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Laura Battiferri, Psalms

Victoria Kirkham on Laura Battiferri:


The title page of Laura Battiferri’s Seven Penitential Psalms emphasizes in the printer’s hierarchy of type fonts the word “penitential,” isolated on a single line and in larger letters than any other information to greet the reader. Tradition, which the translator follows, attributed these poetic prayers to King David, remorseful for his adultery with Bathsheba. As understood by the community of faithful, David’s voice becomes that of the Christian soul who cries out in sorrow over sin. The book itself is open to the central, fourth Penitential Psalm (Psalm 50), the great “Miserere”: “Have mercy on me, o Lord.”


Significantly, Battiferri first published her Salmi penitentiali in 1564, just a few months after the final session of the Council of Trent, which had been meeting intermittently for nearly twenty years to bring major reforms to the Church. Its decrees define the Catholic Reformation and inaugurate a new climate of religious austerity. Announced as a translation “into the Tuscan language," Battiferri's Psalms immediately place her in the family of the classic Tuscan writers--Dante, Boccaccio, and above all, Petrarch.    


In her translation of the Psalms, Battiferri preserves the original Latin in the margins, and she uses a vocabulary that calls to mind Petrarch’s sonnets. Countless sixteenth-century imitators, including many women, adopted this mode of writing, called Petrarchismo. While the Council of Trent took a position against vernacular translations of the Bible, which flourished in Protestant circles, Battiferri could escape suspicion of heresy by choosing the widely accepted literary vechicle of Petrarchismo.


Finally, a sequence of “spiritual sonnets” rounds out Battiferri’s volume. These poems were circulating in manuscript by 1561, as we can deduce from a letter written that year by her husband, the sculptor and architect Bartolomeo Ammannati. First to receive them, tucked into the back of a copy of her Petrarchan lyric anthology, was Ammannati’s mentor and a family friend, Michelangelo


A native of Urbino, Laura Battiferri was born illegitimately to a pre-Reformation churchman and his concubine. Her wealthy father, a Vatican cleric, provided her with a humanist education. In correspondence with the most celebrated poets and artists of her day, she lived all her life in court circles. This realm of privilege, both intellectual and social, explains the high station of the nuns she choses as recipients of her Psalms.




Victoria Kirkham, Professor Emerita of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania, studied at Wellesley College, the University of Illinois, and Johns Hopkins. Among her honors are fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies in Florence, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation.  Her publications include books and articles on Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, and Italian cinema, as well as the edition with commentary Laura Battiferra and Her Literary Circle: An Anthology (University of Chicago, 2006).



Case 4 -- Marguerite de Navarre >>>

Bible. O.T. Psalms. Italian. Selections. 1566. Florence, 1566

Bible. O.T. Psalms. Italian. Selections. 1566. Florence, 1566


Audio Stop: Victoria Kirkham on Laura Battiferri

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