(an introduction based on Nikolaus Thurn’s response to the RSA 2015 panel ‘Economics of Encomia’)
Ugolino Verino – His life and works
Verino was born as Ugolino di Vieri in Florence in 1438. He came from an old family with a traditionally close relationship to the Medici party. Verino was taught by Cristofero Landino and entered the career of a notar. Until his death in 1516, he produced a considerable number of poetical works.
In 1464, Ugolino Verino first appeared on the literary horizon with two books of love-elegy, the Flametta dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici. Between 1468-1469, Verino composed his Paradisus to commemorate Cosimo de’ Medici death. It was a vision of a platonic heaven, inspired by Dante’s Divina Commedia and Alain de Lille’s Anticlaudianus, and praised the political and intellectual politics of the Medici family.
Among the many other works of Verino, we also find the Epigrammata. Their nine books were presented to the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus by Salvestro Vieri, Verinos brother. Although the King rewarded the work – one of the few confirmed cases for Verino – its author never saw the money: On his return, Salvestro fell into the hands of pirates and lost all of his money and that of his brother. Among his other work count a Panegyricus in praise of the reconquista under the Spanish Kings, and his praise of Florence De illustratione urbis Florentiae. In various poems on Christian saints and versification of the Old and New Testament, Verino treated religious topics. At least six versions of his monumental epic poem Carlias are known, which remained a constant companion of Verino’s life and poetic work. The majority of Verino’s works are preserved in autograph paper manuscripts; the Paradisus and later the Carlias provide examples of a dedicated manuscript.
Verino’s ‘economics of poetry’
Verino had already started working on his Carlias in 1465. Part of this monumental epic is the hero’s march through the otherworld, similar to Dante’s march from Hell and Purgatory to Heaven. Comparing all the different versions of the Carlias (a fragment of the earliest draft in particular) and including also the Paradisus in the picture, it is easy to deduce that either Verino recycled parts from the epos for the vision or viceversa, as many of the verses of one work were reversifications of the other. The same holds true for the intertextual relation between his poems on Christian saints and his later versifcation of the bible, which represented another of the poet’s long term projects.
Two interesting drafts of Verino’s monumental Carlias date to 1480-1481. Its last book contains a long list of Florentine families as soldiers of Charlemagne and refounders of the city of Florence. One might suspect that this is a sign that the poems were destined for the Florentine aristocracy and that a reward was expected from this accumulation of prosperous families. However this long list was already absent in the 1486 version, and would form the foundation of a soon to be finished praise of the city De illustratione urbis Florentiae.
Another work for which Verino was apparently rewarded was the Panegyricus presented to the Spanish King Ferdinand in 1492 to commemorate the siege of Granada. After the news about this event had reached Italy, Verino finished the two books of the poem rather quickly and it was published the very same year. Given the fast production speed, it is little surprising that again a considerable number of verses has already been used previously in the Carlias.
From the case of a (lost) poem in honor of the coronation of Charles VIII, we may assume that Verino had honed his poetic skills to quickly react to such occasions: In his letters he declares that he indeed had written a panegyric of 300 verses about this event with little effort and in short time: “hexametros tercentos dedimus, qui nobis subito calore efluxerunt.” The work was given to the Florentine ambassadors travelling to the coronation of the French king, but it was not commissioned by the Florentine state.
Still in 1507, the Carlias remained a mine of verse on which Verino relied to come up with smaller works which were likely to be rewarded or that helped him cultivating his relation to the Florentine state: Also for his De illustratione urbis Florentiae, the poet clearly borrowed more than one hundred verses previously used in the Carlias.
For his Carlias, Verino will later declare that this work was commissioned in some form by the French king and by the Florentine republic. No other source however confirms this statement. In this work, Verino neither asks the King for support, nor does he make promises to the King. He writes as if he were an offcial representative of his city, praising his city of Florence, its history and its protagonists. We may assume that he himself chose this role, as there is no sign of the Florentine state commissioning the work. This role, uncommissioned as it was, could have been his capital in attaining relationships and reputation. There are good reasons to doubt that Verino was commissioned by Louis IX to write a poem on Charlemagne, as he states in his preface: The new version of the poem was already completed in 1489, years before the descent of Charles VIII. The superb pergament-manuscript conserved in the Biblioteca Riccardiana is clearly meant to be a gift to a French king. The first page of the epic features miniatures of S. Denys, Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and probably Charles VIII together with the french lily.
(Carlias, dedicated to Carlo VIII re di Francia. Gherardo e Monte di Giovanni (miniature). Source: www.palazzostrozzi.it)
It is important to note that the prose preface declaring that the French king and the city of Florence commissioned Verino with this epic was added as a singular folio. In fact, one can assume that the only act of modernizing, updating and designing his poem for dedication to Charles VIII consisted of adding this letter to the work, and recycling an existing corpus of verse. Between the 1486 and 1489 versions, no additional laudatory verses were written on the French kingdom. We are not even entirely sure that the splendid manuscript ever left Florence, as Verino’s biographer states. The author himself hardly ever travelled outside the city.
Out of these reasons it is tempting to assume that the Carlias had no other goal than to create an image of himself as a perpetual poet at work. The fame of a poet working decennies on a heroic epic that can be regarded his real cultural capital; an image in grade of attracting pupils of the highest standing families to be schooled in poetry: We know Verino was a private tutor for illustrious characters like Pietro Crinito and Giovanni di Medici, the later Pope Leo Decimus.
These observations on the Carlias suggest that monetary gain was not the only reward an author of the 15th century could hope to acquire, nor was it the most desirable. Preferable were lasting achievements such as sinecures and or positions in the ecclesiastical or secular administration. Still, one of the most refined goals was the intimate access to a potentate who could guarantee both beneï¬ts combined for an extended period of time.
The numerous works of Ugolino Verino can provide case studies of how an author might respond to different coals with different poems. The case of the Carlias illustrates the role a monumental long-term project, which itself failed to attract substantial compensation in terms of financial wealth, titles or employment, could take within a literary production organised in line with the author’s efficient ‘economics of poetry’, and contribute to both the self-fashioning and the finanical needs of this humanist.
For further reading:
N. Thurn, Kommentar zur Carlias des Ugolino Verino, Munich, 2002.
U. Verino, Carlias, ed. N. Thurn, Munich, 1995.
Ugolini Verini Epigrammi, ed. F. Bausi, Messina, 1998.