Doctoral Invitation

The Public Defense of the Doctoral Dissertation in Medieval Studies
will be held on
Tuesday, June 11 2013, at 12:00,
in the
Monument Building, Senate Room
Central European University
Nádor u. 9, Budapest
Examination Committee
Susan Zimmermann (Department of History)
Niels Gaul (Department of Medieval Studies) – Supervisor
Gábor Klaniczay (Department of Medieval Studies)
Tijana Krstić (Department of Medieval Studies)
Neven Budak (University of Zagreb)
James Hankins (Harvard University)
Neven Jovanović (University of Zagreb)
The dissertation reconstructs and contextualizes the life of Nicholas bishop of Modruš
(ca. 1427–1480), most often evoked as a papal diplomat who played an important role
in the events surrounding the fall of the Bosnian kingdom to the Ottomans in 1463,
subsequently spending the rest of his life in the provinces of the Papal States where he
formed his grand library and engaged himself with philosophical and antiquarian
matters. In a word, the Nicholas of Modruš imagined today is one painted with broad
strokes, a result of the fact that the bulk of his oeuvre still remains buried in
manuscript, and his career at the papal Curia largely unstudied. By introducing an
ample amount of unpublished material into discussion, establishing a new dating for a
number of his works, correcting a number of mistakes and assumptions, and finally
addressing various previously unconnected paths of research, the dissertation sheds
new light on the role of Nicholas of Modruš on the stage of Renaissance Rome.
Therefore, just as any other biography, so this dissertation too is selective. While it is
divided into four sections that treat chronologically four successive phases of
Nicholas’ life, it is the Part I and Part II, discussing the first years of his Curial career,
that bring particularly two questions under close scrutiny: the bishop’s humanism and
his patriotism.
The Prologue sets the stage for these discussions, presenting Nicholas’ life and
career before his arrival to Rome in 1464. The section begins by treating his social
background in Kotor, Dalmatia; his academic trajectory in Venice and Padua; and the
beginnings of his ecclesiastical career in Croatia under the patronage of the Croatian
noble family of Frankopans. The bulk of the Prologue, however, treats the bishop’s
career in anti-Ottoman diplomacy, connected to the rapid expansion of the Ottoman
Empire during the 1450s and the first half of 1460s which led to the fall of the last
remaining independent realms in the Balkans: Byzantium (1453), Serbia (1459),
Morea (1461), Wallachia (1462), and finally Bosnia (1463), where the bishop of
Modruš was sent as a papal legate on the eve of the Ottoman invasion. The final part
of the section is dedicated to the period Nicholas spent at the court of the Hungarian
king Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490), which considers the bishop’s attempt to secure
the king’s favor in promoting his career, and the reasons for his eventual banishment
from the court and move to the papal Curia.
Part I is the first of the two central sections, which discusses Nicholas of Modruš’s
Curial career under pope Paul II (1464–1471), and which offers, most importantly, a
more nuanced perspective on the somewhat monolithic image of a humanist that
Nicholas of Modruš long enjoys in scholarship. Departing from Ronald Witt’s
understanding of humanism as essentially an imitation of classical literary practices,
Part I shows that Nicholas’ pre-Roman oeuvre, comprising of De mortalium felicitate
(1462) and Navicula Petri (1463), was in fact defined by pursuit of theological and
philosophical topics through the prism of Scotist scholasticism, in line with his
education in Venice and Padua. Thus while the bishop’s pre-Roman works betray his
weak knowledge of classical literature and ancient history before 1464, his arrival to
Rome represents a gradual turn to the humanistic canon of texts and exploration of
new topics. His first Roman works, De consolatione (1465–1466) and De humilitate
(1470), but also the more traditional De titulis et auctorbus psalmorum (ca. 1470),
were all conceived as manuals that targeted wide dissemination by appealing to broad
audiences and that, in the process, employed a wide range of classical and patristic
authorities. The works that followed in the later period of his curial career, De bellis
Gothorum (1471–1472), translations of Isocrates’ speeches (1471–1472), the Oratio in
funere Petri cardinalis S. Sixti (1474) and Defensio ecclesiasticae libertatis (1480)
mark a complete turn to historiographical and rhetorical topics, which, as shown in the
Epilogue, found much use at the Curia of Sixtus IV. Yet, while the dissertation treats
Nicholas’ increasing appropriation of classicizing features in his writings, the bulk of
the discussion of his intellectual pursuits is based on the analysis of his library, as
reconstructed from the identified manuscripts and a partial inventory of the books that
were following the bishop’s death donated to the Augustinians of Santa Maria del
Popolo. Approaching the identified corpus of books diachronically and synchronically
shows that the library’s most significant aggrandizement can be traced to 1464–1471,
the first period of Nicholas’ curial career, during which the bishop collected not only
scholastic theological and philosophical writings but also made an energetic effort to
assemble a complete collection of canonical works of classical and Christian Latin
antiquity. While numerous marginal notes adorning the preserved manuscripts allow us
to trace the bishop’s engagement with the minutiae of ancient culture, their rich
illuminations reveal that they were also supposed to play a role in the social space and
convey to all the visitors of his library the good tastes of their owner. Not only a
private studiolo, Nicholas’ library thus functioned, much as those of many other curial
prelates, as a place for convivial discussions where Nicholas welcomed other members
of the circle pivoted around cardinal Bessarion, to which he himself belonged. The
Nicholas of Modruš that emerges, therefore, from Part I is not a disinterested humanist
enjoying his otium in the provinces (as previously presented), but a traditionallyeducated homo novus whose turn to humanism represented a response to the highly
competitive field of the Renaissance Curia that regarded classicism as a cultural ideal.
Yet, as outlined in the Prologue, Nicholas was a South Slav, a Croatian prelate of
Dalmatian origin who before coming to Rome had played a prominent role as papal
legate in the events surrounding the fall of the Kingdom of Bosnia in 1463. As Part II
shows, all this had a formative role on the bishop’s patriotism, that is to say on the way
he chose to articulate allegiance to his imagined patria. Documentary evidence shows
that upon his arrival to Rome, in parallel to his engagement with the leading
intellectual circles of the Curia and his appropriation of humanist standards, the bishop
established himself as the leading figure of the local South Slavic or rather, as
gradually conceptualized within the humanist circles, Illyrian community. Most light
on his role in this community is provided by Corsin. 127, a manuscript comprising
Nicholas’ personal copies of his De bellis Gothorum, De humilitate, and translations of
Isocrates’ speeches. Due to the severely truncated state of these copies, neither the
dating of these works nor their dedicatees were previously established, and they were
so far merely referred to as examples of the bishop’s antiquarian and philosophical
interests. Yet, first, Part I identifies the dedicatee of De humilitate as Catherine titular
queen of Bosnia, who following the fall of her kingdom to the Ottomans in 1463 took
up residence in Rome where she became a papal ward and, alongside Nicholas, the
leading representative of the Illyrian community. Part II, on the other hand, revolves
around the bishop’s history of the Gothic wars. By shedding light on the negative
image of the Goths in Italian humanist historiography on the one hand, and on South
Slavic/Illyrian traditions of their own Gothic origins on the other, the analysis of
Nicholas’ work traces his subtle manipulations of sources that were meant to convince
the Italian elite into a positive image of the Ostrogothic Illyrian natio. Moreover, by
dating the work to 1471–1472 and setting it within the context of the military and
diplomatic preparation for the papal-Neapolitan-Venetian expedition against the
Ottomans, in which Nicholas himself played an important role, De bellis Gothorum is
unveiled as a piece of historiographical propaganda that argued for the utopian
restoration of Ostrogothic Illyria under queen Catherine. The work was, it is
furthermore argued, primarily supposed to be presented, and probably dedicated, to
Ferrante king of Naples, legitimizing his role in the expedition and possible future
involvement in the Balkans, as well as evoking the active policy of his father, Alfonso
V of Aragon, who for long had counted queen Catherine’s own father, Stephen Vukčić
Kosača duke of Hum, as his vassal. This interpretation is finally corroborated by the
fact that the likely dedicatee of Nicholas’ translations of Isocrates’ speeches was the
crown prince of the Neapolitan kingdom, Alfonso duke of Calabria. Taken together,
therefore, Nicholas’ works that now fill the fascicules of Corsin. 127, all composed in
the context of fervent anti-Ottoman diplomatic activities in 1470–1472, during which
the bishop established himself as the leading curial prelate for matters Illyrian, were
meant to enhance the prestige of queen Catherine, and secure the involvement of the
Neapolitan court and the rest of Italy in banishing the Ottomans from the Balkans and
restoring the utopian Ostrogothic Illyria under her rule. At the same time, in Nicholas’
view of the world, he was for his learning, virtue, diplomatic and military performance
in the expedition, and finally his role in the Illyrian national community in Rome,
supposed to be rewarded with the cardinal’s hat and become the first Cardinalis
Illyricus, the kingdom’s patron cardinal. The Epilogue – which outlines the final years
of Nicholas’ Curial career: the time he spent as a member of the familia of cardinal
Pietro Riario, his administrative posts in the Papal States and his role in the Pazzi
conspiracy – shows that, in spite of his bitter disappointment with the unfavorable
results of the elections of cardinals in 1473, and the subsequent reduction to the status
of pope Sixtus’ courtier, it was a dignity he would continue to covet until the very end
of his life.
The dissertation combines a wide range of extant documentary, epistolary, literary,
codicological and palaeographical evidence, published and unpublished, most of
which find their place among the Appendices. Appendix 1 presents all the identified
documents and other sources directly referring to Nicholas, published and unpublished
likewise. Appendix 2 includes the edition of Nicholas’ correspondence, Appendix 3 of
his dedicatory letters, both important sources for the nature of his social networks and
self-fashioning strategies. Appendix 4 contains the transcription of Nicholas’ De bellis
Gothorum, while Appendix 5 offers the last four sections of his Defensio ecclesiasticae
libertatis. Appendix 6 includes the edition of parts of the lost book of poems presented
to Nicholas by his humanist client Francesco Maturanzio, which have been preserved
as part of a larger collection of the latter’s poems. Appendix 7, the Repertorium, offers
a list, and in most cases, the codicological descriptions of all manuscripts known to
date which preserve the works of Nicholas of Modruš. Appendix 8a includes the 1480
inventory of Nicholas’ books donated to the Augustinians of Santa Maria del Popolo
by Sixtus IV expanded by identifications of the titles, as well as of manuscript copies
and incunable editions in question. Appendix 8b presents the catalogue of the presently
identified manuscripts that formed Nicholas’ library. Finally, Appendix 9 offers plates
in support of various details discussed in the body of the dissertation.
PhD in Medieval Studies
Central European University, Budapest
MA in Medieval Studies
Central European University, Budapest
Diploma in History and Latin Language with Roman Literature
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb
Fellowships, Scholarships, and Awards
Short-term Frances A. Yates Fellow at the Warburg Institute
Attended the CEU Summer University course ‘Medieval Codicology and
Palaeography: Greek book hand’; Budapest
Attended the course ‘L’idea di Roma dall’Ellenismo all’Umanesimo: XXII
Seminario di Alta Cultura’, organized by the Istituto Internazionale di Studi
Piceni; Sassoferrato
Renaissance Society of America Research Grant
CEU Advanced Doctoral Student Award
Visiting Fellow at the Harvard University History Department
Attended a one-month-long course in philology, palaeography and codicology
‘Translating the Past’, organized by the Institute at Palazzo Rucellai, Johns
Hopkins University, and Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medioevo; Florence
Incoming Visegrad Scholarship
Attended the CEU Summer University course ‘From Holy War to Peaceful
Cohabitation: Diversity of Crusading and Military Orders’; Budapest
‘O intelektualnom krugu i rukopisnoj kulturi na dvoru Matije Korvina: Nikola
Modruški i Petrova lađica’ [On the intellectual circle and manuscript culture at
the court of Matthias Corvinus: Nicholas of Modruš and Peter’s Barge]. In
Građa za povijest književnosti hrvatske [Sources for the history of Croatian
literature], vol. 38, ed. Dunja Fališevac. Zagreb: Hrvatska akademija znanosti i
umjetnosti, 2013.
‘Reditus imperii ad Latinos: The Komnenian Emperors in William of Tyre’s
Historia.’ In From Holy War to Peaceful Cohabitation: Diversity of Crusading
and Military Orders, ed. József Laszlovszky and Zsolt Hunyadi. Budapest:
CEU Press, 2013.
‘Ex libris Nicolai Episcopi Modrussiensis: Knjižnica Nikole Modruškog’ [Ex
libris Nicolai Episcopi Modrussiensis: The library of Nicholas of Modruš].
Colloquia Maruliana 21 (2012): 25–68.
‘Rhetoricizing Effeminacy in Twelfth-Century Outremer: William of Tyre and
the Byzantine Empire.’ Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU 15 (2009): 9–21.
Research Experience
Archive of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Zagreb (Jan, Dec 2010); National
Széchényi Library, Budapest (Jan 2009); Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence (Jun 2010);
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence (Jun 2010); Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Florence
(Jun 2010); Biblioteca dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana, Rome (Feb 2010;
Feb–Mar, Oct–Nov 2011); Biblioteca Angelica, Rome (Feb 2010; Feb–Mar, Oct–Nov 2011);
Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome (Feb–Mar, Oct–Nov 2011); Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana,
Vatican (Feb–Mar, Oct–Nov 2011); Houghton Library, Cambridge MA (Sep–Dec 2010);
Biblioteca Nazionale ‘Vittorio Emanuele III’, Naples (Nov 2011); British Library, London
(Jan–Mar 2012); Bodleian Library, Oxford (Feb 2012); Österreichische Nationalbibliothek,
Vienna (May 2013)
Teaching Experience (Courses and Workshops)
2012 Apr
2011 Apr
Selected Sources for the Late Medieval History of Croatia
History Department, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of
MEDS 5909 Latin Beginner II (Teaching Assistant)
Department of Medieval Studies, CEU Budapest
MEDS 5909 Latin Beginner I (Teaching Assistant)
Department of Medieval Studies, CEU Budapest
Stories of Manuscripts (Sixth annual Latin student workshop)
Marulić Days 2012, Split
Manuscript Scholia (Fifth annual Latin student workshop)
Marulić Days 2011, Split
Research Interests
Renaissance intellectual elite; humanist rhetoric and historiography; history of patriotism;
Renaissance book culture; political and cultural history of late medieval Croatia in the context
of the wider region; crusades; Nicholas of Modruš