Francesco Maria II della Rovere and celestial images

Written by Patrizia Principi |
Valentino Pini, Fabrica de gl’horologi solari Nella quale si trattano non solo instrumenti per dissegnare horologi sopra ogni superficie di muro, ma anco si danno regole per fabricare altri horologi portatili, così per seruitio del giorno, come della notte, in Venetia, appresso Marco Guarisco, 1598, frontispiece [Rome, BUA, A.d.19]. By permission of the Ministry of Culture. Prohibition of further reproduction.

Patrizia Principi is currently a PhD student at Sapienza - University of Rome and spent last term as an occasional student at the Warburg Institute.

In this blog, Patrizia tells us more about her research entitled “Celestial Images: Sphera Theorica Planetarum et Reliqua Astrologiae in the Libraria and Collections of Francesco Maria II della Rovere.”

My research is part of a broader and fascinating project entitled “Immaginare i Saperi” (Imagining Knowledge), conceived and coordinated by Massimo Moretti Professor of Iconography and Iconology at Sapienza – University of Rome, with the collaboration of Dr. Daniela Fugaro, Director of the Biblioteca Universitaria Alessandrina – BUA – in Rome. This ambitious project aims to reconstruct the imaginary of Francesco Maria II della Rovere (1549-1631), the last Duke of Urbino, through his collections, starting from his famous Libraria. This was a very rich book collection founded in 1607 in Casteldurante, a town known from 1636 as Urbania.

In 1631 the Duke died without heirs, as in 1623 his only son had died prematurely. In 1667 Pope Alexander 7th Chigi, ignoring the testamentary wishes of Francesco Maria II della Rovere, transferred to Rome more than 13,000 printed volumes from his Libraria. These formed the first part of the Sapienza University Library, traditionally known as the ‘Urbinate Fund’ or ‘Ancient Fund’.

The main tool for the study and reconstruction of the Libraria of Francesco Maria II della Rovere is manuscript 50 of the Biblioteca Alessandrina. It is a kind of thematic and topographical catalogue with internal cross-references. The manuscript was compiled after the Duke’s death by the Caracciolini of Casteldurante to document the texts of the ‘Libraria nuova’ also known as the ‘impressa’. The library is so called because it contains mainly printed books, differing from the manuscript’s library assembled by Duke Federico da Montefeltro, which is now preserved in the Vatican Library.

The Libraria consists of seventy Scansie (shelfs or scans) divided by subject, subdivided into thematic subscans, where books are related to their neighbors by subject. with a criterion that anticipates the Warburgian idea of the “good neighbor”.

Ambit of Federico Barocci, Portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere, c. 1585, private collection (public domain by Wikimedia Commons)

My research focuses on shelf number 44, titled “Sphera Theorica Planetarum et Reliqua Astrologiæ”, conventionally called the “Scansia 44” or “of the Sciences”. This shelf in the manuscript is divided into thirteen other subscansia.

This shelf focuses on several topics: De Sphera; De Astronomia; De Astrologia; Adversus Astrologiam; De Astrolabium; De Prospectiva; De Annulos Sphericis; De Horologijs; De Theorica Planetarum; De Anno; De Temporibus; De Calendario Gregoriano; and Alij Matematici. All topics linked together by one common thread: Time.

The goal of my research is precisely to reconstruct the dimension of time in the Duke’s imagination. To do this, I started from what within the project we call ‘circular-type research’. This means that we work simultaneously on different fronts to trace all the correspondences between the sources, inventories, documents, and the Della Rovere family’s collections. According to this methodology crucial is the role of the illustrations accompanying the volumes of the Duke’s rich library. Just as important are the ‘latent images’, an expression by which within the project we call the figurative images that are hidden behind the written words of manuscripts or printed texts, thus mental images evoked by reading.

In order to compile a detailed account of astral and temporal mentions in the Duke’s collections, my research began by consulting the manuscript diary of Francesco Maria II. From this first-hand source, his obsession with time emerged unequivocally. He constantly records the time and duration of his travels, demonstrating great attention to celestial phenomena. Subsequently, I carried out a timely reconnaissance of all the inventories of Della Rovere’s assets and properties, epistolary exchanges and wills. The documents record a rich collection of clocks and scientific-mathematical instruments. Then again, being between the 16th and 17th centuries, Francesco Maria II lived through the most fervent years of the scientific revolution, from the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar to the discoveries of Galileo Galilei, with whom his librarians were in contact and who was the Duke’s guest in 1618.

A special focus of my research is devoted to iconographic research, cataloguing and indexing of illustrations of the texts examined. This work aims at sharing an online, open access database in which all the detailed entries from the catalogue will be searchable.

Ms. 50, frontispiece, Rome, Biblioteca Universitaria Alessandrina, [BUA, Ms. 50]. By permission of the Ministry of Culture.

Having the opportunity to study and further my research at the Warburg Institute was therefore a unique opportunity for me and my project. Being able to consult one of the world’s most extensive library collections regarding astral, temporal, astronomical and astrological themes was of real help to my research. Just as it was a real privilege to be able to take advantage of the vast photographic holdings made available by the Photographic Collection.

Having the opportunity to study and further my research at the Warburg Institute was therefore a unique opportunity for me and my project.

Most of all, however, the aspect that enriched my experience was to have the opportunity to discuss my research with scholars who attend the Institute: professors, fellows, doctoral students, MA students and external readers. The spirit of scholarly sharing and contamination between different disciplines makes the Warburg Institute the place par excellence for interdisciplinary research and therefore the most suitable place to carry out my research.

In closing, I would like to thank Warburg Institute Director Bill Sherman, my supervisor Alessandro Scafi, and Professor Sara Miglietti for giving me the opportunity to present and share my study in progress during the December 2022 PhD Club session. Special thanks also go to all the Warburg staff and students for making me feel so welcome during the past months. Thank you!

Patrizia Principi spent a period as an Occasional Student at the Warburg Institute from September 23 to December 9, 2022, coming from Sapienza - University of Rome. Her research deals with the reconstruction of the temporal, astronomical and astrological imagery of Francesco Maria II della Rovere (1549-1631) the last Duke of Urbino.

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