Reading the Rerun vulgarium fragmenta in the Quattrocento

Before printing, the manuscript copies of the Rvf were prepared for group reading-exposition. The availability of printed copies changed these reading habits but this transformation occurred in a slow process as the Queriniana copy of the editio princeps still witnesses. This copy includes miniatures and handwritten glosses that had a didactic purpose and a performative value as a support to a group reading and discussion of the text. This becomes apparent reading the gloss to sonnet 257, In quel bel viso ch’i’ sospiro et bramo, where Grifo writes:   

“Questo è quel sonetto, da rarissimi enteso, che già dechiarai ala  

Signoria Vostra: e perho non voglio dir altro.”  

(This is the sonnet, understood by very few people, that I already proclaimed to you, an thus I do not want to add anything). 

Also, the frequent use of manicules suggests an attentive reading, inclined to underline and memorize certain verses, couplets or strophes for further meditation and discussion. Soon the text of the poems started to be published along with extensive commentaries, like the one prepared by Bernardo Ilicino, printed in Bologna in 1475 but written before this date at the court of Borso d’Este in Ferrara. Francesco Filelfo’s commentary printed in 1476, was in reality prepared in 1446 as requested by Filippo Maria Visconti for his Milanese court (Balsamo 250). The Italian court circles of the Quattrocento loved Petrarch’s poetry and considered it a pleasant reading (Dionisotti, 94).  

The reading of the Rvf in fifteen century was very different from today’s. Most of the editions available did not respect the writing, the impagination and the division of the work in two parts wanted by Petrarch and clearly pointed out in the last manuscript, the Vat. Lat 3195. This manuscript is considered a unique “libro d’autore” in late thirteen-century manuscripts and in fourteen-century manuscripts and incunabula (Petrucci, “Il libro manoscritto” 518). Petrarch realized a “book” that was able to convey not only a unitary narration but also the complexity and originality of his message. These features are lacking in Quattrocento’s editions (Signorini 153).  

There were editions accompanied by commentaries, such as Filelfo’s, published not as a pleasant reading but as a book to study following the university tradition (Cannata 157).  Filelfo’s despises love poetry and does not consider the division of the Rvf in two parts. Only two fifteen-century editions related to the Valdezoco edition divide the structure of the Rvf starting part 2 from poem 264; the first one was printed in Sant’Orso (1474) and the second in Venice (1477). Moreover, all editions not related to the Valdezoco present the poems in an order different from the Vat. Lat 3195 and group them according to the poetic genre rather than Petrarch’s numbering. This choice confirms that most of the fifteen-century editions of the Rvf did not support what is nowadays considered one of the most relevant innovations introduced by Petrarch in Western lyric discourse and collections, the prevalence of the narration in the lyric sequence over the poetic anthology (Cannata 159). These changes will be implemented only in sixteen century after Pietro Bembo’s Aldine edition of the Rvf that canonized Petrarch as one of the classic of modern Italian literature. 





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