The Italian Piazza Transformed
Parma in the Communal Age
The Italian Piazza Transformed
Parma in the Communal Age
“There is no doubt that this is a significant contribution to the field . . . an exemplary presentation of extremely complex historical processes. The scholarship is formidable.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
The Italian Piazza Transformed is the winner of the 2013 Howard R. Marraro prize for the best work in Italian Catholic history from the American Catholic Historical Association.
Moreover, Marina establishes that the piazzas’ orderly contours, dramatic open spaces, and monumental buildings were more than grand backdrops to civic ritual. Parma’s squares were also agents in the production of the city-state’s mechanisms of control. They deployed brick, marble, and mortar according to both ancient Roman and contemporary courtly modes to create a physical embodiment of the modern, syncretic authority of the city’s leaders. By weaving together traditional formal and iconographic approaches with newer concepts of the symbolic, social, and political meanings of urban space, Marina reframes the complex relationship between late medieval Italy’s civic culture and the carefully crafted piazzas from which it emerged.
“There is no doubt that this is a significant contribution to the field . . . an exemplary presentation of extremely complex historical processes. The scholarship is formidable.”
“[The Italian Piazza Transformed] has value on many levels. First, the story of the development of these piazzas is well told, and is supported by clear, abundant diagrams and photographs. One can begin to visualize the evolving spatial order. Second, the lessons that can be drawn from this story are important ones for cities in Italy in the coming centuries and in some ways for all cities across time. Through the discussions of the way the development of these piazzas related to the emerging ecclesiastical and communal roles, one can begin to understand how political power and social values relate to urban space. Third, the book describes and exemplifies first-rate scholarship. The text describes the methodologies and challenges of historical inquiry. The book contains excellent, informative appendixes, extensive and enriching notes, a thorough bibliography, and a detailed index. Given its various assets, this volume should appeal to scholars in various fields, and should find a welcome place in many academic libraries.”
“The Italian Piazza Transformed makes an extremely valuable empirical advance in Italian urban studies. Marina’s careful reconstruction, through historical texts and site surveys, of the development of . . . important Parmesan sites places their study on new foundations. She also offers a model of how open space in an urban fabric can be rigorously studied. One can only hope others will follow the stimulating lead Marina pioneers in this book.”
“Marina’s highly developed method of processing, analyzing, and organizing disparate spatial, historical, and representational systems not only makes an important contribution to contemporary debates about urban design, but would also have been immediately recognized and greatly appreciated by her medieval forebears.”
“In this splendidly illustrated, intelligently designed, and elegantly written book, Areli Marina establishes herself as a leading new voice in medieval Italian urbanistic studies.”
Areli Marina is Assistant Professor of Architectural History, Art History, and Medieval Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
List of Illustrations
About the Reconstruction Diagrams
Part I: The Production of Order
1 (Re)constructing the Piazza del Duomo
2 (Re)constructing the Communal Piazza
Part II: The Piazza and Public Life
3 The Legislation of Order
4 The Eloquent Piazza
Epilogue: Parma’s Spatial Practice Compared
I: On Measurement, Module, and Geometry in Medieval Parma
II: The Communal Buildings of Parma: Evidence and Interpretation
III: Salimbene de Adam’s Account of Parma’s Late Thirteenth-Century Architectural Projects
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, cities dispersed across Italy’s Lombard plain achieved political independence and transformed their urban centers in rapid succession (fig. 1). In Parma, a midsized city sited in the plain’s heartland, between superpowers Milan and Bologna, the ruling elites created two magnificent civic squares framed by nine imposing new structures, including a freestanding baptistery, two bell towers, and six palaces, between 1196 and 1296 (fig. 2). These spaces survive today as the Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Garibaldi (figs. 3 and 4). Parma achieved this remarkable transformation in unlikely circumstances, as the thirteenth century was marked by continual civil disorder, sporadic famine, military and diplomatic confrontations with international powers, and frequent intercity warfare.
In this study, I demonstrate that planners in Parma employed rational, geometric principles to transform the city’s urban core. In part I, I analyze the thirteenth-century development of Parma’s two most important public spaces from heterogeneous assemblages to harmonious ensembles. I conclude that both the episcopal and communal squares were carefully crafted environments pervaded by order and animated by the desire to produce panoptic vistas of the major monuments defining the sites’ perimeters.
The form and fortunes of Parma’s two principal medieval squares intertwined with the political and urbanistic agendas of the city’s dominant political factions. The piazzas gave physical shape to their embattled patrons’ political imaginations. This statement flies in the face of two commonplace (if gradually abating) misconceptions about Italian medieval urbanism. Parma’s piazzas were neither the ad hoc agglomerations of buildings that medieval urban projects have historically been characterized as being—a point already eloquently made by Marvin Trachtenberg and therefore needing no further explication here—nor merely unproblematic, collective expressions of communal pride, although the exaltation of local, civic prestige was certainly part of the equation.
In part II, I reintegrate the real, physical space of the two piazzas produced in the course of the thirteenth century with the ideological space of their patrons. I do not aim to explain the formal and iconographic choices of the sites’ builders by recourse to some ephemeral spirit of the age, but to provide the modern viewer with sufficient cues of Italian Duecento culture to decode the visual and cultural language inscribed in the squares. I cannot achieve a seamless narrative, even if one were desirable; there are too many fissures in the historical fabric. My goal is to weave together sufficient strands to reveal the sites’ semantics.
This study differs from other works on medieval Italian architecture and urbanism in three ways. First, I center my inquiry on urban space, rather than focus on isolated buildings. Urban landscape and architecture, figure and ground, are examined together. Second, I consistently seek not only to reconstruct the two sites’ period form but also to recapture their practical and symbolic function and their place in the production of civic consciousness. Third, I demonstrate that the political and artistic leaders of the pioneering commune of Parma engaged in deliberate, geometrically idealizing urban design a century before the patrons of the better-known Tuscan piazzas were born. Although the cultural and urbanistic revival of Italy was pioneered by the communes of the Lombard plain, such as Parma, the intriguing relationship between their civic life and the carefully crafted physical setting from which it emerged has received little attention. The impulse that gave shape to the Italian piazza also shaped the emerging idea of the city-state.
A Tale of Two Cities: The Civitas and the Urbs
“A city (civitas) is a multitude of people united by a bond of community, named for its ‘citizens’ (civis), that is, from the residents of the city (urbs). . . . Now urbs (also “city”) is the name for the actual buildings, while civitas is not the stones, but the inhabitants.” So Isidore of Seville begins the chapter on public buildings in his encyclopedic collection of all human knowledge, the Etymologies. Isidore’s seventh-century compendium remained, after the books of the Bible, the best-known and most influential text in western Europe throughout the Middle Ages. The view Isidore presents of two coeval and interwoven systems, the city as social network (civitas) and the city as physical phenomenon (urbs), encapsulates medieval understanding of the city. Modern scholarship on the medieval city, however, has tended to divorce the civitas from the urbs, forming two discrete discourses, one on the social, economic, and institutional history of the city and another on its material manifestation.
This dichotomy presents special problems for students of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Italy and the urban transformations undertaken by communal governments, clerical authorities, and wealthy citizens. Historians, seeking to recapture the civitas, continually refer to this building boom as the material expression of its patrons’ power and authority. However, they seldom elucidate with any specificity how these ideas were given visual form. Indeed, many accounts give the impression that it does not matter whether the structures that housed the new communal governments were brick, wood, or stone, had arcaded or trabeated loggias, or were crowned by battlements or plain roofs. Authors state that new town squares functioned as stages for civic ritual, but seldom pause to analyze those spatial arrangements. Thus, although architecture and urban renewal are frequently invoked as essential ingredients in the formation of the political culture of Italy’s medieval communes, few historians have attempted to explain how these new building ensembles and spaces incarnated its notions of authority or how the new shape of the city encoded its political aspirations.
By contrast, when analyzing Italy’s medieval architectural and urbanistic culture, art historians have concentrated their attention on formal questions, architectural authorship, the characterization and development of period styles, or monographic studies of individual buildings, architects, or patrons. There are few book-length studies on medieval Italian cities as architectural environments, and those do not necessarily explore how their architectural culture shapes and expresses their distinct civic culture. In other words, the relationship between the urbs (the physical city) and the civitas (the social entity) remains inadequately explored by modern scholars. Because of their formative role in medieval urban culture, north Italy’s new piazzas are fruitful terrain in which to examine this question. Parma’s middling size and disproportionately large political importance in the Middle Ages, as well as its relatively well-preserved and documented piazzas, make it an ideal case study. I set out to ask—and answer—what seem to me the fundamental art-historical questions about Parma’s medieval squares: Why do these buildings and sites exist? Why were they made this way? Why do they look the way they do? How do they work, or, in other words, how were they understood by their principal audiences? In doing so, I uncover an approach to understanding the form of the urbs that benefits from its symbiosis with the civitas.
I mined four bodies of material to develop answers to these questions. The first was the physical evidence of the sites themselves. Even in their fragmented form, Parma’s great piazzas still have much to tell about their original and evolving material history to the patient and attentive viewer. The second was the body of contemporary primary literature composed in Parma or relating to Parma. My reconstruction of Parma’s political, social, and artistic circumstances at the time of its urbanistic transformation emerges from this heterogeneous mass of chronicles, legislative statutes, notarial documents, poems, papal bulls, imperial decrees, and inscriptions. (Though by its very nature this evidence captures the experience of a small, elite fraction of the Parmesan population and relegates the ordinary inhabitants to the sidelines, it is precisely this elite segment that masterminded the piazzas and constituted its most significant audience.) The third was the small but revealing group of historical representations of the city. These include maps, surveys, prints, mural paintings, sculpture, and historical photographs from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. Although visual representations of buildings and places are never unproblematic documents, they can, when used in combination and checked against other evidence, provide information unobtainable elsewhere about the sites’ past appearance. Finally, aspects of the secondary literature on late medieval western European civilization, including Parma and northern Italy, informed my analysis of Parma’s political and visual culture. Together, these materials enabled me to understand the conditions that resulted in the piazzas’ formation, to develop a clear view of their building history, to analyze the conceptual approaches that underlie their design and ornamentation, and to see them with “period eyes.”
Analyzing Urban Space
Although the overall composition of Parma’s medieval communal and episcopal squares survives, the sites have undergone several modifications in the intervening centuries. I used two key procedures to recapture their period appearance and to develop a credible theory of their place in civic consciousness. The first was to treat the space of the piazzas with as much rigor and attention as the buildings shaping their perimeter and therefore to place urban space at the center of inquiry. I addressed the urban landscape and architecture together, seeing them as parts of a larger whole. The traditional art-historical approach of singling out the individual monument skews the results, negates the close interrelationships between buildings and their sites, and obscures the importance of shaped open space within the city. I paid particular attention to points of connection between buildings and between buildings and site—that is, materials, proportional systems, formal vocabulary—and to the physical, spatial relationships between them. At the core of my study was firsthand examination of the sites. I considered the forms of the spaces, the scale and shapes of the buildings framing them, the materials in evidence now, their relationship to the city fabric around them, and current traffic patterns. To capture the sites’ forms, I gathered the best available surveys—those used by the city of Parma in the conduct of its public works. Eventually, I commissioned even more detailed surveys of the two piazzas; these were carried out in collaboration with architects Michela Rossi and Cecilia Tedeschi of the School of Architecture of the University of Parma. In addition to documenting the plans of the two squares, the survey measured the elevations of the main building facades along their perimeters.
I supplemented these graphic representations of the sites with extensive photographic documentation and examination of surviving historic views, including early modern maps and prints from Parma’s Archivio di Stato, the Archivio Storico Comunale, the Biblioteca Palatina, and private collections. A survey of textual sources complemented my study of the sites and their visual representations. Primary sources that were invaluable in reconstructing the piazzas’ building chronology, form, and function include the Chronicon Parmense (fourteenth century), the chronicle of Salimbene de Adam (thirteenth century), the four sets of medieval statutes of Parma (thirteenth to fourteenth centuries), and the Liber iurium communis Parme (twelfth to fourteenth centuries). Most apparent contradictions in the primary sources were resolved by going back and forth between the written sources, the visual sources, and the evidence provided by the current form of the piazzas, with one aspect informing and inflecting the conclusions reached by another approach. This integrated strategy constitutes the second key to elucidating Parma’s medieval piazzas.
I was guided by three useful historical studies on medieval Parma and its urban form: Ireneo Affò’s eighteenth-century history of medieval Parma, Marco Pellegri’s essay “Parma medievale: Dai Carolingi agli Sforza,” in Parma: La città storica (1978), and Juergen Schulz’s 1982 article “The Communal Buildings of Parma.” Although it was written in the eighteenth century, Affò’s history remains the most detailed treatment of Parma during the thirteenth century. Pellegri’s essay, based on the state of research at the time of publication and intended for an audience of nonspecialists, provides an accessible chronological overview of Parma’s urbanistic history between the eighth and the fifteenth centuries. Schulz’s groundbreaking study of the history of the communal buildings of Parma, which rectifies several misunderstandings in the buildings’ chronology, greatly facilitated my work by introducing me to Parma’s basic historiography and providing a point of departure for my own interpretations. I supplemented these principal secondary sources with a myriad of specialized treatments of different aspects of the history of Parma and the Lombard plain.
My method was informed by the work of other scholars engaged in the study of medieval Italian urbanism. Models in the use of primary sources to elucidate and interpret the medieval city include Francesca Bocchi and Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan. David Friedman’s analysis of the towns founded by Florence in the fourteenth century alerted me to the importance and subtleties of overall composition and geometrically derived design. Trachtenberg’s examinations of urban space in Florence reminded me to think of the two piazzas of Parma as three-dimensional artifacts with a distinct materiality, not as two-dimensional plans. Alick McLean’s attentiveness to the uses of Prato’s Piazza della Pieve heightened my sensitivity to the ways in which ritual animates public space. Like theirs, my project derived from the conviction that buildings and public spaces are shaped by human enterprise to advance human agendas. Societies produce social spaces for their own self-presentation and representation, as Henri Lefebvre has argued. As material embodiments of these social spaces, Parma’s piazzas are ripe for art-historical investigation. To date, scholars have pursued the identification, dating, construction history, and, occasionally, iconography of the individual structures bordering Parma’s medieval piazzas without considering the implications of these findings within the larger, spatio-visual system of the piazza and the town, or as an expression of the patrons’ and planners’ spatial practice at a specific moment in time. What I undertake in this study is the reconciliation of these two approaches.
I faced two major challenges in carrying out this analysis of Parma’s urban space. The first was the fragmented state of research on Parma’s medieval buildings. While some buildings and sites attract repeated attention, such as the baptistery and cathedral, others are virtually unknown. Furthermore, the existing scholarship is often limited to discussions of dating, style, and authorship. The dearth of archaeological evidence compounds these limitations. Since Parma’s two great medieval piazzas remain at the center of a vibrant, modern city, their continuous habitation has altered their historical form and renders archaeological investigation difficult. The second challenge was the lack of a modern historical study of thirteenth-century Parma. Reinhold Schumann’s analysis of the formation of the Parmesan commune extends only to the early twelfth century; Roberto Greci’s studies of the city’s economic history begin in the late fourteenth. Most specialized historical treatments of Parma concentrate either on its perceived heyday, when the city was the capital of the Farnese duchy of Parma and Piacenza (1545–1735), or on the modern period (especially 1814–47). The gap is partially filled by heterogeneous studies of narrow subjects, a tradition begun by the antiquarian scholars of the nineteenth century and continuing today.
The approaches outlined above helped me to overcome these barriers. Excessive or exclusive reliance on one or another type of data could have distorted my view, but using them together resulted in a system of checks and balances that enhanced the accuracy of the project. Used in constant dialogue with one another, these methods continually reminded me of the sites’ temporality and their dialectical nature and enabled me gradually to shape a plausible narrative of their development. Careful study of visual and textual historical sources and painstaking analysis of the sites—including photographic and graphic representation and measurement—can, in combination, enable the diligent scholar to reconstruct a hypothetical building history of the medieval city and recapture its urban image of itself.
Parma in the Middle Ages
Parma’s patrons and builders did not begin construction of Parma’s medieval piazzas on a tabula rasa. At the end of the twelfth century, Parma retained the underlying urban system that had organized the city at least since the first century B.C.E. Despite Paul the Deacon’s well-known eighth-century statements to the contrary, the urban infrastructure of the Roman world had not entirely vanished from the peninsula. Parma had been one of several Roman colonies along the via Emilia, the consular road that traversed the Po River plain, linking its fertile fields to the Adriatic ports. It was founded on the east bank of the Parma torrent (a tributary of the Po) in 183 B.C.E. and resettled in Augustan times. Like many other Roman colonies, Parma had an orthogonal street plan oriented to the cardinal points, and a rectangular forum at the intersection of the colony’s cardo maximus (running north–south, corresponding to the modern via Farini and via Cavour) and decumanus maximus (which ran east–west and coincided with the intramural course of the via Emilia, fig. 5). A stone bridge spanned the Parma, linking the colony’s decumanus to the extramural, western path of the consular road. A rectangular fortification marked the boundaries of the city, though it comprised earthworks and palisades rather than masonry walls until late antiquity, when a proper enceinte was built. By late antiquity, four fortified gates pierced the masonry walls built along the city’s Roman perimeter, one at each end of the intramural paths of the via Emilia and cardo maximus. When the city grew beyond them, these fortifications were not systematically dismantled but rather incorporated into surrounding structures.
When the medieval city eventually expanded beyond its Roman boundaries, the colony’s orthogonal grid and major thoroughfares remained the backdrop against which later nodes and landmarks were established, although the city’s original Roman pavements and buildings were long buried, minor Roman streets were overtaken by expanding city blocks, and diagonal or serpentine paths cut across former Roman insulae (fig. 6). By the eleventh century, two major canals traditionally attributed to Theodoric’s patronage carried water into the city from the Apennine foothills—the Canale Maggiore traveled along the city’s eastern Roman boundary, while the Canale Comune flanked the cardo maximus (fig. 7). An additional navigable waterway, the Naviglio, connected the city to the Taro River, about 7 kilometers west. When a terrible flood in 1177 deviated the course of the Parma westward, leaving the Roman bridge high and dry, another soon replaced it nearby (first in wood, again in stone after 1207–10). The pebbly former riverbed, or glarea, was repurposed as a marketplace, and merchants appropriated the ancient stone structure, turning it into shops (and eventually adopting its image as the seal of their guild). Upstream, an additional wooden bridge supplemented the via Emilia traverse. At the southeastern edge of town, another Roman survival enjoyed a prestigious afterlife. By 1162, an imperial palace for Frederick I Barbarossa occupied part of the city’s former amphitheater (fig. 8); it was known as the Palazzo dell’Arena. Although by the twelfth century the city had sprouted suburbs to the north, east, and west and new, more expansive fortifications to defend them, by 1169 only ecclesiastical buildings challenged the still-standing earlier circuit of walls, bridges, and imperial palace for prominence in the cityscape.
The most significant among these were the cathedral, canonry, and bishop’s residence constituting the episcopal compound and located inside the northern boundary of the Roman city. Regardless of the precise positions of predecessor structures, most scholars agree that by the late twelfth century the present cathedral church dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption faced a turreted bishop’s palace whose footprint coincides with part of the larger, extant Palazzo del Vescovado. Several important monasteries anchored the newly enclosed suburbs. The powerful Benedictine abbey of San Giovanni (founded 980) and convent of San Paolo (by 1000) occupied large tracts of land to the north; another group of Benedictines established the convent of Sant’Uldarico (c. 1000), which stood near the city’s southernmost gate. But smaller religious foundations could also be found in the heart of Parma, such as the convent of Sant’Alessandro (by 835), sited near the pre-1177 eastern bank of the torrent, and the churches of San Pietro (955) and San Vitale (972), located respectively near the western and eastern edges of the former forum. The most important families and institutions clustered opportunistically around the major morphological elements of the ancient city and the newer Christian institutions: near the city gates, around the cathedral and important monasteries, and along the busiest streets. Extant Roman building materials both commonplace (recycled bricks) and exalted (sculpted and colored marbles) were reused by Parma’s medieval inhabitants. Similarly, the surviving remains of Roman law and political and literary thought were mined by Italy’s late medieval population to produce a distinctive social and political urban culture. As Philip Jones has observed: “In Italy as nowhere else city and city-commune were seen and felt to re-embody the ancient civitas . . . because here, as nowhere else, by force of ancient custom . . . all races and classes had preserved the Latin habit of urbanity.”
Despite their common Roman heritage, the Lombard plain in the High Middle Ages was a markedly different world from the late medieval Tuscan environment more familiar to Anglophone art historians. Since Jones’s trenchant 1978 article on the “legend of the bourgeoisie,” a preponderance of historians have accepted that the engine driving political and economic change in twelfth- and thirteenth-century northern Italy was not some imaginary burgeoning merchant class but rather the increasingly independent and affluent landed nobility. However, the elegant model proposed by Henri Pirenne fifty years earlier, in which political and social privilege are acquired by international merchants who then transform the cities, continues to haunt the art-historical literature on Italian urbanism. While this model is valid for some northern European cities and perhaps even a few of the Tuscan and maritime cities of Italy, it does not fit Parma’s circumstances or, indeed, those of the dense network of cities of the Lombard plain. Unlike the Tuscan cities in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Parma was never a mercantile republic; power in medieval Parma was held closely by a small band of aristocrats whose authority derived from military might and whose revenues originated in the region’s lavish agricultural resources.
The prosopographical investigations undertaken by political historians and antiquarians for Parma reveal that although the urban elite continually fractured into new political alliances throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it was nonetheless ideologically and socially homogeneous. It had its origins in the region’s imperial and clerical aristocracy. More like their ancient Roman ancestors than the fourteenth-century merchant-princes and burghers to whom they are often compared, Parma’s oligarchs were urban dwellers whose economic power originated in the revenues of their lands in the countryside. Their political power emanated from the traditional jurisdictions accompanying those lands, the administrative, diplomatic, and juridical skills associated with their fruitful management, and their individual and collective military might. These lords, whether secular or ecclesiastical, resided in the city, although they had jurisdiction over lands of diverse origins—received in association with a particular office, granted to them in exchange for services, inherited from their ancestors, or seized by military conquest.
On the eve of the thirteenth century, Parma’s urban elite comprised members of about twenty families, of which three—the Rossi, the da Correggio, and the Sanvitale—towered over the rest in prestige and influence. When the political system that had supported the dominion of the counts and bishops of Parma from the ninth to the twelfth centuries collapsed as part of the erosion of imperial authority in Italy, these families filled the political vacuum, either through the preexisting but evolving offices of the church or by means of new communal societies organized by the elite families themselves. Through coalition, noble clans could gain the strength to effectively challenge the authority of imperial overlords and their local representatives and achieve independence.
In Parma, as throughout northern Italy, these communal associations were headed at first by members of the local urban elite—the so-called consular aristocracy. However, conflicts of interest resulting from a local’s administration of the communal government occasioned a change in practice. By the end of the twelfth century, communal councils usually elected as their executive officer a foreigner instead of a neighbor and fellow citizen, in the hope of controlling corruption and civil unrest. The commune’s executive office, that of podesta, and later also the offices of rector and military captain (or capitano) demanded men in whom administrative and juridical experience were coupled with substantial personal authority. The persons elected to fill these roles in Parma were typically members of the elites of other north Italian cities, particularly those with whom Parma’s ruling class was in political sympathy. For a north Italian male, holding an executive office in a foreign city was both a sign and a source of personal prestige and substantial income.
Members of Parma’s top families were distinguished from their peers elsewhere by holding a disproportionate number of offices in other Italian cities, as Olivier Guyotjeannin’s groundbreaking investigations show. Only much larger cities such as Bologna and Milan outstripped Parma’s high level of “exportations” of citizens to serve as officers elsewhere. This phenomenon demonstrates the exalted social regard in which Parma’s elites were held. The Rossi and the da Correggio lineages outdistanced their Parmesan peers: together, they accounted for more than a third of Parma’s exported officers and for the largest number of appointments in prestigious cities, such as Bologna, Florence, and Genoa. This renown was also in evidence locally. From the beginning of Parma’s communal age, the Rossi were closely involved with the commune’s leadership. The clan’s founder, Rolando (or Orlando) il Rosso was consul and then podesta of Parma repeatedly in the middle third of the twelfth century; his grandson, another Rolando, served as Parma’s podesta in 1180, 1182, and 1201, and rector in 1198. Their relatives Alberto, Bernardo, Gherardo, Orlando, and Sigifredo Rossi likewise occupied many Parmesan communal offices in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Unlike in Florence, aristocratic involvement in the commune survived the brief local heyday of the popolo, whose political organization the more politically experienced noble clans promptly took over. Gherardo da Corregio served as podesta of Parma in 1238 and 1247. His son Guido was capitano del popolo in 1285. And Guido’s son Giberto (or Gilberto) attained lordship over the city in 1303. Although the Sanvitale held Parmesan communal offices from time to time, the clan did not express its political eros principally via communal involvement within Parma. Instead, members chose to exploit church institutions as a springboard for their political aspirations. Alberto and Òbizzo Sanvitale held the office of bishop of Parma from 1243 to 1295; Bishop Òbizzo’s brother Anselmo was first canon, then provost of the cathedral chapter. The Sanvitale, Rossi, and Fieschi lineages controlled the bishopric of Parma continuously from 1194 to 1375. Their hold on the cathedral chapter was nearly as strong—for example, in 1280 the canons of the chapter included three Sanvitale, two Rossi, and one Fieschi. It is important to note that every important Parmesan clan had several members who, whether or not they also held religious or communal office, distinguished themselves at feats of arms as well as reading the political winds. Gherardo da Correggio took the field both on behalf of Emperor Frederick II, at Cortenuova in 1237, and against him, at Borghetto di Taro in 1247. Gherardo was on the winning side both times.
The glory of Parma’s ruling classes extended beyond the Lombard plain. Members of Parma’s elite mingled with the most influential circles of European society. For many years, Bernardo di Rolando Rossi was an intimate of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. The Sanvitale and, to a lesser extent, the Rossi were related by kinship ties to Pope Innocent IV (Sinibaldo Fieschi), who had served as canon of Parma’s cathedral. Innocent IV’s nephew Ottobono Fieschi, also a canon of Parma, was elected Pope Adrian V in 1276, although he died shortly after taking office. Their kin held prebends and bishoprics as far away as Lincoln and Lyon.
Thus, the Parmesan elites who transformed the city’s urban core belonged to a broad European class that exercised its talents and privileges well beyond the boundaries of the local territory. They shared the political and social experience of a wider network of individuals who administered the papacy and the church, the Holy Roman Empire, and the increasingly independent city-states of north Italy. The men who made up Parma’s ruling class—whether in lay or religious office—had a common heritage, education, and cultural outlook. The clerical, the notarial, and the noble commingled in a single administrative class. As has been demonstrated by Robert Black, Hélène Wieruszowski, Louis Paetow, Ernst Curtius, and others, the administrative class’s formal education, whether acquired at a university such as that of Bologna or Padua or locally at Parma’s cathedral school, encompassed a legal and literary tradition profoundly steeped in ancient Roman precedents. Whether they studied “the poets” (including Virgil, Ovid, and Horace), prose authors such as Cicero and Sallust, the Justinianic code and its commentaries, or, more commonly, the ars dictaminis and ars concionandi by means of compendia and florilegia assembled for the purpose, Parma’s oligarchs would have been exposed to the Latin authors—and their Roman ideas—from “their grammar-school days.” Though little information survives about the contents of Parma cathedral library in the Middle Ages, one of the texts it owned at the end of the thirteenth century was a book of Cicero’s letters.
Rhetoric was at the center of practical education. Above all things, a good administrator had to be able to speak and write effectively. As Lauro Martines has noted, Brunetto Latini (c. 1210–1294) went so far as to assert that “the supreme science of governing a city is rhetoric: that is to say, the science of speaking, for without effective speech the city would not exist and there would be neither justice nor human company.” An individual’s personal authority and political effectiveness depended not only on his military and administrative skills but upon his eloquence, as Enrico Artifoni has documented. An official must have “sapientia, nobilitate, moribus et eloquentia,” or, in Salimbene’s words, “understanding, eloquence, and virtue”; Salimbene took nobility for granted.
Students learned rhetoric from Latin and vernacular texts that included Cicero’s treatises, their glosses by medieval authors, and textbooks that incorporated theory with examples of prose taken from ancient Roman history. Certain school exercises even demanded that students write in the voices of particular ancient figures, such as Cicero and Catiline. “How-to” books helped aspiring administrators to master the art of official communication. Manuals for podestas typically compiled model speeches and letters for various situations, such as taking office or greeting an ambassador. And this grounding in Roman thought was by no means limited to lay education, as surviving glosses in a twelfth-century copy of Sallust’s Bellum Jugurthinum mentioned by Black indicate.
As Virginia Cox and Stephen Milner have shown, in thirteenth-century Italy abstract knowledge of ancient rhetoric and literature—the Ciceronianism of the classroom—was accompanied by another brand of Ciceronianism, one that was deployed in the piazzas, law courts, and council chambers by speakers who shared his “ideology of republicanism.” Medieval political theory and philosophy had, in the precommunal age, sought to exalt the authority of the king, emperor, or pope. Communal governments and their rivals had to devise alternative ways to justify their desire for independence from their overlords, and their claim to exercise regalian rights and jurisdiction. In the campaign to legitimate their form of government, Italy’s communal elites repeatedly identified the medieval commune with the Roman state, and its councils with the Roman senate. In the adversarial political and religious environment of the communes in the age of faction, leaders found the persuasive political and juridical speech outlined by Cicero and the republican ideology of Sallust particularly well suited to the need to harness conflict for the public good. These ideas are enthusiastically taken up in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries by authors concerned with the art of speaking and ruling well, as Quentin Skinner has demonstrated.
If Italy’s urban elites were steeped in the remains of ancient Roman culture, they were simultaneously fascinated by the courtly values of their neighbors across the Alps. Chivalric culture, with its exaltation of military prowess, emphasis on virtue, and high regard for honor and status, had been imported to Italy along with French chivalric romances in the twelfth century. The medieval neologism curialitas encompassed the concepts of courtesy and courtliness appropriate to courtly culture while preserving its associations with rule and with the curia, or court. It promptly became a useful model of behavior for Italian elites in these unstable times; courtliness in a man was repeatedly noted as worthy of praise through the thirteenth century.
I separate the closely intertwined strands of romanitas and curialitas to clarify my argument, but not without emphasizing that it is a distinction made in hindsight. In the mid–thirteenth century, not only did romanitas and curialitas coexist without conflict, but their coexistence was desirable and valued, regardless of how contradictory it may seem to modern eyes. Greco-Roman history and mythology—the Matter of Rome—were as apt subjects for romance literature as Arthurian legend—the Matter of Britain. Hector, Alexander, and Julius Caesar accompanied Arthur and Charlemagne in the pantheon of medieval military heroes. Nor was the synthesis confined to imaginary or historical contexts. In self-conscious evocation of Roman mores, Charles, count of Anjou and Provence, was elected senator of the commune of Rome on the Capitoline Hill in 1265. As Julia Bolton Holloway has noted, his appointment was commemorated by Arnolfo di Cambio’s monumental statue of Charles sitting on a curule chair and dressed in classicizing costume, now in Rome’s Capitoline Museums (fig. 9). However, Charles’s was the epitome of nonrepublican, noble blood. He was a son of King Louis VIII of France, brother of King Louis IX, and he accepted the throne of the Kingdom of Sicily from the pope the same year he became a Roman senator. The royal brothers were renowned for their artistic patronage, and Charles’s military exploits were the stuff of chivalric poetry.
Struggles for Authority in the Communal Age
The great urban building projects of the north Italian thirteenth century did not take place as a result of the calm machinations of increasingly self-assertive merchant-burghers—an insignificant segment of Parma’s population—but rather against a backdrop of breathtaking instability. Achieving sustainable order and security was the greatest problem of late medieval society in northern Italy, not the vagaries of trade. As the city-states of northern Italy won their prized independence from the Holy Roman emperor, and as the temporal claims of the papacy weakened in the face of the empire’s challenges, the link to authority that legitimated the habitual jurisdictions and privileges of many members of the north Italian elites eroded. Powerful local lords saw an opportunity to seize some of these lands and rights for themselves and their heirs, as there was relatively little effective institutional resistance. The consequence, however, was considerable (and increasing) unrest as individuals and alliances battled for dominance over cities, castles, and regions.
Parma was no exception. In Parma, the bishop had since 1037 held the title of count from the emperor; he was not only the de facto ruler of the Parmesan territory but its de jure ruler as well. The Parmesan church’s relations with the imperial court were close. Most Parmesan bishops since the mid–ninth century had been chosen by the emperors from members of their chancery, and antipopes Honorius II (reg. 1061–72) and Clement III (reg. 1080–1100) had been bishops of Parma before their imperial investitures to the pontificate. When, in the aftermath of the investiture controversy, the party led by Countess Matilda of Canossa prevailed in Parma and installed Vallombrosan abbot Bernardo degli Uberti as the city’s bishop (reg. 1106–33), the local balance of power was destabilized. The saintly Bishop Bernardo not only refused to exercise secular, comital rights over the Parmesan territory but also delegated its military leadership. By the time Aicardo da Cornazzano, the next pro-imperial bishop, took office in 1162, the Parmesan commune was firmly established and had taken over much of the city’s administration. His successor, Bernardo II (reg. c. 1170–94), asserted his authority as bishop-count and reclaimed some of the bishopric’s secular, regalian rights and jurisdictions. However, the privileges granted the communal associations of nobles by Frederick I at the Peace of Constance in 1183—in the hope of retaining nominal, if not actual, control over Lombardy—called into question the temporal jurisdiction accorded to the bishop-counts of Parma by prior emperors. This conflict resulted in an extended period of jockeying for power between several Parmesan clans, played out in part through the existing ecclesiastical and the emerging communal institutions.
Parma’s fragmentation into competing factions, or partes, was not unusual—it mirrored developments in other northern and central Italian cities at the time. Individual secular and ecclesiastical lords and communal governments resisted Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa’s attempts at subjugation, as well as the territorial ambitions of their regional rivals. As did their peers in Bologna, Milan, and Florence, the Parmesan aristocrats pursued all available paths to dominion—including legislation, the establishment of new political institutions, diplomacy, alliance, and violent confrontation—and exploited the weakness of imperial claimants and popes alike to their own advantage. Partisan allegiances among individuals, clans, cities, princes, and even supra-regional entities such as the empire and the papacy fluctuated according to expediency and did not consistently reflect strongly held ideological positions. The 1198 dispute between Philip of Swabia of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and Otto of Brunswick of the Welf dynasty to succeed Henry IV as emperor, and the imperial policies associated with each, lent the enduring nomenclature “Guelph” (for pro-Welf, anti-Hohenstaufen, and hence anti-imperial and pro-papal allegiance) and “Ghibelline” (after the Hohenstaufen castle at Waiblingen, for pro-Hohentstaufen and pro-imperial allegiance) first to Florence’s two principal urban factions and eventually to those in other Italian cities. Like communal factionalism itself, the labels “Guelph” and “Ghibelline” (and their Latin counterparts pars ecclesiae and pars imperii) endured into the fourteenth century. Already by the thirteenth century, neither the phenomenon nor its designations had much to do with papal or imperial sympathies or agendas, but rather with local responses to particular circumstances and conflicts. For example, Bernardo di Rolando Rossi, who had been part of Emperor Frederick II’s inner circle, abandoned his support of the imperial party the moment his brother-in-law Sinibaldo Fieschi attained the papal throne in 1244 as Innocent IV.
While the Parmesan nobles struggled among themselves for power throughout the twelfth century and into the thirteenth, the remainder of the population suffered. War and its consequences disrupted the agricultural production that drove the local economy. Disputes over water rights impeded irrigation and agricultural processing. Roads were not maintained. Travel was impaired, as jurisdiction over roads, passes, and waterways was contested. Public safety was hampered, as vendettas between clans that had originated in the countryside were carried on in the city, and vice versa. There was confusion about who had the right to adjudicate civil and criminal matters. The mismanagement of urban fortifications affected not only their gatekeepers’ revenues but also the city’s safety from invasion. In sum, the minimum standards of civil conduct that made urban life possible after the decline of Roman imperial administration continued to erode.
In the thirteenth century, Parma’s fragmented urban elites attempted to bring the situation under control. The faction that controlled the bishopric and cathedral chapter tried its best to retain the power that remained in its hands. The communal association, led by another elite faction, gradually arrogated many of the duties and privileges of the bishop. It could only keep these privileges and powers over a restless and suspicious population, however, if it could prove that its mode of governance was capable of imposing order on the tumult and maintaining the standards that made civil—and therefore civic—life possible.
Hindsight allows us to see that the power of Parma’s bishops was waning irredeemably by the late twelfth century. Bernard II and his successors would not be able to retrieve their secular authority from lay hands. Nonetheless, clerics were often exempt from the jurisdiction of the new lay government institutions, and clerical offices such as canonries—and especially the bishopric itself—commanded substantial properties, castles, and incomes. Thus, the church and its institutions remained a viable base from which members of the urban elite could struggle with their rivals for power over the city throughout the thirteenth century.
These are the fundamental sociopolitical circumstances in which the civic center of Parma was transformed. One way in which the church faction competed against the growing communal government was by imposing a coherent urbanistic program on the site of the episcopal precinct. This newly ordered piazza could be understood as a metaphor for the orderly society sought by the bishop and his allies. In turn, the factions that controlled the communal government asserted their own growing authority by developing a rival center within the city. Thus, the episcopal and communal squares developed in the course of the Duecento were not only the headquarters for the leaders of their respective rival alliances; they were also beacons for their patrons’ political programs, as I discuss in part II. Existing documentation indicates how carefully the elites who controlled the communal government affirmed standards of behavior so as to preserve order in their evolving communal compound. Textual records attesting to the desires of the episcopal elites are harder to find, but in both cases the surviving city fabric demonstrates how both factions’ will to order was imposed architecturally on the physical city, as both prelude to and symbol of its imposition on the citizens.