BEHIND THE ARRAS: PIER DELLE VIGNE, ALFONSO EL SABIO,
BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE
I am neither an Art Historian nor an Archivist. However, I found that to understand medieval literature one has to be interdisciplinary, one must explore not only libraries but archives, not only texts but illuminations. * * * I found myself particularly charmed by the typical illumination to Brunetto Latino manuscripts of the Tesoretto, of the Tresor, of the Tesoro, showing him as a teacher before his students, for its self-referentiality to ourselves. I studied the great European manuscripts by men and by women who took their ideas from each other for their scriptorial productions: first those of men, the chain reaction of *Alfonso el Sabio, * Brunetto Latino, * Dante Alighieri; then those of women, * Hildegard von Bingen, * Birgitta of Sweden, * Catherine of Siena, * Christine de Pizan. In September 2002 we shall be holding an international congress on these great European manuscripts while exhibiting them in the Riccardian Library in the Medici Palace in Florence. I found the matrix for such texts amongst the men to be international diplomacy, centred in chanceries, which women also emulated. (One delights in finding in the same Epistolarium the letters of Brunetto Latino, the letters of Catherine of Siena.) This will be my topic, the connection between the Florentine Chancellor, Brunetto Latino, and his student, who became the poet of the Divina Commedia, Dante Alighieri, through examining both legal documents and illuminated books.
Archival Latin documents can help to show that Dante's construction of the Comedy is partly from the intertextual formulae of Latino's Chancery, which Latino in turn learned from the chancery styles of Frederick II of Sicily, Alfonso el Sabio of Spain, and Charles of Anjou, and that Dante used the memory of these thirteenth-century chancery archives - that ancient form of a computer retrieval system - for his fourteenth-century poem, much as was Robert Browning to use the seventeenth-century Old Yellow Book, which the nineteenth-century poet discovered in San Lorenzo's Market, both men creating, out of often sordid criminality of the past, magnificent poetry, the dead but true archival documents undergirding the fictional, yet living, poems, the Divine Comedy, The Ring and the Book. This is the pattern behind the arras, the tapestry.
In Dante's text, in Inferno XIII, we meet a major counter figure to Brunetto Latino. It is a scene of terror, where Dante plucks a dead twig which then bleeds - one can add that it bleeds brown chancery ink - and speaks. Later, Dante gathers up the fallen leaves, the folia, restoring them to their owner. The shade who is the speaking tree is the suicide Pier Delle Vigne, Chancellor to the Emperor Frederick II of Sicily. Pier Delle Vigne as imperial logothete functioned much as had Thomas a Becket for his king and as would Thomas More to his; he ran the imperial chancery and likewise taught students how to do so. Part of his teaching method was to have exempla of his letters be copied into a collection, the Epistolarium. We find that letter collection in Florence translated into Italian and continued by Ser Brunetto Latino, to be copied out by his students, including the letter composed by Brunetto Latino himself and sent to Pavia after the Florentine murder of the Abbot Tesauro of Vallombrosa.
When Dante meets Ser Brunetto in Hell he is told who the other members are of that circle. In the following canto he then meets them as a trio of runners, Guido Guerra, Tegghaio Aldobrandi and Jacopo Rusticucci who, when living, had been major participants in Florence's Primo Popolo, her first Republic. When I entered the Florentine archives to seek material about Brunetto Latino I found document upon document about these men from the past, some written in Brunetto's own hand, others naming him, mirror-reflected in the cantos of Dante's poem, for instance documents about Guido Guerra and the sale of his castle of Romena, 6 May 1255, with Farinata degli Uberti as witness. The Guidi counts were a powerful family, mainly Ghibelline, with the exception of Guido Guerra, who was Captain of Guelph Florence after the Victory of Benevento. Romena was associated with Master Adam, whom the Ghibelline Guidi got to falsify Florence's lilied florins and whom Dante places in Hell. In Dante's Paradiso we will find his ancestor Cacciaguida bitterly regretting the sale of these Guidi castles to Florence, for Dante was himself, as an exile, to be the guest of the Ghibelline Guidi at Poppi and Romena, and to shed his Guelph Republicanism.
DOCUMENT I [ASS]. On the 20th of April, 1254, Brunetto Latino, 'Ser Burnectus Bonacorsi Latinus', as he is termed in such documents, was the notary who drew up the peace treaty with Siena in which Jacopo Rusticcuci and Hugo Spini are named as Florence's ambassadors. The peace treaty was then signed and witnessed in the Church of Santa Reparata, 'ad sonum campanarum comunis', to the sound of the bells of Florence, in the presence of the Anziani, the Senators, and all other officials of the city and people of Florence. It is written in fine Ciceronian Latin, not in imperial Pier Delle Vigne's mocking of papal rhetoric, but in Republican style.
That document was next, on the 11th of June, used as the basis for the Sienese signing at Montereggione, which Dante also mentions in Hell, comparing its twelve bristling towers to the twelve giants ringing Satan in the bottommost pit. That document is today still in Siena, written in Brunetto Latino's clear and lovely hand, signed with his notarial sign of a lilied column. Along with that document in Siena are many others, in which we witness the plotting and preparations for war by Siena with Farinata degli Uberti and other Florentine Ghibellines in conjunction with King Manfred of Sicily, the Emperor Frederick's bastard son.
In Inferno VI.79-80, Dante asked Ciacco the glutton about 'Farinata e'l Tegghiaio . . . Iacopo Rusticucci' and others, and in Inferno XVI.34-45, Jacopo Rusticucci tells him of his working together with Guido Guerra and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, adding:
io, che posto son cono loro in croce,
Iacopo Rusticucci fui . . .
'E io . . . ' 'Et ego . . . ' This is the formulaic witnessing to a comunal legal document, a political treaty. Dante so had his fictional poem be witnessed, within its text, by countless shades, shades whom he could only have met amongst the pergamene, the parchment documents of the Florentine Chancery. Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, for instance, was dead before Dante was born.
DOCUMENT II [ASF]. On 25 August 1254, Brunetto Latino drew up yet another peace treaty, this one between the Guelphs of Arezzo and Florence, which was signed on that day - to the customary ringing of bells - in the Church of San Lorenzo. We find its copy in the Capitoli di Firenze carefully written in Brunetto's hand, with his notarial sign of a lilied column.
In October and again in December of 1254, we find Brunetto Latino working on a peace treaty with Pisa, its documents involving also Genoa and Lucca. The 10th of October document is signed 'Et ego Burnectus Bonacursi Latini notarius et nunc Ancianorum scriba et comunis'. Villani, Florence's medieval historian, says that 1254 was called by the Florentines the victorious year because of their diplomacy and their miliary prowess.
Brunetto is next involved, 8 May 1257, with a peace pact with Faenza, in which he is named 'Burnecto notario fil. Bonacursi Latini sindico comunis et popule Florentie'. Then in June of 1257 Florence and Lucca formed an alliance against Pisa because Pisa had nominated Alfonso el Sabio of Castile as Roman Emperor and was against Florence. But in September of that year a peace was signed in Santa Reparata between Florence and Pisa. Next, Ghibelline Siena and Genoa allied with Manfred, Frederick II's bastard heir, against Guelph Florence, Genoa even offering Manfred the imperial throne.
On 14 October 1258, the Abbot Tesauro of Vallombrosa, suspected of Ghibelline plotting, was murdered in Florence, his head torn off by the crowd. Pavia, his home town, protested. Florence sent to that city a scathing reply, likely penned by Brunetto Latino, which mocks the Ghibellines by being written not in the Ciceronian style favoured by the Guelphs, but in the Ghibelline manner, borrowed from Frederick II's Chancellor, Pier Delle Vigne. In it Pavians are told not to lay up their 'treasure' on earth, punning upon the Abbot's name, Tesauro, but in heaven, from Matthew 29.16-42. Such biblical punning was Pier Delle Vigne's hallmark, in his own texts and again in Dante the pun being used of his name, Pier, referring to St Peter, locking and unlocking Frederick's heart, and to his surname, Delle Vigne, as the True Vine, Christ. Brunetto adds this letter, dripping with sarcasm, with mockery, to the compilation of Vignolan diplomatic exempla and would have had his students, including Dante Alighieri, copy it out as part of their chancery training.
The murder of Tesauro caused the Pope to place Florence under an interdict, and the plotting, exiled Ghibellines, now in Siena, were victorious over her at the Battle of Montaperti in 1260, staining the Arbia red, because they used this crime as their excuse for war. Dante placed Tesauro of Pavia and Vallombrosa, whose murder took place before he was born, in Inferno XXXII, linking his figure with Bocca degli Alberti, who betrayed Florence at Montaperti to Siena by cutting off her standard bearer's arm, and Ugolino da Pisa, who was to betray his city to Florence and to devour his children.
DOCUMENT III [Capitolo Fiorentino, Santa Maria del Fiore]. 20, 22 June 1257, Florentine and Aretine canons arrange the payment of the decima for the Pope's war against King Manfred of Sicily in Apulia.
DOCUMENTS IV, V [ASF Protocol Compagnie religiose soppresse, Cistercian Badia at Settimo]. 14 October 1259, Brunetto Latino as scribe of the Anziani writes the minutes concerning deliberations about repairs to the Rubaconte and Carraia Bridges across the Arno, and to the fish weir at the Rubaconte. 'Et ego Burnectus Latinus notarius nunc Antianorum scriba predicta domini Capitanei et Antianorum mandato publice scripsi.'
DOCUMENT VI [ASF, Libro
During this period war clouds were gathering, Guelph Florence arming herself against Ghibelline Siena. The Libro di Montaperti lists what Florentines are prepared to provide for the war effort. The handwriting of the beginning and several other pages is Brunetto's. He is listed five times in the Libro di Montaperti, the first time as 'Burnetto Bonaccursi Latini, iudici et notario, sindico ut dixit Comunis et hominum de Monte[varchi]', and as having a vexillum or banner and a pavilion or tent on the battle field. The other four times, as notary, he was guaranteeing that various Florentines would provide so many men.
But, rather than having Brunetto Latino present on the field of battle, the decision was made to send him as ambassador to * Alfonso el Sabio. * This is the Hall of the Ambassadors in the Alcazar in Seville where the two men most likely met. At the same time that his fellow poet and diplomat Guglielmo Beroardi, was sent to the other claimant to the imperial throne, Richard of Cornwall. Guelph Florence in her desperation was offering to both men her aid in gaining the imperial throne if they would come to Italy and fight against Ghibelline Manfred.
It is probable that the King of Spain and the Chancellor of Florence exchanged books at this time and later - for Alfonso was to continue to aspire to the imperial throne. * Alfonso's Las Cantigas de Santa Maria came to Florence in a splendidly illuminated volume, likewise translations of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and the Ladder of Mahomet, while Brunetto's *Tesoretto and * Li Livres dou Tresor came to Spain.
Latino's embassy had been too late. On 4 September, Guelph Florence was utterly routed at Montaperti, Brunetto Latino and his family among those against whom sentence of exile was passed. * Brunetto himself says in the Tesoretto that while he was journeying back through the Pass of Roncesvalles, a student from Bologna told him the news. His father, exiled to Lucca, penned a floridly grief-stricken letter which his brother is said to have given him. Though many Florentines stayed in Lucca's San Frediano district, Ser Brunetto first went to Montepellier in Provence, then chose to live out his exile amongst the Lombard bankers in northern France, in Arras, but he visited the great fair at Bar-sur-l'Aube, and came to know of the richly illuminated Roman de la Rose. Arras was a logical refuge for Guelph Florentines, both cities involved in the making of tapestries. Recall Hamlet's line about the 'rat behind the arras'. It was here that Brunetto likely compiled his magnum opus, the encyclopedic Li Livres dou Tresor. All these great European books, Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, Le Roman de la Rose, Li Livres dou Tresor, break from the past in being written in their vernaculars, being written for lay readers, not clerics. But, just as Alfonso chose to write in the Gallegos of Compostela for Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, so did Brunetto choose to write in the French of Charles of Anjou, later creating the Italian version following his return from exile.
From the documents that survive from this period it is clear that Latino was part of the Florentine Guelph shadow cabinet, of its government-in-exile, who were now, as Papal bankers, though still under interdict, seeking to win back their city with florins and marks sterling and with the aid of popes and imperial candidates. We have two letters penned by Brunetto Latino from this period.
* DOCUMENT VII [Vatican Secret Archives]. This letter was written to the Roman Curia from Arras about notarized events on 15 and 24 September, promising the loyalty of the exiled Florentine bankers in Arras and in Paris to the Pope's cause against Manfred. It is still in the Vatican Secret Archives.
DOCUMENT VIII [Westminster Abbey]. The second letter, written from Bar-sur-l'Aube to England, directly concerns England's payment of the Crusading tithe or decima to the Pope. The Florentines loan the money to the Bishop of Hereford. A sentence in the document says that to borrow at interest from the Florentines has papal approval, that this usury even carries with it the crusading indulgence. There is a possibility that this is the amount, two thousand marks sterling, that the Roman Curia engaged to pay to Lucca for sheltering the exiled Florentine Guelphs in the parish of San Frediano. The document is still in Westminster Abbey.
Dante Alighieri, of a family too unimportant or insufficiently Guelph to have been exiled from Florence, was born in May 1265. In June of that year, Charles of Anjou, brother to St Louis of France and whose mother was sister to King Alfonso of Spain, was made Senator of Rome. The text of Li Livres dou Tresor, which Brunetto initially wrote in Picardan French, from the Arras region, contains the text of a letter to Charles of Anjou concerning this investitute and oath to uphold the Capituli, the Constitution, while Arnolfo di Cambio, architect of the city walls and gates, of the Palazzo Vecchio and of the Duomo in Florence, sculpted * Charles of Anjou as Senator in a Roman toga, the Capituli in his hand, both text and sculpture stressing the need to observe and preserve communal liberties. On 6 January 1266 Charles of Anjou and his wife Beatrice were crowned by the Pope in the Vatican. *On 26 February the Battle of Benevento was fought, Charles of Anjou being victorious over King Manfred. We meet Manfred in Purgatorio III.103-145, displaying his battle wounds. His soldiers buried their dead king under a huge cairn. The Pope ordered his body disinterred and cast onto a river bank beyond the bounds of either his own kingdom or the papal domains. After Benevento, Ghibelline Florence compromised, electing two Jovial Friars from Bologna, one Guelph, one Ghibelline to rule them. Dante placed them in Hell, in the circle of hypocrites, as walking forever under huge copes of gilded lead. In March 1266, Ghibelline ambassadors from Florence, including Dante's relative, Buonaccorso Elisei, outlined to the Pope a restoration of the former Florentine Guelph government. In April Pope Clement finally lifted the eight year interdiction against Florence for the murder of Abbot Tesauro of Vallombrosa.
Charles of Anjou, made King of Jerusalem and Sicily by the Pope, was in Florence, May 1267. He appointed Guido Guerra Vicar of Florence, under the Frenchman Jean Britaudi as Vicar of Tuscany. Brunetto Latino, it seems, found some employement under the Angevin king, documents naming him sometimes 'protonotario', sometimes mere 'notario'. Two of these involve Volterra around 20 August 1267. DOCUMENT IX [ASF San Gimignano Diploma] A third is written in Pistoia by Brunetto Latino as the vicar of Tuscany's 'protonotarius', concerning San Gimignano, 6 December 1269. 25 July 1274 Brunetto was secretly negotiating peace with the Sienese on behalf of Florence. In 1275 he is noted as 'nunc absentius', now absent. In the 1280 Peace of Cardinal Latino Brunetto is named as having once lived near the Duomo Gate.
What happened during these mainly silent years, from 1270 to 1284? Was he teaching? In Florence? In Bologna (for he borrows money there for his brothers and other relatives)? Was he in Sicily? In Constantinople? In Catalonia? Was Dante his student during this time or later? The continuing production of manuscripts in the Arras region as Li Livres dou Tresor and later in Florence as Il Tesoro, may demonstrate teaching activity as Brunetto combined book production and legal teaching by having students take down his books as lectures ('And then the Master said . . . '), a typical Arabic form he likely learned from his visit to Spain. He had them also copy out the chancery letters of Pier Delle Vigne, his own father's about Montaperti, and his own about Abbot Tesauro of Vallombrosa, as models for future formulaic uses. We know that this was typical notarial training given by fathers to sons, who would be their discipuli, their disciples, and contemporary references tell us that Guido Cavalcanti, Dante Alighieri and Francesco Barberino were Brunetto's students. We know that Pier Delle Vigne similarly combined his tasks as Chancellor with those as Maestro, as Professor, a model Latino clearly followed in his literary frameworks, and likely also did so in reality. * If one looks at Siena's Buon Governo fresco one sees there such a maestro, such a magister, in his red teaching robes with his students seated before him, in one of the shops by the market place. I suspect that Brunetto's was such a store-front university, in Arras, or Florence, or wherever else he might have been, for instance, Poggibonsi, Volterra, Pistoia, or Bologna, or even in Apulia or Sicily, in the service of Charles of Anjou.
Or was his fate even worse? Was he languishing in some Angevin prison, sequestered in Naples, denied access to parchment, quills and ink? For there are almost no documents for this period, either diplomatic or literary, apart from the copying of his books in France and in Italy. And when he was to return to Florentine politics, he was to make major speeches in elegant Ciceronian cadences about the need to free all slaves and political prisoners, especially the women, and so eloquent were his speeches that the vote always went in his favour.
Brunetto Latino had been forced, in order to save Republican Florence, to seduce and woo Kings and Emperors. He loved republican Cicero, loathed imperial Aristotle, tutor to Alexander, but had to mimic the latter, creating encyclopedias for Kings and Emperors, in order to slip in teaching about republican democracy. He prefers the classic Romanesque, the rounded Bolognan libraria script, not spikey Gothic, imitating Hebrew script and Islamic architecture. Yet he taught his students, Guido Cavalcanti and Dante Alighieri, Aristotle and Avverrois, granting them this dolce stil nuovo, Gothic's 'sweet new style', wrought by the Norman-French Crusaders' contact with the Near East, by Islam's and Judaism's shared presence in the Kingdoms of Sicily and Spain.
Brunetto is sarcastic in his use of the word 'Treasure'. Li Livres dou Tresor is a bribe to Charles of Anjou. Charles of Anjou was not only greedy, desperate for money, desiring to Crusade against Christian Constantinople in order to be its wealthy Emperor, but also cruel, putting his enemies in dungeons, their right eye gouged out, right hand and leg cut off. Rather than a Senator under oath to preserve Roman - and hence - Florentine liberties, Charles was seen as a tyrant, more cruel, they said, even than Nero. In one very fine, though mutilated, manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale, dated between 1286-1287, Charles of Anjou's name is suppressed and his father-in-law, Raymond of Berengar's, given instead. Another, Laurentian Library 42.19, speaks of Brunetto writing the work 'for love of his enemy', rather than friend, that phrase repeated in the 1474 editio princeps. Another manuscript, again in the Biblioteca Nazionale, continues the Chronicle section of the Tresor with a scathingly bitter account of Charles of Anjou's reign, including the Sicilian Vespers revolt against him, documented with transcriptions and translations of diplomatic letters, the paper war as well as the real one, of which Charles was the centre. If we trust the evidence of this supposed eye-witness Tesoro account, Brunetto Latino was perhaps himself involved in the secret diplomacy between the Emperor Paleologus of Constantinople and King Peter of Aragon, plotting the 1282 Sicilian Vespers Easter uprising against Charles of Anjou to bring about his overthrow. His father, Bonaccursus Latinus, the notary for the Bishop of Fiesole, Filippo di Perugia, had already been to Constantinople before him. The text describes an 'Accardo' Latino and a Gianni di Procita, both disguised as Franciscans, implicated in secret missions between the Pope, the Emperor, and the King. Scholars have said this text is written by a Ghibelline. Ten Italian Tesoro manuscripts include various versions of the Sicilian Vespers. I believe, given the archival evidence, these are Brunetto's own or a protege's chancery propaganda against a most disappointing patron. I read it as like the twice-told tale of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Casa Guidi Windows, a political about-face.
We have one reference to Brunetto Latino in 1282, shortly after the establishment of the Priorate of the Artes was established in that year. Though there is one undated document, its top torn off, concerning the Calimala, DOCUMENT X [ASF imprecisely dated document]. Then silence again until 1284, when he was a major figure in the League against Pisa drawn up by Genoa, Lucca, Florence and other cities. Charles of Anjou, now only King of Jerusalem and Naples, having lost Sicily, wrote to the Florentine Guelphs, 10 April 1283, requesting such action against Pisa. Brunetto Latino is the principal ambassador negotiating this 'guerra viva' against Pisa, starving her of all necessary food imports, but secretly he and the other Florentines were also negotiating secretly with Pisa's ruler, Count Ugolino. Brunetto seems to be for Charles of Anjou's policy, yet secretly works against it. He was, after all, Chancellor Macchiavelli's prototype.
Pisa learned of this treachery in 1288 and then, in a time of terrible famine, in their desperation cast Ugolino and his progeny in prison. Guido da Montefeltro next threw the keys of the prison tower into the Arno, leaving the family to die of the hunger they had inflicted on their own city. The Chronicle of Florence, traditionally considered to have been written by Brunetto Latino during this period, speaks in one breath of the Pisan ruler's cannibalism of his own family and of the * Florentines building the ten-columned stone loggia of Orsanmichele's grain market, to feed even the enemy in time of famine.
Between January 1285 and July 1292 Brunetto made dozens of speeches before the various bodies of the Florentine communal government, concerning constitutional matters and embassies, diplomacy and law, and his speeches nearly always won unanimous votes in favour of what he counselled. The Libri Fabarum and other documents in the Florentine archives record 42 of these. Brunetto was elected one of the twelve Priors, living, like Dante after him, in the * Torre del Castagna from 15 August to 15 October 1287. Many of these documents concern gathering war clouds with Arezzo. On 11 June 1289 Dante was present at the Battle of Campaldino, at which Florence routed Arezzo, even killing her bishop on the battle field (Inferno XXII.1-5). During this time young Dante presented aged Brunetto with the Vita Nuova, filled with Islamic Avveroism, brought by Brunetto from Spain, and Provencal poetic, brought by Brunetto from Provence, accompanied by the poem, 'Messer Brunetto, questa pulzeletta'.
Dante's Commedia has
images about the burning of paper, about the hair/flesh sides of
pages, about the scribe and the illuminator *
and Oderisi) going side by side, yoked like two oxen drawing the sacred
Ark, about all the scattered leaves of the universe gathered up and
in one volume. I believe his poem is also about notaries and their
chambers, about bankers and their ledgers, about chancellors and their
chanceries, with all their spider web patterns of reciprocity, of
pan-European, debit and credit accounts in black and red, that Dante
used in the Commedia, constructing from them a theatre of
a prison house of words and parchment; that he is like Melville's
the scrivener who worked in the dead letter office, that he is like
monks in their vast, apocalyptic, ephemeral library. However, from
legal and literary worlds where one is unsure whether flesh and blood
be parchment and brown ink, we do still have documents written by
Latino in his own hand - though we know of none by Dante. And these
documents of which we have ten, signed, sealed and delivered - written
by Brunetto and authenticated with his very Florentine notarial sign of
a lilied column, clearly say 'Et ego
Bonaccorsi Latinus notarius', as if they
written not seven hundred years ago but today.
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