Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.06.17

Mario Rosa, Stefano Bruni (ed.), Symbolae Antiquariae 1 - 2008.   Pisa/Roma:  Fabrizio Serra, 2008.  Pp. 219.  ISBN 19726538.  

Reviewed by William Stenhouse, Yeshiva University (
Word count: 871 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This is the first volume of a new journal devoted to the history of the study of antiquities. As the editors Mario Rosa and Stefano Bruni point out, this is a field that falls between disciplines with the result that relevant contributions are scattered far and wide. Symbolae antiquariae, then, is an attempt to provide a venue for work on antiquarianism from a variety of perspectives. This volume includes four substantial essays related to the Florentine Anton Francesco Gori (1691-1757). Gori was one of the cogs around which eighteenth century learned culture in Europe, Italy, and particularly Tuscany, turned. He was a priest, corresponded widely, wrote poems, edited others' work, founded a learned society (the Accademia Colombaria), and at one time owned Galileo's index finger, now in the Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence. His most famous passion, though, was the study of antiquities, and his best-known contributions, in his lifetime and now, were to the study of Etruscan objects and language. For so productive and famous a scholar, Gori was poor and, unusually, well liked: the abbé Barthélemy described him as "le meilleur homme du monde, sans passion, sans jalousie, et sans argent; respectable par ses moeurs et ses travaux universellment respecté des étrangers et de ses compatriotes. . . Si vous le connoissier, vous l'aimeriez." Rosa and Bruni claim with some justification this prominent, sympathetic, and prolific figure of the early Italian Enlightenment as an inspiration and fitting starting-point for their project.

Gori is hardly unknown: there is no recent biography, but a recent collection of papers devoted to his correspondence offers a useful introduction.1 The four essays here do not pretend to offer an overview of his life or his contributions to the study of antiquity but rather examine particular aspects of his scholarship and his place in the world of eighteenth-century letters. Stefano Bruni begins by rejecting the conventional claim that Gori was the model for the pedantic and deluded Conte Anselmo Terrazzani in Carlo Goldoni's comedy La Famiglia dell'antiquario; the modest Gori, whom Goldoni admired, was too well-regarded for such an identification to hold water. In the second half of his piece, Bruni goes on to examine Gori's position in erudite Europe more generally, by considering the comments of his correspondents and the reputation of his works. This section, which illuminates the creation and reception of Gori's works on antiquities -- most notably the Museum Etruscum (1736-43) and the Museum Florentinum (1731-62), but also his early essay on the columbarium of the liberti of Livia (1727) and reports on the discovery of Herculaneum (1748) -- will be of particular interest to readers of this journal. Cristina Cagianelli considers some other scholarly responses to, and posthumous comments on Gori (not all of them quite as favorable as that of Barthélemy). Cagianelli also discusses the dispersion of Gori's own antiquities, which can now be read in conjunction with Clara Gambaro's independent study of Gori's collection.2 Bruno Gialluca examines Gori's relationship with one particular correspondent, Louis Bourguet, and the two men's discussion of the Etruscans and their language. Bourguet, who was based in Neuchâtel, had the linguistic expertise and a pioneering understanding of the Etruscan alphabet, Gori the access to the antiquities, and for a time the two regularly shared information and ideas in the 1730s. At one point Bourguet tired of providing interpretations of Etruscan inscriptions for Gori's Museum Etruscum, and told Gori as much; but happily their connection did not end completely. After a break of a year, they continued to write to one another on and off until 1741. Finally, Miriam Fileti Mazza considers the history of the Museo Fiorentino project after Gori's death. All essays are thoughtful and thorough, and collectively provide a wealth of information about both Gori and his milieu.

The recent burst of interest in classical traditions and receptions has largely bypassed studies of antiquarianism and the history of studying material remains. Rosa's and Bruni's effort to establish this attractively-produced journal for work in these areas is to be commended. This first issue provides an important series of studies about Gori. It is both well-documented (all the essays have extensive footnotes, Cagianelli includes a transcription of Gori's will, and Gialluca of the letters between Gori and Bourguet that he discusses) and easy to refer to (there is a full index and subscribers can access a pdf of the whole volume). Whether it will persuade classicists of the benefits of studying antiquities' receptions is less clear; the volume's prosopographical theme, and discussion of some of Gori's activities without immediate relevance to his study of the classical past, may confirm prejudices about the nature of antiquarian study rather than remove them. This would be a pity given the weight of the scholarship in this issue and the potential interest of the field.

Stefano Bruni, "Anton Francesco Gori, Carlo Goldoni e La Famiglia dell'antiquario. Una precisazione," 11-69
Cristina Cagianelli, "La scomparsa di Anton Francesco Gori fra cordoglio, tributi di stima e veleni," 71-119
Bruno Gialluca, "Anton Francesco Gori e la sua corrispondenza con Louis Bourguet," 121-181
Miriam Fileti Mazza, "Riletture e fortuna del Museo Fiorentino nelle carte della gestione della Galleria mediceo-lorenese," 183-202


1.   C. De Benedictis and M. G. Marzi (eds), L'epistolario di Anton Francesco Gori. Saggi critici, antologia delle lettere e indice dei mittenti (Florence: 2004).
2.   C. Gambaro, Anton Francesco Gori collezionista: Formazione e dispersione della raccolta di antichità (Florence: 2008). See also Cagianelli's earlier study, "La collezione di antichitá di Anton Francesco Gori. I materiali, la dispersione e alcuni recuperi," Atti e memorie dell'Accademia Toscana di Scienze e Lettere La Colombaria, 71 (2006): 99-167.

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