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In Memoriam
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Riccardo Fubini

Posted By RSA, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Riccardo Fubini, for many years a professor in the Dipartimento di Studi sul Medioevo e Rinascimento in the University of Florence, passed away in his home in Via Cairoli, Florence, at the age of eighty-three, after a lifetime devoted to the study of Renaissance humanism, Italian diplomacy, and the history of Florence. In a stream of publications characterized by original readings and a deep understanding of historical context he consistently argued that humanistic studies played a major role in creating a more tolerant and enlightened world. He believed the Renaissance to be the historical period that saw the fundamental shift in European civilization toward values and practices that for good and for ill should be considered “modern.”

Fubini was born in Trieste in 1934 to a Jewish family that included several distinguished academics and was about to suffer under Mussolini’s anti-Semitic racial laws. How the family responded to a world that was collapsing around them is recounted in the book La via di fuga, written by one of Riccardo’s sons, the journalist Federico Fubini. Removed from the university chair he held at Palermo, Riccardo’s father, the distinguished literary critic Mario Fubini, took the family into exile in Switzerland. Riccardo’s maternal grandparents and his uncle, the economist Renzo Fubini, died at Auschwitz in 1944. Trained at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Riccardo received his laurea in medieval history in 1958 with a thesis on the writings of Biondo Flavio. In 1964 he published a reprinting of the collected works of Poggio Bracciolini, and his remarkable entry on Biondo was published in the Dizionario biografico degli italiani in 1968. On Felix Gilbert’s recommendation he was assigned to edit the first two volumes (published in 1977) of the Lettere of Lorenzo de’ Medici under the general editorship of Nicolai Rubinstein. The Lettere project was expected to clarify Lorenzo’s role as a diplomat and as a patron of the arts and of literature. Fubini’s painstaking research, attention to prosopographic detail, and remarkable commentary transformed the letters edition into a magnificent window on fifteenth-century Italy, in which diplomacy and arts patronage were embedded in factionalism, clientage, commercial interests, institutional change, strife among generations, campanilismo, and class differences. He came away convinced that Renaissance humanism, even in its literary and philosophical aspects, was best appreciated in the deeper political and social context that other scholars—many of them English speaking, and many of them working on Florence—were then exploring in a series of rich institutional and social histories. In this he differed from many of the academics then studying humanist texts. His essays offering original and exciting interpretations of works by—among others—Petrarch, Lorenzo Valla, Leonardo Bruni, Marsilio Ficino, Giannozzo Manetti, Annius of Viterbo, and Niccolò Machiavelli were accompanied by quite different ones, equally memorable, on such topics as the role of the Italian ambassador, fifteenth-century conspiracies, Florentine statutory reform, Jewish moneylending, the work of Pollaiuolo, the papacy of Nicholas V, and the career of a provincial chancellor in the Florentine territorial state. His grounding in fifteenth-century realities supplied the tools and confidence behind disagreements on important points with such luminaries as Eugenio Garin and Paul O. Kristeller, while it led to important collaborations in conferences and seminars with historians of politics, society, religion, economics, and, in recent years, art and architecture.

Many of his essays are collected in six important volumes: Umanesimo e secolarizzazione da Petrarca a Valla (1990; published by Duke University Press in an English translation by Martha King in 2003); Italia quattrocentesca: diplomazia nell’età di Lorenzo il Magnifico (1994); Quattrocento fiorentino: politica, diplomazia, cultura (1996); L’umanesimo italiano e i suoi storici: origini rinascimentali—critica moderna (2001); Storiografia dell’umanesimo in Italia: da Leonardo Bruni ad Annio da Viterbo (2003); and Politica e pensiero politico nell’Italia del Rinascimento (2009). A Festschrift dedicated to him, Il laboratorio del Rinascimento. Studi di storia e cultura per Riccardo Fubini (2015), was edited by Lorenzo Tanzini.

Fubini’s warm friendships embraced scholars and students of many generations, in Italy and abroad, in countries that included the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Israel, Australia, and Japan. He is survived by his wife, the historian Maria Fubini Leuzzi; three sons, Renzo, Federico, and Andrea; and several grandchildren.

William J. Connell
Seton Hall University

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