Lina Bolzoni. The Gallery of Memory: Literary and Iconographic Models in the Age of the Printing Press. Trans. Jeremy Parzen. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2001. xxv+332pp. ISBN 0 8020 4330 5.

Peter Kanelos
University of San Diego

Kanelos, Peter. "Review of Lina Bolzoni. The Gallery of Memory: Literary and Iconographic Models in the Age of the Printing Press. Trans. Jeremy Parzen." Early Modern Literary Studies 11.3 (January, 2006):13.1-7<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-3/revbolz.htm>.

  1. The subject of memory in the early modern period seems to elicit studies of significant ambition and scope. Frances Yates (The Art of Memory), Paolo Rossi (Logic and the Art of Memory), and Mary Carruthers (The Book of Memory, The Craft of Thought) have each brought back into focus the artificial memory systems of the Middles Ages and Renaissance that had faded from sight in our modern and post-modern milieu. Like her predecessors, Lina Bolzoni attempts to reconstruct a world in which a figure such as Giulio Camillo can not only fabricate a Theatre of Memory, in which all knowledge is said to be contained and made accessible, but where such practice brings renown, even celebrity. Yet whereas Yates, Rossi and Carruthers focus their attention primarily on the memory treatises and techniques of the high practitioners of these arts, Bolzoni illustrates how the arts of memory filtered out into the broader, vernacular culture.

  2. Bolzoni begins with the Accademia Veneziana, founded by Federico Badoer in 1557. The most ambitious project of this academy, the Somma, was published in 1558; it was intended to be a universal catalogue of human knowledge. The Accademia evinced both Neoplatonic and hermetic leanings, and Bolzoni shows how the structure of the Somma, like other encyclopedic works of the period, was modeled on artificial systems of memory, utilizing loci, order and images to organize its contents. The premise on which the structure of the work is grounded, the same premise on which artificial memory systems were constructed, is that in making knowledge visible, it is made accessible. Underlying this notion is the belief that the cosmos itself is ordered according to distinct patterns, and that in arranging personal memory, and in turn cultural memory, in a manner that increasingly sensitive to the greater order, those patterns can be uncovered.

  3. Bolzoni then illustrates how this visual, patterning impulse was widespread, producing machines of rhetoric, trees, graphs, diagrams, tables, wheels and charts of knowledge, used to script sermons and even compose poetry. All useful composition was believed (by figures such as Orazio Toscanella, Francesco Panigarola, and Federico Borromeo) to be re-composition, an endless recombining of knowledge to produce texts that are in complicated dialogue with one another. Taking the subject further, Bolzoni discusses the complex memory "games" of this period. Ciphers and rebuses were used to break down texts and to reorganize them according to schema that would make them more memorable. Alphabets were constructed in the shapes of workmen's tools or the human body. Grotesque illustrations fixed attention and jarred remembrance. Complex works, like Sigismondo Fanti's Triompho di Fortuna, acted as a sort of hyper-text, leading the reader on a non-linear journey from illustrated table to illustrated table, collecting stanzas of poetry along the way to answer a question that the reader originally posed.

  4. From its earliest roots, the art of memory was predicated on the belief that visual images were literally imprinted on the mind. Bolzoni thus explores the effect of the mechanical printing press, a technology that both replicates and replaces the process of memory, on remembrance. Her discussion of the interplay of the technologies of printing and the evolving notion of memory, however, feels like it could be taken further, particularly given the book's subtitle. Bolzoni points as well towards outward manifestations -- the portraits that accompanied Giorgio Vasari's biographies, the collections of Albert V, Duke of Bavaria -- that were adjunct to the interior process of remembrance. The art of memory and the attendant activities it inspired, she argues, ultimately must not be dismissed as game-play or chicanery. In the early modern period, one's memory was held to be not simply a depository of information and experience, but a faculty of critical import. Memory informed the process of inventio; it provided the material for the rational and creative processes, and thus circumscribed their potential. It helped turn the chaotic forest of experience into a well-ordered library, providing access to knowledge, and, underlying this, it was believed, ingress to wisdom.

    5. At times Bolzoni's book could benefit from some of the architectural structuring advocated by the art of memory; the topics that she covers do not always cohere into a greater whole. Yet by calling our attention to the rich complexity of the phenomenon of artificial memory in the early modern period, and by establishing a matrix by which we might better understand the ethos behind its methods, Bolzoni serves her field in exemplary fashion, fully in the tradition of Yates, Rossi and Carruthers.

    Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk

2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).