Veni Vidi Vi(n)ci: Interview with visiting speaker Carlo Vecce

MlaC PhD students Giulia Crespi and Barbara Tanzi-Imbri took the time to meet with visiting IAS Fellow Professor Carlo Vecce.

Veni Vidi Vi(n)ci: Carlo Vecce tells us his challenging approach to Leonardo’s scriptorium

Thanks to the Department of Italian and the Institute of Advanced Studies, we have the pleasure to host Professor Carlo Vecce as visiting Fellow at Durham University over the Michaelmas term. In addition to holding a series of lectures, he also kindly accepted to meet the MLAC Postgraduates at the PG forum, which is organised every week and provides the students with the chance to talk about their research in an informal context and an interdisciplinary environment.

In the cosy and suggestive atmosphere of the Cosin’s Hall, overlooking the Cathedral, Professor Vecce warmly received us and spared some time sharing intriguing episodes of his career, from his very first approach to literary research to his recent achievements as a prominent scholar in the field of Renaissance studies.

While enjoying a cup of coffee, we could not help asking him about his first encounter with Leonardo and he surprised us by telling that it all happened by accident, when he was working on his graduation thesis. He was studying the diary written by a secretary of the cardinal Luigi d’Aragona (1474-1518) during his staying in France, and was particularly impressed in reading a page dealing with the encounter between the cardinal and Leonardo. That page represented a decisive source of inspiration to his future studies, leading him to write an article about Mona Lisa, which he sent to Carlo Pedretti, one of the most important experts in Leonardo da Vinci’s works and life.

Pedretti really appreciated Vecce’s article and encouraged him to cultivate his new interest to such an extent that, some years later, he would propose him as a member of the Commissione Vinciana. After his university studies Vecce did not take up the academic career immediately: he started teaching in the high school and therefore was not able to devote much time to his work on Leonardo. Nevertheless, when, after some time, he accepted a role as cultural consultant at the Ministero degli Esteri in Rome, his passion for research prevailed; in fact, whenever he could, he took shelter at the Ministero’s library to continue his studies. Moreover, at a certain point, with the complicity of his office manager he finally got the opportunity to spend some time at the Vatican library, where he could see the original manuscript of Libro di Pittura, copied by Francesco Melzi (Leonardo’s last pupil).

Libro di Pittura itself, together with codex Arundel (kept at the British Library) were the works with which he dealt for the Commissione Vinciana. Vecce’s approach to Leonardo’s writings is mainly philological thanks to his background as a textual scholar specialised in humanist and Renaissance texts. He also edited an anthology which gathers part of Leonardo’s writings, and contributed to the organisation of Leonardo exhibition at Louvre, where he had finally the chance to see and touch “with gloves, of course!” – he jokingly wished to make it clear – the autographs as well as the Mona Lisa.

Vecce’s commitment to academic research allowed him to occupy chairs at such prestigious universities as Pavia, Macerata and eventually L’Orientale of Naples, where he leads the Scuola di Dottorato of the Dipartimento di Studi Letterari, Linguistici e Comparati with an open attitude to the international academic environment. In fact, after visiting many different foreign universities, he is not only encouraging his students to take part in exchange programmes, but he has also suggested them to organise a PG conference along the lines of those he has seen during his experience abroad.

After talking about his research and his institutional responsibilities, our conversation came to a conclusion with a question about his future projects. But he was deliberately elusive, just mentioning his desire to work on Leonardo’s library, and almost suggesting the possibility that all the project might be left unfinished, and after all… Maestro da Vinci docet.

Read more about Carlo Vecce at:

– Giulia Crespi and Barbara Tanzi-Imbri, PhD Candidates (MLaC-Italian)


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