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08 December 2021

Book Donation by Roberto L. Bruni (1945-2020): a collection on Italian Studies

The British Library recently accepted a generous donation of books belonging to the late Dr Roberto Bruni (1945-2020). The books have been catalogued and are available in our reading rooms. Roberto Bruni was a keen reader of the British Library, and his personal collection of books compliments our holdings on Italian and Renaissance studies well. In this blog post, Roberto’s colleague and friend, Prof Diego Zancani, remembers his extraordinary contribution to Italian Studies in the UK.

Roberto Lorenzo Bruni was a Florentine through and through, literally born quite near the Brunelleschi dome in 1945. He grew up and went to school in Florence and lived there while studying Medieval and Modern Languages at Pisa University. In November 1966 in the aftermath of the disastrous flooding of the river Arno, he helped rescue elderly people in Florence, and later salvaging works of art and rare books, many of them held in the National Library situated by the river bank. In 1969, he was appointed as a Lector in Italian at the University of Reading. The Faculty of Letters of this university hosted the largest department of Italian Studies in the UK, directed by Luigi Meneghello, a philosopher by training and a writer who had taken part in the Italian Resistance, and who reached literary fame in Italy.

Title page of Mostra di incisioni di Stefano Della Bella

One of the books donated by Roberto Bruni. Mostra di incisioni di Stefano Della Bella (Florence, 1973) YF.2021.a.14250

In 1973-74 Roberto took up a teaching position at the University of Victoria, in Vancouver. After one year he returned to Britain as a Lecturer in Italian at the University of Exeter. There he founded and edited an innovative series of “Italian Texts”, publishing numerous editions of rare poems and studies, mainly concerning Renaissance linguistic and literary debates. Roberto’s interests then slowly moved from literature and philology to the History of the Book, and he became an expert researcher and cataloguer of early Italian editions in British libraries. He worked together with his colleague D. Wyn Evans to produce catalogues of early Italian books in Exeter libraries, and later the massive catalogue (of some 5700 items) of 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries.

Roberto was interested in early Italian manuscripts, and together we wrote a monograph on Antonio Cornazzano, an Italian humanist who worked at the court of Francesco Sforza, in Venice and in Ferrara. Later, we worked again together on the writings by the late 16th-century popular poet Giulio Cesare Croce existing in British libraries. He was also a contributor to scholarly journals, especially La Bibliofilia, and Studi Secenteschi. In the 1980s he started writing poetry in English and in Italian, and he developed this interest even more after he retired from Exeter university in 2005.

Cover of Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries: a short-title catalogue

Cover of Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries: a short-title catalogue (Florence, 1997) YA.2001.a.4311

He also wrote some short stories in English that were printed privately in Florence, where he used to spend a few months every year, working on early books in Florentine historical libraries, and writing his own texts.

His poetical works are unique and quite extraordinary: most of them are in terza rima, and the language is essentially Tuscan with a vocabulary based on 15th- and 16th-century texts.
He published them in 2019 under the name of Guzzabruno (a name made up using the maiden name of his mother, Guzzo, and Bruni), this alter ego lived at the court of Elisabeth I and of King James, and was a friend of the great lexicographer John Florio. These were followed by a shorter volume of Rime di Guzzabruno, cantimbanco fiorentino, published in March 2020.

Roberto died on 9 July 2020, and left a substantial number of books in his house in Exeter. His heirs wanted his collection to be shared among his friends, and important cultural institutions, in accordance with Roberto’s wishes.

Over 150 books were donated to the British Library and these include numerous volumes on Florentine literature, art and architecture, important studies on 16th- and 17th-century authors, as well as scholarly catalogues and studies of books existing in historical libraries.

Diego Zancani, Emeritus Professor in Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, Emeritus Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford

References/further reading

Roberto L. Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, A catalogue of Italian books, 1471-1600, in the libraries of Exeter University, Exeter Cathedral, and the Devon and Exeter Institution (Exeter, 1978)

Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries : a short-title catalogue (Florence, 1997) YA.2001.a.4311

Roberto L. Bruni, Antonio Cornazzano: la tradizione testuale (Florence, 1992) YA.1993.b.10660

Roberto L. Bruni, Giulio Cesare Croce dall'Emilia all'Inghilterra : cataloghi, biblioteche e testi (Biblioteca di bibliografia italiana; 124 ) (Florence, 1991) P.P.6476.en.[124]

Poesie di Guzzabruno, Poeta Fiorentino. Vissuto a Londra a’ tempi della Regina Elisabetta e di Re Giacomo. Con una vita scritta da John Florio Prelettore di Lingua Italiana della Regina Anna e Valletto della Camera. E co’ Commenti alle Poesie, dove si dà compiuta Notizia de’ Significati de’ Motti. Parte Prima. (Florence 2019) Privately Printed.

See review by Prof. Luisa Avellini in Schede umanistiche: rivista annuale dell'Archivio Umanistico Rinascimentale Bolognese, XXXIII/1 (2019), pp. 248-252. ZA.9.a.9582

Rime di Guzzabruno, cantimbanco fiorentino (Florence, 2020) Privately Printed