Giulio Camillo e il Teatro della Memoria

Giulio Camillo, or Giulio Camillo Delminio to give him his full name,was one of the most famous men of the sixteenth century.
He was one of those people whom their contemporaries regard with awe has having vast personalities.
His Theatre was talked of in all Italy and France;its mysterious fame seemed to grow with the years.
Frances A. Yates
The Art of Memory

web of camillo sites
This picture is just the web formed by sites that have information about Camillo. So to speak, a representation of the modern Memory Theatre .
From this modern Memory Theatre I have selected the following materials about Camillo .At the end you find a small FAQ about:
The secret of Camillo's Theatre revealed

This article by Peter Matussek The Renaissance of the Theater of Memory is a good introduction to our subject . See for example what has to say about Camillo and the Web:
Now, it is in the nature of the dream of a total encyclopaedia that it must remain a dream. In this respect, it is worth noting that Camillo's Idea del Theatro was formulated in the future tense - as if the actual theatre of memory was still to be built. Unfinishability is here no shortcoming, but rather an added value; it does not diminish, but rather intensifies the mystery. The World Wide Web also owes its aura as a pan-mnemistic docuverse to the sfumato of a diffuse presentation of data, whose incompleteness stimulates us to act on hunches and intuitions, and thus produces that feeling of exuberant spatial experience with which passionate web-surfers are filled. The necessarily limited frame of the monitor only augments this experience by its peephole effect; it feeds the voyeuristic fantasy that there is still something infinitely more thrilling to discover than what is actually before one's eyes.

It is difficult for us to understand why contemporary people were so impressed by Giulio Camillo and also from Giordano Bruno. They were both received by the king of France (not the same) interested to know more about their art of memory.A recent book by Lina Bolzoni :La rete delle immagini (The network of images) has clarified the point (at least for me).
This book doesn't speak about Camillo or Bruno but about the use of the art done by mediaeval preachers especially Saint Bernardino of Siena. His sermons (in italian) have been recorded by people in the audience. It is clear from these that mediaeval preachers used the art for two different uses:
  1. The "normal" use:i.e. to remember the main points of the sermon and make their development more easy.
  2. A new "amazing" use that clarifies many things about Camillo and Bruno: the principles of the art are used to make the sermon unforgettable for the audience. The spectator,mostly illitterate, is so moved by the "images agentes" from the art that he will from now on, know what is good and evil and act accordingly.
So, a good preacher (usually these were monks especially Dominicans and Franciscans) could produce with his words an almost instantaneous knowledge of the great religious truths. Saint Bernardino was so convinced of this practice that he invented himself a kind of mnemonic device ("the name of Christ")
Siena : monogramma di San Bernardino that he promoted incessantly as one of the best images to connect yourself with God. So ,if you can use these images to know God in some mystical way, it is perfectly possible that the same art can give you fast knowledge of more earthly matters. For this reason the magic use of the art didn't seem, at the time, a stupid idea.
An english translation of La rete delle immagini is about to be printed
Mnemonic uses of space in The Design of Virtual Environments with particular reference to VRML
...the Art of Memory (is) a spatial mnemonic system...

The assumption of the Art of Memory is that we are predisposed to remember things in the context of place, even where there is no significant connection between the thing remembered and the place where it is located, so that recalling the space is a powerful trigger to the recall of the associated information.

According to Cicero's De Oratore, the poet Simonides invented the Art when called upon to name the unrecognisable victims of a physical disaster the demolition of a building full of dignitaries from which Simonides himself escaped through the intervention of the gods. He was able to name the victims by recalling where they had been seated.

Such spatial mnemonic techniques were used subsequently during the Middle Ages (it has been argued by Yates and others that the Cathedrals were organised as aids to remembering the scriptures) and later, in the Renaissance, by such as Giulio Camillo (1480-1544), Ramon Lull (1235-1316, his works revived in the 15th Century), Giordano Bruno (1548-1592?), Peter Ramus (1515-1572) and Robert Fludd.
. . .
The basic method of the Art is to imagine a space, perhaps schematic but usually architectural, which contains the various things to be remembered. Specific ideas can be contained within other more general ideas, by virtue of being in niches within rooms. Rooms may be badged by the statue of a saint, for example, representing some important principle. Some advocates of the Art devoted much energy to devising structures which in themselves had special meanings, so that the shapes of room and the ways in which they are connected take on semantic importance a three-dimensional semantic net, perhaps, but made memorable by being given form as an imaginable physical building.

Importantly for any consideration of VR is the fact that, rather than simply imagining these architectural structures, most of the leading mnemonists had plans to actually build them! Camillo built a memory theatre described thus:

They say that this man has constructed a certain amphitheatre, a work of wonderful skill, into which whoever is admitted as a spectator will be able to discourse on any subject no less fluently than Cicero.
Viglius Zuichemus, writing to Erasmus, 1532, quoted Yates 1966, p135

Towards a memory theater: A representation of the city in literature and architecture Thesis by Herrera John Phyllip, Rice 1991
Interesting materials about Computers as Theaters of Memory". by Peter Matussek
This image of the Theatre as seen by Athanasius Kircher shows clearly the 49 places (7 tiers x 7 "columns") that would contains all knowledge in the theatre.
Metaplatonismo del Ciberpazio on the relationship among Teatro and Cyberspace.
Contact author Federico Boschetti at if you are interested in his essay: he will be happy to answer your questions and has also more material available on the same subject.
Giulio Camillo (english) :this is contained in the Narrative as Genealogy by Larry Wendt

Carlo Infanti has some interestings remarks about the similarities of hypertext,theatre and Teatro della Memoria in: La Scena Immateriale
Giulio Camillo Delminio was one of the most famous people of the sixteenth century, primarily because of his construction of a life-size model of a theater. His Idea del theatro(Venice, 1550) was published in ten editions by 1584. As Frances Yates has shown, Camillo belonged to the Hermetic-kabbalistic tradition initiated by Pico della Mirandola. His theater was actually a memory building representing the order of eternal truth and depicting the various stages of creation, from the first cause through the angels, the planetary spheres, and down to man. The theater's basic planetary images were talismans receiving astral power that could be channeled and operated through the agency of the theater. By mastering the proportions of universal harmony whose memory was preserved in the theater's structure, the operator could harness the magical powers of the cosmos.
(pg113 Kabbalah, Magic, and Science, The Cultural Universe of a Sixteenth-Century Jewish Physician. Harvard University Press, 1988)

Già agli inizi del 1991, sfruttando le "curiosità" storico-filosofiche di alcuni suoi soci, L'ALSI ha organizzato nella principale sala convegni di Udine una conferenza pubblica dal titolo "L'Organizzazione della Conoscenza: il Teatro della Memoria Rinascimentale e le moderne Tecniche Informatiche". Di fronte ad un numeroso pubblico e alle autorità presenti si è parlato di uno studioso friulano del Rinascimento, Giulio Camillo Delminio, autore di un dispositivo a forma di teatro organizzato secondo le tecniche mnemoniche dell'epoca. Nell'intendimento dell'autore il teatro doveva permettere l'archiviazione di tutto lo scibile umano e favorire una qualsiasi dissertazione connettendo i concetti ivi memorizzati tramite tecniche combinatorie. Un Docente della locale Università ha poi voluto illustrare come possa essere studiata una continuità fra la teoria filosofica sviluppata cinque secoli fa e gli attuali studi avanzati nei campi dell'intelligenza artificiale, delle basi di dati, degli ipertesti.
from System administration as the path to Nirvana
Our exalted task then is to find order in these seven measures, a pattern that is distinct and will keep always the sense alert and the memory clear ... This exalted and incomparable configuration not only performs the function of preserving entrusted things, words, and arts ... but in addition it gives us true knowledge ...

- Giulio Camillo Delminio, L'idea del Theatro, Fiorenze, Torrentino, 1550, Introduction

Another citation from Camillo

... in Egypt there were such excellent makers of statues that they had brought some statue to the perfect proportions it was found to be animated with an angelic spirit: for such perfection could not be without a soul.

The cover of a book written by Camillo. The actual text is available here
The beginning of the "L'idea del Teatro" from an online version.
Italica (a kind of online encyclopedia about italian culture) has an article describing Camillo's book with other material (included images) linked.
... la struttura del teatro riflette anche una concezione simbolico-sapienziale del cosmo, nella quale confluiscono gran parte dei filoni più significativi del pensiero cinquecentesco, dall'ermetismo all'astrologia, dalla cabala al neoplatonismo.
Il primo ordine del teatro della memoria è costituito dai "sette pianeti" conosciuti, rappresentati in forma umana e posti in corrispondenza delle sette corsie. A ognuno dei pianeti è abbinato un angelo e, soprattutto, una delle Sefiroth, vale a dire uno dei nomi segreti grazie ai quali secondo la tradizione cabalistica, la divinità si espande e agisce nel mondo. Dunque, i gradi successivi, ognuno dei quali presieduto da una figura mitologica, incarnano il progressivo passaggio dall'unità al molteplice, dal divino all'umano ...

This Power and Persuasion in the 'Theatre' of Camillo by artist Kate Robinson shows how the Camillo's text ,after 3 centuries of oblivion, is again inspiring contemporary artists from a variety of disciplines (Kate Robinson is a sculptor).
...images gave access to immediate, instinctive recognition and remembrance. In L'idea del Theatro, Camillo describes the universe in highly visual and mythical terms, although there is not a single drawing or diagram in the book. The world, the planets and history are pictured as a vast network of visual relationships. This imaginary network is arranged within the context of a celestial Theatre, in which everything from the rocks and stones to the very hairs of our head is sentient and receptive of celestial energy.

Another document from a italian high school in the region (Friuli) where Camillo was born. There is also an interesting interview with Marco Turello author of a book about Camillo: "Anima Artificiale".He is convinced that the idea of Camillo was to take all ancient texts (for example all works by Cicero),extract all the parts concerning the same argument and putting them toghether.

Art of Memory Yahoo Group
Art of memory was a mnemotechnic method used by ancient romans and medieval scholars. During the Renaissance, it took many magical and spiritual aspects and became central in the works of thinkers like Giordano Bruno. Today, art of memory is appearing as a possible theoretical framework for the design of virtual worlds. Discussion on this list may encompass all aspects of art of memory : practical ("does it work"?) , historical ("what was its role during Middle Ages and Renaissance?"), magical and mystical (its importance in Bruno's thought, the theater of Giulio Camillo, Lullism), and contemporary (media theory, virtual reality, information representation).

The secret of Camillo's Theatre revealed : a small FAQ

Why the Theater was so famous during the Renaissance ?

According to a letter written by a Camillo's contemporary man called Viglius to Erasmus: They say that this man has constructed a certain Amphitheatre ,a work of wonderful skill,into which whoever is admitted as spectator will be able to discourse on any subject no less fluently than Cicero.

How did the Theatre work its magic ?

From the same letter: He (Camillo) pretends that all things that the human mind can conceive and which we cannot see with the corporeal eyes,after being collected together by diligent meditation may be expressed by certain corporeal signs in such a way that the beholder may at once perceive with his eyes everything that is otherwise hidden in the depths of the human mind. And it is because of this corporeal looking that he calls it a theatre.

Was the Theatre ever built ?

Yes, Camillo made a wooden model big enough to contain a few people and we have a first hand testimony from the same Viglius that reported to Erasmus after the visit:
The work is of wood,marked with many images, and full of little boxes;there are various orders and grades in it.He gives a place to each individual figure and ornament and he showed me such a mass of papers that,though I always heard that Cicero was the fountain of richest eloquence,scarcely would I have thought that one author could contain so much or that so many volumes could be pieced together out of his writings.

When and where did Camillo live ?

Giulio Camillo Delminio(1480-1544) was born in Friuli (a region of Northern Italy near Venice) and studied in Venice and Padova.He became well known for his many theories among which the Theatre was the most important.He had constructed a portable wooden stage to demonstrate its use in his many travels.In 1530 he went to France to show his theatre to the king.He died in Milan.Being his theatre still incomplete, before he died, he wrote a (small) book L'Idea del Theatro trying to explain how the complete Theatre should be.

Was Camillo a quack ?

Apparently no: for example the King of France was so interested to his project that he financed it with 500 ducats with promise of more. During his stay in Paris,Camillo convinced the King that the Theatre ,once completed, would really work its magic. Anyhow he met also with ferocious derision and after his death he was quickly forgotten and what was left were the few pages of obscure writings of the book (published after his death in 1550.)

Why Frances Yates is often cited when speaking of Camillo ?

Frances Yates has written the best in depth account on the Camillo's Theatre. In his book,named "The Art of Memory" and easily readable by anyone,Frances rediscovers the Theatre after centuries of oblivion. Apparently it was almost by chance that she read the small treatise written by Camillo. She studied it thoroughly and was so fascinated that she reconstructed the Theatre in a drawing, making this reconstruction the basis for his book where the ideas behind Camillo Theatre are rediscovered and explained in a fascinating history that starts with the ancient Greeks centuries before Christ and ends in the seventeenth century. An history about a worldview almost completely forgotten, but, as Yates demonstrates, central to the Western civilisation: the worldview behind the Art of Memory.

What is the link between the Method of Loci and the Camillo Memory Theatre?

The Method of Loci (or Art of Memory) was about using imaginary memory palaces to improve memory. The "Idea" of the Theatre by Giulio Camillo, was essentially that of transforming these imaginary architectures in a physical place and then store all knowledge in this place. Now you can learn simply by walking in this Memory Theatre.
This place was crammed with images but also with writings left by the ancients authors.

Was it a Theatre or an Amphitheatre? Where did all these images and writing stay?

It was a theatre (i.e. semicircular) and all these objects where disposed on the seven tiered auditorium. The user was instead in the stage. The organization of the images and writings would follow a detailed layout in order to create in the semicircular space behind the user, a kind of microcosm that reflected the Universe structure.So, for example , we had seven tiers , representing the seven planets known at the time.

What was the use of the images in the Theatre?

The images were allegorical and represented general concepts.According to Yates they should be considered more or less like the letters of an alphabet. By combining these images together in all possible way you could form and express any possible concept(as you can express any word with the limited set of alphabet letters) .

There is any example of these images?

This allegorical painting by Titian was painted to be used in the Theatre.It's the allegory of Time governed by Prudence.

What is the connection of the Theatre with oral cultures?

Oral cultures, like those of native americans in North America, have the problem to preserve their cultural histories and teachings. Many of these cultures have solved the problem by attaching myths and stories to features of local landscape. It is now the natural landscape that is used as memory theater. It is "read" by the old people to the children and in this way the tribal culture will be passed from generation to generation.

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