Roberto Weiss (21 January 1906 – 10 August 1969) was an Italian-British scholar and historian, specialist in Italian-English cultural contacts during the period of the Renaissance and Renaissance humanism.
Born in Milan to a family which originated in the Czech Republic, Weiss began his studies in Italy but moved to England as a young man in 1926 on the advice of his father, Eugenio Weiss, in order to continue his education and prepare for a career in the diplomatic service by studying law. He stayed in England, however, due to his dislike for the fascist regime of Mussolini and the "insufferably hot" Italian climate. While at Oxford he won the Charles Oldham prize and became close friends with the elder son of John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, who later acted as his mentor. Roberto was a frequent guest at the Buchan home at Elsfield Manor, where he met T.E. Lawrence and the Mitford family sisters. At Oxford he met the novelist Barbara Pym, who later used him as the basis for the character Count Ricardo Bianco in her first novel, Some Tame Gazelle, which she had begun writing while at Oxford. After gaining an upper second in law he stayed on to study for a D.Phil. He worked for a short time from 1932-1933 in the Department of Western Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library and obtained his D.Phil from Oxford in 1934.
Weiss was naturalised in 1934 and in 1936 he married Eve Cecil, with whom he settled in Henley-on-Thames and had four children.
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 Arcadia, 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, Berkshire, 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 Museum at the University of Cambridge. His personal library now forms an important part of the History of Art collection at the University of Warwick 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)
- 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 ( with subscription).