Importing Italian Culture


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Fragment of Petrarch’s tunic, 14th century
Cloth fragment in wooden case
Handwritten caption: “Brano della tunica di F. Petrarca da una tolta dall urna
il 24 maggio 1843 quando la restaurai,” signed by Count Carlo Leoni
Petrarch Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections,
Cornell University Library


In the chapter “The Modern Idea of Fame” of his monumental The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, Jakob Burckhardt mentions the cult of artists as one of the distinctive features of the Renaissance: “It was a point of honor for the different cities to possess the bones of their celebrities… Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, or the jurist Zanobi Della Strada, had magnificent tombs erected to them…”
Petrarch’s tomb in Arqua (Veneto region, Italy) was broken open in 1630 by a deranged monk who stole some arm bones. In 1843, archeologist Count Leoni funded the restoration of the abandoned monument. It was officially opened on May 24, 1843, and the body examined. Leoni’s Memorie petrarchesche contains an illustration showing the skeleton, complete with a reference to “la tunica nera,” his black tunic, but of course there is no mention of the fact that Leoni had stolen a tiny piece of it, which was subsequently acquired by Daniel Willard Fiske, Cornell's first University Librarian, and then given to Cornell Library, where it was “rediscovered” in 2009 by the curators of this exhibition.