The Spanish Presence in Sixteenth-Century Italy: Images of Iberia, edited by Piers Baker-Bates & Miles Pattenden

in Journal of Jesuit Studies

Transculturalisms, 1400–1700. Farnham, Burlington: Ashgate, 2015. Pp. 292. Hb, $119.95.

Considering the historical relevance of the Spanish presence in early modern Italy and the rich cultural, religious, and material exchanges between these two centers of the early modern Mediterranean world, the English-language scholarship on the subject has remained slim until recently. While important work by John W. O’Malley, Tom Dandelet, Antonio Calabria, and John Marino, among others, has enriched our knowledge of the Spain-Italy nexus, the recent volume, The Spanish Presence in Sixteenth-Century Italy: Images of Iberia, offers a valuable addition to the current scholarship. Providing ten thoughtful essays developed out of earlier conference papers, the book largely succeeds in its mission to challenge conventional ideas of the story of Spain’s political and military presence in Italy as “one of hegemony and subordination” (229). The section on religiosity will be of great interest to students of the Jesuits, in particular.

The Spanish Presence in Sixteenth-Century Italy begins with Simon Ditchfield’s excellent introductory essay that highlights the fraught relationship between the Spanish conquerors and their Italian subjects in the wake of the Italian Renaissance, with all of its implications for Italian notions of “cultural superiority,” alongside the tricky balancing act that Spanish/Habsburg rulers had to negotiate with the Roman Church. Ditchfield characterizes Spanish-Italian relations as sometimes colored by “mutual suspicion” (3), though also tinged with admiration. In all, he reminds us—as several contributors to the volume reinforce through their analyses—that we cannot easily cast the Spanish-Italian relationship in broad strokes, but must instead attend to local conditions, the changing cast of characters (individual and institutional), and periodization.

Part One of the volume, “The Spanish Presence in Italian Politics, Society, and Culture,” offers three substantive essays that evaluate, in turn, what we can learn of Italian views of the Spanish through the writing of Italian diplomats from various parts of the peninsula, the anxieties that plagued Venetian commentators, given perceived Spanish threats to the Republic’s sovereignty, and the layered nature of local and “foreign” identities in Spanish Naples. Catherine Fletcher’s “Mere Emulators of Italy: The Spanish in Italian Diplomatic Discourse, 1492–1550,” surveys a regionally diverse group of diplomatic reports from the first half of the sixteenth century—though highlighting Venetian relazioni—in order to argue that Italian diplomats had a healthy sense of their own prowess as “superior observers of the other nations of Europe” (11).

Building upon Fletcher’s emphasis on the Venetian perspective, Nicolas Davidson roots his essay, “Hispanophobia in the Venetian Republic,” much more squarely in the specific historic context of the Venetian Republic in all of its vulnerability in Spanish-dominated Italy, c.1530–1630. While he mentions moments of shared purpose, such as the Venetian and Spanish alliance to fight the Turkish threat in 1571, for example, Davidson writes compellingly about the “pervasive distrust of Spanish intentions in Italy” that colored Venetian views of Spain and Spaniards (38). Using the term Hispanophobia quite self-consciously, he seeks to illustrate that Venetian elites’ seemingly caricatured notions of an untrustworthy Spanish character was only encouraged by a series of historical circumstances, geographical realities, and Spanish policy itself.

Moving southward to Spanish Naples, in “Encountering Spain in Early Modern Naples: Language, Customs and Sociability,” Stephen Cummins hopes to move beyond the historiographical impact of Benedetto Croce, who highlighted the negative impact of Spanish rule on his native city. In his exploration of contemporary accounts of Neapolitan taverns and other popular locales, Cummins sketches the contours of a highly stratified, burgeoning metropolis in the early modern period where caste divisions and notions of foreignness and citizenship were intertwined and national identities were perhaps less salient than elsewhere.

The next section of the book, “Spanish Religiosity and Roman Religion,” zeroes in on the complex dance between the Spanish crown, the Roman Catholic Church, and religious orders as they jockeyed for influence. In the first of three essays, “Rome as a ‘Spanish Avignon’? The Spanish Faction and the Monarchy of Philip ii,” Miles Pattenden argues that—whatever his purposes might have been—Philip ii was not able to exert effective influence over the Roman Catholic Church. Further, he explores the notion that the popes of this period pursued their own agendas. Even within the so-called “Spanish faction” within the Roman Church, Pattenden contends, the monarchy was not able to easily push its own goals.

Where Pattenden plays up the limitations of the Spanish crown’s hegemony over the Roman Church, Paolo Broggio instead highlights the monarchy’s complicated relationship to volatile theological disputes. Broggio examines theological and institutional disputes between the Dominicans and Jesuits during the transition from the reigns of Philip ii and Philip iii. In “Rome and the ‘Spanish Theology’: Spanish Monarchy, Doctrinal Controversies and the Defence of Papal Prerogatives from Clement viii to Urban viii,” Broggio explores these theological clashes in order to demonstrate how the Spanish state at the turn of the seventeenth century endeavoured to publicize its supremacy as defender of the faith, but this essay also sheds light on how religious orders like the Jesuits and Dominicans engaged with the crown in very particular ways.

Moving on to a deeper consideration of local vs. transnational religious identities, Clare Copeland’s essay, “Spanish Saints in Counter-Reformation Italy” focuses upon the canonization of multiple religious figures on the same day in 1622. Copeland views this process as exemplary of the adaptability of saints’ legacies and the important influence that the religious orders wielded in the early modern period.

The final section of the book, “Spanish Vision and the Visual Arts in Italy” includes an additional four essays that creatively mine the rich vein of art and material cultural exchange in the Spanish and Italian relationship of the early modern period. Beginning with an even-handed assessment of the complex relationships between Spanish patrons and Italian visual artists, subsequent essays focus upon the tomb monument of the Neapolitan viceroy, don Pedro de Toledo, the patronage strategies and taste making of Spanish patrons, and the “reform agenda” (219) of the late seventeenth-century Neapolitan Viceroy the Marquis del Carpio.

The Spanish Presence in Sixteenth-Century Italy provides a series of thoughtful interventions into the rich history of Iberian-Italian relations in the early modern period. As with any such collection, not every essay is equally well written, nor will each piece appeal equally to the inter-disciplinary audience of scholars and students who be drawn to the volume, but the book is a worthy addition to early modern studies.

DOI 10.1163/22141332-00303008-19

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