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The Scarith of Scornello

A Tale of Renaissance Forgery

A precocious teenager, bored with life at his family’s Tuscan villa Scornello, Curzio Inghirami staged perhaps the most outlandish prank of the seventeenth century. Born in the age of Galileo to an illustrious family with ties to the Medici, and thus an educated and privileged young man, Curzio concocted a wild scheme that would in the end catch the attention of the Vatican and scandalize all of Rome.

As recounted here with relish by Ingrid D. Rowland, Curzio preyed on the Italian fixation with ancestry to forge an array of ancient Latin and Etruscan documents. For authenticity’s sake, he stashed the counterfeit treasure in scarith (capsules made of hair and mud) near Scornello. To the seventeenth-century Tuscans who were so eager to establish proof of their heritage and history, the scarith symbolized a link to the prestigious culture of their past. But because none of these proud Italians could actually read the ancient Etruscan language, they couldn’t know for certain that the documents were frauds. The Scarith of Scornello traces the career of this young scam artist whose "discoveries" reached the Vatican shortly after Galileo was condemned by the Inquisition, inspiring participants on both sides of the affair to clash again—this time over Etruscan history.

An expert on the Italian Renaissance and one of only a few people in the world to work with the Etruscan language, Rowland writes a tale so enchanting it seems it could only be fiction. In her investigation of this seventeenth-century caper, Rowland will captivate readers with her sense of humor and obvious delight in Curzio’s far-reaching prank. And even long after the inauthenticity of Curzio’s creation had been established, this practical joke endured: the scarith were stolen in the 1980s by a thief who mistook them for the real thing.

192 pages | 20 halftones | 5 1/4 x 8 | © 2004


Art: Art--General Studies

History: European History

History of Science

Medieval Studies


"The characters jump off the page through portraits incised with a skewer. Seasoned with Rowland’s witty, empathetic understanding of the period, The Scarith of Scornello glides the reader into every historical situation so that understanding it requires little effort and no previous experience. It is not easy to find scholars with the expertise adequate to examine the philosophical and social implications of literary forgery--and with an intact sense of humor and fun. Rowland has it in spades."

Walter Stephens, author of Demon Lovers

"Rowland’s sparkling tale of forgery delivers entertainment of the highest order, regaling us with sly humor, limpid prose, delightful research, and acute historical observation. I read this book in a sitting."

Lauro Martines, author of April Blood: Florence and the Plot against the Medici

"A fascinating, erudite book."

Sarah Bradford | Spectator

"[An] entertaining account."

Nina Ayoub | Chronicle of Higher Education

"[A] dazzling piece of scholarship . . ."

Garry Wills | New York Times Book Review

"Rowland skillfully weaves her way through this long-forgotten controversy, framing it within the cultural and political struggles between Rome and Tuscany, and the larger intellectual debates of the period. At every turn she provides fascinating detail about the workings of the scholarly world . . . In a mere 150 pages . . .she summons up a world and an age."

William Grimes | New York Times

"Rowland reconstructs the whole story with flair and zest."

Merle Rubin | Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Accessible to anyone who enjoys history . . . [a] small gem."

Library Journal | Starred Review

"[A] well-written and well-researched . . . diverting little book."

Eric Wargo | Washington Times

"[A] remarkable book . . . Rowland’s account . . .has the verve of a good detective story."

Joseph Connors | New York Review of Books

"With consummate skill and learning, Rowland has used this sometimes hilarious but always engrossing story to anatomise a fascinating period in Italian cultural politics. Her lucid and accessible narrative also shows how the animated discussion of the contents of Inghirami’s scarith helped to stimulate the genuine investigation of Etruscan civilisation that is still in progress today. For anyone with Etruscan or seventeenth-century Tuscan interests, reading this elegant book should have the beneficial effect of drinking a glass of the best Chianti."

Times Higher Education Supplement

"Ingrid Rowland clearly shares Curzio’s delight as she disentangles his web of forgeries, for this was an elegant and highly complex hoax -- and, in the era of the Inquisition, a brave one too. This is a fascinating and fresh perspective on Renaissance politics and society."

Stephen Butler | Daily Telegraph

"Congratulations to Ingrid D. Rowland for her riveting book. . . . It is a real page-turner, a fantastic tale well told. . . . Rowland has performed a valuable service to anyone interested not just in the past, but in how people use the past to suit their own purposes and fulfill their desire for a significant, noble, or glorious history. As such, Rowland’s book should be in the libraries of scientists, historians, and, in fact, anyone interested in science or history."

Kenneth L. Feder | Journal of Modern History

Table of Contents

I. Discovery: November 1634
II. The Investigation: 1635
III. The Spy: 1638
IV. About Paper: 1635-1640
V. The Defender Defended: 1641
VI. Curzio Attacks: 1645
VII. A Forger’s Reasons: 1640s
VIII. The Sublime Art
IX. Eppur si muove: 1966


MLA: Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies
Honorable Mention

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