Coriolano Cippico

Coriolano Cippico (1425–93), the author of The Deeds of Commander Pietro Mocenigo, was a Dalmatian noble of Trogir (Trau), a middling sized town on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Scion of a patrician household with a long pedigree and possibly Italian origins, Coriolano was raised and educated in the humanist culture of the time. His father, Pietro, was a learned man with antiquarian tastes who associated with Italian and local humanists of note, knew personally the avid antiquarian Ciriaco d’Ancona, collected and copied Latin works and put together a compendium of Roman epitaphs.

He was also an active servant of his community and its overlord Venice and a man of action who served as galley captain under Pietro Loredan, the Venetian captain of the sea, in 1431. Coriolano’s mother, Peregrina Cega, belonged to an urbanized landholding family and held a village as a fief from Emperor Sigismund in her own right. Shaped in such a family, Coriolano grew to become the perfect embodiment of the Renaissance urban aristocrat and early modern male: no longer a medieval warrior on horseback and a rough castle-dweller but a well-read humanist in command of elegant neoclassical Latin with a keen eye for vestiges of classical antiquity and a local patriot conscious and proud of his cultural background. He was also a town dweller and an absentee landlord with an interest in good husbandry, a trustee of the local cathedral, a diplomat and, just like his father, a leader of men and galley captain serving under Venetian command on behalf of his community.

Coriolano learned his Latin there and possibly some rudimentary Greek at one of Trogir’s grammar schools. At fifteen he went to Padua, whose university was the primary educational establishment in the territorial domain of Venice, Trogir’s sovereign. There he polished his classical languages, deepened his knowledge of Roman literature, and developed his rhetorical skill. Padua was the place where several of the prominent humanists of the time had been educated, including Coriolano’s illustrious contemporaries Niccolò Perotti (1429-80) and Giovanni Pontano (1426-1503), and later worthies like Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94), Aldo Manutio the Younger (1547-97), and others. In Padua he also studied nautical matters and military strategy.

Back in Trogir after completing his studies, he married the Venetian noblewoman Giacobina Lodi, who died young, and then married Nicoletta de Andreis. Ten children were born of these marriages, six sons and four daughters. In 1456, aged thirty-one, Coriolano was already a trustee of Trogir’s cathedral endowment. He is recorded in the office in 1460, 1477 and 1488 and may have held the position throughout. In the 1450s and 1460s, as an already established local magnate, Coriolano acted as a representative of Trogir to the Venetian Senate. He also served as Trogir’s envoy to the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus, and the king granted him the privilege of immunity from baronial jurisdiction. Throughout these decades, he found time to refine his credentials as a man of letters among the Venetian nobles with Renaissance tastes, and he associated with leading Italian humanists of the time, including Marcantonio Sabellico and Palladio Fosco. Civic service and literary pursuits were not his only engagement. By 1468 Coriolano was a substantial landlord as well, for his mother had died, and after a suit against his nephew George Ivanishevich in 1472, he inherited her fief of Radosich.

In 1470, spurred by the debacle of the fall of Negroponte to the Ottoman Turks, the Venetian Senate ordered a naval force led by Pietro Mocenigo to conduct a campaign of retribution. Trogir was asked to contribute a war galley to the Venetian armada, and Cippico was appointed its captain. For the next four years, Coriolano sailed the Aegean and Ionian Seas with Mocenigo in a series of depredations on Ottoman coastal settlements, strengthening the resolve of the Christian Orthodox population on the islands and defending Venetian interests in Cyprus and on the Albanian coasts. Mocenigo valued him highly and entrusted him with several sensitive missions. True to his literary vocation, Cippico must have kept notes of the campaign’s course until its end in 1474. Immediately upon his return, sometime between late 1474 and July 1475, he composed The Deeds and dedicated them to Marcantonio Morosini, then Venetian ambassador to the duke of Burgundy. While the treatise added to his humanist standing, the material spoils obtained on the campaign allowed him to demonstrate his civic commitment.

With funds from the booty in 1476, Cippico began the construction of a family stronghold on the coast of Trogir, designed to contribute to his commune’s commitment to guard against the increasing Ottoman menace in the Adriatic and the Dalmatian hinterland. He funded the construction largely by himself, since the request for support to Trogir’s Venetian governor, Troilo Malipiero, which the latter duly relayed to the Senate, was not honored. By late 1481 the family had left their old palazzo in Trogir, still standing today, and moved to the new residence. Besides providing for the family headquarters, spoils from the campaign allowed for the extension of Coriolano’s landed estates. In the early 1480s he bought, exchanged and leased out parcels of land, often selling on the condition that cash crops such as wines, grain and fruit-bearing trees would be cultivated on the plots. Apart from revenues from land exploitation and from the liquidation of the spoils from Mocenigo’s campaign, Coriolano drew interest from loans (some of which he extended with money from his wife’s dowry) masked as usufructum on the land that was used to guarantee the advances. In sum, by the early 1490s Coriolano emerged as a wealthy urban patrician with substantial interests in landed property.

Then a major disaster struck. In 1492, the residence stronghold on the coast caught fire and burned down. Coriolano’s spouse Nicoletta lost her life in the blaze. This time around the Venetian Senate promptly extended support, and the castle was restored later that year, but the aged Coriolano’s spirits were crushed by the accident. A consolatory letter by Marco Antonio Sabellico testifies to his condition (and informs us that among other things he also wrote poetry). After spending a few more months in the residence, coping with grief, caring for his younger sons and dealing with his landed estate, Coriolano died in 1493. He was buried in Trogir’s cathedral, to the right of the main altar. His sons and grandsons continued in the family tradition as town notables, church leaders, Renaissance worthies and fighters against the Ottomans. Fully in the tradition of the house, Coriolano’s grandson Alvise commanded a galley in the battle of Lepanto in 1571 and came back with glory and trophies.

— from the Editor’s Introduction

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