In Memoriam “La Peppa”(1930-2018)

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RIP La Peppa

In Memoriam: Giuseppa Saccaro del Buffa Battisti (1930-2018)

by Dr. Kim Veltman *) , Scholar of Perspective and Meta-Librarian Extraordinarius, Maastricht NL


Giuseppa (Giuseppina) Saccaro del Buffa Battisti, affectionately known as La Peppa, was one of the great scholars of our time. Physically, she was smallish, kind, gentle, generous, wise, often inscrutable. Metaphysically she was a titan, as enigmatic as she was mysterious. She was always courteous and frequently courtly, with that gentle reserve of high aristocracy. Once, half-facetiously, I called her a Baronessa. There was a smile and then, with the gentlest of tones, she corrected me: no, actually, I am a Marquesa. And we were told the story of her roots via Turin that led back to Sicily and quite possibly back to Sephardic circles in mediaeval Spain.

She was admired and loved by many, known by few, and understood by even fewer. A first hint comes when we try to find her work. A search on the Sapienza website gives 20 titles.[i] The Italian Catalogo Unico, depending on how one spells her name, ranges from 38 to 64 titles.[ii] Worldcat, the largest library catalogue in the world, under Giuseppina Saccaro del Buffa Battisti provides 0 hits. A search for Saccaro del Buffa, Giuseppa provides 10 hits.[iii] A search for Giuseppina Battisti provides 67 hits of which only two, Scimmia and Streghe are by the author. A search under Giuseppa Battista provides 80 links, of which many are relevant, but which are far from providing a comprehensive list.

Any attempt at a full analysis of her contributions would require several volumes. The pages that follow merely attempt to offer a snapshot of the intellectual horizons and spiritual dimensions of a most remarkable individual. She is special, because in addition to being a loyal wife, loving mother and grandmother, and having her regular university career, she devoted herself to scholarship. Most people have a specialty. Peppa had four: a) collaborating with and augmenting her husband’s work; b) utopia; c) sources of early modern science and technology; d) sources of belief. Each of these will be considered briefly, ending with random comments on her personal life.

  1. University

Most academics have a single topic on which they write their books and articles and use as a basis for their teaching. Peppa was different. For many years, at the Department of Philosophy of the Sapienza at Villa Mirafiori, she taught History of the Historiography of Philosophy (Storia della Storiografia Filosofica). If history is a basic view and historiography is a meta view, then history of storiography offers a meta-meta view. This gives a first hint of the multi-layered approach of her mind. If she wrote about binary mentality, she practiced something infinitely more subtle.

For most academics, university is a second home. For Peppa, it was almost as if this were a hobby. Although she worked at the Sapienza for decades, she is not listed among the emeritus professors[iv]. Nor is Alfonso Maieru, who was head of department during part of her tenure. Peppa’s real scholarship was at home.

  1. Scholarship


2.1. Eugenio Battista

It is not unusual for scholars to work with their wives. In the case of Kenneth D. Keele, his wife, Mary, did the typing. This was also the case with Marshall McLuhan’s wife, Corinne, although she was also a frequent interlocutor. With Rupert Hall and his wife Marie Boaz Hall both had parallel interests and although they gave seminars in tandem, their intellectual works were often independent.

The relation between Eugenio and Giuseppa was very different. Sometimes, as in the case on Fontana (see below § 2.3), they simply worked together as colleagues, applying their different areas of expertise to a common project. In the final 14 years of her life, she devoted herself to completing her husband’s many unfinished writings (see 2.1.2 below). If this was a remarkable tribute to a deep spiritual love that joined them well beyond his premature departure from the physical domain, the deeper reason for this bond was that she was for a time perhaps the only person who understood the profound implications of Eugenio’s approach.

Eugenio began with familiar topics and then transformed them. Piero della Francesca was a well-known painter, but from San Sepolcro, far from the fashions of Florence, Siena, Rome and Venice. Eugenio’s study (1971) made Piero into one of the central figures of the Renaissance phenomenon and set in motion a conference for the 500th anniversary of his death and a National commission to produce new critical editions of his work. Renaissance perspective was a familiar topic. Eugenio conceived the idea of a first world conference (1977) with the telling subtitle: Codification and Transgressions. He was as much interested in examples that broke the rules, transgressions (e.g. anamorphoses) as he was in the official rules. Similarly, his study of Brunelleschi (1981) transformed the Renaissance architect with no literary remains into a pivotal figure in the invention of linear perspective; linked with stage designs, and theatre and at the centre of Renaissance innovations.

But this was only tone dimension of Eugenio’s programme. In a world where Renaissance Studies was the name of a journal and of institutes, he explored the Anti-Renaissance (1962). A decade earlier, the American historian, Hiram Hadyn, had written The Counter-Renaissance (1950) in which he explored a counter revolution[v] in the latter 16th, mainly in the context of Elizabethan England. Eugenio Battisti adapted the concept to redefine the Mannerist period in Italy or in the terms of his publishers (which I shall cite in several cases below):

The term has been proposed to take into account the fantastic, anticlassical and irrational, dissonant or even antithetical components compared to those considered by the classicistic interpretations of the Renaissance, and therefore excluded or underestimated in the past in the reconstruction of the history of European arts and literature of the centuries XV and XVI. It derives from the English counter-Renaissance, coined by H. Haydn, which is approached by content, and was applied to the arts by E. Battisti within the broad debate of twentieth century criticism on Mannerism. Compared to Mannerism, delimited as a stylistic phenomenon that manifests itself from around 1520, the anti-rinascimento is larger for Battisti, both in terms of chronology (from ancient and medieval roots that re-emerge in the period of the Renaissance and Baroque until the sprouting of the fantastic in Romanticism); in terms of components (literary and figurative myths deriving from fairy tales and their archaeological roots, terror for witches and demonic aspects, which are combined with the charm exercised by the magic of the elements and the technology of the automata, the direct observation of nature witnessed in scientific illustrations, the appearance of comedy and wonder, astrology, utopia, religious syncretism).[vi]

The classic view of the Renaissance had been a story in 3 acts: an early Renaissance (1400-1500); a High Renaissance (1500-1527) dominated by Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo followed by a Late Renaissance (post 1527 and the sack of Rome), which was seen as a period of decline and decadence. The Battisti view reassessed this late period, showed that it led naturally to the Baroque and Rococo, that its seemingly outlandish elements were among the most memorable. What had been described as a codicil or afterthought now assumed the position of culmination and highest expression.

Other scholars were pointing in a similar direction. André Chastel, in his Le Grand Atelier de L’Italie (1965) pointed attention away from the great centres of Florence and Venice, to include regional centres: Padua, Verona, Mantua, Brescia, Bergamo, Ferrara, Pisa. Now the periphery was as important as the centre. But Battisti’s message was both more inclusive and more disturbing. Not only was the bon ton of the centres not the whole story: the seeming aberrations of the provinces were essential expressions of the early modern period. One result was to inspire Giuseppa to write an article on Baltrušaitis e la cultura francese degli anni Cinquanta, visti da Eugenio Battisti (2010). A more fundamental result was that it inspired her to make apparent the full scale of Eugenio’s vision as expressed in his unpublished works.

2.1.2. Eugenio redivivus

In 2004, 15 years after the passing of Eugenio, Peppa, at the age of 74 set out on extraordinary new journey of publishing a series of works her husband had left unfinished. The journey would take her 14 years until the very last week of her life. Half-jokingly, I would say repeatedly that Eugenio was the only scholar in the world who continued publishing for 29 years after his death.

As she did so, Eugenio’s pattern of taking on familiar topics and transforming them came back into focus. Italian gardens were a familiar topic. Shepherd and Jellicoe had done a classic study Italian Gardens of the Renaissance (1925). But this was simply a study of gardens as physical objects, as pleasant arrangements of plants and flowers. Eugenio and Giuseppe’s study, Iconologia ed ecologia del Giardino e del Paesaggio (2004), was less about the physical geography of gardens and more about their metaphysical connections, or in the words of their publisher:

The author considers the visual artistic-architectural aspect of the gardens represented in paintings or still existing, poetic descriptions of writers and contemporary humanists and their sources, the relationship with the devotion and the mythological imaginary, extending the iconological method to famous literary texts, and to artistic and architectural works, understood as symbolic structures. From today’s meeting between iconology and ecology also comes the revaluation of gardens in the urban landscape and the establishment of parks protected by law.[vii]

In traditional histories, the emphasis was on the physical: the house was the centre and its periphery had gardens, which were effectively a form of ornament. In the Battistis’ analysis, the emphasis was on the metaphysical: the house remained the centre, but the garden at its peripheries was where there were grottoes, grotesques, plays, picnics. Far from being a quaint add-on or an afterthought, the periphery was now the culmination of human expression, culture, civilization.

Arte, teatro, società : l’azione scenica e la cinesica (2008) explored such connections between art, theatre, cinema and society further.[viii] Already in Antirascimento (1962), attention had been drawn to the importance of theatre, the stage, play, the element that Huizinga explored more abstractly in Homo Ludens (1938). The monograph on Brunelleschi explored connections between stage machinery and the origins of perspective. Eugenio went on to suggest that the famous Berlin, Baltimore and Urbino perspective panels were probably connected with scenography. The 2008 book pursued these themes showing that what seemed mere entertainment and escapism were connected with deeper strands of social life: indeed, it was the essence of what we now associate with high culture.

The next book, Michelangelo: Fortuna di un Mito. Cinquecento anni di critica letteraria e artistica (2012) was even more dramatic in its implications. Traditional art history had viewed the history of art largely through the prism of a history of critics, starting with Giorgio Vasari which effectively ignored the artists.[ix] Battisti used his study of Michelangelo to show that there was a parallel history to be told of how artists themselves had viewed various works: a first-hand rather than a second-hand assessment of what had been achieved or, once again, in the words of the publisher:


The studies of Eugenio Battisti, collected here and in part still unpublished, have illustrated, through the lenses of critical fortune grown up around the personality and works of Michelangelo, an exemplary case of historical and ideological creation of the myth about the master, who has travelled centuries of artistic culture, in a never exhausted dialogue, ever resurgent even today to back the taste and aesthetics of the contemporary world.[x]

This had major implications for art history. In the latter 19th and early 20th century, the art historian, Adolfo Venturi, had embraced the new methods of Morelli, Crowe and Cavalcaselle and written a major 11 volume history of Italian art.[xi] His students became famous professors. His son, Lionello Venturi,[xii] followed in his father’s footsteps. His students in turn included Eugenio Battisti and Claudio Giulio Argan. With the rise of Mussolini, Lionello went into exile in America. Eugenio Battisti joined the resistance. Carlo Giulio Argan,[xiii] by contrast, joined the fascist movement, became professor of modern art in Rome (1959), wrote his own 3 volume history of Italian art and also became first communist major of Rome (1976-1979).

Centre and periphery now took on a political face. Those who followed and kow-towed to the fashions of fascism (Mussoloni) and communism took their place in the capital, Rome, as centre of power. Those who had been members of the resistance were now marginalized and in the periphery. This explains Eugenio Battisti’s jobs at Penn State, in Reggio Calabria, Milan, Florence, Rome III (Tor Vergata), but never at the Sapienza. The two political poles also led to two methodological poles. Argan at the centre, was an art critic: Battisti at the periphery was interested in the views and criticisms of the artists themselves. The book on Michelangelo was much more than some notes on a great painter and sculptor. It was a blueprint for a parallel, approach to art history. Remarkably, Giuseppa Battisti, who knew of all these battles, kept such a low profile that she was able to teach at the Sapienza as if she was on another planet.

The next book explored the idea of different viewpoints in another way. Facetiously put, it showed that the formal world of Who’s Who had a parallel world of Which is Witch. La civiltà delle streghe (2015) explored Pogo’s paradox: we have come across the enemy and we are they. It showed that the ostracized and forbidden dimensions of society said as much about the forbidders as the forbidden, that the fears of instincts and chaos were expressions of dogmatism (barking up only one tree) rather than of real civilization. Or as the publishers put it:

Persecuted in Europe until the modern era, many women condemned as witches today have their long moment of revenge. Infusions, potions, prepared in the secret of the kitchens, are the same that we use today to sleep, purify ourselves, or simply to make the cold evening more pleasant. Behind a condemned knowledge, as is always done for fear of the different, there is a whole civilization that the authors show in this heritage, but also in its perversions. Marginalized, when not burned at the stake, witches represent the internal folly of a dogmatic society that fears instincts and chaos. A provocative social examination of the phenomenon of witchcraft that runs parallel and in an original way even compared to other famous studies on the subject.[xiv]

So witchcraft was merely another expression of the exploration of aberrations, bizzarie as Braccelli (1624) called them, or anamophoses. The condemned, in the context of a higher tolerance, were actually sources of unexpected expressions, alternative utopias.

In her final studies, Giuseppa turned to the young Eugenio, the boy, student and young man. What she found was amazing. His initial thesis (tesi di laurea) had been nothing less than a blueprint for an aesthetics of form: Contributi ad una estetica della forma (2017). As she studied the first 26 years of the young man ever new aspects came to light. The wall of the study in the Viale dei 4 Venti 166 had a xerox of Eugenio as Plauto, his code name as a member of the Italian resistance. He was 15 when the war began. But he was also an amateur artist, poet, and active in the local theatre. Physically, the result was Giovinezza (inedita, 2015) and Eugenio Battisti a Torino 1924 -1950 (2018), the final proofs of which were presented to her a week before she died, and after which she refused to eat. Metaphysically, this was the proof why she, 6 years younger than he, had fallen in love, not just till death did them part, but until the last breath of life had left her.

As an outsider, I had always assumed that she, who spent so many years finishing the vision on which they had begun together, would also try to document the journey that they shared together. On numerous occasions I urged her to do so. But this was not to be. An essential dimension of her profound love was that she never attempted to put it into words. She showed her love by completing his vision, by exploring the context before they met. But the moment of meeting was the moment when the mysterious and enigmatic entered the picture. She could write about him, but not about them.

The extraordinary journey that led her to work with and then study, Eugenio, had other effects. It changed her world view. The standard view had been that the ideal, utopian perfection of the Renaissance had started in Florence in 1400 and been shattered with the fall of Rome in 1527. Eugenio’s monographs on Piero and Brunelleschi demonstrated that the beginnings were much more problematic. Eugenio’s Antirinascimento demonstrated that this so-called ending actually led to a further development. The implications of this insight sparked a series of questions that would define the main topics of her intellectual career. One implication was that there was not simply one ideal, one utopia. This meant that there were multiple utopias, sometimes conflicting, sometimes complementing one another. What were their criteria, when did the alternative vision, the marginalized vision become more interesting and important than the standard view? Utopia was now a major research topic.

There were other questions about the beginnings. What changed in the 13th and 14th centuries to make the new world view possible? Herbert Butterfield had found a convincing title, Origins of Modern Science (1949), but had provided unconvincing answers. Panofsky had written of Renaissance and Renascences (1960) suggesting that there were a series of renascences from the Charlemagne’s revival in 800 to the 15th c. version. But for all its wealth in erudition, there was again a poverty in concrete answers. Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) drew attention to the phenomenon of paradigm shifts, which soon became a buzzword, but was also lacking in deeper explanations. So the origins of early modern technology and science now became a major topic.

Meanwhile, the standard view of the Renaissance had emphasized the role of the Church as a patron of the arts. But the dogmatic narrowness of the Catholic Church had led to complaints and ultimately to the rise of many protestant sects. If the theology of the centre no longer provided all the answers, the origins of belief itself became a topic: especially alternatives such as neo-platonism, mysticism, gnosticism and the cabala.

In retrospect, it is almost as if Eugenio and Giuseppa had decided on a work plan. There was a new view of the world. Eugenio explored the who and what of the new phenomenon. Giuseppa examined the how and why of what happened. This was a far cry from a subservient wife typing her husband’s notes. It was an avant-garde historian aided by a very independent philosopher. In finding her husband, Giuseppe also found her life’s work cut out for her.

When we take a first bird’s eye view of her contributions over more than 50 years, some unexpected features become apparent. Her first article[xv] (1972) is when she is 42. The articles focus on specialized issues of philosophy and politics (figure 1). By contrast, her books begin when she is 40 and include all her interests (figure 2): utopia, sources of science, sources of belief and on Eugenio Battisti (2004, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2017).

2.2. Utopia

Daniel Chodowiecki, a member of the Berlin Academy of Art, offered a definition of an academy (1783):

Academy is a term that means an assembly of artists, who gather together at a location assigned to them at certain times, for the purpose of communicating their art in a friendly manner and learning from each other as they attempt to approach perfection.[xvi]

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, academies often became stifled with an overemphasis on rules and unimaginative copying and Giuseppa Battisti avoided them. Yet, ironically, the early goals of academies could be seen as a blueprint for that which she strived for in her utopias. Her study of utopia evolved slowly. It began almost as a spin-off of her studies on Spinoza: e.g. Spinoza, l’utopia e le masse: un’analisi dei concetti di “plebs”, “multitudo”, “populus” e “vulgus” (1984). In the next years, there are two studies: Utopie per gli anni ottanta. studi interdisciplinari sui temi, la storia, i progetti (1986) and Utopia e modernità. teorie e prassi utopiche nell’età moderna e postmoderna (1989). Twenty years later there was L’utopia e San Leucio (2009).

Then there were the conferences. I had the privilege of attending the third one (1989).[xvii] It was a week long, the longest conference in my life, and effectively took the form of a bus ride that linked centre (Rome) and periphery (southern Italy). It began with a day at the National Research Council in Rome. It moved South to Grottaferata, where there were masses in Greek daily for over 400 years before the Fall of Constantinople brought a new influx of Greek scholars to Italy. We proceeded to Monte Vergine, to Padula, to Potenza and ended in Reggio Calabria. It showed us an Italy far from the standard tourist stops. It was an alternative journey and, in a way, a practical utopia. It was splendid and inspiring. Peppa organized everything but Peppa the organizer was invisible. It was as if the whole thing had happened magically and Peppa was simply one of us on an amazing journey, nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita.

2.3 Sources of Early Modern Science and Technology

Aside from generalists such as Butterfield and Panofsky there were some serious efforts to explore what changed in the latter Middle Ages. Pierre Duhem had focussed on cosmology in his Système du Monde (1913), but ignored almost entirely the Arabic (and Persian) dimension. Lynn Thorndike’s massive 8 volume History of Magic and Experimental Science (1923–1958), gave an outline for the official story in terms of who and what, as did George Sarton’s Introduction to the History of science (1927-1948), and the later the Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1970-1980) which focussed more on who. Alistair Crombie’s Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100-1700 (1953) was a brilliant claim for Grosseteste’s importance but ultimately begged a question: if it was all there in 1100 why did it take over 500 years to get to a world of Galileo, Descartes and Newton?

Giuseppa’s first exploration of this domain begins with two articles in 1976: La causalità negli Elementi di teologia di Proclo and Il Grossatesta e la luce. The following year her lecture at the first world conference on perspective, Alcuni esempi di omologia di strutture matematico-geometriche e di strutture logico-ontologiche nella filosofia medievale come premesse alla prospettiva (published 1980), goes much further. It begins with a long footnote on Kuhn’s book, acknowledging its importance and expressing reservations. The main thrust of her article features Proclus, Grosseteste, Oresme, Gerard of Cremona and Alhazen. At a later point, she was one of the first to draw attention to an Italian translation of Alhazen in the Vatican.

Her friends, Corrado Maltese and Livia Maltese Grassi, had published the notebooks of Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1867). Finoli and Grassi published the notebooks of Filarete (1972). Eugenio and Giuseppe published (1984) the much earlier work of Giovanni Fontana

1972     Stanley Rosen, Nihilism: a philosophical essay [recensione]

1976     La causalità negli “Elementi di teologia” di Proclo

1976     Il Grossatesta e la luce

1977     Sistemi politici del passato e del futuro nell’opera di Spinoza

1977     Democracy in Spinoza’s Unfinished Tractatus Politicus

1980     Alcuni esempi di omologia di strutture matematico-geometriche e di strutture

logico-ontologiche nella filosofia medievale come premesse alla prospettiva

1980     La donna, le donne nel cortegiano

1980     Abraham Cohen Herrera et le Jeune Spinoza entre Kabbale et Scolastique: à propos de la création « ex

nihilo »


1983     Misticismo e analisi filosofica

1983     Changing Metaphors of Political Structures

1983    Metafisica e cabbala di Abraham Cohen Herrera nella Historia critica philosophiae di Jacob Brucker


1984     La cultura filosofica del Rinascimento italiano nella Puerta del cielo di Abrahàm Cohèn


1984     Spinoza, l’utopia e le masse : un’analisi dei concetti di “plebs”, “multitudo”, “populus” e “vulgus”

1985     Herrera and Spinoza on divine attributes: the evolving concept of perfection and infinity


1987     Hirsch Graetz: gnosticismo ed antignosticismo alle origini della cabbala

1987     Le passioni come artificio storiografico nelle considerazioni di Montesquieu

1991   E.B.      Il ricordo d’un canto che non sento : poesie e prose inedite : 1944-1950

1992   La cultura della memoria

1994   Eugenio Battisti (Torino 14.12.1924 – Roma 18.11.1989) : una breve biografia

1995   Gallerani : la scultura e il luogo

1995   Il corpo della rivoluzione

1996   La cultura filosofica del rinascimento italiano nella puerta del cielo di Arahàm Cohen Herrera


1997   I connettivi sintattici e le strutture binarie dell’ethica di Spinoza

1991   L’officina delle nuvole : il Teatro Mediceo nel 1589 e gli Intermedi del Buontalenti

nel Memoriale di Girolamo Seriacopi

1992     Il consenso politico da Hobbes a Spinoza

2001   Democracy in Spinoza’s unfinished Tractatus politicus

2009   Oltre la prospettiva euclidea : tempo e spazio per una “Poetica del teatro moderno” e

della prospettiva contemporanea

2009   L’utopia e San Leucio

2010   Baltrušaitis e la cultura francese degli anni Cinquanta, visti da Eugenio Battisti

2012   L’Antirinascimento di Eugenio Battisti, 50 anni dopo

2015   Giovinezza (inedita)


Figure 1. Key articles by Giuseppina Saccaro del Buffa Battisti.

1970   E.B.     Scimmia

1972       Le origini della metafisica di Spinoza nell’abbozzo del 1661

1977       Democracy in Spinozaʼs unfinished Tractatus politicus

1981       Il pensiero di Baruch Spinoza: una antologia delle scritti

1983         Strutture e figure retoriche nel ‘De caelesti hierarchia’ dello Pseudo-Dionigi : un

mezzo di espressione dell’ontologia neoplatonica

1984   E.B.     Le Macchine cifrate di Giovanni Fontana Texte imprimé]con la riproduzione

del Cod. Icon 242 della Bayerische Staatsbibliothek di Monaco di Baviera e la

decrittazione di esso e del Cod. Lat Nouv Acq. 635 della Bibliothèque

Nationale di Parigi


1986       Utopie per gli anni ottanta. studi interdisciplinari sui temi, la storia, i progetti


1989       Utopia e modernità. teorie e prassi utopiche nell’età moderna e postmoderna


1991       Bibliografia degli scritti di Eugenio Battisti (1940-1991)


2002       Abraham Cohen Herrera, Epitome y compendio de la logica o dialetica

2004       Alle origini del Panteismo

2004   E.B.     Iconologia ed ecologia del Giardino e del Paesaggio

2004       Genesi dell’«Ethica» di Spinoza e delle sue forme di argomentazione

2007         Il clown e Spinoza

2007         Herrera, Spinoza e la dialettica umanistica

2008   E.B.     Arte, teatro, società : l’azione scenica e la cinesica

2010       Abraham Cohen Herrera, Porta del Cielo

2012   E.B.     Michelangelo: Fortuna di un Mito. Cinquecento anni di critica letteraria e


2015   E.B.     La civiltà delle streghe

2017   E.B.     Contributi ad una estetica della forma (Tesi di laurea in filosofia, 7 luglio



2018       Eugenio Battisti a Torino. 1924-1950

Figure 2. Books by Giuseppina Saccaro del Buffa Battisti.[xviii] Those written in co-ordination with her husband are marked E.B. (Eugenio Battisti, 1924-1989).

(c.1395-1455). This threw light on amazing 15th century projectors that cast images of demons and devils on castle walls and towers. It documented the changing technology and showed that the magia naturalis, which became a title of one of Della Porta’s books (1558) was already actively practiced more than a century earlier.

As a philosopher, Giuseppa was interested in the why. Proclus was an early interest (1976, 1980). In her first book on Herrera (2002), she explored “Proclus’ hypothetical dialectic as model for the geometric method.”[xix] All this was discussed at length in an article by Marie-Elise Zovko, with due acknowledgement to the work of Giuseppa Battisti: Understanding the Geometric Method: Prolegomena to a Study of Procline Influences on Spinoza as mediated by Abraham Cohen Herrera (2017).[xx] In retrospect, this is of the greatest importance because it reveals that a motivation for studying Spinoza and Herrera in such detail was that they transmitted a new view on geometric method that became a key building block of the Galileian and Cartesian world views. What seemed to an outsider as a detour into a peripheral esoteric, was actually a search for sources of central Western assumptions.

2.4 Sources of Belief

Giuseppa Battista, who lived a few hundred yards from the Vatican could hardly not be aware of the great importance of the Church. But the Church was the centre, linked with power, authority, dogma, bulls and decrees. Giuseppa had no interest in being a historian of religion or even theology as a whole. She acted as if she was someone who was marginalized on the periphery. If one did not assume the official stories of Vedas, Torah and Bible, what sources were there for belief?

Her work on Proclus’ neo-Platonic “theology” has already been mentioned. Spinoza was of special interest. Here was a believer who was effectively cast out from his native Hebrew religion who expressed such articulate views on belief that he was also not really acceptable to the Catholics. Five studies followed (1972, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1985),[xxi] the last of which explicitly connected Spinoza and Herrera. Later there were four more (1992, 2001, 2004, 2007).

In 1983, there were three articles on philosophy, mysticism, metaphysics and cabbala.[xxii] In 1987, there was a study of gnosticism and anti-gnosticism in the cabbala: Hirsch Graetz: gnosticismo ed antignosticismo alle origini della cabbala. Then there is a 17 year break before Alle origini del Panteismo (2004). The outsider who avoided religion, theology and theism, chose instead to explore the origins of pan-theism. Meanwhile, there was a first book on Herrera: Epitome y compendio de la logica o dialetica (2002). Six years later, there was a second: Porta del Cielo (2008). This 908 page tome could readily represent a lifetime’s effort of a regular scholar. For Giuseppa, it was simply part of a much bigger picture. Some scholars have questioned or at least debated her interpretations. But this would be to overlook her enduring contribution: her translations made key texts by Herrera accessible.

Giuseppina Battisti was so busy pursuing her Proclus-Spinoza-Herrera- geometrical method link, that she had little time to emphasize the revolutionary implications of her work. The Church had for a long time insisted that early modern science came directly through its efforts, especially via the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits. Others had argued that the Church was oppressive and that it was only when religion was rejected that early modern science was possible (cf. Max Weber). Giuseppa Battisti introduced an unexpected alternative between these two polar positions. The rise of science was linked with a re-interpretation of what had once been mainstream neo-Platonism, by persons who were believers, but marginalized and on the periphery, when seen through the eyes of orthodoxy.

2.5 Universal Gelehrter

Peppa was not among those who, in the English language, are called polymaths and universal geniuses.[xxiii] She belonged to an equally rare breed for which there is no term in English.[xxiv] The German term is Universalgelehrter: someone who is who is learned in all things. Some, such as Otto Kurz, who began as librarian of the Warburg Institute, came to this through a photographic memory and ultimately wrote on many subjects ranging from old clocks to fakes. André Corboz, who was both a lawyer and historian of architecture, inherited the library of Heinrich Wöllflin, which gave him access to a private library of 45,000 books and led to an extraordinarily wide-ranging mind that went from the Temple of Solomon, Jefferson’s plan of Washington D.C. to trends in modern urbanism.

Peppa was universal in a different and deeper way. The studies of both Battistis revealed that the centre is often linked with power, dogma and dogmatism. Peppa set out on a search for other utopias, for sources of science and belief that were potentially open to everyone. She searched for paths beyond binary choices and polar oppositions: for a new democracy. She searched for ways out of the dogmas of those in power, for new expressions of the imagination, hope and freedom.

Great scholarship is usually in one of two directions. One group focusses on standard views (e.g. Jacob Burckhardt’s vision of the Renaissance, 1860,1867),[xxv] and standard editions. Another group, explores alternative views, interpretations. Giuseppa made contributions to both groups. Her editions of Spinoza and Herrera were very much in the line of standard editions. On the other hand, her tireless publication of Eugenio’s work belonged to the tradition of those who explore alternative views.

  1. Personal Life


4.1 Home Life

The home at Viale dei 4 Venti 166 was effectively 2 appartments on 2 floors. While they lived together, they worked separately. The home was a living space. It was where they brought up their son, Francesco who went on to become professor of sociology at Monte Cassino. It was also officially the headquarters of AISU (Associazione Internationale per Studi sull’Utopia) and functioned as an informal institute. As such, it was also a meeting space for scholars, especially utopians. It was one of my pied à terres in Rome. It was where Critic Art Data (1987), a database on catalogues of exhibitions of contemporary art was housed, 20 years before humanities computing became a buzzword. It housed both the Battistis’ libraries and his archives.

4.2 Enthusiasm and Energy

Until she was into her 80s, Peppa had enormous energy which affected everything she did. She was passionate and wrote about the passions.[xxvi] She was a great traveller visiting exotic places in South East Asia, such as Vietnam and Cambodia. There was a cabinet in the living room which had all the makings of a Wunderkammer – a subject on which one of Eugenio’s students did a PhD.

When I was visiting professor, we would drive across town from her home to Villa Mirafiori in her little Renault quatre chevaux. She drove with such speed that I was at first terrified. When I broached the topic gingerly, she smiled and explained nonchalantly that if she had to obey the usual traffic rules in Rome, she would never get anything done. Later in the term, the topic came up with the students. O yes, they said, we all call her Parigi-Dakar (after the famous car race across the Sahara desert). She was a living legend in more ways than one.

We had met because of my work on perspective. Her husband had asked me to do a bibliography for the first world conference on perspective (Milan, 1977). When Peppa learned that I had been invited to give a course on perspective at Siena, she enthusiastically suggested that I should give a graduate seminar at the Sapienza.[xxvii] She organized everything. She collected me at the airport took me to the university administration, had me sign some papers and lo, I had my wages for the term within two hours of landing. When I gave my lectures, she attended as if she was simply a student, though at 60 she was old enough to be my mother and at a pinch even my grandmother. She was never childish, but all her life she retained the remarkable enthusiasm and passion of a child. She was always interested in young students and treated them with the same attentiveness as if they had been a professore ordinario or extraordinário.

4.4. Irony and Humour

Giuseppa was a wonderful listener, always attentive, always (potentially) critical. She had a brilliant mind but never, in my experience, did she try to hurt someone. But that did not mean that she would take everything “lying down” as the Americans would say. I remember an evening when there was a young American professor visiting. He was rather assertive. After dinner he excused himself to use the toilet. When he returned, he expressed surprise that there were flush toilets. Yes, said Giuseppa, without batting an eyelash, that is something we introduced recently in 265 B.C. Thereafter, the American had new tendencies in the direction of being quiescent. Giuseppa had what my Canadian friends would call a “wicked sense of humour” –without wickedness– with a level of irony so high that it could readily be missed.

4.5. Fufo and Bullo

The More I Know About People, the Better I Like Dogs is a phrase that has been ascribed to many authors: Mark Twain, Madame de Sévigné, Madame Roland, Alphonse de Lamartine, Alphonse Toussenel, Louise de la Rameé, Alfred D’Orsay, Thomas Carlyle.[xxviii] It could equally have been said by Giuseppa. From 1989 onwards, the year of Eugenio’s passing, there was never a man in her life, but there was always a dog. The two protagonists were Fufo and later Bullo. Both were bull terriers. Physically, they were imminently ugly. Metaphysically, they were immanently beautiful. During the 1990s and most of the first decade in the new millennium she would typically go for a walk with them. The dogs had local admirers both canine and human and so any seemingly simple walk was always an adventure.

Opposite the Battisti’s flat lived a Neapolitan lady, Caterina. Although the two flats were independent, there was a small passageway behind the kitchen that connected them which the dogs used. On one occasion, Bullo, who always viewed me jealously as if I were potential competition, was alone with Peppa, when she had a mini-seizure. She was unable to get up. Bullo assessed the situation, ran along the passageway and barked inveterately at Caterina until she came to see what was wrong. An ambulance was called, Peppa recovered and then there were true stories of how a dog had saved her life. Bullo loved it and would lie on his back for one more cocollato.


  1. Conclusions


In spite of many advances, women professors are still a relatively rare phenomenon in Italy. Sometimes they hide behind barriers that make them look formidable. Peppa was different. Her demeanour reminded one of a Miss Marple: completely unassuming, seemingly just a little old lady, but with formidable equipment in the IQ department. She was not argumentative. She would listen and, if she truly disagreed, she would simply be silent. Utopians often want to impose their version on others. This was never the case with Peppa. She saw utopias as new possibilities. She was like the traditional English, who always support the underdog, except in her case the underdogs were those who were marginalized, those on the periphery.

In a sense, the late 20th century had a number of insights in this direction. In France, Michel Foucault, had explored similar themes in Mental Illness and Personality (1954) and led to his viewing the patients as more interesting than their doctors.[xxix] Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) suggested a new view of the past, but the title was more promising than its contents. In the United States, Ken Casey wrote One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), where the message was that the inmates of the asylum were often more lucid than their overseers. All these were contemporary commentaries, which intended to shift analysis for the logical to the psychological.

The Battistis were different, they showed that attentiveness to centre and periphery could lead one to different views of history; where the past was not just a story of the centre and power impressing its stamp on everything, but where the margins and peripheries offered unexpected new expressions, new utopias. Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony was pessimistic: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred within their bones.” The Battistis’ message was much more optimistic. It was an approach that looked to the past to make us more tolerant in the present and the future. Their studies explored the sources of play and playfulness, of the imagination, of human freedom and hope. The weakness of their mortal selves is interred, but the strength of their spiritual vision is eternal. That is why I called her super Peppa.



[i] Cf. Catalogo Bibliotheche Sapienza:

[ii] OPAC SBN:

[iii] Saccaro del Buffa, Giuseppa:

[iv] Sapienza:

[v] Counter-Renaissance review:

[vi] The concept of anti-renaissance has had a broad impact, but also critical series, by those who considered its components already included in Mannerism, or in a more profoundly and problematically examined Renaissance. The suprahistoric extensions of the anti-Renaissance were also denied, warning of the risk of questionable updating.


Il termine è stato proposto per tenere conto delle componenti fantastiche, anticlassiche e irrazionali, dissonanti o addirittura antitetiche rispetto a quelle considerate dalle interpretazioni classisicistiche del Rinascimento, e perciò escluse o sottovalutate, in passato, nella ricostruzione della storia delle arti e delle letterature europee dei secoli XV e XVI. Deriva dall’inglese Counter-Renaissance, coniato da H. Haydn, cui si avvicina per contenuti, ed è stato applicato alle arti da E. Battisti entro l’ampio dibattito che la critica del XX secolo ha svolto sul Manierismo. Rispetto al Manierismo, delimitato come fenomeno stilistico che si manifesta dal 1520 circa, l’antirinascimento è per Battisti più vasto, sia per cronologia (dalle radici antiche e medievali che riemergono nel periodo del Rinascimento e del Barocco sino alle riprese del fantastico nel Romanticismo), sia per componenti (i miti letterari e figurativi derivanti dalle fiabe e le loro radici archeologiche, il terrore per streghe e aspetti demoniaci, ai quali si uniscono il fascino esercitato dalla magia degli elementi e dalla tecnologia degli automi, l’osservazione diretta della natura testimoniata nelle illustrazioni scientifiche, l’apparire del comico e della meraviglia, l’astrologia, l’utopia, il sincretismo religioso).
Il concetto di antirinascimento ha avuto ampia eco, ma anche serie critiche, da chi ha considerato le sue componenti già comprese nel Manierismo, ovvero in un Rinascimento più profondamente e problematicamente esaminato. Sono state anche negate le estensioni soprastoriche dell’antirinascimento, mettendo in guardia dal rischio di discutibili attualizzazioni.

[vii] Olschki:

L’Autore considera l’aspetto visivo artistico-architettonico dei giardini rappresentati in dipinti o tuttora esistenti, le descrizioni poetiche di letterati e umanisti coevi e delle loro fonti, il rapporto con la devozione e l’immaginario mitologico, estendendo il metodo iconologico a famosi testi letterari, e ad opere artistiche e architettoniche, intese come strutture simboliche. Dall’odierno incontro tra iconologia ed ecologia nasce anche la rivalutazione dei giardini nel paesaggio urbano e la costituzione di parchi tutelati dalla legge.

[viii] She returned to these themes in 2009: Oltre la prospettiva euclidea : tempo e spazio per una “Poetica del teatro moderno” e della prospettiva contemporanea.

[ix] Vasari himself was, of course, an artist who commented on many artists. But he made no attempt to trace an historiography of artists’ views on the accomplishments of their earlier colleagues.

[x] Olschki:

Gli studi di Eugenio Battisti, qui raccolti e in parte ancora inediti, hanno illustrato, attraverso le lenti della fortuna critica cresciuta attorno alla personalità e alle opere di Michelangelo, un caso esemplare di creazione storica e ideologica del mito sul maestro, che ha percorso secoli di cultura artistica, in un dialogo mai esaurito, anzi risorgente ancor oggi alla controluce del gusto e dell’estetica del mondo contemporaneo.

[xi] Adolfo Venturi:

[xii] Lionello Venturi:

[xiii] Claudio Giulio Argan:

[xiv] Civilta delle Streghe:

Perseguitate in Europa fino all’epoca moderna, le tante donne condannate come streghe hanno oggi il loro lungo momento di rivalsa. Infusi, pozioni, preparati nel segreto delle cucine, sono gli stessi che oggi usiamo per dormire, depurarci, o semplicemente per renderci la fredda sera più piacevole. Dietro un sapere condannato, come sempre si fa per paura del diverso, c’è tutta una civiltà che gli autori mostrano nel suo patrimonio, ma anche nelle sue perversioni. Emarginate, quando non bruciate al rogo, le streghe rappresentano la follia interna di una società dogmatica che teme istinti e caos. Una provocatoria disamina sociale del fenomeno della stregoneria che scorre parallela e in modo originale anche rispetto ad altri studi celebri sull’argomento.

[xv] There were almost certainly other articles earlier, but this is based on the list of articles in major libraries today.

[xvi] Chodowiecki:


[xviii] Cf. Catalogo Bibliotheche Sapienza:

Cf. Worldcat:

[xix] Proclus:

[xx] This is in a book Proclus and his Legacy with same address as in previous link.

[xxi] 1972     Le origini della metafisica di Spinoza nell’abbozzo del 1661

1977     Democracy in Spinozaʼs unfinished Tractatus politicus

1981     Il pensiero di Baruch Spinoza: una antologia delle scritti

1984     Spinoza, l’utopia e le masse : un’analisi dei concetti di “plebs”, “multitudo”, “populus” e “vulgus”

1985     Herrera and Spinoza on divine attributes: the evolving concept of perfection and infinity

[xxii] 1983     Strutture e figure retoriche nel ‘De caelesti hierarchia’ dello Pseudo-Dionigi : un

mezzo di espressione dell’ontologia neoplatonica

Misticismo e analisi filosofica (1983)

Metafisica e cabbala di Abraham Cohen Herrera nella Historia critica philosophiae

[xxiii] Polymaths:

[xxiv] The English tradition favours specialization. Phases such as: Jack of all trades, master of none entails much more than a witty saying. There is a genuine mistrust of wide-ranging minds and a definite bias in favour of the specialist, the expert, the authority. There were, of course, rare exceptions such as Benjamin Jowett, the Master of Balliol (

First come I. My name is J–W–TT.
There’s no knowledge but I know it.
I am the Master of this College,
What I don’t know isn’t knowledge.

  1. C. Beeching The Masque of B-ll–l (1881), line 1.

[xxv] Burckhardt:

About half of the original edition was devoted to the art of the Renaissance. Thus, Burckhardt was naturally led to write the two books for which he is best known, his 1860 Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien (“The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy”) (English translation, by S. G. C. Middlemore, in 2 vols., London, 1878), and his 1867 Geschichte der Renaissance in Italien (“The History of the Renaissance in Italy”). The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was the most influential interpretation of the Italian Renaissance in the 19th century and is still widely read.

[xxvi] Le passioni come artificio storiografico nelle considerazioni di Montesquieu (1987). She also wrote on poles in people: Persone tra due poli : idealizzazione e complessità (1993). Cf.

[xxvii] Strictly speaking, this is less than half an in memoriam because I only knew her for the last 40 years of an extraordinary life. Our friendship began indirectly. In 1975, Eugenio Battisti, was planning the first world conference on perspective (Milan, 1977). I was doing a PhD on perspective at the Warburg Institute. I received an invitation to attend and was subsequently invited to prepare a bibliography, which was to appear as a separate volume. It seemed innocuous. Soon it became a hobby one day a week; then it took a year of my life as a Getty Fellow (1986-1987), then there was an hiatus, and now it continues to be a project pointing to eight volumes. This was typical of the Battisti family: they were constantly inspiring projects which were the equivalents of life time’s work.

[xxviii] Dogs:

[xxix] Foucault:

[1] Family Photo: (no longer available on Facebook

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 18.06.41


This paper can be downloaded HERE====>  Giuseppa Saccaro del Buffa Battisti (1930-2018)

It will be posted soon on the huge semiotic database

The Renaissance and the philosophies that split the thinking world in [“centre’ versus “periphery”] are core to what La Peppa explored. And it is fascinating to read as background to the book “The Square and the Tower”: see:

*) Kim Veltman is also The Librarian of Corridoria [] and author of the impressive book “Alphabets of Life” [ ]; the above article is blogged here with his permission.

jaap van till , TheConnectivist




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This entry was posted in Communities, democracy, Emancipation, Enlightenment, Ethics, influencing peoples perception, perspective, Renaissance, Self Organization, Spinosa, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to In Memoriam “La Peppa”(1930-2018)

  1. theburningheart says:

    ¨That is why I called her super Peppa.¨

    Indeed! 🙂

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