Sad passing of Constance Blackwell

Tue 17 April 2018

It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden death of Constance Blackwell during the early morning of 29 March 2018.

A graduate of Columbia University in New York, Constance devoted her life to the study and diffusion of European – mainly Italian – Renaissance and Early Modern philosophy and science, subjects at the heart of the Warburg intellectual programme. Constance came from New York to London and the Warburg to share her life with Charles Schmitt, who had been appointed Lecturer in the History of Science and Philosophy at the Warburg Institute in 1973.  She soon took on the role of a Renaissance humanist/patron, becoming known not only as a scholar in her own right, but also as someone dispensing her own inheritance to finance large and small projects.

In 1994 she set up the Foundation for Intellectual History, and began editing the companion newsletter, Intellectual News. Both of these were later transformed: the Foundation into the International Society for Intellectual History, and the newsletter into the Intellectual Historical Review in 2007. Other projects include partial or complete funding for the publication of individual books or periodicals.

Constance supported several national and international conferences and oversaw the proceedings through to publication.  Most notable were Method and Order in the Renaissance Philosophy of Nature - The Aristotle Commentary Tradition (1997); Philosophy in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries - Conversations with Aristotle (1999); and Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Theories (2001).

According to Constance, innovation in philosophy came from commentaries on (mainly) Aristotelian works. Commentaries followed the tradition of teaching philosophy by going through texts by ancient authors and interpreting them sentence by sentence. The study of Aristotle followed this tradition well into the seventeenth century. Key among the Aristotelian commentators that she wrote articles about are Marcantonio Zimara (1460 – 1532); Tommaso de Vio, also known as Tommaso Cajetan (1469 – 1534); Giacomo Zabarella (1533 – 1589); the Jesuit Benito Pereira (1536 – 1610). She was also translating Johann Jacob Brucker (1696 – 1770) Historia Critica Philosophiae. Constance’s independence from any specific academic institution meant that her intellectual interests could range widely and not be constrained by specialised curricula or the demands of university teaching. In addition, it allowed her to form around her a truly international Republic of Letters, with colleagues not only in Great Britain and the United States, but also in Italy and the Netherlands, Russia and Latin America. 

Constance’s hospitality knew no bounds. She loved introducing scholars to one another when she saw common research interests. She was invariably encouraging to young scholars and showed genuine interest in their research. Constance will be remembered for her extraordinary generosity of spirit, her curiosity, her willingness to help others, her lively conversation and her irrepressible sense of humour.

Constance’s death was sudden. She is survived by two daughters, Anne and Leslie, and a son Theo.  Details of funeral arrangements will be announced by her family.

(Letizia Panizza, with thanks to T. Blackwell, S. Clucas, S. Hutton and J. Field).