Metamorphoses of the humanist dream

The miniatures trigger an interpretation of the Rvf centered around the idea of metamorphoses that was suggested by Francesco Filelfo, one of the late Fifteenth-century commentaries of Petrarch consulted in a creative way by Grifo. The other commentaries consulted by Grifo were Gerolamo Squarciafico’s and Antonio Da Tempo’s. An attentive philological inquiry leads Frasso to conclude that Grifo might have also consulted the Bembo’s Aldine edition of the Rvf  (Frasso 60-79). 

The image of the satyr playing on his pipes in the incipit of the incunabulum is related to the figure of the poet and is programmatic of the metamorphic nature of the narration (Cossutta 425). Grifo referred to himself in his own Canzoniere as “bifronte animal” having in mind a legendary creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion, and the head and wings of an eagle (Marcozzi 400). Grifo points to the world of natural metamorphoses in which the borders between creatures is not fixed but in perpetual movement, as the moment of departure and source of inspiration for the poet.  

The central metamorphosis narrated in the incunabulum is the transformation of the initial image of the satyr into that one of the poet-book. In other words, the miniatures and glosses narrate the fundamental myth of the incipient Humanist culture, the transformation of the savage animal instincts through love and poetic education (Cossutta 428). A similar metamorphosis from barbarism to culture and civilization generated by the force of love is present in Orlando innamorato being read in the same years by Boiardo at the Estensi court in Ferrara. This idea was dear to the humanists such as Guarino Veronese gathered in that court. In this perspective, Grifo elaborated an interpretation of the Rvf that goes far beyond the celebration of the love's pains and unrequited love and focuses on the utopian humanist dream, shared by Petrarch, of a new form of civilization based on the education of the ruling class and the force of love as instrumentum regni  (Cossutta 434) .  

The poet-book becomes the emblem of this new utopian civilization. Grifo visually represents the peculiarity of this poet-book through the recurring image of the open book, in contrast to most of the miniatures where the book appears closed. The Incunabulum Queriniano G V 15 is still porous to the world, a feature that will disappear from the idea of the book developed after Bembo’s printing of the Rvf. For this reason the Incunabulum Queriniano is still able to exhibit with enlightening emphasis a central feature of Petrarch’s Rvf: a poet in deep dialogue with a sympathetic and enchanted nature, intensely implicated in different forms of natural metamorphoses, triggering metaphysical reflections on the salvific power of love.  


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