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Pietro Bembo and the Intellectual Pleasures of a Renaissance Writer and Art Collector by Susan Nalezyty

06 October 2017

Nicholas Cranfield on a cardinal and his treasury of artworks

IT IS widely reckoned that the in­­ven­tion of the CD saved the collapse in sales of classical music on vinyl, and, when that market seemed over-full, so DVDs, live streaming, and the like continued to stimulate demand.

In much the same way, books about Italy in the Renaissance must now, to sell, find a new spin. Deborah Howard achieved this brilliantly in her 2011 history of Venetian civic architecture (Venice Disputed) by writing the history of the city’s buildings through the life of a local nobleman, Marc’Antonio Barbaro.

Susan Nalezyty analyses the col­­lection amassed by the Venetian humanist and scholar Pietro Bembo (1470-1547) to show how he sought to compare contemporary with ancient art. Portraits and statues abound, all illustrated in Yale’s customary style.

Italian masters such as Titian and Raphael, and Mantegna and Jacopo Bellini, neither of whose portraits of the artist Gentile da Fabriano, or of Bertoldo d’Este, is now known, and classical sculpture, as well as gem­­stones, codices, and books, which in 1598 were reckoned “worthy of a prince” by an interested purchaser, all feature.

The author adds little to what we know of Bembo as lover, cardinal, and linguist from Carol Kidwell’s serviceable but not wholly accurate 2004 biography, but Nalezyty’s background as a former museum curator well equips her to explore this cultural repository in the con­­text of its social history. From sale catalogues and inventories of later antiquarians, she has identified descriptions of 170 objects, of
which four dozen have been traced.

She uses extensive archival material to link the objects, some of them now lost, and to understand how contemporaries viewed the treasure store. Also included are later accounts by cosmopolitan vis­i­tors to the Cardinal’s house near the Ponte del Businello. This book invites us to join them.


Canon Nicholas Cranfield is the Vicar of All Saints’, Blackheath, in south London.


Pietro Bembo and the Intellectual Pleasures of a Renaissance Writer and Art Collector

Susan Nalezyty

Yale £50


Church Times Bookshop £45




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