In addition to editions, commentaries and translations of agrarian authors from the ancient world – as well as medieval figures like Petrus de Crescentiis – a predominantly vernacular body of writings emerged in the 16th century which were more practically oriented. ‘Villa literature’ featured heavily south of the Alps as a genre which assisted the traditionally urban elites of northern Italy in running their country estates. It combined advice on practical economic matters with praise of rural life and urged readers to follow that lifestyle. In the early modern period, treatises on agriculture were strongly influenced by idealising and normative ideas. Inspired by Roman literature and by the notion of maiores (ancestors) with moral integrity, villa literature became a medium of self-reassurance for the aristocracy.
This project aimed to determine the function of the literary exploration of agriculture in 16th- and 17th-century northern Germany, as well as the role played by agrarian authors from the ancient world and more recent authors from Italy and France. It investigated normative beliefs in early modern agricultural writings and analysed the political and religious goals that lay behind them. The research was based on the collections in the Herzog August Bibliothek, which made it possible to gain insights into both courtly and university settings. The project combined an evaluation of the texts – paying particular attention to paratexts such as prefaces and odes – with profiles of collections and investigations of specific examples coupled with assorted evidence of the works’ reception.
Duration: January 2014 – December 2016
Project participant: Dr Hartmut Beyer