This article aims to trace a profile of Claudio Donati as a historian of the nobility, while attempting to highlight the coherence of his scholarly pathway, including the motivations, readings and issues that led him into this branch of research. The study of the relationships between Trent’s powerful bishop-princes, connected to the Hapsburg court but elected by the Chapter (itself composed of German canons and those of the Italian "nation"), the urban élites and the feudal nobility gave him an opportunity to focus, within the context of this particular border area, on the relationship between "clergy and laymen"; it generated a long-lasting interest in the various layers of noble society in the modern age. In the early 1970s Donati undertook a lengthy work of research on noble treatises, from their medieval roots to the late eighteenth century, without neglecting minor participants in this debate and adopting a rigorously comparative approach to the studies of Brunner, Stone, Huppert, Stuart Woolf, Zenobi, Brizzi, Fasano Guarini... The result was a rich fresco of noble ideologies, one that was able to encompass the dialectics between different ways of understanding nobility - centred on the relationship between virtue and decadence - but also the evolution of noble values, which during in the age of the Enlightenment had to come to terms with other criteria: wealth, service, national allegiance. The 1988 study has remained a landmark in Italian historiography, but Donati was not confined to this very text-centred approach: in many of his later essays, through his delving into archives, Donati increasingly problematized the composite world of the Italian nobility, reconstructing social actors while always linking them to the various institutional situations and to the concrete of political, military and ecclesiastical power structures of the Old Regime.
Keywords: Historiography, patriciate, nobility, state, church