Living Well In Renaissance Italy: The Virtues of Humanism and the Irony of Leon Battista Alberti

Living Well In Renaissance Italy: The Virtues of Humanism and the Irony of Leon Battista Alberti

By Timothy Kircher
2012 | 310 + vi pp. | 978-0-86698-471-3 | Hardcover 6 x 9 in
MRTS 423 | $70 | £53 |

This study evaluates the way Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) assessed humanist moral philosophy in Renaissance Italy. It helps us understand not only the allure of Renaissance humanism, but also its shortcomings, through the writings of a leading humanist of the time. Alberti’s writings employ irony in order to illustrate the humanist fallacies of basing moral virtue on scholarly learning, and of linking moral goodness with public reputation. His skeptical, ironic viewpoint adapts the perspectives of fourteenth-century humanists, Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio. The book therefore highlights the heritage of fourteenth-century humanism for the fifteenth century.

The volume has a truly outstanding editorial design, and as one looks through the ample footnotes with their wealth of citations in Latin and the Italian vernacular, it must be admitted that the author could not have found a North American publisher better suited to showcase his research.
—Luca Boschetto, author of Leon Battista Alberti e Firenze
In contrast to the prevailing view of humanist culture, which attends to its formal and stylistic qualities, and in contrast to the study of rhetoric as a self-contained subject of inquiry, Kircher is able to establish through his philosophical orientation a persuasive and stimulating vision of Alberti’s thought, even in some of its least expected aspects.
—Riccardo Fubini, Albertiana
This learned book is valuable for a number of important features, including its close reading of a whole range of Albertian texts.... [T]his volume, which results from a titanic effort to study Leon Battista and his sources, offers a helpful entry-point for many Anglophone readers unfamiliar with the body of Alberti's work.
— David Lines, Annali d'Italianistica
This work is the most sophisticated discussion of Alberti's irreverent exposé of the shortcomings of humanism and the renewal of the literary, philosophical, and linguistic models that Alberti brought to the Italian Renaissance."
— Andrea Rizzi, American Historical Review

Chapter 1: Introduction
  1. The Renaissance problem of living well
  2. Alberti’s ironic approach to ethical understanding
  3. The fourteenth-century heritage to Alberti’s inquiry
  4. The Vita Sancti Potiti as an entry to Alberti’s ironic investigation

Chapter 2: Ethics, Scholarship, and Politics: Aspects of Early Quattrocento Humanism

  1. General characteristics
  2. Leonardo Bruni: virtue honest, happy, and useful
  3. Matteo Palmieri and the practical rules for living well

Chapter 3: Rectitude and Reputation: Alberti, Boccaccio, and Humanist Moral Stature

  1. Alberti’s relation to Boccaccio in terms of the erotic, irony, and the poetic
  2. The inward turn to the psychological in Maritus
  3. Defunctus and the irony of the humanist narrator
  4. Fraternal conflict over reputation in Uxoria

Chapter 4: Confronting Fortune with Virtue: The Therapy of Irony, the Irony of Therapy

  1. The dialogues of Alberti and Poggio Bracciolini
  2. Poggio’s thoughts on the moral hazards of public service
  3. The Theogenius and the play of perspectives on life’s changing fortunes

Chapter 5: Humanist Literacy: Alberti, Petrarch, and the Vagaries of Textual Interpretation

  1. Alberti’s receptivity to Petrarch’s thinking on virtue and fortune
  2. Della famiglia: moral honor and humanist frailty
  3. Profugiorum ab erumna libri: Ulysses as a model of overcoming social treachery

Chapter 6: Humanist Friendship: Alberti’s Lessons in Prose and Verse

  1. The Certame coronario of 1441
  2. The ironies of honorable friendships in the Della famiglia
  3. The hidden goddess of Friendship: Trecento and Homeric adaptations

Chapter 7: The Masks of Rhetoric and Alberti’s Momus

  1. The return to Rome and the enigma of the Momus
  2. Simulation and dissimulation in the theater of orators: Greek resonances
  3. The psychological origin of humanist errancy in anxiety
  4. Hercules among the philosophers: humanist sincerity and inauthenticity

Chapter 8: Humanist Ironies and the Language of Living Well

  1. Moral valuations and skepticism: Valla’s De vero bono
  2. The insecurity of humanist knowledge and its ironic exposure
  3. The legacy of Alberti’s irony in later Florentine humanism
  4. The irony of the Renaissance individual toward conventional ways of living well

Appendix: List of Humanist Works Discussed