Culture, humanism and intellect: Cardinal Bessarion as patron of the arts

Bolick, Laura (2014). Culture, humanism and intellect: Cardinal Bessarion as patron of the arts. PhD thesis The Open University.



To date many scholars seem to have agreed that Cardinal Bessarion was a physical and spiritual exile from Constantinople who sought to preserve his national culture in the alien environment of fifteenth-century Rome. In this thesis I am seeking to re-open the debate about Bessarion's role and aspirations in western Europe as expressed through the mechanism of his cultural projects. I argue that, in his guise as a Roman cardinal, he endeavoured to establish a western identity for himself that furthered his political goals. Though he never rejected his Byzantine roots, the messages he seems to have conveyed through artistic and literary patronage suggest that he was working towards some sort of assimilation into his Italian environment.

By examining key projects that the cardinal patronised I identify strong western characteristics in terms of style and message. His major fresco commission for his burial chapel in SS Apostoli, Rome was executed by Antoniazzo Romano, a local Roman artist, using stylistic and iconographic H vocabularies that were. current in quattrocento Italy. Bessarion then commissioned an icon from the same artist rather than from a Greek icon painter. In the literary sphere we can also recognise an effort to establish a library in the tradition of his Italian peers. And he even dabbled in the western technological advances in printing, becoming one of the first contemporary authors to have his work printed.

This thesis seeks to re-focus a spotlight on Bessarion as an immigrant who was not compelled to leave his native land but who chose to relocate. It is proposed here that the cardinal's cultural projects reflected his efforts to integrate and to succeed in his adopted surroundings.

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