"La Rivista di Engramma (open access)" ISSN 1826-901X

184 | settembre 2021

97888948401

“Bellezza!”

On Donald Gordon - or a Warburgian Bridge between Italy and England

 Chiara Velicogna

Appendix | Letters from Donald Gordon to Licisco Magagnato

This essay can be read as a continuation of – or rather, a lengthy digression to – my afterword to the Italian translation of Gordon’s In memoriam dedicated to Gertrud Bing. Information was scarce on this scholar who was, clearly, a part of the large Warburgian circle and was, albeit too young to have known Aby Warburg, a close friend of Fritz Saxl and Gertrud Bing. Thanks to John Scott’s essay, Un pellegrinaggio sentimentale da Malo a Reading (Scott 2012), the link between Donald Gordon and Luigi Meneghello has made it possible to unravel a further system of relations between Italian intellectuals and the Warburg Institute in the post-war period, as well as the extent of the influence of the Institute’s photographic collection. Thus, we attempt to reconstruct a missing link between the Italian and English cultural milieus in the second post-war period, at a fluid crossroads between literature, theatre and architecture. The connections between specific English institutions (the Warburg Institute, the University of Reading) and the large Venetian cultural milieu reveal a lively exchange through correspondence and travel, whereby both sides grow richer. This reconstruction a posteriori involves personalities from different disciplines, connected by their relationship with the Warburg Institute, Donald J. Gordon, Gertrud Bing, and Italy. And so it begins near the end, unravels backwards and attempts to retrace the interests and influence of professor Gordon, and in turn the influence of the Warburg Institute on English and Italian studies, and their reciprocal relationship, after the end of the Second World War.

The figure of Gertrud Bing appears just as crucial in the establishment of these ties: her presence, first as acting director then as director of the Warburg Institute, and at the same time her close relationship with Italy since the days of her travels to Rome with Aby Warburg made it possible for many Italian scholars to spend time in London and in the Institute’s library, going beyond cultural and linguistic limitations, since, as she was quoted to say to Italians who struggled with English, “non si preoccupi, qui parliamo italiano o lo capiamo, perché chi non sa l’italiano non è una persona civile” (Bing [1956] 2020, “do not worry, here we speak Italian or we understand it, since those who do not know Italian are not civilised” [Author’s translation]). Between the lines of the correspondence between Donald Gordon, Luigi Meneghello, Licisco Magagnato and Alessandro Bettagno, who all had connections with the extended circle of the Warburg Institute, Bing’s frequent and tireless journeys to Italy emerge, as does her (and the Institute’s) commitment to a research approach that was unique to, and in a way autonomous from, the British academic context (Del Prete 2020).

“Now who the Divell taught thee so much Italian?”

Alvin Langdon Coburn, Photographic portrait of Donald James Gordon (24 January 1962). The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Obituary writing can be considered a literary genre, which “the British have turned into an art” (Showalter 2000), that grew progressively more important from the nineteenth century onwards; in the twentieth century, it grew in importance and the boundaries between obituary and memoir became, in some cases, less defined. The biographical essay, often written by a close friend and distinct from the “formal obituary” preserved a memory of something that was at risk of vanishing (T. S. Eliot, quoted in Demoor 2005, 262) and revealed as much of the subject as of the author. Gordon’s memoir of Gertrud Bing (Gordon 1965) can partly be read as such: he interweaves the memories of one of his closest friends to those of his own life, leaving a first-person account of events, such as the year spent in Florence between 1938 and 1939, that would have been otherwise lost in the sands of time. It is worth noting that it is his only autobiographical fragment left, and in that it hides as much as it reveals: thus the amount of biographical information that serves the scope of this essay has to be gleaned from elsewhere, through the words of other notable figures, British and Italian, that crossed paths with Gordon. That for the British the memoir-obituary has a particular importance in the case of academics is testified by the existence of publications entirely dedicated, by at least two institutions (the Royal Academy and the British Academy), to the memory of their deceased Fellows. The customary essay narrating a fragment of life of the scholar, where he or she is shown, among many achievements and honours, to have also had a personal life, exists for many intellectuals involved with the circle of the Warburg Institute – in many cases, particularly for their status of emigrés, the trajectory of exile appears often as an inevitable narrative element, a lens through which their life is viewed. From these pieces much can be inferred about the dynamics of the circle itself, and the many ramifications of their reciprocal relations: see for example the many obituaries written by E.H. Gombrich. None such exists on the English side for Donald J. Gordon, except for a terse and concise one published on The Times in December 1977 and probably written by J.B. Trapp.

Gordon would have wished to be remembered as a historian whose chief concern was with the vitality of ideas and the ways in which their expression in art and literature shape and are shaped by human desires and aspirations (The Times, 24 December 1977).

Gordon, however, had strong ties with Italy in general and with Vicenza in particular, thanks to his long friendship with Luigi Meneghello, who dedicates him a longer essay on the Odeo Olimpico (Meneghello 1979). The title, Uno scozzese italianato, is a variation on the proverb “Un Inglese Italianato è un diavolo incarnato”, cited by John Florio in the address to the reader of his Second Fruits and introduced by Roger Ascham in The scholemaster (1570) to criticise what was in his opinion an excessive fascination for Italy by some of his contemporaries. This variation is particularly interesting and hardly superficial, not only because it evokes Gordon’s studies of Elizabethan England, but also for a subtler parallel between that epoch’s view of Italy and that of the 1940s: Ascham writes that while “Vertue once made that countrie Mistres ouer all the worlde”, “Italie now, is not that Italie that was wont to be” (Ascham 1572), and one can be tempted to see a parallel feeling, ironically enough, in the fascination with Italian Renaissance by the English-speaking world during the years of the war and immediately after. In an almost circular reprise, Italian studies in England turned again to the Renaissance as the mythical image of an once glorious country, while at the same time at least ignoring the sad actuality of contemporary and post-war Italy. The stereotype appears to be long-lived, as the “ambivalent veneration of Italy’s great beauty and glorious past, entwined with contempt for its contemporary political and moral corruption” (Taddei 2017) has yet to die out; and the perception of Italy as a “dream-like, utopian space” (Schaff 2010, 12) has an equally long tradition. In a sense, exploring the reciprocal cultural influences between England and Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries could have also meant a sort of absolution by imagination of a familiar place that was, in its contemporary incarnation, a terra incognita of sorts.

Gordon had experienced some of the dismal times of late 1930s Italy during his year in Florence, which was in a way “sad, dark and disastrous” (Kermode 1997, 179) due to the growing, diffused violence of the fascist regime. The dissonance between the imaginary of “a land with a more hospitable climate – not only in terms of intellectual culture, politics, and art, but also with regard to health, food and morals” (Schaff 2010, 12) and the troubling reality of 1938 Italy is striking to the young Gordon, who would later recount this first episode in Florence:

On my first or second night there I saw a lorry load of young men breaking the windows of a large shop: a Jewish shop, I was told next day, when I asked what could have been happening. That winter and spring the evidence accumulated in the bookshop windows and the nervous interest of my landlady in Jews; and in the salons and cafés of the dissident poets and intellectuals, and the solemn ugly dark brown studies of professors, the stories multiplied of what was happening in the universities, and of the new or the renewed or the attempted flight of German, Austrian, Czech, Italian: a dissolving society (Gordon 1965).

The sharp contrast between Shelley’s Italy as a “paradise of exiles” and the “dissolving society” just before the onset of the Second World War – not only Italian, but European at large, echoes in Gordon’s words, particularly where he highlights that the breaking up of the intellectual sphere of many cities had produced, there in Florence and shortly later in England, a fluid milieu of lost (or displaced) identities. Thus, the list of notable figures that follows is constructed by allusions, the reverse of name-dropping, substituting the names of those anglophone “expatriates, tourists, refugees” that were in Florence at the time (for a brief analysis see the afterword to Gordon 1965) with a fragment of their identity and role in that community.

Italians have no place in that list, perhaps deliberately. The quotation from W. H. Auden’s Spain serves not only as a re-connection to his own student experience at Cambridge, which was likely to have been similar to the one recounted by Eric Hobsbawm:

Writers supported Spain not only with money, speech and signatures, but they wrote about it, as Hemingway, Malraux, Bernanos and virtually all the notable contemporary young British poets - Auden, Spender, Day Lewis, MacNeice - did. Spain was the experience that was central to their lives between 1936 and 1939, even if they later kept it out of sight. This was clearly so in my student days at Cambridge between 1936 and 1939. Not only was it the Spanish war that converted young men and women to the left, but we were inspired by the specific example of those who went to fight in Spain (Hobsbawm 2007).

but also as a reference to the suburban circle of mostly German-speaking, mostly Jewish intellectuals that flourished at Bing and Saxl’s home in Dulwich. And if in Cambridge “there had been Spain for so long”, in those “salons and cafés” in Florence, Gordon had the chance to make the acquaintance of many of those Italians, “the dissident poets and intellectuals”, with whom friendship would last beyond the end of the Second World War: in a way, it was another experience, albeit much less violent than the Spanish one, of anti-fascist resistance. A notable example of those intellectuals is Eugenio Montale, whose friendship with Gordon is testified by the dedication of a poem, La Trota Nera, composed during a visit to Reading in 1948 together with Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante – the manuscript for the poem bears a lapidary comment by Gordon: “no trouts in this river!” (Fondo Eugenio Montale – Gina Tiossi, Università di Pavia) Others are mentioned by Luigi Meneghello such as Piero Calamandrei, future member of Italy’s Assemblea Costituente and Luigi Russo, founder of the “Belfagor” journal, mentioned in a letter by Meneghello among the readings of Gordon (at the time of writing, it had been in print less than a year):

Specie il dr. Gordon che insegna qui letteratura inglese – influenza del 500 italiano sul loro 600 – ha studiato un anno a Firenze, amico o buon conoscente di Russo, Calamandrei, Montale – non Ragghianti, ecc. è informato di noi e logicamente di qui. Invita me e due o tre studenti letterati, e facciamo le ore piccole col vischi, nel suo piccolo alloggio, caldo e bello, pieno di Moravia, Einaudi, Belfagor, Eliot, James (Luigi Meneghello to Licisco Magagnato, 21 October 1947 in Caputo, Napione 2018, 106).

Namely dr. Gordon, who here teaches English literature – the influence of the Italian 15th century on their 16th – he studied in Florence for a year, [is] a friend or a good acquaintance of Russo, Calamandrei, Montale – but not of Ragghianti, etc. he knows about us and, naturally, about here. He invites me and two or three students of literature, and we stay up until the early hours drinking whiskey, in his small, warm and nice lodgings, full of Moravia, Einaudi, Belfagor, Eliot, James [Author’s translation].

“Belfagor”, borrowing its name from the eponymous archdevil of a Machiavelli novella, published articles on a variety of topics spanning from the literature of the Middle Ages to polemic pieces on contemporary Italian politics, along with book reviews and “critical portraits of contemporaries”. The Proemio to the first issue states that:

‪La nostra rivista, che vuole accogliere studi e saggi di critica letteraria su scrittori italiani e stranieri, di filologia classica e romanza, di storia, di arti figurative e musicali, sarà anche una rivista di politica, di etica della politica, ci affrettiamo a dire, perché non ne vogliamo legare l'indirizzo al programma di un partito o alla scolastica ruminazione di una particolare dottrina, anche per rispetto delle idee diverse dei nostri collaboratori. [...] non chiediamo a nessuno la tessera del suo partito, chiediamo soltanto serietà di lavoro e spregiudicatezza di orientamento critico […] (Russo 1946, 4). ‬‬‬‬‬‬

Our journal, that will include studies and essays of literary criticism on Italian and foreign authors, on Classical and Romance Philology, on History, on Figurative and Musical Arts, will also be concerned with politics – with the ethics of politics, we hastily specify – since we do not want to tie our editorial line to the programme of a political party or to the scholastic ruminations of a specific doctrine, out of respect for the different ideas of our collaborators. […] we ask no party membership, we only demand rigour and an open-minded and bold critical attitude[…] [Author’s translation].

And it is probably this open-minded and bold attitude (an English translation of the Italian spregiudicatezza proves difficult to render properly in its positive sense) that appealed to Gordon, as well as the possibility of staying in contact with what was happening in Italy at the time, of keeping up a cultural bridge, avoiding to yield completely to a stereotypical, idealised image.

Meneghello, in fact, states that the relationship with Italian culture was central to Gordon’s interests (Meneghello 1979). He was almost self-taught in the language, and appears to have absorbed many obsolete or dialectal forms from his readings and acquaintances. A case of the former is narrated by Frank Kermode, who recalls that Gordon was fluent in Italian but the language was “blemished by astonishing archaisms: Questo lurido paese he would hoot, ignoring the fact that lurido in modern Italian means filthy or squalid, not pale and wan” (Kermode 1997, 178). The latter is most evident from Gordon’s letters to Magagnato, for example “trovarò”, “ne pensaremo”, “m’informarò”, “quel non c’è iu en testa”, “figuriti!” are all Vicentine dialectal forms, or at least variations, of Italian words that have found their way in Gordon’s language, probably absorbed from Meneghello’s manner of speech. Despite the fascination with 16th century Italy – and Vicenza –, Gordon had no delusions about the character of contemporary Italians, who he considered sometimes suspicious, as in “Ho preso gli atteggiamenti italiani e son divenuto altrettanto sospettoso io!” (“I have absorbed the Italian attitude and I have become myself as much suspicious as them!” Donald Gordon to Licisco Magagnato, undated letter, Archivio Magagnato Verona, b. 99, author’s translation) and “i giovanotti italiani sono tutti sciagurati” (Luigi Meneghello to Licisco Magagnato, in Caputo, Napione 2018, 126).

Italy, Cambridge and the Warburg Institute

Italy – and specifically, the Italian Renaissance – perhaps served for Gordon also as a means for reacting, on account of a latent intellectual dissatisfaction, to the English academic tradition, much as it had for Frances Yates almost a decade earlier. Describing the people involved in the larger Warburg circle towards the end of the 1950s, Michael Baxandall introduces the category of the “English people (Donald Gordon was one) whose research interests were isolated in England and had impelled them to the Institute” (Baxandall 2012, 28). Before the War, the dissociation of English literature from the history of ideas, other European literatures and the visual world appeared as the mainstream approach: the subject of the Italian Renaissance, removed in time and space, allowed for the overcoming of “insularity” (Yates 1988, 211). In her Autobiographical fragments, Frances Yates states multiple times how the approach of the Warburg Institute was completely new for the English milieu, which particularly eschewed contact and dialogue with images; in a sense, her words parallel Gordon’s in his recollections of the times preceding his encounter with Saxl, Bing and the Institute:

There was newness and a grateful surprise, and a kind of familiarity: all combined, so that books and scholarship and persons and places all went together in one experience. Brought up in schools of literature in the traditions of nineteenth-century ‘positivist’ history, and in the polemics about the ‘new criticism’ (of which I was already tired: though much in their debt) much concerned (as we already were) with the ‘image’, and not happy about the ways we had of talking about it: most interested in that and in the new ‘history of ideas’, which was coming to the schools from – mostly and directly – America – and not very happy about that either; and deeply involved with Italian things (and in Italy offered Croce, when I much preferred Marx) – I was very ready for the library and for Saxl (Gordon 1965).

That the Warburg Institute was indeed striving to establish a method that was openly in contrast with the deeply ingrained British academic tradition is confirmed by Bing herself, as director of the Warburg Institute in 1958:

I miei colleghi cercano di inculcare negli studenti l’idea che per essere buoni storici non è detto che ci si debba restringere a problemi politici, costituzionali o letterari; e benché il compito sia alquanto ingrato, trattandosi di mettersi contro una tradizione accademica che ha profonde radici, altri insegnanti dell’Università di Londra ci dicono che la nostra influenza sulla mentalità degli studenti comincia a farsi sentire (Bing 1958).

My colleagues are trying to instil in the students the idea that it is not necessary to restrict oneself to political, constitutional or literary problems in order to be good historians; and however thankless the task, given that it is a matter of contrasting a deeply-rooted academic tradition, other professors at the University of London are telling us that our influence on the students’ mentality is beginning to be tangible [Author’s translation].

A dissatisfaction with the Cambridge intellectual milieu is also stated by Gordon himself, who had obtained his Ph.D at Trinity College:

Here was, more valuable at that moment, almost, than anything else, the example of persistence: persistence, in reading, in asking, in working. An example more valuable than I, and many more, found in Cambridge, where persistence too often was only blandly unexamined habit or a determined parochialism, better calculated to affront than fortify the young; where gardens and buildings spoke with a more moving voice (Gordon 1965).

Eric Hobsbawm, who was at King’s College and was two years Gordon’s senior and describes Cambridge in the 1930s with the exact same word, “parochial”, so much that:

Cambridge has changed so profoundly since the 1950s that it is difficult to grasp just how isolated and parochial the place was in the 1930s even academically — apart from the incomparable national and international distinction of its natural sciences. With the exception of its world-class economics, it refused to recognize the social sciences. Its arts subjects were, at best, patchy. However implausible it seems, outside the natural sciences most of the university took little interest in research, and none in higher degrees such as Ph.D.s which were regarded at best as a German peculiarity and, more likely, as a lower-middle-class affectation (Hobsbawm 2003).

The alternative provided by the Warburg Institute appeared thus much more interesting and stimulating not only from the prospective of a student but, chiefly, as a valuable teaching method for the humanities. It is also confirmed by Richard Read, who stated that as a professor and supervisor, Gordon “He was intent on deconstructing my Cambridge English literature education in terms of much wider European sources of the Warburgian kind.” (Richard Read, in email correspondence with the author)

The resistance of the English cultural establishment to the use of images in relation to topics outside the visual arts proper appears to have continued after World War II, and it is most likely thanks to the cultural activity of the Warburg Institute that some of that resistance could be overcome. Their relationship with Italian scholars had always been close, and continued after the War (for the intellectual exchange between the WI and Italy before 1939 see Bassi 1999): the Institute’s journal dedicated a special issue in 1946 to contributions from Italy, so that the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes

[…] have thus strengthened the ancient ties between our two countries and reaffirmed once again the consciousness we share of the bond that unites all who study man’s painful history and of the hope it gives for the future of humane civilization (Calogero 1946).

A further Italian perspective on the Warburg Institute in London, and Italian emigrés in 1950 is provided by the correspondence between Licisco Magagnato and Alessandro Bettagno. The latter was, at the time, a young art historian from Verona who studied Venetian painting in Padua and received a research Fellowship at the Warburg Insititute; he later would become director of the Istituto di Storia dell’Arte of the Fondazione Cini in Venice. The close friendship between him and Magagnato makes for lively, ironic, sometimes tranchant commentaries, from which transpires an admiration for the intellectual climate at the Institute. The availability of funds for traveling and attending conferences, as well as the presence of the Library contrast with the situation in Italy:

Continuo a “scoprire” libri ed estratti non solo interessanti ma fondamentali per i miei interessi: il grave è che non riesco a leggere tutto quello che trovo ed ormai mi trovo ad avere forse esagerato in questi “excursus” per tutta l’arte tardo-antica a danno anche del mio particolare argomento. Ma non sono del tutto pentito di ciò. Penso che gli italiani, senza tutti questi mezzi e queste raffinatezze bibliografiche sono dei veri rabdomanti della storia dell’arte… se riescono ancora a scrivere delle cose interessanti (Alessandro Bettagno to Licisco Magagnato, 9 May 1950, Archivio Magagnato Verona, b. 94)

I keep on “discovering” books and excerpts which are not merely interesting but fundamental for my interests: the bad thing is that I do not manage to read everything I find and I have perhaps exaggerated in these “excursus” through all of ancient art to the detriment of my specific subject. But I do not fully regret this. I think Italians, without all these means and bibliographic refinements, are indeed diviners of History of Art…if they still manage to write interesting things [Author’s translation].

In Bettagno’s words, there emerges a contrast between the collaborative attitude at the “beloved Warburg” and the more hierarchical structure at the University of Padua, where Bettagno’s relationship with the Maestri needed a mixture of diplomacy, captatio benevolentiae and privacy. As Bing later stated in 1956,

Proprio per la natura delle nostre collezioni, esse rappresentano un centro attorno al quale tendono a gravitare studiosi con interessi comuni. I lettori che vengono all’Istituto sono praticamente sicuri di trovarvi altri studiosi impegnati in lavori affini; e noi per parte nostra annoveriamo tra i nostri privilegi quello di metterli in relazione tra loro.

The very nature of our collections makes them a centre toward which scholars with shared interests tend to gravitate. The readers who come to the Institute are sure to find there other scholars working on similar themes; we, on our part, have the privilege to connect them together [Author’s translation].

Gertrud Bing appears to be a driving force in the Institute’s research activities and in maintaining direct contact with Italy, as well as with the Italian scholars in London: Bettagno states that he “hoped to go with Miss Bing by car to Canterbury” (Alessandro Bettagno to Licisco Magagnato, 9 May 1950, Archivio Magagnato Verona, b. 94) during the course of his stay in England. From Gordon’s correspondence it emerges that both he and Bing frequently travelled to Italy, sometimes together and sometimes not, not only to attend conferences or symposia or to acquire new books for the Library but also to maintain ties and relationships. This kind of active involvement not only appears a precursor of contemporary times, but also as a counterbalancing attitude to a prevailing English consciousness of the loss of the Empire, which produced a surge of intellectual hostility “to the idea of abroad” (Spender 1978). Arguably, the circle of the Warburg institute, inherently European by nature due to its being formed by German Jewish refugees, represented a reference point to those who did not feel that kind of desire for insularity.

On the other hand, the beginning of the fifties marked also the reprise of official cultural relations between England and Italy, suspended during the war: Bettagno mentions the imminent inauguration of the Italian Cultural Institute in May 1950, presided by the Count Sforza, to which he was invited and Gordon was not – to the latter’s indignation (Alessandro Bettagno to Licisco Magagnato, 9 and 12 May 1950, Archivio Magagnato Verona, b. 94 ).

Probably with a part of financial support of the British Council as well, the Warburg Institute continued to be one of the poles that attracted Italian academics to England, in a relationship that was mutually beneficial, since both milieus found in the reciprocal exchange a way to overcome some limits of their own parochialisms. And it is interesting to note that Gordon directs young scholars he found promising not directly to his own department at the University of Reading, but rather to the Warburg Institute, whose formative function for what concerned philology was deemed of fundamental importance.

“A bizarre patron Saint of Italian Studies”

Gordon was appointed lecturer at Reading in 1947 (Kermode 1997), after a time at Liverpool University during and immediately after the war. Not much is known of his work there, but it is certain that while his work on Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones advanced, so did his collaboration with Frank Kermode, a student at the time, Rudolf Wittkower and, in passing, his only student at the time, future architect and critic Colin Rowe – “il giovanetto, mio amico, che ha fatto recentemente una tesi con Witt su Jones […]” / “the young man, a friend of mine, that has recently completed a thesis with Witt on Jones” (Archivio Licisco Magagnato Verona, Donald Gordon to Licisco Magagnato, 16 January 1949, Archivio Magagnato Verona, b. 99). Shortly after Gordon’s appointment, Luigi Meneghello arrived in Reading, initially with a temporary research assignment on the influence of Croce and Gentile on R.G. Collingwood: the origins of both his friendship with Gordon and the birth of the Department of Italian Studies are recounted in La Materia di Reading (Meneghello 1997). Recalling the impression of seeing, in a painted portrait of Gordon by Harry Weinberger, a resemblance with Erasmus of Rotterdam, Meneghello considers it particularly poignant in the sense that Gordon was the modern incarnation of a Renaissance man, particularly for the conviction that the studia humanitatis allow humankind a contact with some truths regarding the ultimates (“certe verità relative alle ‘cose ultime’, gli ultimates, da pronunciarsi àltimits”, Meneghello 1997). In Il dispatrio, Luigi Meneghello reiterates the impression, mirroring Bing’s opinion of Giuseppe Billanovich:

Lui, che degli umanisti del Quattro e Cinquecento era una specie di reincarnazione. Gertrud Bing vedeva una simile reincarnazione in G. Billanovich che studiava allora al Warburg, e la trovava (a ragione) commovente. Nel caso di Sir Jeremy sulla commozione prevaleva il panache […] (Meneghello 1993).

He, that of fifteenth and sixteenth century humanists was a sort of reincarnation. Gertrud Bing saw a similar reincarnation in G. Billanovich who studied at the time at the Warburg and (Bing) found that rightfully moving. In the case of Sir Jeremy [Gordon] panache prevailed on emotion […] [Author’s translation].

Billanovich was offered in fact a Senior research fellowship by Gertrud Bing, and spent two years at the Warburg Institute from autumn 1948 to 1950. It is highly likely that it was he who

C’è al Warburg uno studioso italiano (di Padova) che al sentire del mio tentativo di lavorare a Vicenza ha alzato le braccia al cielo…(la Bing dice che quando sente il nome di D.P. si fa il segno della croce) (Donald Gordon to Licisco Magagnato, undated 1948, Archivio Licisco Magagnato Verona, b. 99).

There is at the Warburg an Italian scholar (from Padua) who, when he heard of my attempt to work in Vicenza threw up his arms…(Bing says that when he hears D.P.’s name he crosses himself) [Author’s translation].

Luigi Meneghello in Reading, 1960s. Archivio Giovanni Giovannetti, Firenze.

Gordon’s strong interests for Italy and Italian culture ended up supporting Meneghello’s project of a Department dedicated to Italian Studies with Sir Frank Stenton, at the time Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading. It is in this first year at Reading that Gordon involves Luigi Meneghello in the cultural circle of the Warburg Institute, particularly introducing him to Fritz Saxl and Gertrud Bing:

Ho conosciuto bene il prof. Saxl, direttore di quella stupenda istituzione che è il Warburg Institute di storia dell’arte, principalmente, ma non solo. Un grande filologo, magnifico uomo, morto due settimane fa. Mi aveva promesso due mesi almeno nel suo istituto (per insegnarmi qualcosa di metodologia; sarebbe stato per quest’estate. Ora non so) (Luigi Meneghello to Licisco Magagnato, 10 April 1948 in Caputo, Napione 2018).

I got to know professor Saxl well, the director of that wonderful institution, the Warburg Institute: of history of art, mainly but not exclusively. A great philologist, a magnificent man, who died two weeks ago. He promised me a stay of at least two months in his institute (to teach me something about methodology; it would have been this summer. Now I do not know) [Author’s translation].

This circle of intellectuals, and the tradition they represented (and worked to establish) were recognised by Luigi Meneghello as the main source of inspiration for Gordon’s academic work and approach to scholarship, where “la chiave per studiare i valori di una civiltà del passato è da cercare nel processo attraverso il quale essi ci sono stati trasmessi” (the key for studying the values of a past culture has to be found in the process through which they have been transmitted to us) (Meneghello 1997).

The Institute’s different approach to history (and history of art) was evident to anyone involved with it; for example, to address apparent hesitations and doubts on Magagnato’s part on the matter of leaving Vicenza for London the following year, Meneghello writes:

Il Warburg Institute di Londra, dove tu metterai piede come ospite l’anno venturo, potrebbe diventare una cosa assai diversa per te, nel caso che tu decidessi che così vuoi.[…] Però non ho dubbi che se tu ti proponessi, al tuo arrivo, di trasformare la visita in un periodo di lavoro assai più lungo, la cosa andrebbe. E se andasse, entreresti con una preparazione filologica e usciresti con un’altra; e con un libro, suppongo (Luigi Meneghello to Licisco Magagnato, in Caputo, Napione 2018, 119).

The Warburg Institute of London, where you will come as a visiting [scholar] next year, might turn out to be a very different matter for you, if you’ll decide that it is what you want. […] Although I have no doubts that if, on your arrival, you’ll set your mind on transforming your visit in a longer period of work, this would work out well. And if it did, you’d enter with a philological background and come out with another; and with a [published] book, I suppose [Author’s translation].

Gordon and Meneghello organised lectures at the University of Reading, open to the public, on Renaissance topics and in collaboration with the Warburg Institute, and in turn absorbed their methods, particularly in letting the image be the driving force of the discourse (Meneghello 1997). At the end of the 1940s that appeared to still be a new and unconventional approach: as late as 1945 Frances Yates, referring to her lecture at the Elizabethan Literary Society, notes that “in the literary opinion of the time, poetry and the images it evoked had no relation” (Yates 1988, 226) and that the slides that accompanied the lecture generated a not insignificant amount of discomfort to the audience. Gordon’s lectures as well were given with “many slides, always projected on two screens, which was the usual Warburg Institute way of establishing, by a sort of historical stereoscopy, startling new perspectives on art history” (Kermode 1997, 176), and this particular way of showing images would last well until the 1970s, when Colin Rowe at the Architectural Association in 1975 would accompany his talk with slides with two images side by side. The photographic collection of the Warburg Institute was the source of inspiration for what Meneghello and Gordon began building at Reading: a collection specialised in “Italian” images, with the vague intention of competing with the Warburg one (Meneghello 1979), an attempt – foiled by the lack of time and resources – of creating a small “Warburg-on-Thames”. On this backdrop, Kermode’s recollection return a very theatrical image of Gordon the lecturer, who would define himself as a regisseur by nature and

[…] would prepare a lecture on the chosen topic and ensure that its preparation, and especially the occasion of its delivery, should be appropriately spectacular. He looked forward to these occasions as opportunities to give an unforgettable performance in an impossible blaze of academic light. […] From his gait on entry to the last word, everything was theatre (Kermode 1997, 175-176).

Vicenza and the Teatro Olimpico

Filming the L'Olimpico documentary. Fondazione Vajenti, Vicenza.

Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza came to be Gordon’s “single most passionate concern” (Kermode 1997, 179): it was probably the effect of a visit to Vicenza in the in 1948 and it subsequently became the subject of Gordon’s project proposal for a full professorship at the University of Reading (Meneghello 1979). Reading between the lines of the letters of both Gordon and Meneghello to Licisco Magagnato, we can advance a hypothesis on how that visit, in the summer or early autumn of 1948, took place. Luigi Meneghello introduced Gordon to Licisco Magagnato, who at the time was working as Antonio Marco dalla Pozza’s assistant (Napione 2018) at the Museo Civico, tasked with the reordering of the artworks which had come back from the war shelters (Pozza, Colla 2016). At the same time, filming was underway or just finished for the short documentary L’Olimpico, directed by Gianpaolo Vajenti based on a script written by Dalla Pozza and Magagnato. These days must have been intense for the vicentine scholars, as Meneghello states that on his next visit home things will be different, since “una delle cose che desideravo di più era stare alcuni giorni in compagnia. Ma sai bene com’è andata” (One of the things I looked forward to the most was spending some days together. But you very well know how things turned out. Letter 5 in Caputo, Napione 2018, 116).

It is possible that Dalla Pozza already had acquaintances at the Warburg Institute, or at least that he knew some of the people there, such as Wittkower, as the letters seem to imply: there is a preoccupation, on Gordon’s part, that their research on the Teatro Olimpico would cross, unpleasantly, into Dalla Pozza’s research territory, by way of their proximity (Donald Gordon to Licisco Magagnato, Archivio Magagnato Verona, b. 99, 1948).

The cross-reading of the correspondence between Meneghello, Magagnato and Gordon helps to reconstruct the origins of the latter’s shared interest for Vicenza and the Teatro Olimpico and the reach of their project. Gordon’s strong connection with the Warburg Institute thanks to his close friendship with Gertrud Bing and Fritz Saxl meant that had a say in some of the Institute’s decisions, for example regarding admissions (it was thus that Joe Trapp had obtained a position as a librarian at the Institute after a period at Reading) and, likely, the grants given to Italian scholars and students; this influence can be surmised from his 1948 letter, the first in which a clear reference for the project is made :

Caro Magagnato – il caso Magagnato e la faccenda del Teatro Olimpico sono stati discussi al Warburg. Posso ora proporti questo: ti andrebbe, quando verrai qui, di continuare il lavoro per il nostro progetto – sotto la mia guida (in quella forma ufficiale che qui si chiama “supervision” e, per l’architettura, sotto quella di Wittkower)? C’è già sia l’approvazione di W. – il quale non si può dire che abbia indiscutibilmente sposato l’altro progetto di farti studiare la pittura veneta in Inghilterra. C’è poi l’approvazione particolarmente calda di Gertrud Bing, la vice direttrice (ma in funzione di direttrice) dell’Istituto, che ha una precisa preferenza per questo argomento, ed anzi ne è entusiasta (Undated, but likely after 6 October 1948, letter from Gordon to Magagnato, Archivio Magagnato Verona, b. 99).

Dear Magagnato – the Magagnato case and the matter of the Teatro Olimpico have been discussed at the Warburg. I can now propose this: would you like, when you’ll come here, to continue your work for our project – under my guidance (in that official guise that here is called “supervision” and, for what concerns architecture, under that of Wittkower)? There is already W.’s approval – who I cannot say has wholeheartedly approved that other project of you studying venetian painting in England. There is moreover the particularly warm approval of Gertrud Bing, the vice-director (but in her capacity as director) of the Institute, who has a particular preference for this subject – she is rather enthusiastic about it. [Author’s translation].

“The matter of the Teatro Olimpico” refers not only to the proposed research project , but also to the ambitious project, on Gordon’s part, of a mise en scène of Shakespeare in Vicenza, in a convergence (or rather, collision) of theatrical approaches, “for the sake of the frisson to be got from this contamination of two violently discrepant Renaissance conceptions of the antique” (Kermode 1997, 179). Ettore Napione has precisely reconstructed from the correspondence the whole affair, which involved Glynne Wickham and ultimately resolved itself in a fiasco (Napione 2018).

The first letters hint to yet another project, that apparently suffered the same fate as the theatrical production: a summer school in Italy involving the Warburg Institute. The details that can be gleaned from the correspondence at this time are few: it was likely to involve some Italian institution, the Universities of Padua and Venezia where some of Gordon’s Italian acquaintances worked. It was to be open to up to fifty students, and needed someone in England to advertise the course, for which Gordon did not want to assume responsibility but offered support (Luigi Meneghello to Licisco Magagnato, in Caputo, Napione 2018). The ambitions were high: if the course went well, it was hinted that the format could be exported to the United States. À propos of this, Gordon writes:

Ho parlato a Witt. del corso estivo e, se puoi fare una proposta sicura e soddisfacente nei termini che abbiamo stabilito insieme, penso che egli verrà – si è anche mostrato interessato all’idea del congresso di Architettura.

I spoke with Witt. about the summer course and, if you can advance a proposal both definite and satisfying as per the terms we discussed together, I think he will come – he was also interested in the idea of an Architecture conference [Author’s translation].

That might hint that it was to be an itinerant seminar-course with the aim of visiting Renaissance and Palladian architecture in Italy, probably following Wittkower’s interests in the same period. The architecture conference hinted at here is mentioned once and never again in the correspondence. The significance of the Teatro Olimpico and the role of the collaboration between Gordon and Magagnato regarding the history of the Teatro will be further explored in a future essay; nonetheless, those episodes show that there was the will to keep up the exchange between Italy and England around Renaissance scholarship in art and architecture, and to organise courses and visits accordingly. The theme of the Teatro particularly interested Gertrud Bing as well: in addition to her particularly warm recommendation to Licisco Magagnato, it is worth noting that she organised a showing of Magagnato and Dalla Pozza’s film on the Teatro, held at the Ministry of Education’s cinema (Bing 1951, 41).

This essay is but an initial piece in a much wider picture of the Anglo-Italian cultural relations in the immediate post-war years, and has no pretention to be exhaustive: through the exploration, by no means complete, of some figures connecting Italy (the Veneto in particular) and England in those years a complex network of acquaintances and travels emerges, which has been reconstructed only partially. Nonetheless, their work and their Gertrud Bing at the Warburg Institute and Donald Gordon at Reading University, on their part, had a tangible influence on how these connections came to be and what they produced: not only scholarship but a deeper reciprocal understanding between the two cultural milieus and ties that proved long-lasting. The frequent trips to Italy of Gordon and Bing that can be inferred from the correspondence, the efforts at the Warburg Institute to keep Italian scholars there (both Magagnato and Bettagno ended up not staying longer than their initial intentions, despite offers for longer fellowships being made from the Warburg), Meneghello and Gordon’s work at the Department of Italian at Reading all point to a continuous and complex system of exchanges.

I would like to thank professor Richard Read, professor Elisa Bizzotto and Dr. Antonella Arzone for their invaluable help with the research for this essay.

Appendix | Letters from Donald Gordon to Licisco Magagnato

We reproduce here all letters from Donald Gordon to Licisco Magagnato kept by the Musei Civici di Verona in the Archivio Licisco Magagnato, b. 99. No copies or minutes can be found of Magagnato’s replies, and at the time of writing (September 2021) no archive belonging to Donald Gordon, which may hold Magagnato’s replies, is yet available for consultation. We have decided not to signal the frequent typos and other grammar and syntax errors with [sic] in order not to compromise the legibility of the letters and to preserve the sense of the vivid, expressive, self-taught yet spontaneous use of Italian language on Gordon’s part.

16 January 1949
Wantage Hall, Reading, Jan. 16th

Caro Licisco – Questo soltanto per dirti che ho ricevuto le diapositive. Mille grazie. Fra poco faccio una lezione (semplice) su questo benedetto teatro. Grazie anche del librettino. Ho visto recentemente a Londra un Daumier di Don Quixote che mi ha impressionato fortemente. Tra una settimana, spero, Wittkower ed io andremo in compagnia vedere questo disegno del Proscenio. Lui dice che sarà difficilissimo prendere una decisione definitiva: l’unica speranza sarà – come dici tu – di trovare qualche scrittura. Dice anche che nessuno ha mai fatto finora un esame filologicamente esatto dei disegni “palladiani”. Per il problema a cui ai accennato in una lettera a Gigi, io posso soltanto dire che credo che la questione dell’influsso di Scamozzi sul palladianesimo inglese sia un argomento finora non approfondito. Posso anche dire che il giovanetto, mio amico, che ha fatto recentemente una tesi con Witt su Jones, mi ha detto che secondo lui Jones ha visto Palladio in una versione scamozziana … (Ho trovato qualche settimana fa un esemplare della prima edizione de I Quattro Libri). Ho letto in questi giorni, per scopi miei, il trattato dello Scam.(non tutto, però); e sto leggendo il Vitruvio di Barbaro. Scriverò a lungo quando abbiamo visto questo disegno. Saluti a tutti Tuo Donald

Niente novità per lo spettacolo. Stiamo in questi giorni affrontando il problema dei biglietti… Mi dirai se mio italiano non sia intelligibile
D

* * *


The University of Reading, n.d.

Caro Licisco – Bravo – Bravo – Bravo Caro Licisco. Come mai? E come mai? Secondo l’ultima lettera avevo dovuto abbandonare il progetto di venire. Ma ora, stai sicuro, farò ogni sforzo. Trovarò il denaro. Una cosa importante: quelle carte appartengono a noi. Scriviamo noi – se vogliamo – la storia dell’accademia. Che trionfo! Non credere mai che un documento sia andato perso quando tutto dice che nessuno ha cercato. Son’ così eccitato che ho dovuto mandar via gli studenti venuti dieci minuti fa. Bello anche lo scoperto sugli affreschi.
Bellezza! Donald
Non sarranno difficoltà spero con D.P: avere il ius primae noctis?

* * *

8 agosto 1949
Craigland, Dalbeattie, Kirkandbrightshire, Scotland

Caro Licisco,
Gigi mi scrive che le fotografie sono pronte, e forse già espedite. Difatti non occorre addesso spedirle. In questo breve spazio di tranquillità che mi rimane prima di venire in Italia non posso dedicare molto tempo a Pagello. Peccato che non siano arrivate prima; speravo di poter trascrivere i testi qui dove non faccio nient’altro che studiare.
Spero che tutto vada bene per e che ti sei preparato un po’ col’inglese e che il lavoro e in ordine per tuo soggiorno da noi. Purtroppo Gombrich non ci sarà a l’Istituto. Va in America. La Dott. Bing verrà a Firenze a settembre. Cerco di persuaderla a venire anche a Vicenza. Penso di arrivare a Milano alla fine di questo mese – 30, 31. Mi fermo li forse due o tre giorni per l’Ambrosiana. Poi vengo a Vicenza. Debbo passare qualche giorno a Padova e anche a Venezia. Dovrei anche fare una scappata a Roma per il Vaticano, ma non so se questo sia possibile. In ogni modo vado a Firenze verso la fine di Settembre assistere al Congresso di Studi Umanistici che si svolgerà nei giorni 28 – 30 sett. E non torno a Vicenza. A Vicenza spero di scrivere, in breve, la storia della creazione dell’Accad. E delle preparazioni per la rappresentazione della tragedia – sulla base dei documenti (spero che là sia pronto il catalogo). E anche di fare tutto che sia necessario per gli archivi privati. Adesso sto studiando Trissino. Tra poco sarò uno dei pochi che hanno letto L’Italia liberata dai Goti… Saluti a Lidia e alla famiglia Tuo,
Donald

* * *

Craigland, Dalbeattie, Scotland Aug. 23rd [1949]
Caro Licisco,
Ho avuto i biglietti. Arrivo, come dicevo, a Milano, Martedì (30). Vengo a Vicenza in corriera, quindi o venerdì (2 o 3) – sarà venerdì, probabilmente. Telegrafo da Milano. Vorrei andare dalla Luna. La Dott. Bing pensa di essere in passaggio da Milano a Venezia domenica (5). Spero che si fermerà a Vicenza almeno qualche ora.
Gli studi trissiniani vanno avanti. Hai letto Moschin? Un libro tanto pregevole. Sento fortemente la tentazione – che debbo resistere! – di andare anch’io ai documenti anche per lui… Non esiste, naturalmente, un quadro complessivo dei suoi interessi intellettuali.
Guaio per gli archivi privati. Ne pensaremo.
Gigi sta ancora vivo? Saluti a tutti, Tuo Donald The University, Reading. March 17th, 1949.
Senti, caro, basta di questi progetti…Non metto neanche una mano vicina a questa faccenda della mostra di disegni…Voglio venire in Italia adesso, non fra un anno…Devi scrivere alla Sig.ra Williams dal RIBA. E forse avrai una risposta…Forse. Perché quando l’ho trovato un mese fa (incirca) stava di cattivissimo umore con Vicenza e i Vicentini. Ella aveva già ottenuta i permessi necessari dal Duca di Devonshire e dal RIBA ma neanche una parola, neanche una cartolina da Vicenza…Lei mi ha detto che deve in ogni modo venire in Italia (luna di miele, credo) e forse ha già presa sue decisioni…(Sai, per caso, che i disegni sono legati in volumoni, grandi un metro, in tela bella e pesantissima del settecento…e ci sono forse una dozzina di questi volumi…). No, caro, non m’interesso. Il Warburg pagherà, almeno una parte. E spero anche di avere qualcosa dall’università. Quando vai a Roma? Le mie possibilità sono limitate, naturalmente. Debbo venire verso le 10 Aprile. E penso di fermarmi 3 settimane. Va bene? Speriamo. Perché non credo che posso far’ altro. Tu mi troverai una stanza? Dalla Luna? – E se fosse una stanza con riscaldamento! Son sicuro che farà un freddo bruttissimo in Italia. Ai avuto una lettera da Wickham? Lui mi ha scritto due giorni fa dicendo che per quest’anno si deve lasciar’ andare il progetto…Lui, povero ragazzo, era così disperato e così arrabbiato che non riusciva nemmeno a scrivere in un modo intelligibile. Sicchè non capisco bene finora cosà sia successa. Ma credo che si faceva troppo tardi…Lui dice che cercerà di cambiare la cosa per 1950. Sembra che ha avuto i danari ma qualche altra cosa sia andata storta. È un guaio. Ma veramente da gennaio io non speravo troppo. Ero sicuro che anche se decisioni favorevoli fossino prese si facesse troppo tardi. M’informarò meglio.
Gigi sta bene. Abbiamo avuto qualche successo con un corso di lezioni sul quattrocento italiano che erano molto frequentati. Saluti a Lidia. Spero di rivedere tutti fra poco. Sembra che voi fare un mistero per le carte. Bene…tutta la storia sembra piuttosto un giallo (mimico-D.P.) e posso aspettare finchè vengo.
Tuo,
Donald

* * *

16th May, 1962
[no place indicated]

Caro Licisco,
Gigi mi ha detto della pubblicazione che intendete fare. Se i piani non sono già in fase troppo avanzata, avrei piacere di collaborare anch’io.
Ho già scritto un capitolo, di circa cinquanta pagine, in cui do un resoconto delle discussioni in seno all’Accademia intorno al Finanziamento del Teatro e alla Scelta del Dramma da rappresentare. Lo Schrade non si occupa di questo, e varrebbe la pena di pubblicarlo. Avrei però bisogno di un nuovo controllo sui manoscritti della Bertoliana: ma non sarà un lavoro lungo. Ho saputo la settimana scorsa che c’è un manoscritto che può interessare, presso la Vaticana: sono in attesa di un microfilm. Devo anche vedere che cosa ha scritto il Puppo sui costumi, perché ho del materiale che forse non ha utilizzato. Se il mio manoscritto fosse pronto per il prossimo ottobre, potrebbe andarvi bene? Se sì, io verrei in Italia durante l’estate prossima, e lo preparerei in forma definitiva. Ti pregherei di scrivermi al più presto, in modo che possa fare i miei preparativi per l’estate. Sento da Gigi che stai distruggendo Verona!
Cordialmente
Donald

* * *

Aug. 19
[no place indicated]

Caro Licisco,
Liberato dai medici sono (spero) in partenza per l’Italia. Sono a Venezia giovedì ma parto subito: andiamo a Ravenna e forse a Urbino; poi facciamo Bologna, Mantova, Verona, etc. Giungiamo a Verona nei primi di Settembre, dove farò subito una telefonata al Castello Vecchio. L’operazione è andata bene – dicono: mi hanno semplicemente tagliato la gola – tiroide. Mi sento bene e normale, ma stanco e piuttosto fragile – sbricciolato… Sotto gravi minaccie ho giurato di non studiare, leggere, stancarmi, ecc. E in verità non mi sento in grado di far molto; e naturalmente non ho fatto nulla in riguardo al nuovo progetto. Discutiamo però quello che si può fare quando ci troviamo. Il vecchio programma si deve dimenticare (colpa mia); il problema è di fare il lavoro di Schrade. [questo data la lettera a dopo il 1960 NdR] Voglio anche trovare – Puppi? – si chiama? Saluti
Donald

* * *

n.d., [1948? added in pencil by the archivist]
[no place indicated]

Caro Magagnato – il caso Magagnato e la faccenda del Teatro Olimpico sono stati discussi al Warburg. Posso ora proporti questo: ti andrebbe, quando verrai qui, di continuare il lavoro per il nostro progetto – sotto la mia guida (in quella forma ufficiale che qui si chiama “supervision” e, per l’architettura, sotto quella di Wittkower)? C’è già sia l’approvazione di W. – il quale non si può dire che abbia indiscutibilmente sposato l’altro progetto di farti studiare la pittura veneta in Inghilterra. C’è poi l’approvazione particolarmente calda di Gertrud Bing, la vice direttrice (ma in funzione di direttrice) dell’Istituto, che ha una precisa preferenza per questo argomento, ed anzi ne è entusiasta. Che cosa pensi? A me pare un’idea buona; e permetterebbe di svolgere debitamente il nostro progetto. Sono sicuro che non sarai offeso dall’idea che la nostra collaborazione sia formalizzata a questo modo! Per l’eventuale pubblicazione (che L’Istituto si attenderebbe) ci accorderemo quando s’arriverà al momento di scrivere! Spero che la cosa ti vada. A me pare una piacevole possibilità. Sui particolari del lavoro non sono ora in grado di scrivere. Ho dovuto venire a Londra per scoprire che esiste un catalogo stampato dei mss. della Bertoliana – mal fatto e incompleto, senza dubbio, ma prima di mandarti un promemoria lo devo vedere! Ad ogni modo, ho promesso che molti documenti ci saranno, perciò datti da fare suibito a preparare la campagna alla Bertoliana … Ho trovato con difficoltà il materiale che cercavo all’Ambrosiana. Ma naturalmente solleva subito una nuova serie di problemi. Ma di questo un’altra volta. Pensi che ci saranno difficoltà con Dalla Pozza, riguardo a questo progetto? – che s’accosta tanto al suo stesso campo? Fammi sapere circa questo punto, e dimmi anche se non si possa fare qualche passo qui (l’altra sera a pranzo discorrevo col nostro Rettore – a cui ho raccontato la storia (è lui uno storico molto distinto) – circa la possibilità di invitare qui D.P: per un mese – e partire io per Vicenza un giorno prima che arrivi! Sembra che non ci sia altra soluzione). Ho già detto a Wittkower di scrivergli una lettera – non attorno a questo progetto nostro in particolare ma semplicemente perché D.P. sarà probabilmente lusingato di riceverla! Penso anche che l’atteggiamento di quel bel tipo è famoso. C’è al Warburg uno studioso italiano (di Padova) che al sentire del mio tentativo di lavorare a Vicenza ha alzato le braccia al cielo…(la Bing dice che quando sente il nome di D.P. si fa il segno della croce). Del resto il bibliotecario di uno dei nostri musei ha battezzato il D.P. “quel non c’è iu en testa” Per gli altri progetti. Gigi ha sentito per la traduzione. Sono in contatto per far venire il Julius Caesar a Vicenza. È entusiasta all’idea, ma siccome insegna in un’università di provincia un po’ lontano da qui, non è stato possibile incontrarci finora. Ho parlato a Witt. del corso estivo e, se puoi fare una proposta sicura e soddisfacente nei termini che abbiamo stabilito insieme, penso che egli verrà – si è anche mostrato interessato all’idea del congresso di Architettura. La gente dell’Istituto ha sentito con piacere della tua venuta. E John Pope-Hennessy ti ricorda con molta simpatia, ed è senz’altro certo dell’idea di vederti qui. Ora, caro Magagnato, non ti resta che smettere di fare le cento cose senza importanza di cui riempi le tue giornate, e concentrarti su due cose (a) Teatro Olimpico b) imparare l’inglese. Cordialmente,
DJ Gordon

Versione di L. Meneghello
Ma questo aggiungo per conto mio: tre settimane senza una crisi! Senza neanche la più picola ombra d’una crisi! Bellezza! Ma parlare sul serio direi che Gigi sta molto bene: lavora, studia, comincia un’ora ad insegnare, e gode senz’altro il ritmo tranquillo di nostri giorni – che ammette soltanto piccole interruzioni. Speriamo che duri! Ma credo di sì. Ciao
D
Saluti alla Lidia, alla famiglia, a Galla – e a D.P:!

* * *

Wantage Hall, Giovedì.
n.d.

Caro Licisco – devi sapere ora o più tardi che non so scrivere italiano: però voglio aggiungere questa postilla per conto mio senza l’intervenzione di mio collaboratore. Grazie di tua bella lettera. Non badare ai rimproveri della moglie! Cosa vuoi che ne sappiano le donne! I fatti stessi parleranno per conto loro. Quanto al progetto di Wickham, mi pare esser proprio bello. E spero spero che tutto vada bene. E spero che non sia troppo ottimista sulla possibilità di aiuto della parte del British Council. Ma voi dovete fare la risposta sulla base di questa lettera, senza tener conto di tali dubbi. E lui è senz’altro un ragazzo chi sa fare. Credo che l’occasione verrà fuori per voi mettervi in rapporti col British Council in Italia. Quanto à questo tipo di Malo è vero che sta bene. Ha trovato un appartamento. Deve aspettare adesso la moglie – con poca pazienza, perché lui sta solo in questo appartamento. Figuriti. Lui chi è così ben capace di fare da mangiare, di fare la pulizia ecce cc. Le rovine che troverà la Katia—Per suoi amici però è un bel divertimento. Per le lezioni ha trovato le difficoltà che tutti trovano quando comminciano – ogni mestiere ha la sua tecnica. Ma però riesce bene. E niente crisi! Le lezioni sono molto frequentate. E c’è anche troppo gente che vuole iparare la lingua. Sembra che un’insegnante solo non basta. Ho assistito alle prove di qualche lezione e veramente G. parla(?) adesso con una facilità che mi fa spavento. Mai mai mai sarò capace io di fare una lezione in italiano. Ma, come dici tu, veniamo al sodo. Il lavoro. Propongo questo schema. 1) scherzavo, pur troppo, quando parlavo della possibilità di far venire D-P. in Inghilterra! Provo un po’ ma non credo che sia possibile. Devi assolutamente trovare un modo di avere l’’ingresso livero’ alle carte. 2) devi cominciare tuoi studii con Zigitti. 3) Leggi anche tutto che esiste sull’Accad. (Lampertico il più importante 3) Noti ogni libro uscito fuori da quest’ambiente. Tutti si deve leggere. 5) Ti ricordi sempre che lo scopo dello studio è non soltanto di rintracciare i passi fatti per la costruzione del T.O., ma anche l’ambiente intellettuale culturale che sta indietro a quest’opera: prendiamo quest’edificio, cioè, come documento a)della storia architetturale di P. stesso a) della storia dello sviluppo del teatro europeo b) della storia dell’umanesimo tardo, veneziano, e italiano. 6) devi orientarti un po’ in questo mondo – è, per esempio, il mondo dei Dialoghi di Tasso e di Speroni. 7) Leggendo Ziggiotti nota anche ogni suo riferimento preciso alle carte ecc. che adopera. 8) chi era Ziggiotti? Devi fare uno studio biografico? Dove sono le sue carte? È possibile precisare un po’ la storia delle vicende loro? Ti ricordi del riferimento che ho trovato io. 9) il ms di Z che ho avuto dalla Bert. È una copia. Dov’è l’originale? Dalla Bert.? 10) Devi metterti in rapporti colla famiglia Valmarana. Dove sono le carte della famiglia? Importantissimo scoprire questo. Son sicuro che dev’essere della roba fondamentale lì. Se la famiglia risponde che non sa niente, devi ottenere permesso di cercare per conto tuo tra le loro case. Non si sa mai cosa può essere in qualche cassone, in qualche stanza trascurata, in qualche angolo polveroso tra mobili vecchi e sciuppati? La Villa è ancora in mani alla famiglia – no? O forse le carte sono dalla Bert.? 9) voglio anche sapere la storia della biblioteca, carte, ecc dei Trissini. Ma per il momento i Valmarana hanno precedenza. Basta per ora? Naturalmente quando dico leggi voglio dire anche prendi degli appunti ampii ecc. Per conto mio sto studiando il mss dall’Ambrosiana (ho avuto un microfilm). C’è dentro roba preziosissima per la storia della rappresentazione. Non accennare a questo, ti prego, a Vicenza. Ho preso gli atteggiamenti italiani e son divenuto altrettanto sospettoso io! È tanto brutto – sul libro di Wotton (ben noto, e l’ho anche letto, mi pare, cinque anni fa!); c’è un appunto (ms, – non stampato, mi pare) di Inigo Jones sul T.O. Finora non l’ho visto. Ti spedirò una copia. Jones a visitato il T.O. il 23 sett. 1613 (ben noto a tutti – ma io l’ignoravo!). Deve aver visto – son sicuro – anche il teatro di Scamozzi a Sabbioneta – esiste uno schizzo suo di un proscenio, basato – credo- su quello di Sabbioneta? Puoi trovarmi una fotografia della scena di Sabbioneta. Il libro americano: From Art to Theatre. George R. Kernodle. University of Chicago Press. Chicago. U.S.A. 1944. Ho trovato finalmente G. Mazzatinti, Inventari dei MSS delle Biblioteche d’Italia, vol II. – (Vicenza) col inventario dei mss. della Bert. Ma e così brutto che non aiuta molto. Adesso, credo che basta veramente. Ci vuol’ una settimana per leggere questa lettera! – Spero che hai avuto le misure per far fare le -cose – non viene la parola – proiezzioni? Forse? Quanto alla meschinità di individui, le invidie ecc. – cose tali ci affliggono un po’ dappertutto. Difendersi, fare delle polemiche, le contro-accuse serve soltanto per mostrarse che questa gente ha un potere su di noi, che può farci soffrire. Gigi accenna alla possibilità di venire a Natale per qualche giorno. Mi pare un capriccio! E cerco di dissuaderlo. Tanti saluti alla Lidia: alla famiglia: a Galla. Grazie ancora. Non ho controllata questa lettera. Richiedo perdono per tutti gli sbaglii ecc. spero che capisci almeno le cose che voglio dire. Saluti affettuosi.
Donald Gordon

Bibliography
English abstract

This essay explores the multifaceted connections between the larger Warburg circle and Italy, mainly the Venetian intellectual milieu, in the 1950s and early 1960s through the hitherto unpublished correspondence between Donald Gordon and Licisco Magagnato. The still relatively obscure Scottish scholar emerges as a crucial figure during the early years of the Warburg Institute in England, as well as acting as a cultural bridge bewtween Italy and England thanks to his close ties with both the Warburg circle and Italian intellectuals, encouraging travel and intellectual exchange through the Institute’s activities.

keywords | Donald Gordon; Vicenza; Warburg circle; Gertrud Bing; Licisco Magagnato.

La Redazione di Engramma è grata ai colleghi – amici e studiosi – che, seguendo la procedura peer review a doppio cieco, hanno sottoposto a lettura, revisione e giudizio questo saggio.
(v. Albo dei referee di Engramma)

doi: https://doi.org/10.25432/1826-901X/2021.184.0000