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.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Saverio Bettinelli – writer

Jesuit scholar and poet was unimpressed with Dante


Saverio Bettinelli saw only limited merit in Dante's Divine Comedy
Saverio Bettinelli saw only limited
merit in Dante's Divine Comedy
Poet and literary critic Saverio Bettinelli, who had the temerity to criticise Dante in his writing, died at the age of 90 on this day in 1808 in Mantua.

Bettinelli had entered the Jesuit Order at the age of 20 and went on to become known as a dramatist, poet and literary critic, who also taught Rhetoric in various Italian cities.

In 1758 he travelled through Italy and Germany and met the French writers Voltaire and Rousseau.

Bettinelli taught literature from 1739 to 1744 at Brescia, where he formed an academy with other scholars. He became a professor of Rhetoric in Venice and was made superintendent of the College of Nobles at Parma in 1751, where he was in charge of the study of poetry and history and theatrical entertainment.

After travelling to Germany, Strasbourg and Nancy, he returned to Italy, taking with him two young relatives of the Prince of Hohenlohe, who had entrusted him with their education. He took the eldest of his pupils with him to France, where he wrote his famous Lettere dieci di Virgilio agli Arcadi, which were published in Venice.

He also wrote a collection of poems, Versi sciolti, and some tragedies for the Jesuit theatre.

The cover page for the first of 24 volumes of Bettinelli's complete works
The cover page for the first of 24 volumes
of Bettinelli's complete works 
In 1757 he wrote a series of letters addressed to Virgil, in which he criticised the Divine Comedy by Dante Aljghieri. He stated: ‘Among the erudite books, only certain parts from the Divine Comedy should be included, and these would form no more than five cantos.’ Voltaire praised his opinions but Bettinelli made enemies among Italians as a result of what he had written.

In 1758 he was sent by King Stanislaw, Duke of Lorraine to visit Voltaire on a business matter.

Afterwards he went to live in Modena where he became a professor of Rhetoric again. In 1773 after the suppression of the Jesuit Order, he returned to live in his home town of Mantua. Then a siege of the city by the French caused him to move to Verona.

In 1797 he returned to Mantua, where despite his age, he remained energetic and capable. He published a complete edition of his works, which ran to 24 volumes, in 1799 in Venice.

Bettinelli died on 13 September 1808 in Mantua having reached the age of 90.

Detail from Andrea Mantegna's frescoes in the Camera degli Sposi in Mantua's Palazzo Ducale
Detail from Andrea Mantegna's frescoes in the Camera
degli Sposi in Mantua's Palazzo Ducale
Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, to the south east of Milan, famous for its Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707. The Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, depicting the life of Ludovico Gonzaga and his family. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.


Paolo Monti's 1972 photograph of the Basilica
Paolo Monti's 1972 photograph of the Basilica
Travel tip:

The 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, which houses the artist Andrea Mantegna’s tomb, is in Piazza Mantegna. Mantegna was buried in the first chapel on the left, which contains a picture of the Holy Family and John the Baptist that had been painted by him. The church was originally built to accommodate the large number of pilgrims who came to Mantua to see a precious relic, an ampoule containing what were believed to be drops of Christ’s blood mixed with earth. This was claimed to have been collected at the site of his crucifixion by a Roman soldier.


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