Historiography, like any other worldly activity, has its fads and modes, its new looks and seasonal trends. Popular just now is the type of archival trawl which, by retrieving the telling details from a bundle of dusty, barely decipherable documents in an Italian library, sheds an intimate, sometimes decidedly uncomfortable radiance on the prominent figures of the Renaissance. Certain historians have already set the tone by their stylishness and authoritative handling of the source material. Lauro Martines’s April Blood, an outstanding study of the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici, established a benchmark in the field, and Mary Hollingsworth’s recently published The Cardinal’s Hat brought a sixteenth-century prelate vividly to life through an examination of his household accounts.
Hundreds more such resurrections await the assiduous scholar, ready to penetrate Italian libraries, with their antediluvian cataloguing systems, unhelpful and self-serving staff, and holdings often too vast to be adequately maintained. Given suitable academic funding and an inexhaustible persistence, the researcher can easily turn into Aladdin at the entrance to