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Roberto Weiss in Rome with his sister

Roberto Weiss (21 January 1906 – 10 August 1969), Italianmarker-Britishmarker scholar and historian, specialist in Italian-Englishmarker cultural contacts during the period of Renaissance period and Renaissance humanism.

Born in Milanmarker to a family of Austrian origins, Weiss began his studies in Italy but moved to England as a young man in 1926 on the advice of his father, Eugenio Natale Weiss, in order to continue his education and prepare for a career in the diplomatic service by studying law (graduating as a non-collegiate student with a degree in jurisprudence in 1932. He stayed, however, due to his dislike for the fascist regime of Mussolini, and his experience of working in the Department of Western Manuscripts of the Bodleian Librarymarker led him to postgraduate study, graduating with a doctorate from Oxford in 1938, two years after his marriage to Eve Cecil, from which union four children were born.

He settled in Henley-on-Thamesmarker, receiving help and support from the writer John Buchan to pursue his studies at Oxfordmarker Universitymarker. There he met the novelist Barbara Pym who later used him as the basis for a character called Count Riccardo Bianco in her first novel, Some Tame Gazelle. Weiss was naturalised in 1934. With a break for his military service in the Royal Artillery between 1942-1945, he taught at University College, Londonmarker from 1941 until his death, and as Professor of Italian from 1946.

A pioneer in the study of early humanism, Weiss's first book (based on his thesis), Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century (1941, subsequent editions: 1955, 1967, 2009) was the first full-length monograph in English to treat the subject of the pre-Tudor influence of Italian humanism on England. Subsequent lines of research took in Italian pre-humanists and the Renaissance knowledge of Greek.His last book, the posthumously published The Renaissance discovery of classical antiquity (1969) was an examination of the antiquarian studies of the renaissance humanists themselves, beginning with Petrarch and ending with the sack of Rome in 1527. He also made important contributions to the study of individual humanists.

Weiss was known for the conciseness of his writing, and was described as not one of those academics who waffles. He stated that he could have turned each of the last ten chapters of The Renaissance discovery of classical antiquity into its own book. His wife Eve, an English teacher, ensured the correctness of his English grammar and flow.

Weiss was a corresponding member of the Istituto Veneto, the Academia Patavina, the Arcadiamarker, the Accademia Petrarca, the Accademia dei Sepolti, the Accademia degli Incamminati and the Mediaeval Academy of America. He was shortly before his death awarded the Serena Medal for Italian Studies by the British Academy.

According to the obituary in The Times, the Italian department at the UCL "developed into one of the most flourishing centres of Italian scholarship outside Italy" under his leadership. The Times also called him "a vital link in Anglo-Italian cultural relations". The obituary in the mediaevalist journal Speculum called him "one of the most learned and productive scholars of his generation".

Roberto Weiss died on 10 August 1969 in Reading, Berkshiremarker, having suffered a heart attack in the early hours of 9 August. He left a large collection of Renaissance medals to his children who loaned them to the Fitzwilliam Museummarker at the University of Cambridgemarker. His personal library now forms an important part of the History of Art collection at the University of Warwickmarker library.

Published works (selection)

A bibliography of Weiss' works was published by Conor Francis Fahy & John D. Moores: "A list of the publications of Roberto Weiss, 1906-1969", in Italian studies, vol. 29 (1974), pp. 1-11.
  • Humanism in England during the Fifteenth Century (1941; 2nd ed. 1957, 3rd ed. 1967, 4th edition to be published on-line at the Medium Aevum website [91014] 2009)
  • The dawn of humanism in Italy (1947; Italian edition: Il Primo secolo dell’umanesimo, 1949), ISBN 0-8383-0080-4
  • Un umanista veneziano: Papa Paulo II (1958)
  • The medals of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) (1961)
  • The Renaissance discovery of classical antiquity (1969) ISBN 0-631-11690-7
  • Medieval and humanist Greek : collected essays (1977)
  • Illustrium imagines: Incorporating an English translation of Nota ISBN 0-934352-05-4


  • Astrik Gabriel, Paul Oskar Kristeller and Kenneth Setton, "Roberto Weiss" (obituary), Speculum 1971, p. 574 f ( online with JSTOR subscription).
  • Obituary in The Times, Thursday, Aug 14, 1969; pg. 10; Issue 57638; col F ( online with subscription).
  • Nicolai Rubinstein, ‘Weiss, Roberto (1906–1969)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 ([91015] with subscription).

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