Showing posts with label Boccaccio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boccaccio. Show all posts

21 December 2020

Giovanni Boccaccio – writer and scholar

Renaissance humanist who changed literature

Boccaccio's Decameron influenced Chaucer and De Cervantes
Boccaccio's Decameron influenced
Chaucer and De Cervantes

One of the most important literary figures of the 14th century in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio, died on this day in 1375 in Certaldo in Tuscany.

The greatest prose writer of his time in Europe, Boccaccio is still remembered as the writer of The Decameron, a collection of short stories and poetry, which influenced not only Italian literary development but that of the rest of Europe as well, including Geoffrey Chaucer in England and Miguel de Cervantes in Spain.

With the writers Dante Alighieri (Dante) and Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), Boccaccio is considered one of the three most important figures in the history of Italian literature and, along with Petrarch, he raised vernacular literature to the level and status of the classics of antiquity.

Boccaccio is thought to have been born in about 1313.  He was the son of a merchant in Florence, Boccaccino di Chellino, and an unknown woman. His father later married Margherita dei Mardoli who came from a well off family. Boccaccio received a good education and an early introduction to the works of Dante from a tutor.

His father was appointed head of a bank in 1326 and the family moved to live in Naples.

Boccaccio was appointed an apprentice at the bank but disliked the work and persuaded his father to let him study law at the University of Naples instead. Although he did not enjoy the study of law it gave him the opportunity to also study literature and science and to meet other scholars.

At that time, he is thought to have fallen in love with Maria, a married daughter of the King of Naples, Robert the Wise, and that he later portrayed her as Fiammetta in his prose romances.

Boccaccio's contemporary and friend, Petrarch
Boccaccio's contemporary
and friend, Petrarch
While in Naples, he began writing poetry and produced Il Filostrato and Teseida, which Chaucer used as sources for his Troilus and Criseyde and The Knight’s Tale. He also wrote La caccia di Diana, a poem in terza rima, a rhyming verse form invented by Dante.

Boccaccio returned to Florence in 1341 where he wrote Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine, which was a mixture of prose and poetry. He then wrote a 50-canto poem, Amorosa visione and his novel, Fiammetta.

In 1348 Florence was hit by the Black Death, which killed three-quarters of the population. Boccaccio later featured the plague in The Decameron, although he may have been away in Ravenna at that time.

He began work on The Decameron in about 1349 and completed it in 1352. It was one of his last works written in Tuscan vernacular and it is regarded as his masterpiece.  He revised and rewrote it in 1370 and this manuscript has survived to the present day.

Afterwards he became more closely involved with the development of Italian humanism and started working for the government of Florence, visiting the Romagna, Brandenburg, Milan and Avignon.

In 1350 he was asked to greet Petrarch as he entered Florence and to have him as a guest at his home. The meeting was a great success and they became good friends, Boccaccio subsequently calling Petrarch his teacher.

An illustrated page from a 15th century copy of The Decameron
An illustrated page from a 15th
century copy of The Decameron
Petrarch encouraged Boccaccio to study Greek and Latin literature and as a result Boccaccio wrote Genealogia deorum gentilium, which was considered to be an important reference work on classical mythology that would be consulted for the next 400 years.

Boccaccio and Petrarch believed that much could be learned from antiquity and as a result the revival of classical works became important during the Renaissance.

In 1365 Boccaccio travelled to Venice where he met up with Petrarch again at his residence in Palazzo Molina on the Riva degli Schiavoni, where the poet kept his extensive library.

Boccaccio gave a series of lectures on Dante in 1373 and wrote his final major work, Esposizioni sopra la Commedia di Dante.

When Petrarch died in 1374, Boccaccio wrote a commemorative poem to mark the occasion, which he included in his collection, the Rime.

He became ill himself in 1375 and died on 21 December in his hometown of Certaldo where he is buried in the Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo.

His entire collection of books was given to the monastery of Santo Spirito in Florence, but after the suppression of the monasteries by the French in the 19th century, many valuable works were lost, including Boccaccio's.

In 1971, the director Pier Paolo Pasolini made a film based on Boccaccio’s Decameron.

The Via Boccaccio in the picturesque town of Certaldo in Tuscany
The Via Boccaccio in the picturesque
town of Certaldo in Tuscany
Travel tip:

Certaldo, a town of Etruscan and Roman origins about 35km (22 miles) southwest of Florence, commemorates Boccaccio with a statue in the Piazza Boccaccio in Certaldo Basso, the lower part of a town of two halves, the other being Certaldo Alto, the elevated oldest part of the town in which Boccaccio lived, in what is now Via Boccaccio, at the end of which is the church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo, where he is buried.  Another feature of the picturesque upper town, which is accessed via a funicular railway from Certaldo Basso, is Palazzo Pretorio, also known as the Vicariale, the residence of the Florentine governors, which has been restored to its original condition with a facade adorned with ceramic coats of arms. 

Palazzo Molina on the Riva degli Schiavoni was Petrarch's home in Venice
Palazzo Molina on the Riva degli Schiavoni was
Petrarch's home in Venice
Travel tip:

Palazzo Molina, which has at different times been known as the Palazzo de Due Torri or Palazzo Navager, and locally as Casa di Petrarca, is a Gothic style palace that can be found a short distance from St Mark’s Square on Venice’s Riva degli Schiavoni, next to the Ponte del Sepolcro. Petrarch lived there with his daughter Francesca, her husband Francescuolo da Brossano and their family for about five years, having moved to Venice through his deep admiration for the city, where he had many friends. 

More reading:

Why Dante remains in exile from Florence

How Petrarch's work inspired the modern Italian language

Pier Paolo Pasolini - controversial director who met a violent death

Also on this day:

69: Vespasian becomes Emperor of Rome

1401: The birth of Renaissance artist Masaccio

1872: The birth of priest and composer Lorenzo Perosi

1931: The birth of circus owner and actress Moira Orfei


7 February 2017

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Preacher Savonarola's war on Renaissance 'excesses'

The statue of Girolamo Savonarola in  Piazza Savonarola in Florence
The statue of Girolamo Savonarola in
Piazza Savonarola in Florence
The most famous 'bonfire of the vanities' encouraged by the outspoken Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola took place in Florence on this day in 1497.

Savonarola campaigned against what he considered to be the artistic and social excesses of the Renaissance, preaching with fanatical passion against any material possession that might tempt the owner towards sin.

He became notorious for organising large communal bonfires in the tradition of San Bernardino of Siena, urging Florentines to come forward with items of luxury or vanity or even simply entertainment that might draw them away from their faith.

Savonarola arrived in Florence from his home town of Ferrara in 1482, entering the convent of St Mark. With Lorenzo de' Medici at the height of his power, Savonarola became disturbed by what he perceived as the moral collapse of the Catholic church.

For a number of years he confined himself to speaking about repentance to congregations of believers in the parishes around Florence but on returning to the city in 1490 he began to campaign with more vigour about what he saw as the need for a return to piety.

He issued dire warnings about what would happen to Florence and its citizens if they did not renounce their sins, prophesising that a powerful leader would arrive from the north to punish Italy and reform the church.

Paintings by Botticelli were considered indecent under's Savonarola's moral code
Paintings by Botticelli were considered
indecent under's Savonarola's moral code
Savonarola's condemnation of what he considered the vice and corruption infecting the Catholic bishops and cardinals, and his attacks on the wealthy for ignoring the plight of the poor and sick, struck a chord with the common people and he became an increasingly powerful figure.

When Emperor Charles VIII of France invaded Italy from the north in 1494, many people saw this as confirmation of Savonarola’s prediction.  They rose up against the Medici family, the major sponsors of Renaissance art and literature, and drove them from the city, after which Savonarola became the effective leader of a new Florentine republic.

Savonarola began to host his bonfires in 1495, at around the time that used to be taken up with Carnival celebrations, which he cancelled.

At first, it was items of vanity such as mirrors, cosmetics, jewellery and fine clothes that were thrown on to the flames, along with playing cards, musical instruments and such pagan fripperies as books of magic and astrology. Savonarola employed street urchins to knock on doors, demanding luxurious and suspect items were handed over.

But the scope of what was deemed to be sinful grew. Soon, he was demanding that books he saw as immoral, such as works by Boccaccio, were burned, as well as paintings and sculptures, manuscripts and tapestries. Priceless works by Dante and the Roman poets Ovid and Propertius were said to have been consigned to the flames.

A painting by an unknown Florentine artist depicts the bonfire built in Piazza della Signoria in which Savonarola was burned
A painting by an unknown Florentine artist depicts the bonfire
built in Piazza della Signoria in which Savonarola was burned
At the same time, Savonarola spread fear among the people with ever more horrific visions of what fate would befall them if they did not live according to his strict moral code. Higher church officials viewed all this with increasing unease and for Pope Alexander VI, it seems, the huge bonfire of 1497 - in which the Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli is said to have burned several of his own paintings - was the last straw.

Already in defiance of a ban on his preaching imposed when he failed to support Pope Alexander's military response to the French invasion, Savonarola was excommunicated in May 1497. The following year, having confessed that his visions and prophecies were invented, he was condemned as a heretic and, with two other friars, hung from a cross in Florence's Piazza della Signoria, to be consumed by a bonfire built beneath him.

A statue of Savonarola, completed in 1875 by the sculptor Enrico Pazzi, from Ravenna, can be found in Piazza Savonarola, about 2km north-east of Florence's centre,

Travel tip:

Florence's Piazza della Signoria has been the focal point of the city since the 14th century. Overlooked by the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, it was the scene of the triumphant return of the Medici family in 1530, three and a half decades after they had been driven from the city by the supporters of the fanatical Savonarola. The controversial priest's bonfires of the vanities were built in the middle of the square, where his own body was burned at the stake in 1498 after he was denounced as a heretic. A marble circle inscription on the piazza shows the spot where he was burned.

Florence hotels from

The Piazza della Signoria is Florence's main square
The Piazza della Signoria is Florence's main square
Travel tip:

The Piazza della Signoria contains several important sculptures and statues, including a copy of Michelangelo's David - the original is in the Galleria dell'Accademia - outside the Palazzo Vecchio, which is said to be a symbol of defiance against the tyranny of the Medici.  The family apparently installed or appropriated their own symbols of power in the shape of Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus, just to the right of the David, and the Nettuno by Ammannati, which celebrates the Medici's maritime ambitions.  Giambologna's equestrian statue of Duke Cosimo I is a tribute to the man who brought all of Tuscany under Medici military rule.  Under the Loggia dei Lanzi, to the right of Palazzo Vecchio, the statue of Perseo holding Medusa's head, by Benvenuto Cellini, is a stark reminder of what happened to those who crossed the Medici. Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines can also be found in the Loggia dei Lanzi.

Hotels in Florence from Expedia

More reading:

The execution of Girolamo Savonarola

Sandro Botticelli - Renaissance master forgotten until the 19th century

How scheming Pope Alexander VI married off his children to secure power

Also on this day:

1622: The birth of Vittoria della Rovere, Grand Duchess of Tuscany

1941: The birth in San Marino of pop singer Little Tony

(Picture credits: Savonarola statue by liviathana; Piazza della Signoria by Zolli; via Wikimedia Commons)


14 September 2016

Dante Alighieri – poet

Famous son of Florence remains in exile

Sandro Botticelli's portrait of Dante, painted in 1495
Sandro Botticelli's portrait of Dante,
painted in 1495
Dante Alighieri, an important poet during the late Middle Ages, died on this day in 1321 in Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna.

Dante’s Divine Comedy is considered to be the greatest literary work written in Italian and has been acclaimed all over the world.

In the 13th century most poetry was written in Latin, but Dante wrote in the Tuscan dialect, which made his work more accessible to ordinary people.

Writers who came later, such as Petrarch and Boccaccio, followed this trend.

Therefore Dante can be said to have played an instrumental role in establishing the national language of Italy.

His depictions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven in the Divine Comedy later influenced the works of John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer and Lord Alfred Tennyson, among many others.

Dante was also the first poet to use the interlocking three-line rhyme scheme, terza rima.

Dante was born around 1265 in Florence into a family loyal to the Guelphs. By the time he was 12 he had been promised in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, the daughter of a member of a powerful, local family.

He had already fallen in love with Beatrice Portinari, whom he first met when he was only nine.

A beautiful depiction of Dante and Beatrice in Florence, by the English artist Henry Holliday in 1883
A beautiful depiction of Dante and Beatrice in Florence, by
the English artist Henry Holliday in 1883
Years after his marriage to Gemma, Dante claimed to have met Beatrice again and wrote several sonnets to her, without ever getting to know her properly, an example of courtly love.

After defeating the Ghibellines, the Guelphs divided into two factions, the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs and when the Black Guelphs took power, Dante, a White Guelph was condemned to exile and ordered to pay a fine.

Dante, who was in Rome at the time, did not pay the fine and was condemned to perpetual exile. If he had returned to Florence he could have been burned at the stake.

By 1315 Florence had been forced to grant an amnesty to those in exile in exchange for public penance and the payment of a heavy fine, but Dante refused, preferring to remain in exile.

He accepted an invitation from Prince Guido Novello da Polenta to go to Ravenna in 1318. He finished Paradiso and died there, possibly of malaria, at about the age of 56.

The tomb of Dante Alighieri at the Church of San Pier Maggiore in Ravenna
The tomb of Dante Alighieri at the Church
of San Pier Maggiore in Ravenna
Dante was buried at the Church of San Pier Maggiore and a tomb was erected for him there in 1483.

Florence made repeated requests for the return of Dante’s remains but Ravenna has always refused. A tomb was built for him in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence but it has remained empty.

Travel tip:

Ravenna, where Dante lived in exile until his death in 1321, has a wealth of well-preserved late Roman and Byzantine architecture and eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture is the Basilica of San Vitale, which is famous for its fine Byzantine mosaics. The city of Ravenna is mentioned by Dante in Canto V of his Inferno.

Dante's house in Via Santa Margherita in Florence, which is now a museum
Dante's house in Via Santa Margherita in
Florence, which is now a museum
Travel tip:

Dante’s house in Via Santa Margherita in Florence is now a museum, il Museo Casa di Dante, open daily to the public from 10 am till six pm in summer and from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am till five pm between October and March. The museum is spread over three floors with exhibits illustrating the life and works of the great poet.

(Photo of Dante's tomb by Pivari CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Dante's house by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0)

More reading:

Petrarch - the writer whose work inspired the the modern Italian language

Ludovico Ariosto - the father of humanism


The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso

Dante: The Story of His Life, by Marco Santagata