At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Pietro Bembo – poet and scholar

Lucrezia’s lover helped with the development of modern Italian


Portrait of Pietro Bembo
Titian's portrait of Pietro Bembo, painted in
around 1540, when the poet was 70 years old
Pietro Bembo, a writer who was influential in the development of the Italian language, was born on this day in 1470 in Venice.

He is probably most remembered for having an affair with Lucrezia Borgia while she was married to the Duke of Ferrara and he was living at the Este Court with them. His love letters to her were described by the English poet, Lord Byron, centuries later, as ‘the prettiest love letters in the world.’

As a boy, Bembo visited Florence with his father where he acquired a love for the Tuscan form of Italian which he was later to use as his literary medium. He later learnt Greek and went to study at the University of Padua.

He spent two years at the Este Court in Ferrara where he wrote poetry that was reminiscent of Boccacio and Petrarch.

It was when he returned to the court at Ferrara a few years later he had an affair with Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who was at that time the wife of Alfonso I d’Este. The love letters between the pair to which Byron referred are now in the collection of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. 

Byron greatly admired them when he saw them there in 1816 and also claimed to have managed to steal part of a lock of Lucrezia’s hair that was on display with them.

Bembo went to live in Urbino where he wrote his most influential work, a prose treatise on writing poetry in Italian, Prose della vulgar lingua. His writing was later to revive interest in the works of Petrarch.

Bembo worked as a historian and librarian in Venice for a time before going to live in Rome, where he took Holy Orders. He was made a Cardinal by Pope Paul III in 1539.

He died in Rome in 1547 at the age of 76.

Photo of The Castello Estense in Ferrara
The Castello Estense in Ferrara, where Bembo was a guest
of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia
Travel tip:

The Castello Estense in Ferrara, where Lucrezia Borgia lived after her marriage to Alfonso I d’Este and where Pietro Bembo was a guest, is a moated, brick built castle in the centre of the city. It is open to the public every day from 9.30 till 5.30 pm apart from certain times of the year when it is closed on Mondays. For more details and ticket prices visit www.castelloestense.it.

Travel tip:

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Piazza Pio XI in Milan was established in 1618 to house paintings, drawing and statues that had been donated to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the library founded in the same building a few years before. In addition to works of art, the museum keeps curiosities such as the gloves Napoleon wore at Waterloo and a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s hair, in front of which famous poets such as Lord Byron and Gabriele D’Annunzio spent a lot of time drawing inspiration. Pietro Bembo’s letters to Lucrezia are also in the museum’s collection. Visit www.leonardo-ambrosiana.it for more information.

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