Friday, February 4, 2011

Italian Big Cheeses At Home In L.A.

By Nancy Mattoon

Parisani d'Ascoli coat of arms (1747),
From the Bourbon Family Archive.

(All Images Courtesy of UCLA Library Special Collections.)

Here's a history pop quiz: Which country, made up of many independent states, was united under a central government first: Italy or the United States of America? Surprisingly, while the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, the Italian city-states weren't joined together under a single ruler, King Victor Emmanuel II, until 1861. (And even then not completely--Rome was among the hold outs.)

Family genealogical table (ca. 18th-19th century),
From The Bourbon Family Archive.

Before that date, Italy was made up of a large and ever-changing group of kingdoms, each with its own royal family. (For example, the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of Sicily, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, the Duchy of Milan, and the Papal States, to name just a few.) And each and every one of those Kings rewarded his most loyal followers with both lands and titles. The result was that just as The Godfather's Corleone family "had a lot of buffers," the Italian royals had a lot of nobles.

Papacy of Clement VIII privilege and indulgence (1595),
From the Bourbon Family Archive.

Researching the many, many noble families of Italy is quite a chore. At one time or another there were about 20 major dynasties ruling from "sovereign houses," at least eight different clans commanding loyalty from "royal palaces," and nine more families governing as "papal nobility." Wikipedia has a page for each of 63 separate "nobles houses of Italy," and that is far from a complete list. All in all, one very large antipasto tray stacked high with Italian big cheeses. (And, as Homer Simpson might say, "Mmmmm, Italian cheese...") But take heart -- a newly acquired collection of historic papers makes a single archive a terrific source for savoring several different slices of Italy's noble past.

Drawing of details of Orsini palazzo in Rome, c. 1717,
From the Orsini Family Papers.

As of February 1, 2011 the Charles E. Young Department of Special Collections at the UCLA Library is home to the Bourbon del Monte di San Faustino Family Archive, a comprehensive collection of documents created between the 14th and 19th centuries by, for, and about this prominent and noble Italian family. Among the collection's contents are civil and ecclesiastical contracts, documents from lawsuits and court cases, wills and post-mortem inventories, genealogies, certificates of nobility, correspondence, and family chronicles. The Bourbon del Monte di San Faustino family can trace its origin and lineage back some 1,200 years to the time of Charlemagne, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who granted the family its original patent of nobility. One of the clan's most celebrated members was a 16th century Cardinal, Francesco Maria Del Monte. A diplomat and connoisseur of the arts, he was the foremost early patron of the great Italian baroque painter, Caravaggio.

Orsini fiefs on Lake Bracciano, 1690s,
From The Orsini Family Papers.

The Bourbon del Monte di San Faustino Family Archive is the perfect compliment to another, much larger collection already housed in the Charles E. Young Research Library, covering the illustrious Orsini family. Comparable in power and influence to the Medici family, the Orsini produced three popes, 28 cardinals and 33 Roman senators. The Orsini Family Papers take up a whopping 572 archival boxes, and span the years 1150 through 1950. The two archives together give UCLA one of the finest collections of Italian history primary source materials in the United States.

Floorplan of Casa del Monte Lippiano (1807),
From the Bourbon Family Archive.

According to UCLA professor of Italian, Massimo Ciavolella,"The Bourbon del Monte family is among the earliest aristocratic families in Italy, thus an integral part of Italian social history and related to many noble families--the Sforza, the Farnese, the Gonzaga, to name a few, and, of course, to the Orsini. This well-organized archive affords us a look at the workings of the family within in a small Umbrian setting and will inform scholars in the fields of economics, law, prosopography, paleography, geography, diplomatic history and, of course, literature and language." That's almost as many disciplines as there are Italian noble families. Or for that matter, Italian cheeses--Wikipedia's "incomplete list" tops out at around 400 varieties.

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