Imagination and the remains of Roman antiquity

Authored by: William Stenhouse

The Routledge History of the Renaissance

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138898851
eBook ISBN: 9781315226217
Adobe ISBN: 9781351849463


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In late September 1464, four middle-aged men, including a doctor, an illustrator, and two painters, took a boat out on to Lake Garda in northern Italy. They savored the local flora, which included roses, shady branches, and fruit trees. One went so far as to describe what they found as gardens of paradise. 2 So far, so unremarkable: thousands of pleasure-seekers have savored a similar late summer excursion in the years since, and reacted with similar delight. But these four men in a boat were not simply enjoying the countryside. They looked at many remains of antiquity, and took note of the Latin inscriptions that they saw. And more peculiarly, the four set off the following day having assumed Roman titles: Samuele da Tradate (d. 1466), a painter, was the emperor, the other painter Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506) and the doctor Giovanni Marcanova (1418–67) were consuls, and Felice Feliciano (1433–79), who recorded his recollections of the event, cast himself as an attendant, or procurator. 3 Da Tradate, garlanded with ivy and myrtle, played the lute as they glided across the water in their flower-strewn boat, perhaps with some sort of entourage. They noted the proximity of inscriptions in honor of the pagan emperors to contemporary Christian shrines, and finally gave praise, at a church in Sirmio, “to the Great Thunderer and his glorious Mother,” thanking those deities for granting them such delights, including the various pagan antiquities that they had seen. 4

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