Silva, Miguel da
Miguel da Silva played a seminal role in transmitting diverse facets of Italian humanist thought and scholarship to Portugal. The foundation for his mediating role was primarily his scholarly dialogue with writers, architects, and artists in Italy and Portugal. Pursuit of his wide-ranging scholarly interests was combined with his diplomatic, political, and ecclesiastical roles as Portuguese ambassador to the Holy See, first minister to John III of Portugal, and finally cardinal during the papacy of Paul III.
Little is known about da Silva’s early years. Through the patronage of Manuel I, he was sent to study in Paris, where he met Juan Luis Vives. From Paris he transferred to Siena, where he pursued his study of Latin and Greek. During this time, he became close to members of the Medici family, and these contacts would shape the first phase of da Silva’s political career. In late 1514 or early 1516, he was appointed ambassador to the Holy See, a post he held until 1525, when he was recalled to Portugal. During this first period of residence in Rome, he forged close ties to the city’s intellectual milieu and demonstrated his political capacities as a diplomat.
While in Rome, da Silva benefitted personally, and Portugal politically, from the rise of the Medici popes Leo X and, above all, Clement VII. He also forged close bonds with other members of the Medici circle, in particular Giovanni di Bernardo de Rucellai and Lattanzio Tolomei. Rucellai brought him into contact with prominent Neoplatonist scholars and Rome’s literary circles. He is also considered to have fostered da Silva’s interest in the Albertian principles of architecture. Da Silva’s interwoven philosophical, literary, architectural, and archaeological interests would be developed throughout his life, yet the breadth of his intellectual scope ranged far wider and encompassed “…all the aspects of a universal and encyclopaedic vision” (Deswarte-Rosa 1988, 199).
Da Silva’s scholarly legacy is one of patronage rather than authorship. One key indication of his renown and learning are the many dedications authors made to him throughout his life. That of Francesco Cattani da Diacceto’s manuscript treatise Paraphrasis in Politicum Platonis (c. 1513) testifies to his philosophical and political interests`, while the dedication of the 1522 Il Petrarcha signals his literary renown. Undoubtedly, the most significant dedication was that of Castiglione’s in Il libro del Cortegiano (Venice, 1528), which was published in numerous editions and translations. Castiglione’s book offers a further insight into the literary concerns of the Rome’s scholarly community, among whom he would have met da Silva. Besides being concerned with the application of learning in the sphere of court life and politics, his book advocates the use of the vernacular for erudite discourse.
The latter would be a concern da Silva would pursue back in his native Portugal, to which he returned in 1625. While there, he ascended to the top of the court hierarchy and through the influence of Clement VII he likewise gained ecclesiastical prominence as the Bishop of Viseu. In Portugal, his learning was again celebrated in further book dedications such as André de Resende’s in his Erasmi Encomium (Basle, 1531), which singled out his linguistic, literary, and philosophical prestige, although he and da Silva would later dispute the veracity of antiquarian findings.
Da Silva also commissioned architectural projects, for Viseu Cathedral, which were designed by Franceso de Cremona and contributed to the wider dissemination of renaissance architectural principles into Portugal. His most celebrated patronage is that of the youthful Francisco de Holanda. He contributed to the young artist’s humanist education, and in particular his knowledge of Rome in preparation for his journey there in 1538. The visual and literary dimensions of Holanda’s manuscript legacy testify to his close contact with da Silva.
Yet, da Silva’s name is absent from Holanda’s writings due to his fall from grace and flight from Portugal in 1640, due to tensions between John III and the papacy. Exiled in Rome, he was made a cardinal in 1641 by Paul III, which compounded John’s antipathy toward him. Da Silva’s flight cost him his wealth, nonetheless he continued his scholarly activity, for example, a 1549 publication of the fasti, discovered in Rome’s Forum, included an engraved architectural reconstruction by Michelangelo followed by a sonnet by da Silva; evidently da Silva was still an active participant in Rome’s scholarly gatherings that were celebrated in the second book of Holanda’s Da Pintura Antiga.
- See the work of Deswarte-Rosa for publications containing writings by da SilvaGoogle Scholar
- Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 1988. La Rome de D. Miguel da Silva (1515–1525). Lisboa: Academia das Ciências.Google Scholar
- Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 1989. Il perfetto cortegiano D. Miguel da Silva. Roma: Bulzoni.Google Scholar
- Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 1992. Ideias e imagens em Portugal na época dos descobrimentos: Francisco de Holanda e a teoria da arte, Memória e sociedade. Lisboa: Difel.Google Scholar