Plague and Pleasure

Plague and Pleasure: The Renaissance World of Pius II

Arthur White
Foreword by Michael Lewis
Copyright Date: 2014
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Plague and Pleasure
    Book Description:

    Plague and Pleasure is a lively popular history that introduces a new hypothesis about the impetus behind the cultural change in Renaissance Italy. The Renaissance coincided with a period of chronic, constantly recurring plague, unremitting warfare and pervasive insecurity. Consequently, people felt a need for mental escape to alternative, idealized realities, distant in time or space from the unendurable present but made vivid to the imagination through literature, art, and spectacle.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2682-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.2
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.3
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Michael Lewis
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.4

    The time was the mid-1970s, a period now viewed by many amateur historians as the Dark Ages. I was a high school sophomore at the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. Arthur White—thirty-five years later I can’t think of him as anything but “Dr. White”—new to the school, was already a legendary history teacher. He was then teaching a class on the history of the Middle Ages unlike any history any of us had ever been taught: not chiefly names and dates to be memorized but ideas and passions to be grasped and felt. His history had body...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.5
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxiii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.6
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xxiv-xxiv)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.7
  8. 1 The Myth of the Renaissance
    (pp. 1-20)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.8

    Not long ago I went into an office at my university and told the lady behind the desk that I would be teaching a course on the Italian Renaissance in the fall semester. She brightened with recognition and enthusiastically proclaimed, “We all know what history teaches!” I returned her smile and waited to learn what history was all about. Raising her hand as high as she could, she announced, “First, everything wentway upwith the Greeks and Romans.” Then, plunging her hand to mid-thigh, she continued, “but they camecrashingdown with the Middle Ages.” Again her hand soared...

  9. 2 The Four Horsemen
    (pp. 21-47)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.9

    The roman peace in the first and second centuries A.D. and the flourishing of Roman culture that accompanied it had coincided with a period of comparative respite from the scourges of famine, plague, war, and death. The High Middle Ages had benefitted from a similar hiatus. But in the fourteenth century these “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” came galloping back for several centuries of unusually intense affliction. Famine was the first to reappear. Climate change contributed to this as Europe moved from an unusually mild climactic cycle into what is now called the “Little Ice Age.” In 1303 and again...

  10. 3 Corsignano and Siena
    (pp. 48-64)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.10

    At the dawn of St. Luke’s day, October 18, 1405, Vittoria Piccolomini, wife of the lord of the hardscrabble Tuscan village of Corsignano in the Republic of Siena, bore a son named Aeneas Silvius, whom she would have been astonished to learn was a future pope. You will not find Corsignano on a map; its name vanished on the twelfth of February 1462, when Pope Pius II, as Aeneas Silvius had become, officially renamed it “Pienza” in his own honor—part of his intent to transform his birthplace into the summer capital of the papacy. Even today, in spite of...

  11. 4 The Exile
    (pp. 65-89)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.11

    As aeneas struggled to survive on the proceeds of his teaching, a man passed through Siena, only five years older than Aeneas but already a cardinal—or at least he claimed to be. He was Domenico Capranica, from a family allied to the powerful Colonna dynasty in Rome, the family of Pope Martin V. Capranica had been secretary to Pope Martin, who made him bishop of Fermo and a cardinal. As it happened, the ceremony installing him as cardinal was delayed, and, in the interval, Martin V died. The conclave of 1431 that elected Eugenius IV as Martin’s successor refused...

  12. 5 The Cleric
    (pp. 90-110)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.12

    Before the red dye on his cardinal’s vestments had time to set, Tommaso Parentucelli was elected to succeed Eugenius as Pope Nicholas V. Aeneas served as one of the two doorkeepers of the conclave, a role similar to the one he had played at the election of the antipope Felix V.¹ Frederick III was lobbying the new pope to raise Aeneas to the rank of bishop, and the convenient death of the bishop of Trieste enabled Nicholas to oblige only three weeks into his papacy.² Aeneas’s new diocese was far removed from the centers of political action, and it was...

  13. 6 The Road to Mantua
    (pp. 111-126)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.13

    On the very day after his election Pius summoned the cardinals to discuss the crusade. Within three months, on October 12, 1458, Pius announced to the entire papal court and the foreign ambassadors that he would summon a congress of all Christian princes to organize the crusade; the next day he promulgated his first papal bull, summoning this congress to meet at Mantua on June 1 of the next year.¹ The congress was an expression of Pius’s universalism: the idea, central to medieval political thought, that Christendom was a single entity, headed by pope and emperor, and not, as it...

  14. 7 Renaissance Chivalry
    (pp. 127-143)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.14

    One familiar interpretation of the Renaissance contrasts the supposed bourgeois, mercantile, practical world of Florence with the feudalism of northern Europe. Those acquainted with this view may be a little surprised to find the Florentines staging a tournament, a celebration of knighthood, as their welcome to a visiting pope. In fact, tournaments were a favorite form of public celebration, both in Florence and in the rest of Italy. When Florence conquered Pisa in 1406, the Parte Guelfa sponsored a tournament in celebration that was repeated annually thereafter.¹ It was an established custom for the Florentine signoria to order tournaments to...

  15. 8 Mantua and After
    (pp. 144-168)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.15

    Pius must have been disappointed but hardly surprised to find that not one of the rulers he had summoned to meet him in Mantua had arrived or sent representatives. The European princes did not oppose a crusade against the Turks, but they shunned binding commitments and had little stomach for inconveniencing themselves; consequently, they certainly had no intention of going to Mantua or sending an expensive embassy unless failing to do so became positively embarrassing. Records from Florence show great uncertainly and division among the Florentine leadership about their attitude to the crusade. The Florentines appointed ambassadors, deliberately delayed their...

  16. 9 The Political Pope
    (pp. 169-188)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.16

    For three-and-a-half years after Pius left Mantua in January 1460, it appeared to anyone outside the pope’s inner circle that he had lost interest in the crusade. He had more than enough to occupy his attention in the affairs of Italy, and, aside from that, he seemed thoroughly enmeshed in his own diversions and pleasures. This appearance was at least partly misleading; as early as March 1462 he revealed to a trusted few his intention to go on crusade himself. But at that time he himself lamented that “since our return from Mantua we have neither done nor said anything...

  17. 10 A Room of One’s Own
    (pp. 189-206)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.17

    In june of 1461, while warfare in the surrounding districts kept Pius locked inside Rome, he took the action that has probably affected ordinary Catholics more than anything else he did—he raised a maiden from Siena, Catherine Benincasa, to the rank of sainthood. Today prayers arise to her every day, and, along with St. Francis of Assisi, she is the patron saint of Italy. In the short term Pius not only honored his beloved Siena and inaugurated a stream of pilgrim-tourists that still flows today, he also scored a public relations triumph for all his favorite causes: the crusade,...

  18. 11 Plague and Pleasure: 1462
    (pp. 207-225)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.18

    In march 1462, when most of Europe as well as the pope seemed to have forgotten about the crusade, Pius called together six trusted cardinals and confided to them that his own inaction on the crusade privately tormented him.

    My brethren, perhaps you, like almost everyone else, think that we are neglecting the common weal because since our return from Mantua we have neither done nor said anything toward repulsing the Turks and protecting religion. . . . We have been silent; we do not deny it. We have done nothing against the enemies of the Cross; that is evident....

  19. 12 The Age of Spectacle
    (pp. 226-244)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.19

    The goal of the Renaissance festival was not merely to entertain, but to overwhelm the participants, to leave themstupiti,to inspire wonderment—to make them say, “that while living in the flesh they had beheld Heaven.”¹ The need for spectacle crossed the lines between sacred and secular as easily as it crossed those between public and private or between classic and chivalric. The cardinal’s installations at Pius’s Corpus Christi festival were closely related to the Italian tradition ofsacre rappresentazioni,which had originated in the efforts of the mendicant orders to make the laity more vividly aware of the...

  20. 13 Pienza
    (pp. 245-257)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.20

    Even the pure air and bucolic delights of Mount Amiata could not banish the papal gout. There were days when Pius lay suffering in bed, unable to stir. This was his condition one day when frightened cardinals burst in upon him with news of plague. Their mountain redoubt was breached; plague was in Abbadia itself, and people known to the curia had succumbed. Although “he was faint and in great pain,” Pius immediately called for his litter. Before sunset he departed for Pienza across the Val d’Orcia, followed by a great train of cardinals, courtiers, and their households. Echoing his...

  21. 14 Urban Dreams
    (pp. 258-274)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.21

    A society of city-states obsessed with the ideal could hardly avoid visualizing the ideal city. Actually realizing an ideal at the scale of an entire city was, of course, much more problematic. The chances of actually building a new or transformed city decreased in proportion to the ambition of the builder’s intentions. Pure idealists, however, were undiscouraged; if their concepts had no chance of embodiment in bricks and mortar, they set them forth in written or painted descriptions, where reality need not intrude. The concept of ideal cities had deep roots in antiquity. Plato describes one in theLawshaving...

  22. 15 Visits to Antiquity
    (pp. 275-294)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.22

    By 1463 Pius had long thought of himself as old, but in that year a heightened sense of mortality was stealing over him, and the continued delay of the crusade oppressed his thoughts. In Germany disputes between Nicholas of Cusa and Duke Sigismund of Tyrol and another between Pius and Diether von Isenburg, whose election as archbishop of Mainz Pius did not recognize, prompted the anti-papal pamphleteer Gregor Heimburg to publish claims that Pius cared for nothing but his pleasures and his buildings at Pienza and that money supposedly raised for fighting the Turks was going to Ferrante.¹ Although such...

  23. 16 Villas and Gardens
    (pp. 295-311)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.23

    Pius ii’s summers from 1461 through 1463 do not quite fit the pattern ofvilleggiaturaas it was practiced by most of his contemporaries and later generations of Italians. He was unusual in his restless migrations from place to place and in staying in borrowed quarters; most of the elite had a few, or only one, conveniently located country villa of their own, where, plague permitting, they could stay for most or all of a season, enjoying country life without the inconvenience and discomfort of long or frequent travel. Pius’s palace at Pienza was presumably constructed to play this role,...

  24. 17 The Crusade
    (pp. 312-333)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.24

    Philip of burgundy’s ambassadors met Pius at Tivoli but delayed their formal presentation of Philip’s plans until the Italian envoys gathered in Rome to hear them. Pius returned to Rome on September 19, having stopped on the way to visit Frascati, inspect the ruins of Tusculum, and revisit Grottaferrata. Pius, focusing now on the crusade, says very little in theCommentariesabout these, his final pleasure excursions. In Rome envoys from Venice, Naples, Milan, Florence, Mantua, Modena, Siena, Bologna, and Lucca heard the Burgundians promise everything the pope could wish, including Philip’s personal participation or, if illness prevented him from...

  25. 18 The Art of Copiousness
    (pp. 334-358)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.25

    Pius ii was an eager patron of architecture, but used sculpture and painting only as adjuncts to his buildings. Painting, however, paid ample homage to him after his death, giving him a memorial that has done as much as any of his own achievements to keep his memory green. This, of course, is the Piccolomini Library at Siena Cathedral, which we glanced at early in our journey and where we must return at its end. In 1502 Pius’s nephew, Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini-Todeschini, commissioned Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto, c. 1456–1513) to paint the room that the cardinal had built to...

  26. 19. Conclusion: Pius and His Period
    (pp. 359-372)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.26

    The uniqueness of every human being prevents any individual from being a perfect exemplar of a period—or perhaps of any other broad category. Pius II possessed characteristics such as his affection for humble people that were quite atypical of his time and status. He also lacks characteristics that are essential for understanding his age, such as his indifference to painting or the comparative rarity of his reflections on death. Yet, by presenting a broad hypothesis and an individual example simultaneously, I hope I have been able to show how such theories and examples can work together, each illuminating the...

  27. Appendix: Plague in Italy, 1347–1700
    (pp. 373-380)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.27
  28. Bibliography
    (pp. 381-394)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.28
  29. Index
    (pp. 395-407)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.29
  30. Back Matter
    (pp. 408-408)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13wztpn.30