Cardinal Gasparo Contarini

Cardinal Gasparo Contarini - A Collection of his published correspondencecontarini

compiled by Paul Hanbridge OFM Cap.

Discussion about the possibility of publishng this work has been fruitless. Therefore I have decided to publish the volume on Capdox. The excerpt below [Read More] is taken from my preface to this collection. You can download this transcribed collection of published correspondence here (6.6 Mb PDF)  

This assembly of letters is accidental, a side-effect - the unintended consequence (at first) of another project. As a student of the beginnings of the Capuchin Friars, a need to understand those beginnings within a broader social and ecclesial setting has become ever more apparent. The testimonies of other contemporary witnesses  and participants in the times help contextualised the turbulent, early years of the Capuchin fraternity. My reading focussed upon a specific question: What was happening in the church and in Italy in the decade up to 1542 which so decided or polarised approaches toward church reform? The observations made by protagonists in this drama are especially valuable. At least one representative sample might help profile that situation. Numerous publications of some of his letters are available.  With the experience and contacts he gained as a non-cleric Venetian envoy, and as a papal legate; his involvement in official attempts at Church reform; his association – if not friendship – with such reform minded persons as Vittoria Colonna and Bernardino Ochino (just to mention a few) made Cardinal Gasparo Contarini an ideal candidate. And so, I began to read his published letters, and to transcribe them for later reference.  Thus this project was born.

 This volume may be a unique research tool. It assembles in chronological order, for the first time, most of the published epistolary of the Venetian Cardinal, Gasparo Contarini (1487-1542).

The compilation is not a ‘register’ of Contarini’s known letters, a task undertaken some years ago.[1] Using the bibliographies of his various modern biographers[2] I have tried to locate and transcribe Contarini’s published correspondence, a small percentage of his actual output.[3]

The various collections of letters relate to time periods (his time at the court of Carlo V;[4] Regensburg, 1541;[5] Bologna, 1542[6]) or to persons (Giustiniani and Querini,[7] Reginald Pole,[8] Ercole Gonzaga[9]). Some letters exist in various copies or versions. Some have been published more than once. Editors have wanted to present their material under various aspects, while attempting a more accurate transcription by correcting the errors of earlier editions in their selection and deciphering of the manuscripts.

The collection assembled here is not a critical edition of Contarini’s letters.  None of the letters in this volume is direct transcription by me from any manuscript. As copies of published versions, I have reproduced inevitably flawed transcriptions and am confident I have contributed my own errors also.  Even after proof reading I probably did not identify, and therefore remedy, all my mistakes.

In many cases, editors of some of his published correspondence chose to summarise letters, in part or in full. This often resulted in extracts - sometimes fragmentary with snippets from the letters heavily punctuated by editorial comment and summaries. And sometimes the commentaries are punctuated by snippets from the letters. Since I wish to let the letter writers to speak for themselves, I have tried to reproduce texts in their integrity and to omit hybrid renditions by supplementing text from an available version published prior. In the footnotes I alert the reader to these amalgamations. Unfortunately sometimes only the large extracts are available.

The collection is not an opera omnia of Contarini’s works, just letters, to him or by him. Some of the passages, though, are not letters. The long reports he gave to the Venetian senate of his embassies to the court of a young Carlo V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and that of Clement VII take up a a number of pages.  Since these reports are not always easy to come by, I have included them here.  There is also a version of his treatise on justification by faith produced when he was Legate to the Colloquy at Regensburg in 1541. One of his later instructions for good preaching is here too. The temptation to include more material from Regensburg, material not written by him, was strong. My only concession to the impulse is the inclusion Carlo V’s declaration to close the Regensburg Colloquy. An appendix contains a few letters regarding Ascanio Colonna’s rebellion in 1541.

For many readers the largest obstacle to an effortless comprehension may be the fact that I have left all the letters in their original languages, either Latin or Italian from the sixteenth century.

So many limitations - and given that the source material for this collection is already published in various earlier editions,[10] why bother to present them again here?

First of all, for a few letters, it has been possible to identify their authors more accurately. There is the case of the letter dated 17 May 1541 and written from the French court to Contarini. In the published version, the eighteenth century editor has Ercole Gonzaga as its author. Gonzaga, in Italy, could not have been the author. The letter was from the pen of Girolamo Dandino. Another example: Morandi’s edition includes letters dated 2, 9, 12 and 29 June 1541 – also from the French court to Contarini. Morandi names Niccolò Ardinghelli as the author. Ardinghelli, still en route to the French court, was not the author, but Girolamo Capodiferro. These corrections were aided by the ability to compare letters in one published collection with those in other collections.[11] In this way, a compilation of all the published letters in chronological sequence enables the letters to shed factual interpretative light on each other. A more comprehensive collection can be more useful than a smaller collection, given that there are so many editions that target a particular period in Contarini’s life and output. Like tiles in a mosaic, each edition fills its space in the overall picture: whether the picture be a portrait of the person (Contarini and his correspondents), or a panorama of the rapid, profound and unprecedented change in the European social landscape in the first half of the sixteenth century.



[1] Franz Dittrich, Regesten und Briefe des Cardinals Gasparo Contarini (1483-1542), Braunsberg, Verlag von Huy’s Buchhaldlung (Emil Bender), 1881

[2] Mainly Gigliola Fragnito and Elisabeth G. Gleason. See the Biographical Bibliography.

[3] Francesca Cavazzana Romanelli, (ed.), Gasparo Contarini e il suo tempo. Atti convegno di studio, 1988, p.259: “Today there is no critical edition of the letters to/by Contarini, many of which still remain unpublished in numerous Italian libraries and archives (some indications in P.O. Kristeller, Iter Italicum, 2. voll., London-Leiden 1963-67, ad indicem. Only a small part of the Contarini’s letters was published by F. Dittrich, Regesten …, many of which had been published by A.M. Querini, Epistolarium reginaldi Poli S.R.E. Cardinalium et aliorum ad ispum collection, 1-3, Brixiae 1744-1748 and by G.B. Morandi, Monumenti…, I/2, p.61-212, with censorial interventions and not a fiew oversights.” See Gigliola Fragnito, Gasparo Contarini. Un Magistrato al servizio della Cristianità, 1988, pp. vii-viii.

[4] Theodor Brieger, “Zur Correspondenz Contarini´s während seiner deutschen Legation. Mitteilungen aus Beccadelli´s Monumenti” in Zeitshcrift für Kirchensgeschichte 3(1879)492-523; Adolf Wrede, Deutsche Reichstagsakten unter Kaiser Karl V. Zweiter band, Gotha, Friedrich Andreas Perthese, 1896.

[5] Ludwig von Pastor, “Die Correspondenz des Cardinals Contarini während feiner deutschen Legation. 1541” in Historisches Jahrbuch 1(1880) 321-392, 473-500; Edmondo Solmi, “Gasparo Contarini alla dieta di Ratisbona secondo i documenti inediti dell’Archivio Gonzaga di Mantova” in Nuovo archivio veneto, nuova serie, anno IV, tomo VIII, parte I, (1907), p.245-274; Cardauns Ludwig (ed.), Nunziaturberichte aus Deutschland 1533-1559 nebst ergänzenden aktenstücken. Siebenter Band: Berichte vom Regensburger und Speier Reichstag 1541, 1542. Nuntiaren Verallos und Pogios. Sendungen Farneses un Sfrondratos 1541-1544, Berlin, Verlag von A. Bath, 1912;

[6] Alfredo Casadei, “Lettere del Cardinal Gasparo Contarini durante la sua legazione di Bologna (1542)” in Archivio Storico Italiano 118(1960) 77-130; 220-285

[7] Hubert Jedin, “Contarini und Camaldoli” in Archivio italiano per la storia della pietà 2(1959) 51-118.

[8] Johann Georg Schelhorn, (ed.), Epistolarum Reginaldi Poli S.R.E. Cardinalis et aliorum ad ipsum partes I [-V] quae scripta complectitur ab anno MDXX usque ad an. MDXXXVI …Praemittuntur animadversiones in Epist. Jo: Georg. Schelhornii, Vita cardinalis Poli, & quaedam hujus Scripta atque Diatriba ad easdem Epistolas. Editio Brixiae, excudebat Joannes-Maria Rizzardi, 1744-1757. 5 vols. London, Gregg Press, 1967. Anastatic reprint.

[9] Walter Friedensburg (ed)., “Der Briefwechsel Gasparo Contarini’s mit Ercole Gonzaga. Nebst einen Briefe Giovanni Pietro Carafa’s“ in Quellen und Forsehungen aus Italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken, Band I, Rome, Loescher, 1898, p.161-222.

[10] See the bibliography of published sources used in this compilation. These ‘sources’ were identified from bibliographies supplied by Cavazza Romanelli (p.258-261).

[11] The letter is in Epist.III, p.cclxxviii- cclxxxiii: with the title “Il Card. di Mantova al Medesimo.” The contents of the letter indicate that the author was legate in the court of Francis I, and was writing from Loches in Western France. These two details exclude Ercole Gonzaga, the cardinal of Mantua, as the author of this letter.  While Girolamo Recanati Capodiferro was appointed legate to Francis I to begin in May 1541, he arrived on the first June, late due to illness. See to J. Lestocquoy (ed.), Correspondence des Nonces en France. Capodiferro, Dandino et Giudiccione 1541 – 1546. Legations des cardinauz Farnèse et Sadolet et missions d’Ardinghello, de Grimani et de Hieronimo da Correggio, Acta Nuntiaturae Gallicae 3, Presses de l’Univereté Grégorienne, Rome, 1963, p.61.