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Towards a Genealogy of Peace: Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Pico della Mirandola

Lecturers: Francesco Borghesi and Andrew Benjamin

Originally Taught: Winter School 2021

This seminar forms part of a larger research project undertaken by Francesco Borghesi and Andrew Benjamin on the interrelated concepts of ‘peace’ and ‘concord’. The assumption guiding the research is twofold. Firstly, neither term has an essential nature to be recovered from the history of its use and therefore, secondly, given that both terms are already configurations of specific and contextually determined relations of power, the project involves establishing a genealogy of peace. Those configurations of power have a fundamental relation to both the history of philosophy and the history of theology.

The seminar will examine two moments within this genealogy. The first is the set of frescoes painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena which are known as The Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-1339). The second is the role the concepts of peace and concord play in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486).

Part of the argument to be developed within the course is that the late Mediaeval and the Renaissance periods provide indispensable material for understanding how later considerations of peace – e.g. Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace (1795), Emmanuel Levinas’ Peace and Proximity (1984) – are to be interpreted. Indeed, current work on peace such as Judith Butler’s (2003) argument that ‘war and peace, rather than being the obverse of each other, are two different reactions one could have to the human condition of injury or vulnerability’ only really acquires its full force once that work is shown to form part of an overall genealogy of peace.

Students will be introduced to the general topic after which both the images that comprise the fresco series, as well as Pico della Mirandola’s text, will be subject to a detailed analysis. No prior knowledge is assumed. Part of the project of the course is to allow both texts and images to be understood as loci of thought.

1) Towards a Genealogy of Peace

In this introductory lecture, the framework and goals of the course will be presented and discussed based on the discussion of some preliminary literature on the philosophical standing of the concept of peace.

2) Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The Allegory of Good and Bad Government 

The cycle of frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti will be explored in detail in the context of the visual art of the Italian Trecento and its relation to contemporary poets such as Dante Alighieri, political thinkers such as Remigio de’ Girolami and theologians such as Bernardino of Siena. The ideas of ‘common good’ and ‘peace’ will be analyzed in comparison with other connected notions such as ‘justice,’ ‘charity,’ and ‘wisdom,’ while specific concepts linking texts and images like ‘visibile parlare’ (visible speech) and ‘leggibile parlare’ (readable speech) will be unpacked.

3) Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The Allegory of Good and Bad Government 

Influential interpretations of Lorenzetti’s frescoes will be discussed in the context of methodological debates about the philosophical significance of artistic and literary production in the fourteenth- and fifteenth century. The contributions of intellectual historians such as Quentin Skinner, historians of political thought such as Nicolai Rubinstein and art historians such as Chiara Frugoni and Maria Monica Donato will be compared and contrasted.

4) Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Oration on the Dignity of Man

The persona of the philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola will be presented by introducing his life and works as well as a few other intellectuals of his times such as Marsilio Ficino, Angelo Poliziano and Lorenzo de’ Medici. Light will be shed on Pico della Mirandola’s relationship with Jewish and Islamic intellectuals such as Yohanan Alemanno and Flavius Mithridates on the relevance of his studies of oriental cultures – the kabbalah, in particular – and languages for his philosophy. 

5) Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Oration on the Dignity of Man

A close reading of the Oration will be carried out in parallel with an analysis of major interpretations of his philosophical endeavour by twentieth and twenty-first century scholars like Eugenio Garin, Moshe Idel, Pier Cesare Bori and Brian Copenhaver. Notions such as ‘dignity,’ ‘concord,’ and ‘philosophical peace’ will be addressed in great detail.

Primary Sources

1) Rowley, George. 1958. Ambrogio Lorenzetti. 2 vols. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

2) Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni. 2012. Oration on the Dignity of Man: A New Translation and Commentary. Edited by F. Borghesi, M. Papio and M. Riva. Cambridge, England, and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Secondary Literature

Allen, Michael J. B. 1997. Cultura Hominis: Giovanni Pico, Marsilio Ficino and the Idea of Man. In Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: Convegno internazionale di studi nel cinquecentesimo anniversario della morte. 1494–1994 (Mirandola, 4-8 ottobre 1994). Edited by Gian Carlo Garfagnini. 2 vols. Florence: Olschki: 173–196.

Belting, Hans. 1985. The New Role of Narrative in Public Painting of the Trecento: “Historia” and Allegory. Studies in the History of Art 16: 151-168.

Ben-Aryeh Debby, Nirit. 2001. War and Peace: The Description of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Frescoes in Saint Bernardino’s 1425 Siena Sermons. Renaissance Studies 15/3: 272-286.

Borghesi, Francesco. 2010. For the Good of All: Notes on the Idea of Concordia during the Late Middle Ages. Italian Poetry Review 5: 215-2138.

Bolzoni, Lina. 2004 [2002]. The Web of Images: Vernacular Preaching from Its Origins to Saint Bernardino of Siena. Translated by Carole Preston and Lisa Chien. Aldershot, England, and Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate.

Boucheron, Patrick. 2005. “Turn Your Eyes to Behold Her, You Who Are Governing, Who Is Portrayed Here”: Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Fresco of Good Government. Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 60/6: 1137-1199. https://www.cairn-int.info/article-E_ANNA_606_1137--turn-your-eyes-to-behold-her-you-who-are.htm

Busi, Giulio. 2006. “Who Does Not Wonder at this Chameleon?” The Kabbalistic Library of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. In Hebrew to Latin, Latin to Hebrew: The Mirroring of Two Cultures in the Age of Humanism. Edited by Giulio Busi. Berlin and Turin: Institut für Judaistik, Freie Universität Berlin and Nino Aragno Editore: 167- 196.

Campbell, C. Jean. 2001.The City’s New Clothes: Ambrogio Lorenzetti and the Poetics of Peace. Art Bullettin 83: 240-258.

Copenhaver, Brian. 2019. Magic and the Dignity of Man: Pico della Mirandola and His Oration in Modern Memory. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Corazzol, Giacomo. 2019. From Sinai to Athens: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Philological Quest for the Transmission of Theological Truth. Intellectual History Review 29/1: 73-99.

Davis, Charles T. 1984. Dante’s Italy and Other Essays. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Dougherty, Michael V. (ed.). 2008. Pico della Mirandola: New Essays. Cambridge, England, and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Frugoni, Chiara. 1991 [1983]. A Distant City: Images of Urban Experience in the Medieval World. Translated by William McCuaig. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Garin, Eugenio. 1965 [1947-52]. Italian Humanism: Philosophy and Civic Life in the Renaissance. Translated by Peter Muntz. New York: Harper and Row.

Jacoff, Rachel. 2009. “Diligite iustitiam”: Loving Justice in Siena and Dante’s Paradiso. MLN 124/5: S81-S95.

Rubinstein, Nicolai. 1958. Political Ideas in Sienese Art: The Frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Taddeo di Bartolo in the Palazzo Pubblico. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 21/3-4: 179-207.

Skinner, Quentin. 1999. Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Buon Governo Frescoes: Two Old Questions, Two New Answers. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 62: 1-28.

Skinner, Quentin. 1986. Ambrogio Lorenzetti: The Artist as Political Philosopher. Proceedings of the British Academy 72: 1-56.

van Asperen, Hanneke. 2016. The Virgin and the Virtues. Charity in Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Representation of Good Government. Artibus and Historiae 73: 55-70.