The Italian Contribution to Renaissance Rhetoric

Monday 8 April 2013 18.00-19.30

The Italian Contribution to Renaissance Rhetoric

‘By the final quarter of the fifteenth century intellectual leadership in rhetoric had passed from Italy to the North. Most important renaissance theorists of rhetoric came from and worked in the Netherlands, France and Germany. After 1470 no Italian textbook of the whole of rhetoric was printed or much used outside Italy.

I think these facts, which I shall not labour here, ought to surprise us. In most of the cultural activities we associate with the renaissance, in painting, sculpture, classical scholarship, historiography and moral philosophy Italy maintained a role of leadership until at least the middle of the sixteenth century and arguably until its end. Why should rhetoric be so different from these other fields of cultural activity?

In this lecture I shall first describe some aspects of the positive contribution which fifteenth century Italian rhetorical theorists made to renaissance rhetoric. Then I shall ask how their works and ideas differed from what I consider to be the more major intellectual contributions made by, for example, Agricola, Erasmus and Melanchthon. Then I shall consider the Italian contributions of the sixteenth century, focusing on preaching manuals and vernacular rhetoric.’

Professor Peter Mack (The Warburg Institute)