Biondo Flavio's "Italia illustrata"
In 1447 Alfonso of Aragon, King of Naples, engaged the humanist antiquarian Biondo Flavio to compose in Latin a catalogue of famous men of Italy. This commission became Italia Illustrata, the first historical topography. In it, Biondo superimposed upon Italy’s classical heritage and her troubled medieval history a panorama of Italy in his own time. Although Italia Illustrata and three other major Latin treatises made Biondo’s reputation as the father of modern historiography and archaeology, these works have been accessible only in early modern printed editions to specialists with entrée to rare book rooms.
Catherine J. Castner has now made this important treatise available in modern text with English translation and commentary. The Latin text is the best-known early printed edition, that of Froben (Basel, 1559). A clear, flowing English translation provides modern Italian equivalents for the majority of Biondo’s Latin toponyms. The commentary summarizes scholarship on the location and history of towns and cities of Italy and the building activities of their Renaissance lords. The plates include maps of cities and regions of Italy from medieval and early modern times.
Italia Illustrata is an essential resource for any serious scholar of Renaissance humanism. Historians of medieval Italy, and of art and architecture, classicists, archaeologists, and epigraphers will value this work for its treasure of evidence: for example, Biondo’s eye-witness reports on the status of the building projects of the Malatesta; the Renaissance reception of Livy, Pliny, and Virgil (and the transmission of forged or misinterpreted inscriptions); and correlations of ancient sites with fifteenth-century settlements. This book will appeal to interests ranging from the current popular appetite for travel in Italy, to the growing scholarly attention to early modern geographical and travel literature; in short, to any reader with more than superficial interest in the urban centers and landscapes of Italy.
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