Piccione, Rosa Maril (ed.). Greeks, books and libraries in Renaissance Venice. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021. x, 401 p. ISBN 9783110575200. €89.95. (Transmissions. Studies on conditions, processes and dynamics of textual transmission, vol. 1).
I understand very well that the book that I am reviewing has a very narrow audience of the scholars researching Greek texts and books or interested in the history of Venice, or those who are engaged in various historical reconstructions of libraries and book-related activities. And yet, while reading this book I was surprised by the social and cultural atmosphere of Renaisance Venice that reminds of present situation in many busy cities in Europe and most probably all over the world. The transition of one historical epoch into another, the movement of large groups of people, the mixture of cultural and ethnic features, the inevitable division between intellectual and everyday life, humanistic ideals and greediness of the new rich, the transition from old media to the new and changing communication, all seems familiar and relevant, though some chapters are quite specialized and esoteric from a point of view of practicing information professionals.
The book is a collection of chapters exploring the collections of Greek texts, both in manuscript and early printed books, that existed in Venice during the period of Renaissance period and functioned in the intellectual life of this city. It is notable that most of these books represented an orthodox Byzantine cultural heritage and it occurs that this marked Venice as a very special city for Greek intellectuals. The whole volume is devoted to the investigation of collections rather than separate texts or books, which at this time were mainly found in various personal libraries, but also in some institutional libraries.
Three parts included in the volume cover the collections of Greek books owned by Greeks living in Venice (five chapters), the collections of Greek books owned by Western intellectuals residing in Venice as ambassadors or in other capacity (four chapters), and libraries in archives (three chapters). In the first part we can glimpse what was happening in Venice as a cultural setting in 16th and 17th century, find out about Gabriel Severos, the Orthodox Metropolitan, and his bibliophile collection, the activities of Nikolaos Choniates and his activities in production of Greek manuscript books, Greek publisher Manolis Glyzounis, and book related work of Maximos Margounios, bishop of Cythera residing in Venice. This part marks Venice as a centre of Greek culture during this period.
At the same time, Greek books were collected by other people residing in Venice and the second part of the book introduces us to the Greek incunabula owned by the ambasador of Charles V Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, French ambasador to Venice Guillome Pellicier, Greek manuscripts and books in Padua and Turin. The final part is mainly devoted to the documents about the activity of San Marco Library and the efforts to reconstruct Marciana library. The final chapter in this part explores the traces of private libraries containing Greek books in the archives of Venice. I was particularly fascinated by the tool presented in the chapter about the reconstruction of Marciana library, the database of provenances (Archivio dei Possessori), which allows adding data about the documents from this library regardless of where they or the data was found and by whom. It also includes examples from Greek libraries or on work of Greek scribes. Another chapter that has fascinated me as a librarian presents data from the loan registers in the Library of San Marco. It was fascinating to see which actual books were borrowed, how many times and by whom. These meagre statistics all of a sudden bring to life the image of the Library and make it close to these days. Though these two chapters were closest to me as a librarian, I enjoyed learning about the amazing intellectual life in Venice of the time, discovering unexpected features, aspects and people.
The chapters are written by different authors and their styles differ from very lively and picturesque texts about Venice and its everyday life to dry and precise presentations of bibliographic or textual data. The book is richly illustrated by photographs of documents and some other illustrations. However, the illustrations perform a strictly academic function and it will be a mistake to expect images of the city or portraits of people even when chapters are devoted to them.
I doubt that this book would be read by wide public or students in library schools. However, it will find a grateful audience among book and library historians just for the serious introductions of interesting research methods and tools, some of them innovative and interesting. This feature of the book widens the audience from only those interested in particular features of Greek cultural history and history of Renaisance in italy to a much broader set of explorers of different countries and cultures. I would also recommend this book to the students of textual transmission, media discourses and information science. It may broaden their understanding of modern phenomena and show that very little novelty is found under the Sun. On the other hand, the price of the volume (which is entirely fair) prompts that it will be mainly available through university libraries.
University of Borås
How to cite this review
Maceviciute, E. (2021). Review of: Piccione, Rosa Maril (ed.). Greeks, books and libraries in Renaissance Venice De Gruyter, 2021.. Information Research, 26(3), review no. R722 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs722.html]
Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.