History for Hire in Sixteenth-Century Italy: Onofrio Panvinio’s Histories of Roman Families

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Onofrio Panvinio was hired by sixteenth-century Roman families to write their histories and, where necessary, be prepared to bend the facts to suit their interests. This occasionally entailed a bit of forgery, usually involving tampering with specific words in documents. In most respects, however, Panvinio employed the same techniques--archival research and material evidence such as tombs and inscriptions--which distinguished his papal and ecclesiastical histories. This suggests that genealogy, despite being commissioned by aristocratic families to glorify their ancestries, can be seen as a more serious field of historical investigation than is often assumed. Yet the contours of this genre of history for hire in sixteenth-century Italian historiography are nowhere near exact. Panvinio struck a balance between fulfilling the expectations of the noble families who commissioned him and following his own scholarly instincts as an historian, but he nevertheless did not seek their publication. By contrast, Alfonso Ceccarelli, who also composed family histories, veered considerably in the direction of flattering his patrons, even forging entire papal and imperial privileges. Indeed, he was condemned to death for the forgery of wills concerning the property rights of nobles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-438
Number of pages42
JournalErudition and the Republic of Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2019

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