the
statue, the community united and affirmed its agency as participants in the production of knowl-
edge and their community at large.
The denunciations, on the other hand, were not designed for communal view, and their authors
were not praised for eloquence or wit. Because the author’s words were never revealed publicly, they
were not performed, even through a “speaking” figurehead like a statue or institutional figure. Thus
the community did not physically gather around the site of the tamburo in a collective act. Rather, the
various moral agencies in the city would take the denunciations as points of departure for privately
rooting out networks of deviancy in the city through a process on the ground, even though adminis-
tered by those above. When a denounced individual was brought in for questioning, he or she was
expected to repeat the denunciation process, since an individual in front of the moral agency was
required to further reveal the secrets of others as part of his or her admission of guilt.63 Indeed, indi-
viduals who snitched on others were given financial benefit in the form of a reduced penalty for
deviancy. This hoped-for leniency ultimately compromised the authenticity of the confession and
privileged the self or individual over the good of the community.64
This essay has examined the space of the urban theater of Florence and reconstructed the ways in
which tamburi produced new modes of seeing and being seen in the city. Central to this discussion
is the concept of surveillance, most closely associated with Michel Foucault’s analysis of modern
policing, but here used to describe an early form of panopticism inspired by the denunciation
process from the ground up.65 The material presence of tamburi in fifteenth-century Florence

insight on the impact of the confessional box on secrecy, see Lochrie, Covert Operations, 12–13.
62. Platt, “‘Shattered Visages.’”
63. In the case of sodomitic interrogations, the officials generally questioned the passive, usually younger and more socially
vulnerable, partner first so as to pressure him to reveal the name of the active, and presumably more dominant and connected, partner;
Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, 50.
64. Ibid., 52.
65. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, esp. 195–228. Foucault used panopticism to discuss the development in modern Europe of a
surveillance society that featured “a permanent, exhaustive, omnipresent surveillance” that “transformed the whole social body into a
176 Allie Terry-Fritsch

FIGURE 7.4. Nicholas Beatrizet, Pasquino, engraving. Collected and published by Antoine Lafrery in
Speculum Romanae Magnificientiae, Rome, 1550. London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
Networks of Urban Secrecy 177

served as a powerful tool for the control of behavior, and their placement within key sites in the
city center fostered a new form of policing that arguably impacted the way in which the commu-
nity gathered. While the contents of the box were unknown, its open slot for the insertion of
denunciations signaled the constant presence of surveillance—a controlling gaze that functioned
through its potentiality. The tamburo served to remind every individual that he or she was under
continual watch by his or her neighbor, and, conversely, that each member of the community was
to be vigilant in his or her own gaze. The box—and the administrative agencies that maintained
it—asked each individual to police and be policed. In addition to the physical presence and use of
the boxes, the simultaneous rise of particular preaching strategies called for collective moral vigi-
lance that justified and perpetuated the increasing layers of surveillance in the city.
Renaissance sociability was challenged by the institution of the tamburi, particularly in the
disruption of embodied rituals of confession by the invisibility of the informant in the Florentine
denunciation process. The anonymity of the informant negated what Michel de Certeau has called
the “terrain of strategic relations” between actors of secrecy; that is, it disrupted the social play that
occurs between an individual who tries to conceal a secret and another who attempts to reveal it.66
While there were still at least two actors involved in the denunciation process, the doer and the
teller, the tamburo fostered non-negotiated transmissions of secret information. Through the full-
scale adoption of strategies of secrecy to collect information about deviant individuals, the various
moral police agencies in Florence eliminated the perceived authenticating function of self-disclo-
sure of information, such as one finds in the face-to-face encounters of accusations in ordinary
courts and confessions on the altars of churches.67 Instead, it provided a means for denouncers to
avoid the social ramifications of their actions.
Ultimately, the urban space of Florence functioned as a network of secrecy in the fifteenth
century. The insertion of a tamburo into the most sacred Florentine buildings of the city center
impacted what Edward Muir and Ronald Weissman have called the “networks of space-based
sociability and symbolic geography” that made up the practice of everyday life during the
Renaissance period.68 The public’s inability to access the secrets within the tamburi turned their
interiors into spaces of political and psychological monumentality. The denunciations gathered
within them had very real potential to defame character and destroy familial or neighborhood ties;
their restricted access only increased their perceived influence. Indeed, as is so often recognized
with strategies of rule or the creation of sacred objects, sites, and individuals, that which remains
hidden augments in power.69 As the mechanisms by which these powerful secrets were transmit-
ted, the tamburi altered the symbolic unity of the city center and challenged the social bonds of the
city. They functioned through the frames imposed upon them by the buildings’ civic meaning and
communal character, and yet, the vigilance inspired by these boxes disrupted the sociability of the
very sites that were supposed to reinforce the collective interests of the community.70

field of perception: thousands of eyes posted everywhere.”

66. de Certeau, Mystic Fable, 97.
67. Face-to-face rituals of insulting were also common; Cohen and Cohen, Words and Deeds in Renaissance Rome, 159–87.
68. Muir and Weissman, “Social and Symbolic Places.”
69. On the construction of the “powerful” image, see Freedberg, Power of Images, esp. 82–98; Belting, Likeness and Presence.
70. Emile Durkheim’s observations on the imperative for collective behavior in religious and social life may be seen in poignant
contrast to the ways in which the tamburi undermined the community; Durkheim, “Ritual, Magic, and the Sacred.”
178 Allie Terry-Fritsch

Various real or imagined communities that were constituted through the implementation of
the tamburi could have been served by the secrecy of the denunciations. Since the accusation pro-
cess was hidden, it implicated each member of the community as a potential author of
denunciations, and thereby augmented the agency of the individual as a potential participant in
the containment of deviancy in the city. In these terms, the secret that was transmitted through the
placement of notice in the drop-box could represent the individual expression of complicity with
the government but also a shared social desire to make sure that the city was a safe, morally pure
space. This shared social desire manifested itself at times throughout the fifteenth century in
neighborhood collectives, which jointly denounced the bad behavior of another neighbor either
in face-to-face confrontations or in communally written denunciations.71 Certain denunciations,
written by familiars of the accused, indicate that some individuals drew upon the power and
authority of the moral agency to “put a little fear in” the deviant to force him to change his ways.72
As such, the boxes may be understood to reinforce communal bonds through the active engage-
ment of the community in the judicial process.
Yet, the hidden words also functioned to divide the community and deter open sociability,
since, by means of their enclosure within the sealed tamburo, the secret denunciations represented
a potential threat to every individual in the community. The material presence of the box and its
implied secrets pointed to the increasing controls placed on the communal body through the
development of new administrative and judicial offices as well as the policing gaze of the commu-
nity from the inside.73 The threat of denunciation was communicated through the exchange of real
and imagined gazes of members of the community within the systems of surveillance fostered by
the church, government, and community itself.
Perhaps this is why the boxes were ultimately deemed ineffectual. Taken down or left aban-
doned, their presence no longer impacts the day-to-day practices of the inhabitants of their spaces.
Their history, however, through its record here, no longer remains a secret.

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Tricks of the Trade
The Technical Secrets of Early Engraving

Sean Roberts

n essay on engravings and secrets might be expected to start from a print like Albrecht
Dürer’s Melencolia I (1514) (see fig. 1 in “Introduction”), representative of a new class of
objects produced for often solitary, if not wholly private, contemplation, enjoyment, and
even deciphering.1 Indeed, the very foundations of the iconological hermeneutic might be traced
through precisely such an image, in which symbols and ciphers yield their meanings through the
painstaking and deliberate work of scholarly decoding. This essay, however, treats the technical
secrets of engraving and will begin instead with another of Dürer’s prints from the previous year,
the Sudarium with Two Angels (fig. 8.1).2 The legend of the veronica, or sudarium, a miraculous
imprint of Christ’s visage on cloth, served as the inspiration for countless devotional paintings and
prints throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.3 The sacrality of this relic was tied not
only, or even principally, to the fact that it preserved a record of Christ’s features, but rather to the
miraculous means by which that image was transferred to cloth without the intermediary of a
human craftsperson. Joseph Koerner has provocatively connected the miraculous record of the
holy face on the veil to the processes of Renaissance printmaking, observing that “Dürer thus
fashions the Christian non manufactum to mythicize the process and the product of printing.”4
Though Koerner’s likening of the angels in Dürer’s later etched Sudarium (fig. 8.2) to print-
makers hanging their fresh pages to dry has aroused skepticism, the comparison is hardly inapt.5
Like the veronica, engravings were themselves composed of marks imprinted without the direct
intervention of human hands. Indeed it is a commonplace of scholarship on early modern printing
to observe that the first products of the press (both texts and images) were sometimes seen as
miraculous.6 Engraving, like the sudarium, could be understood as having unknown, mysterious,
and for some even “mythic” origins.

1. See esp. Emison, “Prolegomena to the Study of Renaissance Prints.”

2. On this image see Talbot, Dürer in America, 142–43.
3. Belting, Likeness and Presence, 49–57, 215–25; Koerner, Moment of Self-Portraiture, 80–105.
4. Koerner, Moment of Self-Portraiture, 222–23.
5. Emison, review of Moment of Self-Portraiture, by Koerner.
6. Eisenstein, Printing Press as an Agent of Cultural Change, 1:27–31.

Tricks of the Trade 183

FIGURE 8.1. Albrecht Dürer, Sudarium with Two Angels, 1513, engraving, London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.

It could be argued that the mysterious nature of engraving was an inevitable response to the
introduction of new and unfamiliar technologies and processes. A lack of familiarity with the
workings of this labor-saving technology gave the impression of a supernatural force at work for
viewers and readers steeped in a scribal culture. This is a common narrative of the introduction of
technology and a familiar one for historians of science. Surely the burgeoning early modern obses-
sion with marvels, wonders, and curiosities also suggested such rubrics as frameworks for
understanding technical novelty.7 Further, as Pamela Smith has shown, artisanal forms of knowl-
edge were often de facto secrets to the uninitiated and uninterested alike.8 Within the history of
printing, a sense of mystery was frequently included as one of a handful of emergent properties
inherent to print culture, most influentially by Elizabeth Eisenstein in her landmark study The
Printing Press as an Agent of Cultural Change (1978).9 Over the past two decades, however, histori-
ans of printing, following the lead of Adrian Johns, have launched a sustained reevaluation of
Eisenstein’s paradigm. These revisionist scholars have argued that qualities long associated with
print culture—the authority of print foremost—were, at least in part, built slowly through the

7. See esp. Marr and Evans, Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.
8. Smith, Body of the Artisan, esp. 142–49.
9. Eisenstein, Printing Press as an Agent of Cultural Change, 1:1–31.
184 Sean Roberts

FIGURE 8.2. Albrecht Dürer, The Sudarium Spread out by an Angel, 1516, etching on iron, London,
British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
Tricks of the Trade 185

efforts of printers, authors, engravers, and all of the sundry individuals involved in the production
of these texts and images.10 Following on these valuable studies, I will argue here that the appar-
ently mysterious origins of engraving were another of these intentional rather than accidental or
inherent qualities of print.
This essay posits that a rhetoric of secrecy was erected around the techniques by which fif-
teenth-century engraved images came into being. The technical operations of engravers were, in
some of the earliest cases, actively effaced in being designated as secrets by their makers. Many of
the tools and techniques that early engraving depended upon were adapted from other, long-
standing craft practices, especially silver- and goldsmithing. Derived from familiar techniques
performed with familiar tools, engraving was, nonetheless, far from universally understood. In his
early fifteenth-century Libro dell’arte, Cennino Cennini for example displays familiarity with met-
alworking processes, describing a variety of burnishers and punches as well as methods for using
these.11 These are the very tools that would be retrofitted, only a couple of decades later in Florence,
to serve as part of the basic technologies of engraving on copperplates. Yet despite the prevalence
and familiarity of such tools, their utility for engraving was anything but common knowledge in
the quattrocento. Engraving produced remarkable images, and in the fifteenth century compara-
tively few individuals, even among artists, understood precisely how. This essay considers how
that secrecy worked and what conditions made that secrecy a possibility, and most importantly,
suggests who might have been the beneficiary of these secrets.
As Pamela Long has shown, technical skills were often jealously guarded as trade secrets from
antiquity into early modernity. This was true even of processes that we have come to understand
as rudimentary. Craftspeople protected techniques for activities including glassmaking, metal-
lurgy, mining, and masonry. Painters and sculptors kept a watchful eye on every component of
their trade, ranging from specialized chisels and hammers to recipes for paint, ink, and plaster.12
The Venetian glass industry provides perhaps the best-studied example of the careful, intentional,
and unyielding protection of early modern technical knowledge from outsiders through clever
obfuscation, controlled access, and custom-tailored juridical practices.13
Established practitioners of long-valued trades such as the Serenissima’s glassmakers prospered
under the watchful eye of state guardianship. Many less established industries, however, had recourse
to few such legal protections in early modern Europe. The issuing of privileges for technical pro-
cesses was commonplace; indeed that system had developed to protect technical innovation and was
certainly better-suited to the preservation of technological invention than to artistic composition.
Ugo da Carpi (1455–ca. 1523) famously obtained privileges for his supposed invention of the chiar-
oscuro woodcut process. Certainly Ugo had good reason to seek such protections. His collaboration
with Ludovico Arrighi to produce woodcuts for Arrighi’s writing manual, the Operina (1524), soured
and Ugo’s name was completely effaced on the title page of the first edition of that work.14 Still, such

10. Johns, Nature of the Book, 28–40.

11. Cennini, Craftsman’s Handbook, 82–85, 127–31.
12. On the status of trade techniques as secrets in the medieval and early modern world, see Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship.
See also Butters, Triumph of Vulcan, 1:176, 238, 345; and Wheeler, Renaissance Secrets: Recipes and Formulas.
13. Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 89–96.
14. On this disagreement see Pon, Raphael, Dürer, and Marcantonio Raimondi, 43–47, 73–77.
186 Sean Roberts

privileges were local in their scope and notoriously difficult to enforce. More usually, craft techniques
were carefully protected by other means, not least through watchful attention to equipment, the reg-
ulation of guild membership, and the oral transmission of techniques from master to apprentice. The
very designation of these techniques as secret, however, was another means by which their proprie-
tary character was controlled.
The secrecy of early engraving was far from rhetorical in the colloquial sense. It served the
business interests of book printers and authors, craftspeople and artists. Such interests stretched
beyond the discretely commercial motivation of greater profits to include the aspirations of many
connected with print production to establish themselves as pioneers in a rapidly evolving field and
to stake a claim for their authority over texts, images, techniques, and processes. Secrecy func-
tioned to construct a patina of what Pierre Bordieu has designated “distinction,” the visible mark
of symbolic capital. Practitioners found it expedient to designate techniques as secret until the
technologies were so diffuse that it was no longer plausible to build an aura of sanctity and mystery
around them. For engraving, this shift was taking place by the early sixteenth century. Even so,
such secrecy attended each new printing process introduced, up to and including competing
modes of photography in the nineteenth century. An early modern case in point is provided by the
apparent invention of the soft-ground etching process by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609–
64) in seventeenth-century Rome.15 The secrets of that process were not discovered by another
printmaker until more than a century had passed.
Like Castiglione’s invention, one that only came to the attention of scholars in 1971, some of
these technical secrets have remained hidden up to the present day. In part, this is due to the fact that
art historians have routinely attributed technical differences between engravings to the skill or lack
thereof of individual engravers. These engravers and their works have then been slotted into a chro-
nology of stylistic development that parallels those of painting and sculpture. The subdiscipline of
print history, traditionally tied closely to the concerns of collectors and connoisseurs, has been par-
tially to blame. Following on the evaluation of Adam Von Bartsch, painter-engravers have served as
the focal point of art historical attention while so-called reproductive engravers have been consigned
to the field’s margins. This is undoubtedly a false dichotomy, as Lisa Pon has eloquently argued in her
study of the collaborative relationship between Marcantonio Raimondi and Raphael.16 More impor-
tantly, the assignment of the most technically accomplished early engravings to talented painters,
rather than skilled professionals, derived in part from the attitudes of Franz Wickhoff, has ingrained
a counterintuitive and problematic conflation of technical and compositional skills.17 What art histo-
rians often refer to by the shorthand moniker of skill, or worse, intrinsic talent, is usually a more
complex set of aptitudes requiring not only innate ability and diligent practice but certain kinds of
technical know-how.
One high-profile example of a trade secret long unrecognized by print historians is demon-
strated by the long-standing lack of consensus regarding the two prominent techniques—usually
called “manners”—used by engravers active in fifteenth-century Florence. The earliest Florentine

15. Blunt, “Inventor of Soft-Ground Etching: Castiglione.” Castiglione was also the first printmaker to produce monotypes;
Reed, “Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione’s ‘God Creating Adam,’” 66–73.
16. Pon, Raphael, Dürer, and Marcantonio Raimondi, 27–32.
17. Wickhoff, “Beiträge zur Geschichte der Reproduzierenden Künst.”
Tricks of the Trade 187

engravings, those produced in the fine manner, employ shallow, gray lines and usually produce
depth and tone through dense cross-hatching.18 These qualities are evident in prophets and sibyls
usually attributed to Baccio Baldini. The engraver of the Samian Sibyl from this group develops a
compelling sense of volume with short, intersecting hatches, especially in describing the peaks
and ravines of the figure’s mountainous garment (fig. 8.3). Prints of the later Florentine broad
manner, such as those of the Mysteries of the Rosary series, instead utilize regularly spaced, deeply
gouged lines. In the Annunciation from this series (fig. 8.4) the engraver—almost certainly
Francesco Rosselli (1445–before 1513)—creates networks of parallel hatching, emulating the
graphic qualities of drawing. Broad manner engravings, particularly in their pictorial sense of mod-
eling, differ significantly from the earlier, Florentine fine manner prints, usually thought to have
been derived from goldsmiths’ intaglio techniques for producing nielli. The transition between
these techniques has often been presented as a kind of natural progression from objects conceived
in the botteghe of goldsmiths to the more expressive engravings produced through collaboration
with artists familiar both with innovations in Florentine painting and with the graphically accom-
plished works of Northern printmakers like Martin Schongauer.19 The free flow of artistic ideas
and the involvement of artists in a previous craft practice have been credited with providing the
spark for this compelling new mode of printmaking. David Landau, however, has convincingly
shown that a technical shift was instead principally responsible.20
Florentine broad manner prints were once believed to represent the work of dozens of anony-
mous craftspeople, though most print scholars now attribute nearly all of these images to the hand of
Rosselli. Before adopting the broad manner, Rosselli produced several engravings that are technically
quite close to fine manner prints.21 These engravings display a silvery tone and are composed of shal-
lowly gouged lines. However, unlike most fine manner examples, Rosselli’s prints make use of parallel
rather than cross-hatching. The broad manner engravings differ from these not in their graphic style
but rather in the depth and shape of their incised lines. Drawing on this seemingly pedestrian obser-
vation, Landau astutely recognized that Rosselli’s broad manner plates were engraved with a different
tool than those used to create the fine manner prints—a burin with a lozenge-shaped section. Unlike
the round-section burin and drypoint tool used in Florence, this instrument was capable of cutting
the deep lines associated with broad manner prints.22 This tool was in wide use north of the Alps and
Rosselli might have had the opportunity to acquire one while working for King Matthias Corvinus in
Buda during the late 1470s.
The new engraving technology with which Rosselli returned to Florence provided him with a
steady source of income and remained the province of, at most, a handful of artists. Landau and
Peter Parshall, for their part, posit that “Rosselli was the only printmaker in Florence to be affected
by the introduction of the burin.”23 This was not a coincidence and, judging by the sheer number
of engravings Rosselli produced, it was not on account of the engraver’s lack of success. Instead, it

18. Levenson, Oberhuber, and Sheehan, Early Italian Engravings from the National Gallery of Art, 528–49; Landau and Parshall,
Renaissance Print, 65–66; Zucker, Illustrated Bartsch, 24, commentary, pt. 1, 1–4; and Zucker “Fine Manner vs. Broad Manner,” 21–26.
19. Zucker, Illustrated Bartsch, 24, commentary, pt. 1, 1–7.
20. Landau, “Printmaking in the Age of Lorenzo.”
21. Zucker, Illustrated Bartsch, 24, commentary, pt. 2, 75–78.
22. Landau, “Printmaking in the Age of Lorenzo”; Landau and Parshall, Renaissance Print, 108–12.
23. Landau and Parshall, Renaissance Print, 73.
188 Sean Roberts

FIGURE 8.3. Attributed to Baccio Baldini, The Samian Sibyl, ca. 1470, engraving, London,
British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
Tricks of the Trade 189

FIGURE 8.4. Francesco Rosselli, Annunciation, after 1482, engraving from the series The Mysteries of
the Rosary, London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
190 Sean Roberts

would stand to reason that Rosselli protected not only his plates, about which we know a great deal
since he handed these on to his son Alessandro at the time of his death, but also the tricks of his
trade.24 These prized tools and techniques undoubtedly included the lozenge-section burin that
he probably acquired somewhere between the Alps and Buda, a secret that resisted revelation for
nearly five centuries. The implications of such mobile tools and practitioners are only now being
evaluated. I have argued elsewhere that Rosselli’s burin disrupts our notion of “early Florentine
engraving” by inflecting it through German and Hungarian training and technology.25 The changes
wrought by such trade secrets complicate not only the categories long relied upon by connois-
seurs, but more importantly, long-standing nationalistic histories of craft and technology.

The Secrets of Engraved Maps

The earliest engraved maps have frequently been discussed in terms of secrecy and even its rheto-
ric. J. B. Harley, above all, pointed to the role that even conventional maps played in activating
fantasies of early modern territorial control through their designation as privileged knowledge.26
Certainly few cartographic historians are unaware of the role engraved maps might play in sensi-
tive situations like the arrest of Sigismondo’s agent, Matteo de’ Pasti, recounted in the introduction
to this volume.27 The technical secrecy of these maps, however, has often gone unremarked upon,
or has been assumed to be a self-evident phenomenon attendant to commercial or diplomatic
interests. Their techniques have never been treated in terms of an intentional secrecy or analyzed
in terms of who benefited from such secrets. Fifteenth-century engraved maps serve as ideal case
studies of technical secrecy because, unlike figurative engravings, they do not rely closely on dif-
ferences between their designers in terms of pictorial “invention” or “style.” Instead the vast
majority of early engraved maps were based on those associated with the second-century Greek
Geography of Ptolemy. Despite their reliance on relatively standardized models, startling visual
differences are evident in even closely contemporary projects.
Two such parallel programs of engraving are the maps for Francesco Berlinghieri’s Septe gior-
nate della geographia, printed by the Florentine printer known as Niccolò Tedesco in 1482, and the
1478 edition of Ptolemy’s Geography produced by Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz in
Rome. Both books include twenty-seven double folio maps of the known world’s principal regions
derived from those in fifteenth-century manuscripts of Ptolemy’s work. The Florentine tome aug-
ments these with “modern” maps of France, Spain, Italy, and the Holy Land. Though based on
cartographically identical maps, the engravings for these two editions diverge starkly in funda-
mental ways. Sweynheym’s pages present carefully aligned labels composed of identical Roman
capitals designating topographic features including mountains and rivers that stand in vibrant
relief against the white page (fig. 8.5). In contrast, the world presented by Berlinghieri and Tedesco
is littered with toponymic mistakes, employs dozens of divergent letterforms, and is marred by a

24. The inventory was first published by Badia, “La bottega di Alessandro di Francesco Rosselli mericaio e stampatore,” 24–30.
See Zucker, Illustrated Bartsch, 24, commentary, pt. 2, 3.
25. Roberts, “Francesco Rosselli Berlinghieri’s Geographia Revisited,” 17–18.
26. Harley, “Silences and Secrecy,” 57–76. See also Smail, Imaginary Cartographies; and Black, Maps and Politics.
27. Raby, “East and West in Mehmed the Conqueror’s Library,” 297–321; Raby, “A Sultan of Paradox,” 4; Brotton, Trading
Territories, 92, 102–3.
Tricks of the Trade 191

sometimes image-obscuring plate tone and dense webs of scratches. These are technical problems
with technological solutions, yet they have, more often than not, been attributed to different levels
of skill on the part of engravers.
Probably the greatest impediment to appreciating fully these distinctions has been a failure on
the part of modern viewers to recognize proprietary technical achievements. Familiar as we are
with uniformly printed texts and images, we tend to underestimate how difficult, complicated, and
novel early prints might have seemed. Access to implements like burnishers and specialized burins,
tools often assumed to be indispensable to the engraving process, could be surprisingly well regu-
lated.28 The seemingly miraculous appearance of the printed maps of the Roman Geography of
1478, when compared to those of the Florentine Geographia, demonstrates visually the gap
between printers and printmakers who were privy to such technology and those who were kept in
the dark. One carefully controlled set of tools was the metal punches employed to incise letters for
map labels quickly and accurately.29 Punches also came to be used for towns and cities, political
borders, and less frequently even for topographical features like mountains. They appear through-
out maps of Sweynheym’s Geography (see fig. 8.5) and gave that project a distinct graphic advantage
not only over Berlinghieri’s book but also over the Geography printed in Bologna in 1477.30
For the engravers of the Florentine and Bolognese maps, the lack of punches meant that each
letter, for thousands of individual labels, had to be formed by hand. This led, of course, to a variety
of divergent letterforms in and of itself, which hardly presented a serious problem. Nonetheless, it
must have represented an extraordinary and unnecessary investment of labor, especially since the
act of pushing the burin is so different from the scribal practice of copying letters. However, the
lack of letter punches led to far more serious errors when coupled with another technological
lacuna unique to Berlinghieri’s maps. The engravers of these massive maps lacked a suitable means
to correct errors. A prominent example is provided by the Geographia’s ninth Ptolemaic map of
Europe, which was mistakenly engraved with the title “TABULA NONA D’ASIA” “The Ninth
Map of Asia.” Recognizing this error, or perhaps having had it pointed out, the cutter then inter-
posed the letters “EUROPA” between those of “ASIA,” leaving the viewer with a nearly illegible
jumble of Roman capitals. When the label for Giaffo ( Jaffa, today a part of Tel Aviv) on the map
of the Holy Land was incorrectly placed on an island directly to the west, the engraver’s only choice
was to incise the label again, this time on the peninsula (fig. 8.6). The original misleading inscrip-
tion, however, was not removed, leaving viewers puzzling over which of the two plots was the
impostor. Elsewhere, on the book’s Ptolemaic map of Italy, the engraver apparently lost her or his
bearings and continued the Adriatic Sea deep into the Italian peninsula. Again this craftsperson
simply left these errant contours in place. Confronted with these glaring errors, the modern scholar
of printed images only slowly reaches the astonishing conclusion that the producers of the largest
and most expensive engraving project attempted in Renaissance Florence lacked not only letter
punches but also a proper burnisher (or the knowledge to use it). Even this most fundamental tool

28. See Woodward, Maps as Prints in the Italian Renaissance; and Woodward, “Techniques of Map Engraving, Printing, and
Coloring in the European Renaissance.”
29. Campbell, “Letter Punches,” 111–15.
30. Skelton, Cosmographia: Rome, 1478; and see Hinks, “Lettering of the Rome Ptolemy of 1478,” 189.
192 Sean Roberts

FIGURE 8.5. Third Map of Africa (detail), engraving from Ptolemy, Geography
(Rome: Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, 1478).
Photo by author with permission of the Biblioteca Nazionale Palatina, Parma.

FIGURE 8.6. Map of the Holy Land (detail), engraving from Francesco Ber-
linghieri, Septe giornate della geographia (Florence: Niccolò Tedesco, 1482).
Photo by author with permission of the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Milan.
Tricks of the Trade 193

for correcting misplaced engraved lines seems to have been safely guarded by established practitio-
ners as a secret of their trade.
A final problem presents itself to viewers in the form of the apparent compositional disorga-
nization of several of the Geographia’s maps, including most notably that of modern Italy (fig. 8.7).
Here, the engraving seems to have been based on a model somewhat larger than its plate could
accommodate. The map significantly overlaps the border, engraved on the plate first, particularly
at the image’s top edge. As a result, no space was left for a title inscription in the usual place above
the map, forcing the engraver to intersperse the letters amidst a dense network of mountains. This
toponymic disarray adds to an already graphically perplexing image in which figure and ground,
mountains and lakes, even ocean and terra firma are not adequately distinguished from one
another by the engraver’s burin. Visual confusion results, in large part, from the substantial plate
tone and large number of unburnished scratches that render the entire surface of this image in
varying shades of gray. Manuscript maps relied to a significant degree on color to distinguish land
from water and various types of terrain from one another. The Geographia’s engraver substituted
patterns for these colors and had access to only a limited range of these patterns in his or her rep-
ertoire; for instance, both the Mediterranean Sea and the Apennines are rendered with similar
systems of short horizontal dashes. The result is a map whose hundreds of locations and general
topography can only be discerned after great visual effort, a challenge exacerbated by the over-
whelming grayness of the ground and heavy scratches.
Here too technical secrets may be at play. The excessive plate tone is likely the result of a
printer inexperienced in the delicate, even volatile, process of printing engraved images. Plate tone
results from the adherence of ink to the unengraved plate surface and has several possible sources.
Principal among these are insufficient wiping of the plate prior to printing or the mixing and appli-
cation of unnecessarily greasy ink. Another source of distracting marks on many of Berlinghieri’s
maps were fine cracks in the copperplates, into which ink settled. Such problems usually occur
when impressions are pulled from plates that are too thin.31 The recipes and ratios necessary to
mix printing ink or to choose plates of the right thickness were relatively simple ones, yet the
printer and engraver of the Florentine Geographia lacked not only the tools, but also the training
and experience, that would have compensated for these problems.32
Clearly some engraving techniques were understood as trade secrets in the fifteenth century.
This observation need hardly suggest the rhetorical operations of secrecy. Yet we must ask what
prevented Berlinghieri’s engravers (or those of other maps) from discovering these simple solu-
tions on their own? Punches were, after all, widely used in both gold- and silver-work. Smiths had
used them for decorative motifs and personal marks for decades at least. Burnishers, likewise, were
common tools, described in some detail even by Cennino Cennini at least a half-century prior.33 It
would seem particularly surprising that these Florentine engravers failed to recognize the utility of
these metalworking tools, given the intimacy that has usually been assumed between engravers

31. See Ivins, How Prints Look.

32. On who the engravers for this project might have been, see Boorsch, “Case for Francesco Rosselli as the Engraver of
Berlinghieri’s Geographia.” But see also Roberts, “Francesco Rosselli, Berlinghieri”s Geographia, and the Origins of Florentine
33. Cennini, Craftsman’s Handbook, trans. Thompson, 81–82.

Map of “Modern”
Italy, engraving
from Francesco
Septe giornate
della geographia
Niccolò Tedesco,
Photo by author
with permission
of the Biblioteca
Braidense, Milan.
Sean Roberts
Tricks of the Trade 195

and goldsmiths in that city. What, for that matter, prevented Francesco Rosselli’s rivals from under-
standing that his successful prints hinged on a differently shaped burin? I propose that because
they were constructed as trade secrets, many printers and engravers assumed that tools and tech-
niques were more specialized and complicated than they actually were. This rhetoric of secrecy, at
least sometimes, discouraged reverse-engineering from printing’s finished products.
It might be argued that the Geographia’s author lacked the resources or motivation to secure the
best-possible engravers for this project. We can be reasonably certain, however, that Francesco
Berlinghieri spared little expense in bringing the Geographia, a project that represented over a decade
of labor on the poet’s part, into print.34 He further possessed significant experience with the costs and
demands of book printing, having financed the first edition of Marsilio Ficino’s translation of Plato’s
works.35 Berlinghieri also understood that engraving depended on the personal knowledge and skills
of its practitioners. In a letter (now unfortunately lost) to Bartolomeo Scala, the geographer expressed
his intention to travel to Rome to speak with Conrad Sweynheym about the maps for his Geographia.36
Perhaps Berlinghieri had seen an example of the Roman edition. If so, he might have read the book’s
preface describing how “calling on the help of mathematicians, he [Sweynheym] gave instructions in
the method of printing from copper plates, spending three years in this up to the day of his death.”37
Aware that Florentine engravers were incapable of achieving the level of graphic complexity and clar-
ity that these maps would require, the poet sought to learn these secrets from Sweynheym and his
already experienced pool of engravers. Berlinghieri, a prolific writer of letters, evidently believed that
engraving was the kind of business one discussed in person, a conversation that required discretion
and diplomatic negotiation.38

Invention, Revelation, and the Control of Technical Secrets

The Geographia’s printer, Niccolò Tedesco, built his reputation on the production of technically
experimental engraved books.39 While Berlinghieri’s book revealed the extent to which its printer and
his engravers were excluded from some of fifteenth-century engraving’s most important technical
secrets, other projects revealed that Niccolò had a few tricks up his own sleeve. Nearly simultane-
ously with the Geographia, Niccolò was in the process of printing Cristoforo Landino’s massive
commentary on Dante’s Commedia (1481).40 The Commento was the first printed book to combine
letterpress text and engraved illustrations on a single folio (fig. 8.8). Each of these pages was designed
to accommodate Dante’s verse, Landino’s gloss, and illustrations probably designed by Sandro
Botticelli and engraved by Baccio Baldini. This edition has been characterized by one scholar as “one

34. On the composition of the Geographia see Roberts, “Poet and World Painter: Francesco Berlinghieri”s Geographia of 1482,”
35. Kristeller, “The First Printed Edition of Plato’s Works and the Date of Its Publication,” 25–35.
36. The letter is referred to in Fillon, Inventaire des autographes, 6: 37, cat. no. 818. See also Anliker and Bonacker, “Francesco di
Niccolò Berlinghieri und seine Ptolemäus,” 1–10.
37. Skelton, Cosmographia: Rome, 1478, v.
38. See Ficino, Letters, 4:3. For Berlinghieri’s correspondence with Lorenzo de’ Medici see Florence, Archivio di Stato, MAP, filza
21, nos. 8, 30, 75, and 82, and filza 34, no. 287.
39. On Niccolò’s practice see Ridolfi “Contributi sopra Niccolò Todesco”; and Ridolfi “Le Ultime imprese tipografiche di
Niccolò Todesco.”
40. Dreyer, “Botticelli’s Series of Engravings ‘of 1481’”; and Keller, “Engravings in the 1481 Edition of the Divine Comedy.”
196 Sean Roberts

of the most beautiful Florentine editions of the quattrocento.”41 In many ways, however, the Commento
offers close parallels to some of the technical problems that Niccolò and his assistants faced in print-
ing the Geographia. Like Berlinghieri’s book, Landino’s commentary presented its printer with an
ambitious scheme combining text and image, in this case on the same page. The Commento demon-
strates the gap between the ambition of authors and financiers and the technical skills and experience
necessary for printers and engravers to realize these lofty goals. Indeed, Berlinghieri’s and Landino’s
books were only the second and third attempts, respectively, to illustrate a book using engraving. The
first, Antonio Bettini’s Monte Santo di Dio (1477), like the Geographia, was plagued by errant burin
marks and distracting plate tone despite the small size of its images (fig. 8.9).42 When the work was
printed again in 1491, the new printer abandoned engraving entirely, employing a woodcutter to
translate the illustrations of the problematic first edition into that medium.43 Each of these projects
was printed by Niccolò suggesting that, when it came to combining letterpress with engraved images,
his was the only game in town. This fact goes some way toward confirming that such engraving tech-
niques indeed represented trade secrets at this moment.
Landino’s commentary was planned to include one of Botticelli’s illustrations for each of
Dante’s hundred cantos. Even the most complete extant examples, however, bear only twenty-one
engravings, and of these only the first three are actually printed on the same page as their accom-
panying text. The rest were printed on separate sheets, cut out, and affixed on the page in the space
left for them, the process of aligning the sheets to be run through the press a second time having
proved an apparently Herculean labor.44 In the majority of surviving copies, the frustrated printer
and his assistants simply conceded defeat, leaving blank the spaces left for the engravings after the
third canto.45 If the task proved beyond their technical means, Landino and Niccolò nonetheless
produced a book whose pages would have born the immediate imprint of technological experi-
mentation, suggesting that its printer and possibly even author possessed secret knowledge of
these processes. How else, quattrocento readers and viewers might ask, could they have achieved
(if on a limited scale) what no other printer or author had? The very appearance of illustrated
books like the Commento amounted to a tantalizing display of technical knowledge and revealed
that Niccolò possessed valuable secrets indeed.
The Mantuan Andrea Mantegna, and those working with him, pioneered an equally recogniz-
able graphic feat—an expressive engraved line characterized by fluid parallel hatching largely
unknown on the peninsula previously.46 The tonal system of these prints, remarkably, did not spread
to neighboring Ferrara, where instead a technique closer to that of the Florentine fine manner took

41. Veneziani, “Vicende tipografiche della Geografia di Francesco Berlinghieri,” 200.

42. On Bettini’s book and its engravings see Hind, Early Italian Engravings, 1:97–99. And see the forthcoming doctoral thesis of
Emily Gray, “Origins, Forms, and Function of Early Florentine Devotional Engravings, 1460–90.”
43. My observations are drawn from the Huntington Library’s copy, Rare Books, #89909.
44. See Dreyer, “Botticelli’s Series of Engravings ‘of 1481,’” 111–15; and Keller, “Engravings in the 1481 edition of the Divine
45. In those copies I have examined (Florence, Bib. Riccardiana Ed. R. 691 and Ed. R. 626; Parma Bib. Palatina Inc. Parm. 628;
and Rome, BAV, Inc. Ross. 1491), it is evident that the engravings were printed on a different paper stock than the text pages to which
they are affixed. The prints have yellowed quite noticeably and are more brittle than the text pages, suggesting that the printing of the
text had exhausted the allotted paper supply for the project and that less suitable paper had to be used when the images could not be
printed on the same page as their accompanying verse.
46. Lincoln, “Mantegna’s Culture of Line.”
Tricks of the Trade 197

FIGURE 8.8. Attributed to Baccio Baldini, illustration for the third canto, engraving
from Cristoforo Landino, Commento sopra la commedia (Florence: Niccolò
Tedesco, 1481), London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
198 Sean Roberts

FIGURE 8.9. The Holy Mountain (frontispiece), engraving from Antonio Bettini, Monte santo di Dio
(Florence: Niccolò Tedesco, 1477), London, British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.
Tricks of the Trade 199

hold. A gray tonality, built up through shallow parallel marks, predominates in works like the Ferrarese
painter Taddeo Crivelli’s engravings for the Bologna Ptolemy of 1477.47 Contrary to the assumptions
of traditional art history, prints did not always spread easily or rapidly. Art historians have long recog-
nized that Mantegna’s engravings served as precious objects exchanged among a small network of
friends and cognoscenti.48 We know that in late 1491, Marchese Francesco Gonzaga sent an engrav-
ing associated with Mantegna, called a quadretino—“a little picture”—as a gift to a recipient at the
Sforza court in Milan.49 This intimate exchange of an engraving as a courtly gift suggests the extent to
which assumptions about “print culture” can prove misleading for scholars of early and significant
examples in this medium. Art history’s emphasis on influence has been especially pronounced in
such scholarship on prints since they have often been assumed to serve principally to distribute the
artistic ideas of their makers to geographically dispersed and impersonal audiences. Nothing could
be further from the situation on the ground in late fifteenth-century Mantua, an environment in
which print technology and artistic invention were vigorously protected and vigilantly surveilled.
Mantegna apparently went to thuggish lengths to protect the tricks of his trade. The plaque
bearing the word INVID(IA), meaning “envy,” held by the withered crone of Battle of the Sea Gods
(ca. 1470–80) (fig. 8.10), has seemed to many art historians an apt rubric for understanding the
Mantuan painter’s territorial attitudes. Though the subject of the two-part engraving has been
frequently contested, it is generally understood as a comment on specifically artistic envy and has
been connected to the story of the Telchini, the mythic sculptors of Rhodes.50 The invidia between
painters, centered on invention and skill, influence and plagiarism, have taken center stage in
explanations of Mantegna’s alleged assault on an upstart printmaker in Mantuan lands.
Simone Ardizzoni of Reggio, a man who described himself as a painter and engraver, submitted
a complaint to Ludovico Gonzaga, Marchese of Mantua and Mantegna’s employer, on 15 September
1475. In this legal brief, Simone recounted how he and the painter Zoan Andrea were viciously
assaulted by a gang of about ten armed men. Later, Simone was denounced to Mantuan authorities
for sodomy. The artist blamed both of these misfortunes on Mantegna, who had previously
approached Simone to work with him. According to Simone, the painter had become enraged when
he chose instead to “remake” some plates that had, along with drawings and medals, been stolen from
Zoan.51 Some among Mantegna’s biographers, including Arthur Hind, Paul Kristeller, and most
recently David Landau, made an interpretive leap, asserting that Zoan’s stolen plates must have been
copies of designs by Mantegna.52 As Ronald Lightbown first observed, such excuses seem a “gratu-
itous attempt to palliate Mantegna’s conduct.”53 Others including Lightbown and most recently
Suzanne Boorsch have argued that, in assaulting Simone, Mantegna was exerting a degree of control

47. Sighinolfi, “I mappamondi di Taddeo Crivelli”; and Skelton, introduction to Cosmographia: Bologna,1477, vi–vii.
48. Campbell, Cabinet of Eros, 157–62.
49. Lightbown, Andrea Mantegna, 237.
50. Jacobsen, “Meaning of Mantegna’s Battle of the Sea Gods”; Emison, “Raucousness of Mantegna’s Mythological Engravings,”
159–76; and Campbell, Cabinet of Eros, 163–68.
51. Lightbown, Andrea Mantegna, 234; Boorsch, “Mantegna and His Printmakers”; Landau and Parshall, Renaissance Print, 71;
and Christiansen, “Case for Mantegna as Printmaker.”
52. Kristeller, Andrea Mantegna, 530–31; Hind, Early Italian Engraving; Landau, “Mantegna as Printmaker,” 44–54.
53. Lightbown, Andrea Mantegna, 236–37.
200 Sean Roberts

FIGURE 8.10. Andrea Mantegna, Battle of the Sea Gods (left half), ca. 1470–1480, engraving, London,
British Museum.
© Trustees of the British Museum.

over all cultural production in Mantua as part of his purview.54 Boorsch speculated that Mantegna’s
rage was prompted by “the fact that Simone, without his knowledge, had been working for Zoan
Andrea” and that Mantegna, as court artist, “was supposed to be in charge of all artistic matters in
Mantuan territory.”55
Such dominion would have been practically impossible to achieve and clearly exaggerates
Mantegna’s sovereignty as an employee of the Gonzaga. It may even go beyond what a motivated
and prolific self-promoter like Mantegna would have dared to imagine. More importantly, it surely
underestimates the range of artistic production in Mantua not connected to the court or its desig-
nated artistic supervisor. For many art historians, Mantegna has fully eclipsed all other artists at
work in quattrocento Mantua. In fact, a great many painters are documented at work in Mantua
during Mantegna’s time there, and we have no documents of similar confrontations.56 If the painter
was really driven to rage by the artistic production of others, he must have raged a great deal over
the course of his nearly half-century tenure at the court. It is of tremendous importance that this

54. Lightbown, Andrea Mantegna, 237; Boorsch, “Mantegna and His Printmakers,” 58. This basic position is also supported in
Lincoln, Invention of the Renaissance Printmaker, 38–39.
55. Boorsch, “Mantegna and His Printmakers,” 58. On Mantegna and the status of court artists, see Warnke, Court Artist, 124–42;
and esp. Campbell, Artists at Court, 9–18.
56. Furlotti and Rebecchini, Art of Mantua, 56–91.
Tricks of the Trade 201

dispute hinged on the relatively novel and technically opaque process of engraving. The protec-
tion of an artist’s “invention” in the sense usually intended by art theory has been the subject of
productive reevaluation by scholars interested in the origins of modern notions of intellectual
property.57 Lisa Pon, for example, has examined the clash between Albrecht Dürer and Marcantonio
Raimondi on account of the latter’s unauthorized use of the famous “AD” monogram.58 Seldom
overtly acknowledged in such discussions, however, are questions of the protection of technologi-
cal invention.
The violent clash between Simone and Mantegna makes a great deal more sense when we
understand it as a question of guarded proprietary technology. Precisely what that technology
might have been, however, will likely remain a mystery without further documentation. The estab-
lished painter may have been responding to Simone’s introduction of a particular piece of
technology that had helped make Mantegna’s prints so graphically distinctive in Northern Italy.
Something like the lozenge-section burin may be one possibility. More likely, Simone’s skill in
wielding such tricks of the trade brought him to Mantegna’s attention. At the very least, something
akin to industrial espionage was afoot in 1475, as is demonstrated by the episode that initiated this
chain of events, the theft of Zoan Andrea’s plates. Despite some scholars’ speculations, there is no
reason to believe that Mantegna was involved in the theft or that these plates had any relationship
to Mantegna’s “inventions” in a compositional or intellectual sense. Only two facts are indisput-
able. These plates were worth stealing and Zoan lacked the ability to recreate them on his own.
Zoan Andrea was not a painter whose reputation would have warranted such a theft if its principal
aim had been the acquisition of his designs—his intellectual property in an artistic sense. Rather
the plates themselves were stolen either to sabotage Zoan’s operations, to print from these plates at
a profit, or perhaps to glean from them the technical secrets of their creation. Engraving in later
fifteenth-century Mantua was as closely linked to technical secrets as it was to the rising status of
artists and their poetic, pictorial inventions.
The art historical focus on influence and the wide distribution of prints, rather than on their
often careful and selective circulation within exclusive networks, has also obscured the extent to
which engravers, rather than simply engravings, were on the move in early modern Europe. A lack
of art historical attention to itinerate artists generally has contributed to this problem.59 Rosselli,
of course, worked in Hungary.60 Martin Schongauer may have visited Spain.61 The craftsman tradi-
tion of the wanderjahre allowed Dürer to travel not only through Germany and Switzerland but
probably also the Netherlands, years before his much-touted sojourn in Venice.62 Mantegna’s hap-
less rival Simone Ardizzoni claimed to have plied his trade in some forty Italian cities.63 Some
fifteenth-century engravers may have worked even farther afield. An Ottoman embassy to Florence
of 1480 requested from Lorenzo de’ Medici and the Signoria, on behalf of Sultan Mehmed II not

57. See esp. Lincoln, “Invention and Authorship in Early Modern Italian Visual Culture.”
58. Pon, Raphael, Dürer, and Marcantonio Raimondi, esp. 137–42.
59. Da Costa Kaufmann, Toward a Geography of Art, 107–53.
60. Levi d’Ancona, “Francesco Rosselli”; Gabrielli, Cosimo Rosselli, 112–14, 120–23; and Bansi, Gli Arbori della cartografia in
61. Anzelewsky, “Schongauers Spanienreise.”
62. On the wanderjahre and Dürer’s prints, see most recently Talbot, “Dürer and the High Art of Printmaking.”
63. Lightbown, Andrea Mantegna, 238.
202 Sean Roberts

only maestri “di legname, e di tarsio…e di squlture bronzo” but also “maestri d’intaglio,” according
to the chronicler Benedetto Dei.64 This might be a request for engravers of precious metal or
armor. It is equally possible, however, that it refers to engravers. A letter of 1482 from the Francesco
Berlinghieri to Mehmed’s successor, Bayezid II, refers to the engravers of the Geographia’s maps as
“intagliatori.”65 These and other examples are well known to historians of print, yet their implica-
tions have seldom been recognized. Early modern artisans were on the move and their luggage
included not only examples of their craft but also the know-how, and often the tools, to produce
new works in their new homes. The “Roman” Ptolemy of 1478 may have been engraved and
printed in the eternal city, but its makers were provided with German tools and trained by
Sweynheym, a German craftsman.66 Engraving techniques were jealously guarded trade secrets
that did not spread rapidly but rather, like so many other technologies, through the slow and per-
sonal transmission of their practitioners’ knowledge.67 Berlinghieri’s own attempts to secure
engravers from Sweynheym might have foundered on such concerns.

The Rewards of Secrecy

To return here to a question raised in the introduction to this volume, who benefited from the web
of secrets woven around quattrocento engraving? Our first impulse might be to follow the money,
to point to printers and financiers with vested interests in the success of luxury book projects
replete with engraved images or the vendors of single-sheet prints who might reap substantial
profits from their sale. The printing of texts and images was a competitive business in which indi-
viduals, partnerships, and firms fought to stay solvent.68 Despite universally admired projects like
the Ptolemy of 1478, the operations of Conrad Sweynheym and his partner, Arnold Pannartz,
were only saved from bankruptcy by a gift of funds from Pope Sixtus IV.69 Certainly printers like
Niccolò Tedesco and Sweynheym sought ways to distinguish their own projects and to discourage
competition. Indeed both men traveled far from their homes to do exactly that. There can be little
question that a desire to ply their valuable secrets among the uninitiated encouraged their emigra-
tion from Ulm and Breslau to Rome and Florence. Nor should we harbor any doubt that, after
these long journeys, after what must have represented substantial investment in tools and materi-
als, these men aggressively protected their livelihoods by all means at their disposal.
Greater profits, however, were only one part of the advantages that successful printers, authors,
and engravers could hope to accrue by keeping their tools and techniques under wraps. Early
books illustrated with engravings were, like single-sheet prints, often manufactured for the benefit
of small groups of like-minded intellectuals and patrons, both real and potential. The projects of
Florentine printers like Niccolò were often funded by their authors, friends, and colleagues.70 The

64. Quoted in Babinger, “Lorenzo de’ Medici e la corte ottomana,” 319. On this embassy, see also Raby, “Sultan of Paradox,” 3–8.
65. This letter accompanied a gift copy of the Geographia sent to Bayezid. The letter was first published in Marinelli, “Una dedica
della Geographia del Berlinghieri.”
66. Skelton, Cosmographia: Rome, 1478, vi–vii.
67. On the personal transmission of craft knowledge, see Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship, 88–96.
68. Pon, Raphael, Dürer, and Marcantonio Raimondi, 48–52.
69. Skelton, Cosmographia: Rome, 1478, v.
70. On this phenomenon, see Richardson, Printing, Writers, and Readers in Renaissance Italy, 49–57, 81.
Tricks of the Trade 203

collaboration between Niccolò and Landino to produce the Commento probably did not generate
significant revenue, nor was this likely the intention of its producers. For Niccolò, who came to
style himself with the Latin moniker of Nicolaus Laurentii, participation allowed him to align him-
self with some of the city’s most important humanist scholars. Likewise, for writers like Landino
and Berlinghieri (many of whom served as their own financiers) short-term economic profits were
not their principal goal. Rather, through the technical and visual novelty of having their works
printed with innovative engravings, such authors hoped to distinguish their efforts from those of
friends, rivals, and predecessors. Landino’s Commento is extant in several precious examples with
manuscript additions intended as gifts for wealthy and influential owners.71 The most fully luxuri-
ated copy was presented to the Signoria and featured a hand-illuminated frontispiece and
historiated initials throughout. It was housed in an elaborate leather binding inlaid with narrative
medals.72 Clearly Landino intended for Florence’s preeminent citizens and its very government to
recognize, and be astonished by, what he and Niccolò had accomplished. Florentine readers and
viewers were expected to open these novel books and ask, “How did they do that?”
Of course, the appearance of secrecy served to benefit artists and craftspeople, those who could
be credited with a little-understood and even miraculous technique. As Michael Cole has recently
reminded us in his study of sixteenth-century Florentine sculptors, recognized mastery of special-
ized and conspicuously difficult techniques, such as casting and chasing, served as powerful marks
of distinction, animating artisanal rivalries.73 Francesco Rosselli made a handsome living off of the
broad manner technique, which he kept out of the hands of upstart Florentine competitors until his
death. When Francesco left the city of his birth for Hungary, he was deeply in debt and financially
responsible for an extended household. Within two years of his return to Florence—with both the
lozenge-section burin and the training to use it—he was not only solvent but also wealthy.74 The
advantages engraving provided for Rosselli, moreover, were not limited to the monetary. Thanks to
his later involvement in cartographic engraving in Venice, Francesco was able to fashion himself as
“Franciscus Rosellus florentinus Cosmographus,” the title under which he is recorded as an attendee
of Luca Pacioli’s lectures on cosmology.75 Rosselli began his career as a book illuminator, a Florentine
craftsman of modest means. By 1508, the engraver was enmeshed in one of the most important
circles of humanist mathematicians and geographers of the Renaissance. The impulses behind
engraving’s secrecy were, like those driving so many shifts in early modern artistic practice, inte-
grally linked to the shifting social ground occupied by artists and viewers, craftspeople and patrons.
The ability to amaze and inspire wonder by wielding apparently complicated and misunderstood
technologies played a significant part in such transformations.
In the long run, the technical secrecy of engraving also had far-reaching consequences that its
immediate practitioners could not have foreseen. The careful protection of information regarding
those who made early engravings certainly served to benefit painters like Mantegna who created

71. See Alexander, Painted Page, 28–29.

72. This copy is today in Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Banco Rari 341. On the binding and hand illumination of this
example, see Gentile, Sandro Botticelli, 252–53.
73. Cole, Ambitious Form, esp. 58–69.
74. On the engraver’s finances see Boorsch, “Case for Francesco Rosselli as the Engraver of Berlinghieri’s Geographia.”
75. Almagià, “On the Cartographic Work of Francesco Rosselli”; Boorsch, “Francesco Rosselli.”
204 Sean Roberts

remarkable and innovative objects in collaboration with artisans possessing unique technologies and
skills. We now know that Mantegna contracted the engraver Gian Marco Cavalli to produce prints
related to his drawings. One stipulation of their collaboration was that Cavalli could not provide any
third party with access to the designs the painter provided. While the unauthorized dissemination of
these inventions for profit was probably one of Mantegna’s concerns, he was probably also invested
in assuring that the details of such a partnership, and the collaborative origins of his engravings,
would not be known.76 Such conduct ensured that Mantegna alone would be credited with the pro-
duction of these prints, valued as precious tokens and gifts. Mantegna’s success in these efforts can be
measured in the complicity of modern art historians who have kept such secrets thanks to the field’s
long-standing lack of attention to artistic collaboration, especially in cases involving canonically sig-
nificant artists.77 Only recently have we begun to consider in earnest the role that a host of artisans,
including not only Cavalli but also Giovanni Antonio da Brescia and the still-mysterious “Premier
Engraver,” played in the production of “Mantegna” engravings.78 Artists, printers, and humanist writ-
ers alike drew on the relative secrecy of engraved image for social advantage.
And so it was that Giorgio Vasari, when he turned his attention to the origins of engraving,
proffered two different foundation myths for the process in the Vite. In the first edition of 1550,
Vasari assigned the invention of engraving to Andrea Mantegna.79 Vasari had changed his mind by
1568, and the revised edition of that year attributes this remarkable discovery to the Florentine
Maso Finiguerra.80 Both claims have long been regarded as fantastic foundation myths. The pro-
duction of engraved images certainly originated beyond the Alps. Much might be said of Vasari’s
motives for spinning these tall tales, especially of the ways in which these stories served to benefit
the Aretine and his (often Florentine) patrons, and readers.81 Here, however, I want to conclude
with a simple observation. That Vasari, a man trained as a goldsmith, did not fully understand the
techniques of engraving or their history is remarkable. That these fabrications were, for a time and
for some readers, believable is equally striking. Many of the earliest European engravings were
seen as founded on trade secrets, secrets that were successfully kept by their practitioners, yet
which advertised their novelty and invention through the graphic effects they made possible
whether in single-sheet prints, illustrated book pages, or maps of the world. Vasari and his readers
were not particularly well informed, not principally because they were unconcerned with prints
but rather because early practitioners had a vested interest in protecting the secrets of their trade
and in convincing outsiders of the complicated and technical qualities of even commonplace

76. Canova, “Gian Marco Incisore per Andrea Mantegna.” See also Campbell, “Antico and Mantegna.”
77. On the importance of collaboration and the difficulties it presents for art historians see especially Radke, “Lorenzo Ghiberti:
Master Collaborator.”
78. For this collaboration see Boorsch, “Mantegna and His Printmakers.”
79. Vasari, Le vite (1550), 1:512–13 and (1568), 1:492.
80. Vasari, Le vite (1568), 1:64.
81. See Rubin, Giorgio Vasari; Gregory, Vasari and the Renaissance Print; and Roberts, “Inventing Engraving in Vasari’s Florence.”
Tricks of the Trade 205

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The Alchemical Womb
Johann Remmelin’s Catoptrum microcosmicum

Lyle Massey

arly modern anatomical flap sheets have a special kind of status in the history of science
and print culture. Both figuratively and literally they embody the intertwining of secret
knowledge with the newly penetrating gaze of Renaissance and baroque medicine. With
their tactile invitation to peel back paper layers and peek inside, flap sheets trade on the ludic pos-
sibilities embedded in the act of dissection and emphasize the idea that the physical body harbors
hidden revelations. These revelations are frequently shrouded in the academic language of anat-
omy (Latin rather than the vernacular) and often hinge on the authority of various university
physicians and surgeons who invented and augmented early modern practices of dissection.
However, while authors of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century flap sheets borrowed extensively
from academic sources, the hybrid visual objects they produced often circulated in and appealed
to a nebulous realm of popular tastes and appetites. With few exceptions, flap sheets neither drove
forward nor contributed to the anatomical corpus. The knowledge they presented to the viewer
was frequently meant to appear abstruse and available only to those with a requisite vision and
understanding. That is, they appeared to fashion an exclusive community of secret holders of the
sort alluded to in Tim McCall and Sean Robert’s introduction to this volume. But flap sheets were
also meant to appeal to a wide cross section of consumers and readers. Straddling a line between
high learning and folk wisdom, flap sheets translated the difficult and puzzling aspects of anatomy
into a set of images that were both enticingly talismanic and deceivingly accessible. In short, ana-
tomical flap sheets embodied a peculiar form of secret sharing, one that was at once social in the
sense of defining an exclusive public, and scientific, in the sense of defining an arcane, yet seem-
ingly universal body of knowledge.
One of the most avidly sought-after flap sheet compilations was produced at the very end of
the period in which they were most prevalent. This is Johann Remmelin’s elaborate, multiflap,
multipage work, Catoptrum microcosmicum (Microcosmic Mirror). Lavishly illustrated by Lucas
Kilian, a German engraver who probably designed as well as cut the plates, the Catoptrum presents
anatomical information that was already out of date when it was printed.1 Nevertheless, the folio

I am grateful to Jesse Weiner for his assistance in translating the longer Latin passages and Shaina Trapedo for locating the source
of the Hebrew phrases. In addition, my thanks go to Maria Pantelia, director of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (an extraordinary online

The Alchemical Womb 209

engravings are not only unusually complex due to the sheer number and elaborateness of flaps
(some images can be superimposed with up to nine consecutive flaps, many of them double-
sided), but they are also distinguished from other flap sheets for the way they fabricate recondite
associations between dissection and alchemy, and for their multiple inscriptions in Latin, Hebrew,
and Greek.2
The eccentric nature of Remmelin’s Catoptrum and its presumed costliness would seem to
have relegated it to a highly select and elite audience, and yet its print history reveals prodigious
editions in many languages. Published initially in Latin, it was quickly translated into German,
Dutch, French, and English.3 Each edition was probably limited because of the size and intricacy
of the work, factors that also make it all the more surprising that the demand for translations and
reproductions continued well into the eighteenth century. However, the Catoptrum also has a
strange and convoluted print history involving early, possibly unauthorized editions in 1613, 1614,
and 1615. The first edition that can be associated directly with Remmelin was printed in Augsburg
in 1619.4 The title page of this edition identifies Remmelin as the author, Kilian as the artist, and
Stephan Michelspacher as the printer, and it is dedicated to Philipp Hainhofer, duke of Parnerania
(fig. 9.1). Both the earlier 1613 and the later 1619 editions were subsequently used as the basis for
most translations and reprints.5 In almost all editions, the Catoptrum contains four to five printed
plates: a title page, an author portrait (in some editions), and then three large plates referred to as

resource based at the University of California, Irvine) for her help in tracking down the origins of the Greek inscriptions.
1. Remmelin took credit as the “inventor” of the images, but given Kilian’s talents and comparisons to his other work, it seems
likely that he was the source of the design as well as execution of the plates. See Cazort et al., Ingenious Machine of Nature, 171.
2. Each edition varies, due to the vagaries of how it was put together. But the sheer accumulation of flaps makes the sheets
unprecedented in the history of fugitive flap prints; ibid., 173.
3. Latin editions were published in 1613, 1614, 1615, 1619, 1639, 1660, and 1754; German editions in 1632, 1661, 1727, 1720,
and 1744; Dutch editions in 1634 (with Latin), 1645, and 1667; French edition in 1630s (undated); and English editions in 1670,
1675, 1691, 1695, 1702, and 1738. See Russell, Bibliography of Johann Remmelin the Anatomist, 55–90, for description of editions.
Ludwig Choulant says that while the work seems intended for a lay audience, it contains too much specific information on anatomy for
nonspecialists, even though it is also clearly out of date and therefore not of great efficacy for anatomists; Choulant, History and
Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration, 232.
4. This edition was preceded by three others printed by Stephan Michelspacher, an Augsburg printer and physician, who also
produced the 1619 version. In 1613, Michelspacher printed three plates with flaps under the title Catoptrum microcosmicum without
any explanatory text or elucidation of the lettering on the figures. On the Visio Prima or first printed page, there were two sets of initials,
“I. R. Inventor” and “L. K. Sculptor” and “Stephan Michelspacher Excudit.” The initials are now understood to refer to Johannes
Remmelin and Lucas Kilian, but they played a secondary role to Michelspacher’s more prominent name. The text was published
separately in two subsequent editions also featuring Michelspacher’s name, the Elucidarius of 1614 and the Pinax microcosmographicus
of 1615. In the nineteenth century, scholars suggested that Michelspacher had proceeded without Remmelin’s consent, going so far as
to steal the plates Remmelin had prepared with Kilian. Remmelin’s introduction to the 1619 edition seems to underscore this point by
stating that the earlier edition had been printed without his knowledge and that he tried himself to suppress it. However, this version of
the story was challenged convincingly by W. B. McDaniel who showed that Michelspacher and Remmelin continued a fruitful working
relationship during the period between the 1613 printing and the 1619 printing. See McDaniel “Affair of the ‘1613’ Printing of Johannes
Rümelin’s Catoptron,” 60–72. It seems more likely that Remmelin provided the plates to the printer, but for unknown reasons decided
not to have his name attached to the earlier editions. However, he does appear to have contributed to the epilogue of the Pinax
microcosmographicus, identifying the devil’s head that appears as a flap in the Visio Prima. See Cazort et al., Ingenious Machine of Nature,
171. In any case, by 1619 Remmelin authorized an edition under his name, stating in an apologia on the verso of the title page, that
there were “intolerable errors committed in the engraving and printing” of the earlier publication, and thus he has taken on the task of
seeing the 1619 edition through to print in order to correct the infelicity of the earlier work; Russell, Bibliography of Johann Remmelin
the Anatomist, 1–4.
5. For a detailed account of the fortunes of the original plates and an analysis of the 1754 uncut plates attributed to Arcangelo
Piccolomini that exist in several libraries, see Schmidt, “Printed Bodies and the Materiality of Early Modern Prints.” Schmidt also
suggests that the prints were preassembled for buyers, rather than bought and then assembled at home.
210 Lyle Massey

FIGURE 9.1. Title page from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum… (Augustae
Vindelicorum: Typis Davidis Francki, 1619), engraving. Galter Health Sciences Library: Rare Books
(Medical) 611 R28 1619.
Courtesy of the Galter Health Sciences Library Special Collections, Feinberg School of Medicine,
Northwestern University, Chicago.
The Alchemical Womb 211

the Visio Prima (fig. 9.2) depicting male and female figures together standing on plinths on either
side of a truncated, pregnant torso; the Visio Secunda (fig. 9.3) depicting a single male figure; and
the Visio Tertia (fig. 9.4) depicting a single female figure.
Some of the Catoptrum’s images and text draw from the authority of sixteenth-century anato-
mist Andreas Vesalius, who continued to cast a long shadow over anatomical practice in
seventeenth-century European centers of learning. In his De humani corporis fabrica (often referred
to simply as Fabrica), first printed in 1543, Vesalius challenged the centuries-old reliance on medi-
eval, Galenic medical texts on anatomy, insisting that knowledge of the human body could only be
arrived at through prolonged and consistent contact with it through dissection. In addition,
Vesalius’s atlas constructed a new and wholly influential model for how to represent human anat-
omy in pictures. Many of Vesalius’s images were copied and reframed in subsequent works in order
to substantiate the professional claims of later anatomists.
Remmelin was no different in this respect. He too used the Fabrica to confer legitimacy on the
Catoptrum. Four of the small, detailed illustrations included in the Visio Secunda and eight in the
Visio Tertia are engraved after Vesalius. These include the genito-urinary tracts for both male and
female figures as well as a separate image of the uterus after an image that appears in book 5 of
Vesalius’s Fabrica. However, in spite of these obvious references to Vesalius and to prevailing ana-
tomical trends and knowledge (and the clear sense that they are meant to be recognized as such by
readers/viewers), the myriad other visual and textual references that appear in the Catoptrum
threaten to overwhelm any sense that the work is heir to Vesalius’s “modern” anatomy. Instead, the
Catoptrum speaks to a hermetically inclined readership, one familiar with alchemical and kabbalis-
tic references. While these aspects have often been remarked upon, what they mean in the context
of the flap sheets, or what they are drawn from, has never been fully explored. While the Catoptrum
offered cryptic knowledge to baroque readers who assumedly understood the context of its mys-
teries, the content and even intent of that knowledge remains opaque to modern historians.
One reason for this is that the varied references appear haphazard, arranged less to tell a dis-
cernible story or overarching allegory, than to provide evidence of general erudition. The only
clear principle underlying the Catoptrum is that anatomy and medicine need to be understood
through a framework of magic rather than through post-Vesalian inquiry. Remmelin’s Catoptrum
exploits a promiscuous seventeenth-century fascination with alchemy, and overlays it on to what
was known of human anatomy. With their tactile and interactive character and stitching together
of high academic learning with alchemical knowledge, Remmelin’s prints exemplify what Natalie
Zemon Davis calls the “blurring of cultural typologies.” As she points out, in moments of cultural
transformation, “older habits enter into fresh alliance or tension with new modes of communica-
tion, old arguments are carried on in a new key, and new stakes emerge only through a process of
struggle and negotiation” leading to the production of new cultural forms.6 Remmelin’s flap sheets
present the human body as a battleground for discordant understandings of medicine and anat-
omy, but also for newly articulated distinctions between male and female bodies.
On one level, the Remmelin plates exhibit a predictable moralizing theme. It has been noted
by some that there is a strong eschatological current running through the prints, one tied to a

6. Davis, “Toward Mixtures and Margins,” 1410.

212 Lyle Massey

FIGURE 9.2. Visio prima, from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum… (Aubsburg, 1639),
Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
The Alchemical Womb 213

FIGURE 9.3. Visio secunda, from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum

microcosmicum (Augsburg, 1619), engraving. Galter Health Sciences Library,
Special Collections, Northwestern University, Chicago.
Courtesy of the Galter Health Sciences Library Special Collections, Feinberg
School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago.
214 Lyle Massey

FIGURE 9.4. Visio tertia, from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum

(Augsburg, 1619), engraving. Galter Health Sciences Library, Special Collections,
Northwestern University, Chicago.
Courtesy of the Galter Health Sciences Library Special Collections, Feinberg School of
Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago.
The Alchemical Womb 215

long-standing tradition of treating anatomical images in terms of vanitas and memento mori
themes.7 As with many preceding atlases of the human body, the Catoptrum presents its images
and text under the dictum “Nosce te ipsum,” or “Know thyself,” which appears at the bottom of the
frontispiece (see fig. 9.1). Vesalius was not the first to invoke this Latin version of the ancient
Greek dictum associated with the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, but he explains most fully how the
phrase relates to the study of anatomy. In 1543, Vesalius offers a critical reflection on “nosce te
ipsum,” suggesting that the study of the human body amounts to the study of the human soul:
Yet I surmise that out of the entire Apolline discipline of medicine, and indeed all natural philoso-
phy, nothing could be produced more pleasing or welcome to your Majesty [Charles V to whom
the book is dedicated] than research in which we recognize the body and the spirit, as well as a
certain divinity that issues from a harmony of the two, and finally our own selves (which is the true
study of mankind) [nosmetipsos denique (quod vere hominis est) cognoscimus].8

As Peter Mitchell notes, Remmelin’s prints reiterate this theme of self-reflection, but add a
soteriological element by contrasting death to the promise of salvation offered by Christ. In
Remmelin’s frontispiece, “Nosce te ipsum” appears directly under a skull, above which is another
inscription, which admonishes the reader to “Memento mori.” In the Visio Secunda (see fig. 9.2),
which shows a single male figure, the phrase “Nascentes morimus” (Being born, we die) appears
above a line from Psalm 144, verse 4, “Homo vanitati[.] Similis factus est, dies eig [sic (suae?)].
Sicut umbra, praetereunt”(Man is like to vanity: / His days are as a shadow that passeth away),
while below, to the right, is a microchristus emblem that crushes a serpent’s head next to the male
figure’s foot, which itself rests on a skull through which the serpent is entwined. The layered mean-
ings point to a connection between death and Christian resurrection and to the double nature of
Christ’s anatomy as both human (corruptible) and divine (uncorruptible). Anatomy, as an inves-
tigatory aspect of natural philosophy, takes on soteriological and eschatological significance in this
set of contrasting images and ideas.
While this is certainly an explicit aspect of Remmelin’s prints, it by no means fully explains the
significance of either the Christian iconography and multiple biblical inscriptions, or the varied
alchemical and kabbalistic elements that appear throughout the prints. The presence of kabbala
and alchemy in the Catoptrum may have much to do with Remmelin’s relationship with Stefan
Michelspacher, the printer. That these men were connected is clear not simply through the com-
plex and perplexing history of the Catoptrum’s publication (see note 4), but also, significantly, by
the fact that Michelspacher dedicated to Remmelin his own Cabala: Spiegel der Kunst un Natur, in
Alchymia (Augsburg, 1616).9 A lavishly illustrated book, Michelspacher’s Cabala also reveals his
adherence to Paracelsian spiritual alchemy.10 There is, therefore, good reason to believe that these
two men shared an interest in Paracelsian, alchemical medicine, an interest that is borne out in
Remmelin’s Catoptrum.

7. This is, for instance, the view in Mitchell, Purple Island and Anatomy, 133–37.
8. Vesalius seems to be combining the dictum of Apollo with Protagoras’s “man is the measure of all things”; see Vesalius, De
humani corporis fabrica, trans. Garrison, preface, p. 4r and n63.
9. See Cazort et al., Ingenious Machine of Nature, 171; Klossowski de Rola, Golden Game, 52.
10. Szulakowska, “Apocalyptic Eucharist and Religious Dissidence,” 208–9.
216 Lyle Massey

Michelspacher was a physician who was part of a group of Tyrolese, Protestant Paracelsians
who fashioned themselves as spiritual alchemists. He ended up in Augsburg, a city known for its
religious tolerance, possibly to escape the fate that met Adam Haslmayr, who was accused of her-
esy by Jesuits in 1618 and then executed in 1623 by Archduke Maximilian in re-Catholicized
Tyrol.11 In his Cabala, Michelspacher embraces a form of Paracelsian alchemy associated with fig-
ures like Heinrich Khunrath, the German hermeticist. Drawing inspiration from Hermes
Trismegistus, the mythical Egyptian founder of the arts of alchemy, Khunrath, in his most influen-
tial work, the Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae of 1602, explains the central mystery of
Trismegistus’s meditation on the oneness of being. In Khunrath’s view, the goal of alchemy is to
return man to his original state and find a path to oneness with nature. This oneness is then imbued
with Christian connotations. The outcome of true hermeticism in Khunrath’s terms is to achieve
a “oneing” with Christ.12 Skirting the fine edge of heresy, Khunrath and the spiritual alchemists
who followed him, refigured Christ as the Philosopher’s Stone, embracing the notion of alchemi-
cal transubstantiation in which the philosopher transforms himself into the very substance of
Redeemer.13 This is vividly illustrated in Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum in which Christ appears in the
center of concentric circles, enclosed in a nucleus referred to by Khunrath as the “En Soph,” the
kabbalistic term for God in his manifestation as the Infinite or Endless.14 The figure of Christ is
posed above a phoenix, a critical emblem in alchemical writing that signified the primordial trans-
formations enacted by fire and, like the Philosopher’s Stone, embodied the “mysterious substance
by which the Great Work of transmutation is achieved.”15 If the phoenix stands for the prospect of
resurrection in traditional alchemical terms, then the salvation and resurrection promised by
Christ stands for the ultimate possibilities of transformation according to the logic of the Protestant
spiritual alchemists and Christian kabbalism.
Michelspacher’s treatise trades on similar ideas. As Ursula Szulowkowska points out, while
responding to reformulated Protestant ideas about the sacraments, the Paracelsian spiritual alche-
mists began to see the Eucharistic transformation as a kind of “metaphysical chemistry” in which the
goal was to attain the perfect form of man as ordained by nature.16 Both Khunrath’s and Michelspacher’s
images put Christ at the center of this “metaphysical” transformation. For instance, the third engraved
plate of Michelspacher’s Cabala depicts a phoenix enclosed in a mountain surmounted by the signs
of the seven planets of the zodiac (fig. 9.5). With the phoenix are the figures of a naked king and
queen who appear in Revelations and are martyrs who witness the Resurrection.17 While this plate
ascribes the powers of resurrection to the phoenix, in the end these powers are claimed only by
Christ himself, as shown in Michelspacher’s fourth and final engraved plate that accompanies the text

11. Ibid., 203.

12. See Healy, “Making the Quadrangle Round,’” 409.
13. These ideas reached their heretical apogee in the writings of German spiritual alchemists like Abraham von Frankenberg and
Jacob Boehme; Szulakowska, “Apocalyptic Eucharist and Religious Dissidence,” 211–12.
14. Klossowski de Rola, Golden Game, 43.
15. Principe, Chymists and Chymistry, 105.
16. As Szulakowska points out, “Certainly it is clear that by the late sixteenth century certain Paracelsians had come to understand
the Eucharist in terms of a metaphysical chemistry aided by the astral virtues of Nature, not by the Holy Spirit alone”; Szulakowska,
“Apocalyptic Eucharist and Religious Dissidence,” 211.
17. Ibid., 219.
The Alchemical Womb 217

FIGURE 9.5. Plate 3 from Stefan Michelspacher, Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst un
Natur, in Alchymia (Augsburg, 1616), engraving.
Photo by author.

of Cabala (fig. 9.6). Here Christ is the ultimate magi, seated in a fountain that is filling with his own
blood as it spills from his wounds. He holds out two chalices to figures representing the sun and
moon, while below, the seven metals await transfiguration.
Remmelin’s Catoptrum images reveal similar elements to those found in Khunrath’s and
Michelspacher’s prints. The microchristus figure that appears in the Visio Secunda (see fig. 9.3)
stands in contrast to the phoenix that appears in the Visio Tertia (see fig. 9.4). The resurrection of
Christ and his promise of salvation (correlated to the Philosopher’s Stone) is associated with the
male figure, whereas the phoenix of traditional alchemy is associated with the female figure. An
inscription that appears over the phoenix in the Visio Tertia reads, “ut Phoenix vivit combustas: sic
218 Lyle Massey

FIGURE 9.6. Plate 4 from Stefan Michelspacher, Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst un Natur,
in Alchymia (Augsburg, 1616), engraving.
Photo by author.

Homo & qui fumi instar, Cinis” (As the Phoenix lives even after it has been consumed by fire: thus
man who is the likeness of smoke is also ash).18 An inscription on the underside of the phoenix (it
lifts up to reveal the female pudenda) is a variation of Psalm 101:4: “Quia defecerunt sicut fumus
dies mei et ossa mea sicut gremium aruerunt” (For my days are vanished like smoke: and my bones

18. The soteriological significance of the Visio Tertia is underscored by several other inscriptions. One example is the cartouche,
in the print’s upper left, surmounted by a small skeleton, that encloses the inscription, “Dies nostri quasi umbra superterram, ti nulla est
mora. i. Paraliq.Cap” (Our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is nothing abiding” [I Paralipomenon 29:15]), while above the
skeleton is the inscription, “finis ab origine pendet” (the end depends upon the beginning).
The Alchemical Womb 219

are grown dry like fuel for the fire).19 These inscriptions point to the phoenix as both a reminder
of death and a sign of alchemical resurrection and transformation. However, what is different
about Remmelin’s engravings is that the relationship between Christ and the phoenix is reformu-
lated in the context of the Catoptrum’s aggressive sexual antithesis.
Remmelin’s male and female anatomical figures are posed as Adam and Eve, following a con-
vention that Vesalius himself initiated in his Epitome, a highly truncated and inexpensive redaction
of the Fabrica that was probably sold to medical students. In the Epitome, a male, normative nude
is shown holding a skull, posed with a female nude who covers herself in a pudica gesture. The
implications of Vesalius’s image were taken further by Thomas Geminus, an English physician
who produced a plagiarized edition of Vesalius in 1545 that also included the Adam and Eve fig-
ures. In Geminus’s version, Adam now holds an apple and the skull appears at his feet, entwined
with a serpent that is pointed toward Eve (fig. 9.7). In Remmelin’s Catoptrum, a skull and serpent
similarly appear in both the Visio Secunda (see fig. 9.3) and the Visio Tertia (see fig. 9.4). But there
is a clear difference in how the skull and serpents are employed in relation to the male and female
figures in the two plates. In the Visio Secunda (dedicated to male anatomy), the serpent is being
stamped out by Christianity. In the Visio Tertia (dedicated to female anatomy), the serpent holds
an apple in its mouth, representing the moment prior to the fall of man. In some ways this type of
juxtaposition is not surprising and can be said to rehearse long-standing late medieval and
Renaissance moralistic divisions between the sexes based on interpretations of the fall of Adam
and Eve (i.e., Bernardino of Siena’s statement that “through woman, the entire human race was
lost” is one of the clearer articulations of how Eve was understood to stand for all women).20 But in
the context of Remmelin’s flap sheets, that moral difference is explicitly conferred on anatomical
features of the human body.
For instance, a long, nonbiblical, Latin inscription that appears at the bottom of the Visio
Prima invokes Adam and Eve and makes clear the principle on which men and women are

O God, you alone remained before chaos, before all bodies of things, you, who do not have a limit.
Illustrate [these things]. With the light land, the image of your divine mind came into being, from
your immeasurable goodness. Nevertheless, the better spouse, having been taken by the trick of an
evil demon, was soon led astray by his stupid wife. Behold! He neglected your divine precept, and
the deplorable man bore the pernicious loss forever. Clearly, having been mocked you immedi-
ately lost the human race of Adam by the seductive speech of a serpent. Although God forbade it,
eating the sorrowful fruit you caused pale death to come into the empty world. Our life fleeing just
like the grass, like the smoke of fire—changes that you cause to be suddenly undone.21

19. In the Catoptrum, this particular phrase it is identified as coming from Psalm 102:4, but it seems to more likely be a variation
of Psalm 101:4. This and all following English translations from the Latin Vulgate come from the Douay-Rheims Bible.
20. Mormando, “Bernardino of Siena, ‘Great Defender’ or ‘Merciless Betrayer’ of Women?”
21. “GENERIS HUMANI GEMITUS: O Deus ante chaos, ante omnia corpora rerum, Solus qui, finem non habiture, manes.
Clara. levi terra, divinae Mentis imago, Gignitur, immensa de bonitare tua. Attamen a stulta praestans mox coniuge coniunx Inducta,
captus daemonis arte mali, Praeceptum ecce divinum neglegit, atque Damnosum damnum flebilis usque tulit. Blando felicet illusus
sermone colubri Humanum primum perdis Adame genus, Pallida causas ut vacuum mors intret in orbum, Invito commedens tristia
poma Deo [, or .] Gramen vita sic ut fugiens nostra efficis, ignis Fumus, quae subito deperiere vices.” Unless otherwise noted, all
220 Lyle Massey

FIGURE 9.7. Adam and Eve, from Thomas Geminus, Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio…
(London, 1545), engraving.
Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
The Alchemical Womb 221

Throughout the Catoptrum this moral distinction is also explicitly connected to the opera-
tions of human generation. For instance, it is starkly demonstrated in the devil’s head that is
frequently flapped over the female pudenda in the pregnant torso of the Visio Prima (fig. 9.8).22
Secreting a woman’s reproductive organs behind a devil’s head, the Catoptrum regressively under-
lines Eve’s/woman’s association with initiating and participating in sin. At the same time, however,
the devil’s head acts as an apotropaic medical warning for the viewer. It can be understood as a
device to ward off the risky contingencies associated with conception, a topic that was frequently
discussed in the Renaissance discourse on monstrous births. For example, there was a widespread
belief that a woman could cause deformity in her fetus by simply looking at disturbing images or
even thinking impure thoughts during both conception and pregnancy. Ambroise Paré’s De mon-
stres et prodiges of 1573 was one of the primary sixteenth-century medical tracts that warned of the
results of just such an unchanneled maternal imagination.23
Beyond these references to the fall of man and the sins of Eve, the images and inscriptions in
the Catoptrum also invoke a discourse concerning the relationship between alchemy and secrets of
women. This becomes evident upon consideration of some other unique representational and
textual elements in the flap sheets. The first is the roundel at the top of the Visio Prima (fig. 9.9). It
typically has three flaps and four images. In some versions and editions, the first image in the roun-
del is a sun inscribed with the Hebrew word for Yahweh, the second is an angel, the third depicts a
bearded man in a peaked hat, and the last bears a Latin inscription.24 The image of the bearded
man seems likely to be Hermes Trismegistus, and it is consistent with other contemporaneous
representations such as that found in Michael Maier’s Symbola aureae mensae, printed in Frankfurt
in 1617, as well as earlier representations such as that found on the floor of Siena’s cathedral. The
reference to Trismegistus clearly serves to remind Remmelin’s audience of the text’s alchemical
authority. The Latin inscription suggests further allusions to mysterious knowledge. “A Deo est
omnis MEDELA. Syr: 38. Cap.V. 2” appears to come from the Book of Sirach in the Hebrew bible,
or Ecclesiasticus. Chapter 38 verse 2 reads, “A Deo est enim omnis medela, et a rege accipiet dona-
tionem” (For all healing is from God, and so he will receive gifts from the King). Ecclesiasticus is
associated with Ben Sira in Jewish Talmudic tradition and the inscription seems to refer simply to
the divine source of the physician’s arts. But Ben Sira was a figure also associated with kabbala. The
flaps thus refer both directly and indirectly to sources on kabbala and magic. Jewish mystical and
magical thought was particularly prominent in Basel, where Remmelin was trained as a physician.
Basel was also a center for Paracelsian medicine and was a primary site for publications of
Paracelsian texts.25 While perhaps influenced by an early exposure to Paracelsian thought and by

translations from nonbiblical Latin inscriptions are the author’s.

22. This is sometimes referred to as a Medusa head. See, for instance, Hillman and Mazzio, Body in Parts, xvii. Remmelin himself,
however, refers to it as a devil’s head in his epilogue to the 1615 edition. See Cazort et al., Ingenious Machine of Nature, 171. The devil’s
head appears only in some of the extant copies of the Catoptrum.
23. Huet, Monstrous Imagination, 13–16.
24. There are divergent configurations of this roundel in different extant editions. While it is beyond the scope of the present
essay to explore these variations, they point to an interesting question of the agency of purchasers and users of the Catoptrum.
Assembled according to taste and the availability of images, each version of the Catoptrum represents a truly interactive work of art, in
which each iteration is unique, pegged to the interests and desires of specific viewers.
25. Forshaw, “‘Paradoxes, Absurdities, and Madness,’” 58.
222 Lyle Massey

FIGURE 9.8. Detail of devil’s head in Visio prima, from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum
microcosmicum… (Augustae Vindelicorum: Typis Davidis Francki, 1619), engraving.
Galter Health Sciences Library: Rare Books (Medical) 611 R28 1619.
Courtesy of the Galter Health Sciences Library Special Collections, Feinberg School of
Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago.

his connection to Michelspacher, Remmelin nevertheless gives clear indications in the Catoptrum
of his own unique formulation of medical alchemy based on exposure to kabbala.
The layering of sources in the flaps advertises the magical, kabbalistic, and alchemical aspira-
tions of the text. But it also alludes to demonic aspects of medicine in respect to gender. Paracelsus
developed a concept of disease in which the creation of demons from semen used for improper
purposes was one critical source of illness. He connected this demonic ability specifically to Lilith,
the witch of Jewish folklore who could make “from every drop of such semen the bodies of demons
and spirits.”26 The story of Lilith, Adam’s first wife, is given one of its most comprehensive treat-
ments in another text circulated in the Renaissance: the Alphabet of Ben-Sira (Alphabetum
Siracidis, Othijoth ben Sira), a tenth-century compilation of Aramaic and Hebrew proverbs. In
Jewish folklore and the Talmudic tradition, God is believed to have created a woman prior to Eve
named Lilith, a female figure who ultimately becomes associated with witchcraft, promiscuity, and
demonic possession and whose mission is to corrupt men and kill all children.27 Other accounts of

26. Pagel, Paracelsus, 217.

27. Tuttle, “Lilith in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights,” 123–24. While not many representations of Lilith exist in the Renaissance,
The Alchemical Womb 223

FIGURE 9.9. Roundel with flaps in Visio prima, from Johann Remmelin, Catoptrum microcosmicum
(Augsburg, 1619), engraving.
University of Iowa, John Martin Rare Book Room, Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.

Lilith come from esoteric Jewish texts like the Zohar and Book of Raziel, books associated with
kabbala and magic in the seventeenth century. In the Zohar, Lilith is represented not just as a
temptress and evil demon, but also as a carrier of disease. Extrapolating from these characteriza-
tions of Lilith, Paracelsus thus represents her as the evil that medicine must overcome, the female
genius whose machinations and ability to mold and transform semen can cause disease and con-
taminate conception.
While Remmelin’s Catoptrum does not explicitly refer to Lilith, it does underscore the power
women might have over conception and birth, a power that could have either positive or negative
consequences. In the Visio Tertia (see fig. 9.4), for instance, the female figure stands over a phoenix
on fire, a plume of smoke rising between her legs. The phoenix was a recognizable emblem for the
Philosopher’s Stone, but in the context of the Catoptrum its magical properties of death and resur-
rection are also transferred by proximity to the female figure’s uterus. In other words, the printed
plate visually transforms the womb itself into the Philosopher’s Stone. This visual transformation
mirrors similar ideas found in Paracelsus. For Paracelsus, the womb embodies the fundamental

Tuttle argues that Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights may be a representation of the creation of Lilith and the lust she
initiates into the world.
224 Lyle Massey

principle of transmutation or metamorphosis: it is the matrix of the microcosma (the gendered

“small world” of women). In fact, Paracelsus’s identification of the womb with the microcosma
may be intentionally invoked by Remmelin in the title of his flap sheet. For Paracelsus, the womb’s
power is such that it is the only safe place for the generation of men to occur.28 However, the womb
was also “Heimlich,” or secret, for Paracelsus, and it could involuntarily stamp on the matrix not a
perfect version of man, but a monstrous product of the imagination.29 In an inversion of the medi-
cal discourse on maternal imagination and the breeding of monsters, Paracelsus and his followers
were preoccupied with the question of whether the womb could be a laboratory for producing a
homunculus, an experimental form of magical being.30 Thus, the power of womb was two-sided:
it was both a benign haven and unpredictable laboratory. In Remmelin’s representation, the
womb’s dangerous aspects are thwarted by the phoenix, the bird who, according to Jewish midrash,
was allowed to stay in paradise after the fall, because alone of all the animals, he had refused Eve’s
offer to eat from the Tree of Wisdom.31 The visual configuration thus suggests that the uterus is a
powerful alchemical element of the female body, but it is only the male alchemist, represented by
the phoenix, who can control the transformations of generation, while simultaneously resisting
the demonic forces associated with Lilith/Eve.
The density of meanings carried by the phoenix in the Visio Tertia is mirrored by the allusions
associated with the image covering the male genitals in the Visio Secunda (see fig. 9.3). Here we see
a flowering plant rise between the male figure’s legs. The plant referred to in the inscription is col-
chicum, a plant of ancient lineage used to treat podagra. More commonly known now as gout, this
is a disease caused by excess uric acid accumulating in the extremities of the legs, particularly the
toes, causing an excruciatingly painful condition leading to death. Connected to the consumption
of rich food and wine, the disease was associated primarily with patrician men. Roy Porter, for
instance, has suggested that a century later, gout was recognized as “rich and nobleman’s disease,”
and was often seen as a sign of social distinction or aristocratic luxury.32 In earlier centuries, gout
was also an illness associated with scholarly rumination, and it was thought to inspire religious
faith and noble virtues in the sufferer. This is, for instance, the view taken by the sixteenth-century
Italian physician Girolamo Cardano. He characterized the disease accordingly: “What a man gout
makes! Devout, morally pure, temperate, circumspect, wakeful. No one is so mindful of God as the
man is in the clutches of the pains of gout. He who suffers gout cannot forget that he is mortal,
because it affects him in every part of his being.”33
Remmelin’s allusion to colchicum is ambiguous however. The inscription that identifies the
plant refers not to its use in treating gout, but to the unique character of the plant: “As the withered
colchicum blooms: thus, too, Man, in the likeness of grass, rots [and is resurrected].”34 Referred to
sometimes as autumn crocus, the plant is distinctive in that the blooms appear late in fall, when the

28. Keller, “Seeing ‘Microcosma,’” 107–8.

29. Ibid., 104.
30. Newman, “Homunculus and His Forebears.”
31. Kessler, “Solitary bird in van der Goes’ Garden of Eden,” 327.
32. Porter and Rousseau, Gout, 20.
33. Ibid., 32.
34. “Ut colchicum florescit marcidum: Sic & HOMO, graminis instar, putris.”
The Alchemical Womb 225

plant itself has largely shriveled. Reference to this aspect of the plant is reiterated in the long Latin
inscription that appears at the bottom of the plate, where colchicum is compared to the phoenix
with soteriological consequences: “Consider—just as the herb of colchis springs forth with flower
from the dead vine, and the phoenix bird is born from its own ashes; thus, man, you will live hap-
pily by my [Christ’s] death, and you will be seen blooming forever.”35 Added to this is an inscription
from Isaiah 40:6 that exhorts the reader to once again consider the vanitas theme: “Omnis caro
foenum et omnis gloria Hominis [eius] quasi flos agri” (All flesh is grass and all the glory of it is as
the flower of the field).
Remmelin’s choice of colchicum seems to bring together medicine with salvation. On the one
hand, the plant invokes a disease that carries noble associations and inspires religious reflection
while alluding to the therapeutic value of medical knowledge. On the other hand, it also demon-
strates the correlation between resurrection in nature and resurrection in religion. Treated
distinctly from the phoenix in the Visio Tertia, colchicum stands for the alliance between medicine
and alchemy, and associates the resulting productive knowledge with the male body and nobility.
In contrast, female reproductive power both draws analogously from and is controlled by the
phoenix, and the female figure’s lack of trustworthiness is a constant refrain. For instance, in the
Visio Prima, Remmelin invokes book 2 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses as well as an oddity from Pindar.
Inscribed in a cartouche underneath the truncated female torso there is first a Latin inscription:
“Pallor in ore sedet, macies in corpore toto” (Pallor spreads over her face, and all her body shriv-
els). This comes from Ovid’s story of Hermes and the sisters Herse and Aglauros in Metamorphoses.
The phrase alludes to Aglauros, who is catastrophically consumed by Envy when she realizes that
the god Hermes is enamored of her sister Herse.36 The second inscription is in Greek and comes
from Pindar’s Nemean Ode 8 (For Deinias of Aegina Double Footrace ?459 bc), line 21: “o[yon de;
lovgoi fqoneroi'sin a{ptetai d j ejslw'n ajeiv, ceirovnessi d j oujk ejrivzei” (Words are a dainty
morsel for the envious; and envy always clings to the noble, and has no quarrel with worse men).37
These two references to envy are clearly meant to characterize the female temperament as one
prone to and driven by excess and lack of control, a set of conditions that also govern the female
body. The images and inscriptions echo Paracelsus’s projection of evil female influence over
wounds: wounds can be poisoned and contaminated by the looks and influence of “jealous, hate-
ful, and perfidious women.”38 Control over the female uterus cannot be entrusted entirely to
women because they themselves tend toward dissolution and can corrupt the process of healing as
well as generation. That is, in women’s hands, medicine can potentially degenerate or deviate from
its intended, noble purpose.
While extreme in its negative representation of female character and anatomy, even by seven-
teenth-century standards, Remmelin’s Catoptrum nevertheless embodies certain ideas specific to
the history of medicine and anatomy. As Katharine Park has argued, Vesalius staked part of his

35. “Respice, mortua flore ut Colchidos herba vite. Propria avis Phoenix nacitur & cincere; [( scit], Sic Homo morte mea vives
feliciter, atque Floridus aeternum conspiciendus eris.”
36. Ovid, Metamorphoses, bk. 2 “Minerva Calls on Envy,” line 775. The line refers to Envy’s countenance upon seeing Minerva
who calls on her to punish Aglauros for her greed.
37. Translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien for the Perseus Digital Library Project, editor-in-chief, Gregory R. Crane. Pindar section
last updated 1990. Tufts University. Accessed on August 21, 2012.
38. Pagel, Paracelsus, 148.
226 Lyle Massey

reputation as an anatomist on the idea that he had definitively unveiled the “secrets of women.”39
As she points out, anatomical inquiry from the late Middle Ages to the end of the Renaissance
emphasized the idea that a woman was defined anatomically by her interior. While the male figure
stood for normative anatomy in every other sense, the female figure was of interest for what she
held inside: the secrets of generation itself. Thus, in anatomical images from the tenth through the
seventeenth centuries, a female figure was included in atlases of the body chiefly to demonstrate
female reproductive organs. This tradition of representation coincided with the development in
the late Middle Ages of the “secrets of women,” a phrase that referred initially to women’s medicine
administered by women and the systematic compilation of women’s complaints and treatments
for them in textual forms like the medieval Trotula. But, as Monica Green has shown, the emphasis
on what was defined as “secret” began to change in the Renaissance, and compendia of “women’s
secrets” began to refer to those aspects of gynecology and generation that drew prurient and
incriminating attention from male writers.40 In the Fabrica, Vesalius shows himself dissecting a
female cadaver in the frontispiece, describing the woman herself as a criminal who tried to fake a
pregnancy, only to have her ruse unveiled. Park argues that Vesalius intentionally shows himself
dissecting this female cadaver to demonstrate that anatomy trumps secrets through dissection: the
anatomist sees and knows everything about the body and there can be no secrets that remain
under the knife. In this way, a woman’s anatomy took on “emblematic status as the exemplary
object of dissection: representations of the female body came to stand both for the interior of the
human body and for the powers of dissection-based anatomy to reveal its hidden truths.”41
However, as Park goes on to note, the uterus nevertheless retained special power as an “enigmatic
space” where conception, generation, and knowledge itself originated and where the “male seed
was mysteriously transmuted into a human child.”42
The idea that the uterus maintains special powers to transmute substances into the stuff that
generates life dovetails directly with the alchemical principles alluded to by Remmelin. The uterus is
refashioned in the Catoptrum as an alchemical laboratory in which magical effects and the risk of
demonic transformations can occur. In contrast to Vesalius, who insists that all secrets have been or
will be discovered by simply uncovering the uterus and shining the light of direct observation on it,
Remmelin reinscribes the uterus in a dialectic of Paracelsian secrets, kabbalistic magic, and alchemi-
cal transmutations, while simultaneously emphasizing the demonic and unpredictable aspects of
female anatomy. Thus, while the visual pairing of male and female figures in the Catoptrum mirrors
the convention of Adam and Eve that was a prominent trope in anatomical works since Vesalius,
Remmelin’s juxtaposition also calls up associations with the occult powers of Lilith that have been
transferred to the womb. The idea of generation as an ultimate transformation, of the uterus as a
Philosopher’s Stone akin to the phoenix, is conveyed in the inscription that weaves around the
unborn fetus that floats in the Visio Prima near the truncated female torso. The banner around the
fetus is inscribed with “Quasi morientes & ecce vivimus,” a phrase from 2 Corinthians 6:9 (KJV)

39. Park, Secrets of Women, 256.

40. Green, “From ‘Diseases of Women’ to ‘Secrets of Women,’” 539.
41. Park, Secrets of Women, 33–35.
42. Ibid., 35.
The Alchemical Womb 227

meaning “As dying and behold we live.” This emphasizes the idea that human life is resurrected from
mute matter in the same way that the phoenix rises from ashes.
The Catoptrum microcosmicum is in many ways an unclassifiable work of visual culture. The
form of the flap sheet itself invites the viewer/reader to participate in the illusion of dissecting the
body, putting the viewer into the place of the anatomist. In this sense, the facture of the flap sheet
is calculated to reflect the most up-to-date forms of anatomical discovery and practice. At the same
time, however, the flap sheet’s alliance between alchemy and anatomy reinforces the idea that the
bodies under view are hiding secrets, rather than divulging them. Representing the uterus as a
space of alchemical experimentation, Remmelin produces an image that articulates the worst fears
engendered by the female body’s interior inaccessibility, while also countering Vesalius’s claim that
all questions have been answered. As such, the Catoptrum leaves open the question as to what it is
really intended to “mirror” microcosmically. Like Vesalius, however, Remmelin also ultimately
invokes the power of the male physician/anatomist to both understand and control secrets. Added
to the 1619 edition is a Hippocratic aphorism in Greek, around the roundel in the Visio Prima:
“For a physician who is a lover of wisdom is the equal of a god.”43

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About the Contributors

William Eamon is Regents Professor of History, Distinguished Achievement Professor, and Dean
of the Honors College at New Mexico State University. He is the author of Science and the Secrets
of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Europe; The Professor of Secrets: Mystery,
Medicine, and Alchemy in Renaissance Italy; and over fifty articles and book chapters on various
aspects of early modern science and medicine. He is also the coeditor of Más allá de la Leyenda
Negra: España y la Revolución Científica. He is currently at work on two book projects: “Science and
Everyday Life in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1750”; and “Discovery and the Origins of Science.”
Henry Dietrich Fernández was a senior lecturer in the Departments of Architecture and Interior
Architecture for the Rhode Island School of Design. He received his BA from the University of
California, Berkeley, in 1978, his M.Arch. from Harvard University in 1982, and his PhD from the
University of Cambridge in 2005, with a dissertation entitled “Bramante’s Architectural Legacy in
the Vatican Palace: A Study in Papal Routes.” He published several articles on this subject, includ-
ing “The Patrimony of St. Peter: The Papal Court at Rome, c. 1450–1700” (in John Adamson, ed.,
The Princely Courts of Europe, 1999), “Raphael’s Bibbiena Chapel in the Vatican Palace” (in Tristan
Weddigen et al., Functions and Decoration in the Vatican Palace, 2003), “Avignon to Rome: The
Making of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere as a Patron of Architecture” (in Ian Verstegen, ed., Pa-
tronage and Dynasty: The Rise of the Della Rovere in Renaissance Italy, 2007), “A Temporary Home:
Bramante’s Conclave Hall for Julius II” (in Silvia Evangelisti and Sandra Cavallo, eds., Domestic In-
stitutional Interiors in Early Modern Europe, 2010). His last published essay will be “Le Corbusier:
Towards the Origins of Architecture” in Konrad Buhagiar, ed., “The Founding Myths of Archi-
tecture” (Artifice, forthcoming). His fellowships and awards included a Scott Opler Foundation
grant and a Kress Fellowship at the Warburg Institute. Shortly before his death in 2009 he received
a contract from Yale University Press for a volume entitled “Bramante and Raphael in Renais-
sance Rome,” which was to have been the first English language full-length study of Raphael as
architect. Many of his ideas concerning the understanding of the topography and culture of early
sixteenth-century Rome were synthesized by his wife, Caroline P. Murphy, in The Pope’s Daughter:
The Extraordinary Life of Felice Della Rovere (2005). He died of complications relating to Diabetes
Type 2 on September 2, 2009.
Giancarlo Fiorenza is associate professor in the Department of Art and Design at California Poly-
technic State University, San Luis Obispo. His book, Dosso Dossi: Paintings of Myth, Magic, and the
Antique, was published by the Pennsylvania State University Press in 2008. He has also published
essays on such artists as Primaticcio, Piero di Cosimo, and Giuseppe Cades. He is currently work-
ing on the lively cross-fertilization of the arts and humanist culture in Renaissance Bologna, and
has essays forthcoming on the early mythological engravings of Marcantonio Raimondi.
Lyle Massey is associate professor of art history and visual studies at the University of California,
Irvine. She is the author of Picturing Space, Displacing Bodies: Anamorphosis in Early Modern Theories

230 About the Contributors

of Perspective (2007) and editor of The Treatise on Perspective (2003). She has also published several
articles on early modern anatomical images and gender.
Timothy McCall is assistant professor of art history in the Department of History at Villanova
University, Pennsylvania. His research primarily investigates gender, power, and visual culture in
fifteenth-century Italian courts. He has published in journals including Renaissance Studies and
Studies in Iconography and was recently a fellow at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for
Italian Renaissance Studies. Forthcoming studies investigate clothing, bodies, and masculinity in
fifteenth-century Italy; a related book project is entitled “Brilliant Bodies: Men at Court in Early
Renaissance Italy.”
Sean Roberts is assistant professor in the Art History Department at the University of Southern
California. His research interests span the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries across Europe
and the Mediterranean world and include the relationship between the histories of art, technol-
ogy, and ideology. He has published in journals including Imago Mundi, Print Quarterly and Re-
naissance Studies and is the author of Printing a Mediterranean World: Florence, Constantinople, and
the Renaissance of Geography (2013).
Maria Ruvoldt received her PhD from Columbia University and has been assistant professor in
the Department of Art History and Music at Fordham University since 2006. Her publications
include The Italian Renaissance Imagery of Inspiration: Metaphors of Sex, Sleep and Dreams (2004);
“Michelangelo’s Dream” (Art Bulletin, 2003); and “Michelangelo’s Slaves and the Gift of Liberty”
(Renaissance Quarterly, 2012).
Patricia Simons is professor in history of art at the University of Michigan, author of The Sex of
Men in Premodern Europe: A Cultural History (2011), and coeditor of Patronage, Art, and Society in
Renaissance Italy (1987). Her numerous essays analyzing the visual and material culture of Renais-
sance Europe focus on the representation of gender and sexuality in such modes as portraiture,
mythology, medical discourse, and humor.
Allie Terry-Fritsch is associate professor of Italian art history at Bowling Green State University. She
is the author of several articles and book chapters on Renaissance viewership, including the human-
ist reception of Fra Angelico at San Marco, the Medici political context for Donatello’s David, and
the transformation of the Bargello from prison to museum, and is the editor of Beholding Violence in
Medieval and Early Modern Europe (2012). She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled
“Somaesthetics and the Renaissance: Viewing Bodies at Work in Early Modern Italy.”

Bold indicates an illustration on that page; “n” fol- Bayezid II (Ottoman Empire), 202
lowing a page number indicates a note on that page. Beatrizet, Nicholas
Pasquino, 175, 176
Bellincioni, Bernardo, 15
A Bembo, Benedetto
Academia Segreta, 61
Polyptych of San Nicomede, 84, 85, 86, 87
Accursio, 166n23
Bembo, Pietro, 154, 158
Achillini, Giovanni Filoteo, 141
Bembo workshop
Adam (biblical), 133n24, 134, 219–20, 226
Camera d’oro, Torrechiara, 78, 80, 81
advent, 38
Benedetti, Alessandro, 47
Aesop, 134n36
Benedetto (called il Persiano), 64, 65
Alberti, Leon Battista, 10, 46, 47, 49, 140, 166
Berenson, Bernard, 25
alchemy, 211, 215, 216, 217–19, 221–22
Berlinghieri, Francesco, 190–91, 192, 193, 194, 195, 196,
Aldrovandi, Ulisse, 110
202, 203
Alphabet of Ben-Sira, 222
Bernardi, Giovanni, 122
Beroaldo, Filippo (the Elder), 141
Paumgartner, 89, 90
Bertolani, Maffeo, 70
revealing imagery of, 37
Bettini, Antonio
Roverella, 134–35
The Holy Mountain (frontispiece), 198
San Francesco, 141, 143
Monte Santo di Dio, 196
San Marco, 38
Bibbiena, Bernardo Dovizi da
Amadore, Francesco d’ (Urbino), 117, 118
positions held by, 150, 152
The Ambassadors (Holbein), 17, 18
See also Bibbiena, Bernardo Dovizi da, apartment of
Amphitheatrum (Khunrath), 216
Bibbiena, Bernardo Dovizi da (cardinal), apartment of
anamorphosis, 17
chapel in, 149
Andrea, Zoan, 28, 28n13, 199–200, 201
forbidden and revealed in, 156, 158, 160
Andreasi, Marsilio, 5
loggetta in, 149, 151, 154
Angelini, Bartolommeo, 118–23, 119n78, 119n81
open secrets in, 152
animals, access allowed to favored, 7
paradox of scale and grandeur of, 156
Arasse, Daniel, 17
secret spiral staircase in, 149, 152
arcana naturae, 59
stufetta with erotic grotesques in, 149, 150, 154, 156
Ardizzoni, Simone, 199–201
use of architectural chiaroscuro in, 158
Aretino, Pietro, 43–44, 48, 122
biblical secrets, 8
Arezzo, Paolo da, 67–68
binaries, 7, 15–16, 82
Ariosto, Ludovico, 152
Boccaccio, Giovanni, 9, 44, 166n23
Aristotle, 47, 58
Boltraffio, Giovanni Antonio, 143
Le arte per via (Mitelli), 55
Book of Raziel, 223
assassinations, 96
books, engraved, 195–202, 197, 198
Augustine (saint), 2, 44
technical problems with, 196
tonal systems for, 196, 199
B and trade secrets, 196, 199–201
Bacon, Roger, 58 Boorsch, Suzanne, 199–200
Baiso, Arduino da, 76, 93 Bordieu, Pierre, 186
Bakhtin, Mikhail, 66 Borgia, Lucrezia, 130
Baldini, Baccio Botticelli, Sandro, 195, 196
Commento sopra la commedia, 195–96, 197 Venus, 26, 27, 36
The Samian Sibyl, 187, 188 Bouleau, Charles, 17
Bandello, Matteo, 34, 34n19, 35 boundaries, 4–5
Barkan, Leonard, 113, 117 literacy as boundary, 59
Bartsch, Adam Von, 186 and political access, 82–83
Baxandall, Michael, 10 Bramante, Donato, 152

232 Index

Brescia, Giovanni Antonio di, 35, 204 confessional identity, 19

The Passionate Embrace (attr.), 28, 30 confraternal sermons, 7
Two Lovers (after), 28, 29, 31 Con il Poco farete assai (With a little you’ll do a lot)
Bronzino, 47–48, 49, 111 (Rossello), 64–65
Brunelleschi, Filippo, 49, 166n23 Cope, Jackson, 9
burins, 187, 190, 191, 193, 195, 196, 201, 203 coretto of Torrechiara, 16, 76–78, 76n1, 77
burnishers, 185, 191, 193 furnishings of, 97
busolla (enclosed space), 89, 91 interior of, 96
original placement of, 92
C ornamentation of, 92–93
Calcagnini, Celio, 127–28, 134n35, 134n36 reconstruction of, 87–89, 88
Camera di Griselda (unknown), 9–10, 11 role of sound in production of secrecy in, 99
Camera d’oro, Torrechiara (Bembo workshop), 78, 80, 81 Rossi heart emblem in, 93–94
Camera Picta (Mantegna), 4, 5 safety of, 97
Camporeale, Salvatore, 129 as social framing device, 99
Caprara, Francesco, 141 structures similar to, 89, 91
Capri, Ugo da, 185 use as amorous refuge, 81–82, 95
Cardano, Girolamo, 224 visibility and hiddenness of, 94–95, 97–99
Carracci, Agostino Cornucopiae ( Johnson), 4
Satyr and Sleeping Nymph, 13, 14, 36 corporeal metaphors, 47
cartographic secrets, 8–9 Corsini, Pietro, 166n23
See also maps, engraved Cortese, Isabella, 64
Casio, Girolamo, 141, 143, 144–45 Cortesi, Paolo, 8
Castiglione, Giovanni Benedetto, 47, 186 Coryat, Thomas, 63, 67
Cavalca, Domenico, 173–74 Cosson, Giovani, 64
Cavalieri, Tommaso de’ Costa, Gerardo, 89
background of, 109–10 Costa, Lorenzo, 28, 141
exchange of drawings and ideas with Michelangelo, covers, 16–17
116–17 functions of, 37–49
initial meeting with Michelangelo, 109 portrait, 39–42, 40, 47–48
personal tastes of, 113–14 rhetoric of, 43
Cavalli, Gian Marco, 204 as shields, 43–44
Caviceo, Jacopo, 83–84 Covert Operations: The Medieval Uses of Secrecy (Lochrie),
Cecchini, Antonio, 108, 109, 112, 118 2, 4
Cennini, Cennino, 46, 49, 185, 194 Cranach, Lucas, 28
censorship, 28 Crivelli, Taddeo, 199
Certeau, Michel de, 7, 8–9, 164, 177 Crum, Roger, 165
Chantelou, Paul Fréart de, 43 curiosity, meaning of in Middle Ages, 59
Charlatans in the Piazza San Marco (Franco), 55, 56 curtains, 16–17
Chaucer, Geoffrey, 9 manipulation of, 38–39
chiaroscuro, 158, 185
Chigi, Agostino, 154 D
choric figures (festaiuoli), 10, 13 Dante, 44, 166n23, 195, 196
Christ, veiled wisdom of, 128–29 da Vinci, Leonardo, 143
Christ child’s gesture, eroticization of, 28 on choric figures, 10
Il Ciarlatano (Mei), 66, 68 on veneration of the rarely seen, 36
cinnabar, 18 Davis, Natalie Zemon, 211
civic humanism, 167n27 death’s head, 17
Clark, Kenneth, 25 De humani corporis fabrica (Vesalius), 211
Clement VII (pope), 107, 118, 120, 121, 122, 144 Dei, Benedetto, 202
La Clementina (Casio), 144 Del buon segretario (Ingegneri), 150
Cole, Michael, 203 Della Porta, Giambattista, 70
Colenuccio, Pandolfo, 17–18 della Stuffa, Sigismondo, 97
collected/shared gaze, 165 De monstres et prodiges (Paré), 221
Commedia (Dante), 195 Dente, Marco
commedia dell’arte, 62 Venus Pulling a Thorn from Her Foot, 154, 155
Commento, 196, 203 denunciations. See tamburi
Condivi, Ascanio, 109 De Re Militari (Valturio), 8
confessional box, development of, 175–76n61 Derrida, Jacques, 25
Index 233

disgeno (preparatory drawings/understandings), 47, 48 exclusion

divine gaze, 171 secrecy as, 2, 4
divine love, 112, 113 visualization of, in fifteenth-century Italy, 4–5, 5
divine wisdom, 15, 129, 130–31, 132
Doni, Anton Francesco, 39 F
Doria, Andrea, 139 Fabrica (Vesalius), 211, 219, 226
Dossi, Dosso The Fall of Phaeton (Michelangelo), 105, 108, 114, 115,
Jupiter Painting Butterflies, 126–27 116, 117
draperies, 13, 25, 28 Farissol, Abraham ben Mordecai, 133–34, 134n35, 135
drop-boxes. See tamburi (containers to collect anonymous Farnese, Piero de, 166n23
denunciations) Fasanini, Filippo, 137n45
dual nature of secrecy, 127–28 Fattucci, Gianfrancesco, 119n81, 120
Dürer, Albrecht Fedele, Domenico, 64
clash over intellectual property, 201 female artists, 37
Melencolia I, 2, 3, 182 female nudes, as instances of public privacy, 26, 28
Saint Eustace, detail from Paumgartner Altarpiece, festaiuoli (choric figures), 10, 13
89, 90 Festina lente (Erasmus), 137
Sudarium with Two Angels, 182, 183 Fetti, Domenico
travels of, 201 Portrait of a Man with a Sheet of Music, 10–13, 12
Durkheim, Emile, 177n70 Ficino, Marsilio, 113, 132n23, 137, 195
figurative arts, 140
E figurative language/speech, 58, 128, 139
Eamon, William, 4 Finiguerra, Maso, 204
Ecstasy of St. Paul (Poussin), 43 Fioravanti, Leonardo, 61, 62, 64, 70
Eisenstein, Elizabeth, 183 flap-anatomy sheets, 15, 35
Eleanora of Aragon, 89 alchemy and kabbala in, 211, 215, 217–19, 221–22
Elkins, James, 17 Catoptrum Microcosmicum, 208–15, 210, 212–13,
empirical healers, permission to sell drugs, 54–55 217–27
engraving, technical secrets of gender distinctions in, 219, 221, 222–25, 226–27
broad manner engraving, 187 influence of Fabrica on, 211
burins, 187, 190, 191, 193, 195, 196, 201, 203 layered meanings in, 215
burnishers, 185, 191, 193 moralizing theme of, 211, 215
engraved books, 195–202, 197, 198 symbolism of colchicum in, 224–25
engraved maps, 190–95, 192, 194 symbolism of phoenix in, 223, 224, 225, 226–27
fine manner engraving, 187 Florence
goldsmithing effect on, 187 use of space in, 165
greater profits from, 202 See also tamburi (containers to collect anonymous
guarding of secrets, 185–88 denunciations)
“manners,” 186–87, 196, 199 Florio, John, 9
metal punches, 191 Fontana, Andrea, 64
of rewards of secrets, 202–4 Fontana dove n’esce fuori acque di secreti (Fountain
social advantage of, 202–3 Spouting Water Full of Secrets) (Fontana), 64
soft-ground etching process, 186 forged documents, 10
woodworking secrets, 185–86 Foucault, Michel, 175
envy, 199, 225 Fra Angelico, 38
Epitome (Vesalius), 219 Francia, Francesco, 143
Erasmus, 128, 137, 158 Franco, Giacomo
erudition, 1, 2, 8, 15, 17, 114, 121, 158, 211 Charlatans in the Piazza San Marco, 55, 56
esotericism, 7–8, 17, 58–60, 73, 223 François I (France), 153n13
Este, Alfonso d’ frescoes
artistic patronage of, 129, 143 by Garofalo, 134–35
protection of Jews by, 134 by Mantegna, 4, 5, 6, 83
and statesmanship, 126, 128 by Raphael, 153
Este, Ercole d’, 7, 89, 91, 134 in Torrechiara, 78, 79, 85n20, 87, 92
Este, Leonello d’, 39, 41–42 by unknown artist, 9–10, 11
Este, Sigismondo d’, 135, 137 Friedman, Jerome, 133–34
Eugenius IV (pope), 170 Frommel, Christoph, 109
Eve (biblical), 219–20, 221, 224, 226 Frutti soavi colti nel giardino (Delicate Fruits Cultivated in
Evelyn, John, 72 the Garden) (Maiorini), 63
234 Index

G Incarnation, 38, 134

Ingegneri, Angelo, 150
Galasso, Mario, 69n41
Garofalo intarsia, 89
Curcifix with Eccelsia and Synagoga, 134–35 at coretto of Torrechiara, 76, 91–93, 94, 95
Garzoni, Tommaso, 60, 61, 67, 69 hieroglyphic covering panels, 7–8
Geminus, Thomas at Santa Maria Maggiore (Bergamo), 7–8, 94n66,
Adam and Eve from Compendiosa totius anatomie 140n54
delineatio, 219, 220 irony, dramatic, 9–10, 11
gender, 15
differences, and tactile sensations, 28–31, 29–30 J
distinctions in flap-anatomy sheets, 219, 221, Jewish folklore on Lilith, 222–23
222–25, 226–27 Jewish mysticism, 221
Gentileschi, Artemisia, 37 Jews, 130, 133–35, 134n35, 135n7, 137, 143
Geography (Ptolemy), 190 Johns, Adrian, 183
Giannotti, Donato, 109 Johnson, Thomas, 4, 15
Giardino di varii secreti (Garden of Various Secrets) Joubert, Laurent, 71
(Francesco), 63 Judaism, 132n23, 224
Giotto, 166n23 Julius II (pope), 120, 152
Giovo, Paolo, 126
glassmaking, 185 K
goldsmiths, 185, 187, 195 kabbala, 212, 216, 217, 222, 223–24, 227
Gonzaga, Francesco, 199 Kavey, Allison, 4
Gonzaga, Ludovico, 4, 5–7, 6, 83, 199 Khunrath, Heinrich, 216
gout (podagra), 224 Kilian, Lucas, 208, 209
Green, Monica, 226 Koerner, Joseph, 182
Greenblatt, Stephen, 19 Kristeller, Paul, 199
Grimani, Domenico, 119, 119n81
Grosz, Elizabeth, 82–83 L
Gualtieri Reading Fake Papal Bull to Griselda and Subjects Landau, David, 187, 199
(unknown), 9–10, 11 Landino, Cristoforo, 195–96, 197, 203
Leandro, Lorenzo, 64
H Lendinara, Cristoforo Canozzi da, 76, 81–82
Habiti d’huomini et donne Venetian (Franco), 55, 56 Lendinara, Lorenzo Canozzi da, 76, 81–82
Hainhofer, Philipp, 209 Lenzi, Lorenzo, 111
Haitovsky, Dalia, 135 Leo X (pope), 16, 149, 150, 153, 154, 160
Halberdier (Pontormo), 48–49 Lightbown, Ronald, 199–200
Harley, J. B., 190 Lilith, 222–23, 224, 226
Haslmayr, Adam, 216 literacy, as boundary, 59
Hawkwood, John, 166n23 Lochrie, Karma, 2, 4, 7, 83, 128
Hebrew Lombardo, Antonio, 126
as language of biblical Adam, 133n24 Long, Pamela, 18, 185
as secret language, 130, 132–33, 135–40, 141 Lotto, Lorenzo, 7–8, 38n33, 42n45, 46, 94n66, 140n54
hierarchy, 5, 7, 25, 83, 99, 123 love, ideal, 111, 122
Hieroglyphica (Valeriano), 139
hieroglyphs, 7–8, 46, 130, 137, 137n45, 137n47, 139–40 M
Hind, Arthur, 199 Madonna della Pila, 170, 170n34
historical phenomenology, 78 Madonna del Parto (della Francesca), 38
Holbein, Hans Magen Avraham (Farissol), 133–34
The Ambassadors, 17, 18 Maier, Michael, 221
homoerotic subtexts, 31, 35, 113 Maiorini, Tommaso, 63
humanism, 1, 121, 129, 130 Malatesta, Sigismondo, 8
civic, 167n27 Mantegna, Andrea
on privacy, 126n2, 127 Battle of the Sea Gods, 199, 200
on vita contemplative, 153 Footmen Regulate Access to Ludovico Gonzaga, detail
humanist theology, 130, 143–44 from Camera Picta, 4, 5, 83
Hyland, Peter, 9 intimate exchange of prints of, 199
Ludovico Gonzaga Confers with a Trusted Secretary,
I detail from Camera Picta, 5–7, 6
ideal love, 111, 122 pioneering printing techniques of, 196
Index 235

protection of trade secrets, 199–201 controlled access to works of, 122–23

maps, engraved exchange of drawings and ideas with Cavalieri,
of Africa from Ptolemy’s Geography, 191, 192 116–17
burins used on, 191, 193, 195 The Fall of Phaeton, 105, 108, 114, 115, 116, 117
burnishers to correct errors on, 191, 193–94 feelings for Cavalieri as open secret, 16, 118
of Holy Land, 191, 192 first surviving letter to Cavalieri, 114, 116
ink mixing ratios for, 193 friendships strengthened through relationship with
metal punches to incise letters on, 191, 193 Cavalieri, 121
and plate tone, 193 gifts of artwork to Cavalieri, 112–14, 116–17
and technical secrets, 193 initial meeting with Cavalieri, 107–8
I maravigliosi, et occulti secreti naturali (Benedetto), 65 metaphors of sculptural process of, 46
Marisli, Luigi, 166n23 portraits by, 112
Martini, Francesco di Giorgio, 152 The Punishment of Tityus, 105, 107, 112–14
Mary (mother of Christ), 91 The Rape of Ganymede, 105, 106, 112
Massumi, Brian, 82–83 relationships with young men, 110–11
master and servant power differential, 35–36 response to accusations of pederasty, 121–22
Master bxg tone of letters to Cavalieri, 110
The Lovers, 31, 32 use of intermediaries by, 117–21
Mattioli, Pietro Andrea Michelspacher, Stefan, 209, 209n4, 215–17, 222
Snake Handler Catching Vipers, 55 Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst un Natur, 215, 217, 218
Snake Handler in a Bologna Plaza, 55, 57–58 Minozzi, Edgardo, 87–89, 88
Mazzolino, Ludovico, 15 misogyny, 15
artistic style of, 132n21 Mitchell, Peter, 215
Christ and the Adulterous Woman, 137–38 Mitelli, Giuseppe Maria
Christ and the Money Changers, 128, 135 Snake Handler in a Bologna Piazza, 55, 57–58
Christ Disputing with the Doctors, 130–32, 131, 136, I Modi (Romano), 156
141 Modigliani, Ettore, 81n12
Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet, 128, 129, 143 Molossi, Lorenzo, 79
functions of paintings of, in Este court, 133–34 Montefeltro, Federico da, 92
humanistic nature of imagery of, 130 Monte Santo di Dio (Bettini), 196
humanist theology of, 143–44 Moryson, Fynes, 63
patronage in Bologna, 141, 143–45 Moses, 132, 135, 139
The Tribute Money, 141, 142, 145 Muir, Edward, 177
use of Hebrew by, 130, 132–33, 135–40, 141 Mutii, Pietro Maria, 63–64
medical chapbooks, 63–64 Mysteries of the Rosary, 187
Medici, Alessandro de’, 107
Medici, Giuliano de’, 96, 97, 150 N
Medici, Ippolito de’, 122, 123 Najemy, John, 165
Medici, Lorenzo de’, 38, 97, 201–2 naturalism, 47, 49
medicine nature, secrets of, 15
flap-anatomy sheet, 15, 35, 208–9 assaults by charlatans, on physician monopoly over,
medical chapbooks, 63–64 63–66
See also nature, secrets of assaults by charlatans, physician reactions to, 71–73
Il Medico de’ poveri, o sia il gran stupere de’medici (The commercialization of culture as threat to, 59–60,
Poor Man’s Physician, or The Amazement of 67, 69
the Physicians), 64 licensing of empirics, 54–55, 58, 69–70
Mehmed II (Ottoman Empire), 8, 201–2 printing press as threat to, 59
Mei, Bernardino proliferation of books on, 60, 61
Il Ciarlatano, 66–67, 68 revelation, refusal of, 60–61
Melencolia I (Dürer), 2, 3 Nelli, Nicolo, 62
memento mori, 42, 215 Neoplatonism, 24, 44, 111, 113, 122
Men of Saint Paul (sanpaolaro), 58, 69–70, 71 nielli, technique for producing, 187
Mercurio, Scipione, 71–72 Novelle (Bandello), 34
metalworking, 185 The Nude (Clark), 25
Metamorphoses (Ovid), 112, 116, 225 Nuovo lucidario di secreti (New Illumination of Secrets)
Metsu, Gabriel (Mutii), 63–64
Woman Reading a Letter, 44, 45
artistic commitments of, 106–7, 122
O’Malley, John, 129
careful drafting of letters to Cavalieri, 114, 116
236 Index

On Painting (De Pictura) (Alberti), 10, 47 Praxiteles, 28

Ontonelli, Giovan Domenico, 62 Primrose, James, 72
open secrets, 4, 17, 25, 79, 118, 123, 152 Il Principe (Machiavelli), 9
Opus Majus (Bacon), 58 The Printing Press as an Agent of Cultural Change
Orsanmichele, 167, 167n27 (Eisenstein), 183
Ovid, 47, 116, 225 privacy, humanism on, 126n2, 127
Pseudo-Lysippus, 121
P Ptolemy, 190, 192, 202
Pagliarizzo, Gratiano, 65, 67 public/private binary, 15–16, 82
Palazzo del Podestà, 166, 168, 170, 171 porosity of, 26
Palazzo del Signoria, 167 pudica type, 28, 39, 40, 42–43
Pamphilj, Doria, 137 The Punishment of Tityus (Michelangelo), 105, 107,
Pannartz, Arnold, 190, 202 112–14
Panofsky, Erwin, 113 Pygmalion, 47–48
Paoletti, John, 165
parables, 128, 132, 139, 143 Q
Paracelsus, 222, 223–24 Quaratesi, Andrea, 112
Paracelsian thought, 221–22, 226
Pardo, Mary, 46 R
Paré, Ambroise, 221 Raimondi, Marcantonio, 154, 186
Park, Katharine, 15, 225–26 The Rape of Ganymede (Michelangelo), 105, 106, 112
Parshall, Peter, 187 Raphael
Pasquino (Beatrizet), 175, 176 and apartment of Bibbiena at Vatican Palace, 149
Passavanti, Jacopo, 173 Entombment, 47, 48
Pasti, Matteo de’, 8, 9, 190 La Fornarina, 39, 40, 42–43
Paul II (pope), 98 relationship with Raimondi, 186
Pellegrini, Bianca, 78, 79, 82, 84, 95 Sistine Madonna, 38
pentimenti, 31 Study for the Fainting Virgin of the Baglione
performativity, 9–10, 11 Entombment, 48
Perini, Gherardo, 111, 121 use of chiaroscuro by, 158
Petrarch, 9, 15, 46, 111, 116, 166n23 The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel, 43, 156–58, 157
Secretum (The Secret), 2 Raphael and workshop
Pfisterer, Ulrich, 121 loggetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 149, 151
Phaedrus (Plato), 113 stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 149, 150
Philosopher’s Stone, 223, 226 Redig de Campos, Deoclecio, 154
phoenix, 223, 224, 225, 226–27 Remmelin, Johann, 15
Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni, 132n20 Catoptrum Microcosmicum, 208–15, 210, 212–13,
Piemontese, Alessio, 4, 60–61 217–27
Piero Della Francesca title page, Catoptrum microcosmicum, 209, 210
Madonna del Parto, 38 Visio Prima, Catoptrum microcosmicum, 211, 212,
piety, 28, 76, 78, 83, 86–87, 91, 97, 99, 129 219, 221, 222, 223
Pindar, 134n36, 225 Visio Secundum, Catoptrum microcosmicum, 211,
Pino, Paolo, 49 213, 217, 219, 224
Piombo, Sebastiano del, 118, 119–20, 121, 139 Visio Tertia, Catoptrum microcosmicum, 211, 214,
Plato, 113, 195 217–18, 219, 223, 224
Platt, Verity, 175 revelation, essential function of, 2, 13, 19–20, 83
Platter, Thomas, 70 reverses of paintings, 42
Pliny, 18 rhetoric of covers, 43
Plutarch, 132n20, 134n36 rhetorics of secrecy, 7, 10
Poggio, Febo di, 111 Ricci, Corrado, 78, 80–81
political spaces, access to, 4–7, 5, 6, 82–83 Riccio, Bartolomeo, 54–55, 58, 67, 69, 70
Pon, Lisa, 186, 201 Ridolfi, Carlo, 34n18
Pontormo, 42n45 Ridolfi, Niccolò, 107–8
Halberdier, 47, 49 Roberti, Ercole de’, 17–18
Porter, Roy, 224 Rocke, Michael, 163
portrait covers, 39–42, 40, 47–48 Romano, Giulio, 154, 156
Portrait of Leonardo Fioravanti (Nelli), 62 Rosselli, Francesco, 187–88, 195, 201, 203
Poussin Annunciation, 187, 189
Ecstasy of St. Paul, 43 Rossello, Timotheo, 64–65
Index 237

Rossi, Pier Maria, 76–100 Squarcialupi, Antonio, 166n23

See also coretto of Torrechiara staircases, secret, 95, 149, 152–53
Royal Society, 72–73 Strada, Zanobi da, 166n23
Ruscelli, Girolamo, 61, 65 Stramiti, Bartolomeo, 89
Studio of Apelles, 44
S Summa de’ secreti universali (Rossello), 64
Sadoleto, Giulio, 16, 154, 156, 158, 160 Sweynheym, Conrad, 190, 191, 195, 202
Saint Sebastian (Costa), 141 Symbola aureae mensae (Maier), 221
San Francesco altarpiece, 141, 143 Szulowkowska, Ursula, 216
sanpaolaro (Men of Saint Paul), 58, 69–70, 71
San Piero Scheraggio, 167, 167n28–168n28 T
Santa Maria Maggiore (Bergamo), intarsia at, 7–8, tactility, 211
94n66, 140n54 tactile sensations, 28–31, 29–30
Saslow, James, 113 tamburi (containers to collect anonymous
Satyr and Sleeping Nymph (Carracci), 13, 14, 36 denunciations), 19
Scala, Bartolomeo, 195 denunciation as civic and divine duty, 166–67
scale and grandeur, paradox of, 156, 158 false accusations, 172–73
Schaffer, Simon, 72–73 flaws in system, 172, 178
Schongauer, Martin, 187, 201 how to use, 162, 169
Science and the Secrets of Nature (Eamon), 4 inception of, 163
secretary, secrecy as embedded in role of, 5, 150 locations in Florence, 163
secret geometry, of paintings, 17–18 obstacles to anonymity, 169, 170
Secreti (Piemontese), 4 physical characteristics of, 172n43
secret medical cures, 15 placement, and symbolic meaning and social value
The Secrets of Alessio Piemontese (Piemontese), 60 of spaces, 165, 166
secrets of nature metaphor, 59 placement, effect on communal interaction, 164–65
Secretum (The Secret; Petrarch), 2 placement, in “open spaces,” 166–67
Secretum secretorum (“Secret of Secrets”), 58–59, 60 placement of, 169–70
self-reflection, 215 in Prato, 172
self-regulation, 170–72 and self-regulation, 170–72
Septe giornate della geographia (Berlinghieri), 190, 191, and social function of confession, 173–75, 177
192, 193, 194, 195 uses of, 164, 164n7
sevants, personal relations with, 35–36 vandalism of, 172
Severinus, Peter, 70 Tedesco, Niccolò, 190–91, 195, 196, 202–3
Sforza, Galeazzo Maria, 5, 89, 96 telling thumb, 34
Shadwell, Thomas, 72 Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, 158, 159
Shakespeare, William, 9, 34n19 Teniers, David, 44
shamans, 66 Terzi, Ottobuono, 94
Shapiro, Steven, 72–73 texts, hidden secrets in, 4
Shearman, John, 154 theater, 9–10, 11
shutters, 39n36, 42–43 third character, 31, 33–34
sportelli, 38, 39 Thode, Henry, 113–14
Sileni Alcibiades (Erasmus), 128 timpano (cloth cover fitted into frame of painting), 39
Simonetta, Cicco, 91 Titian
Sistine Madonna (Raphael), 38 Cornelia Fainting in the Arms of Pompey, 34n18
Sixtus IV (pope), 202 humanist theology of, 143–44
Smith, Bruce, 78 Lovers (attr.), 31, 33, 34–35
Smith, Pamela, 183 political implications in works of, 41–42
Snake Handler Catching Vipers (Mattioli), 55 The Tribute Money, 143, 144
Snake Handler in a Bologna Plaza (Mattioli), 55, 57–58 The Triumph of Love, 39, 40, 41–42
soldertje (raised platform near window), 26, 45 Venus and Adonis, 43
Solomon, 132 Tolentino, Niccolò, 166n23
Solomon’s temple, 130, 132, 135, 135n42, 139, 141, 145 tomb monuments, 166n23
spatial field, of Renaissance city, 164n10 Torelli, Antonia, 82, 84
spatial operations of secrecy, 82–83 Torrechiara, 16, 78–80, 79
speaking statues, 175, 176 camera d’oro of, 78, 80, 81, 91–92
Speroni, Sperone, 39 circuitous route into, 83–84
sphinx, symbolism of, 132, 132n20, 137 hidden staircases and passages of, 95–97
sportelli (hinged shutters or doors), 38, 39, 95 San Nicomede chapel at, 84–86, 85
238 Index

Torrechiara, continued Vendramin, Gabriel, 39, 41

studiolo of, 91–92 Venetian glass industry, 185
trade and technical secrecy, 18–19 Veneziano, Domenico, 38–39
See also engraving, technical secrets of Venus and Adonis (Titian), 43
transubstantiation, 38, 216 Veronese, Zuanne, 69
Trexler, Richard, 165 Vesalius, Andreas, 35, 211, 214, 219, 225–26
Trismegistus, Hermes, 216, 221 Virgin and Child with Donors (Boltraffio), 143
truth, metaphor of, 25 The Virtuoso (Shadwell), 72
Tura, Cosmè, Roverella altarpiece of, 134–35 voyeuristic gaze, 15
Twelfth Night (Shakespeare), 9
U Wallace, William E., 110, 117
unequal lovers/ill-matched couple type, 34 wandering empirics, 60–61
Urbino (Amadore, Francesco d’), 117, 118 Weissman, Ronald, 7, 177
utterances, secrets as, 7 Welch, Evelyn, 4, 83
Wickhoff, Franz, 186
V Wilde, Johannes, 113–14
Valeriano, Pierio, 139 Wilhelm, Leopold, 44
Valturio, Roberto, 8
van Haecht, Willem, 44 X
van Heemskerck, Maarten, 158 Xenocrates, 134n36
Varchi, Benedetto, 109n18, 111
Vasari, Giorgio, 26, 28, 47, 111, 112, 116, 204 Z
veiling and unveiling Zeuxis, 49
functions of covers, 37–49 Zohar, 223
functions of layers, 28–37 Zorzi, Andrea, 166n20, 172–73
manipulation of curtains, 38
portrait covers, 39–42, 40
ritualized unveiling, 37–38
veils in artistic praxis, 46–49
veils in poetry, 44, 46

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