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Francesco Petrarca
Portrait by Altichiero
Portrait by Altichiero
Born Francesco Petracco
(1304-07-20)20 July 1304
Comune of Arezzo
Died 19 July 1374(1374-07-19) (aged 69)
Arquà, Padua
Resting place Arquà Petrarca
Occupation Scholar, poet
Language Italian, Latin
Nationality Aretine
Alma mater University of Montpellier
University of Bologna
Period Early Renaissance
Literary movement Renaissance humanism
Notable works Triumphs
Il Canzoniere
Notable awards Poet laureate of Padua
Partner unknown woman or women
Children Giovanni (1337–1361)
Francesca (born in 1343)
Relatives Eletta Canigiani (mother)
Ser Petracco (father)
Gherardo Petracco (brother)
Arezzo Campanile - Santa Maria della Pieve
Santa Maria della Pieve in Arezzo
Arezzo-Casa di Francesco Petrarca
La Casa del Petrarca (birthplace) at Vicolo dell'Orto, 28 in Arezzo

Francesco Petrarca (Italian: [franˈtʃesko peˈtrarka]; 20 July 1304 – 18/19 July 1374), commonly anglicized as Petrarch (/ˈptrɑːrk, ˈpɛt-/), was a scholar and poet of early Renaissance Italy, and one of the earliest humanists.

Petrarch's rediscovery of Cicero's letters is often credited with initiating the 14th-century Italian Renaissance and the founding of Renaissance humanism. Petrarch's sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance and became a model for lyrical poetry. He is also known for being the first to develop the concept of the "Dark Ages".

Early life

Petrarch was born in the Tuscan city of Arezzo on 20 July 1304. He was the son of Ser Petracco and his wife Eletta Canigiani. His given name was Francesco Petracco, which was Latinized to Petrarca. Petrarch's younger brother was born in Incisa in Val d'Arno in 1307.

Petrarch spent his early childhood in the village of Incisa, near Florence. He spent much of his early life at Avignon and nearby Carpentras, where his family moved to follow Pope Clement V, who moved there in 1309 to begin the Avignon Papacy.

Petrarch studied law at the University of Montpellier (1316–20) and Bologna (1320–23). His lifelong friend and schoolmate was Guido Sette, future archbishop of Genoa. Because his father was in the legal profession (a notary), he insisted that Petrarch and his brother also study law.

Petrarch obeyed, but considered these seven years wasted as he was mostly interested in writing and Latin literature. Petrarch disliked the legal system as he considered it to be the art of selling justice. He often got too distracted by his non-legal interests, that his father once threw his books into a fire.


After the death of their parents, Petrarch and his brother Gherardo went back to Avignon in 1326, where he worked in numerous clerical offices. This work gave him much time to devote to his writing.

His first large-scale work wasAfrica, an epic in Latin about the great Roman general Scipio Africanus. This work made Petrarch a European celebrity. On 8 April 1341, he became the second poet laureate since classical antiquity and was crowned by Roman Senatori Giordano Orsini and Orso dell'Anguillara on the holy grounds of Rome's Capitol.

Petrarch traveled a lot across Europe. On his travels he discovered many ancients manuscripts. In 1345 he personally discovered a collection of Cicero's letters not previously known to have existed, the collection Epistulae ad Atticum, in the Chapter Library (Biblioteca Capitolare) of Verona Cathedral.

Petrarch spent the later part of his life journeying through northern Italy as an international scholar and poet-diplomat. In 1361, Petrarch was named canon in Monselice near Padua. Between 1361 and 1369 the younger Boccaccio paid the older Petrarch two visits. The first was in Venice, the second was in Padua.

Works in Italian and "Laura"

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1985-0819-019, Handschrift, Francesco Petrarca
Original lyrics by Petrarch, found in 1985 in Erfurt
Simone Martini - Frontispice du Virgile
Petrarch's Virgil (title page) (c. 1336)
Illuminated manuscript by Simone Martini, 29 x 20 cm Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
The Triumph of Death, or The Three Fates
The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates. Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, c. 1510–1520). Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spin, draw out and cut the thread of life, represent Death in this tapestry, as they triumph over the fallen body of Chastity. This is the third subject in Petrarch's poem "The Triumphs". First, Love triumphs; then Love is overcome by Chastity, Chastity by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by Time and Time by Eternity

Petrarch is best known for his Italian poetry, the Rerum vulgarium fragmenta ("Fragments of Vernacular Matters"), a collection of 366 lyric poems in various genres also known as 'canzoniere' ('songbook'), and I trionfi ("The Triumphs"), a six-part narrative poem of Dantean inspiration.

The Rerum vulgarium fragmenta ("Fragments of Vernacular Matters") is The Rerum vulgarium fragmenta is primarily a collection of Petrarch's love poems addressed to his idealized beloved, Laura. According to Petrarch, he saw a woman called "Laura" in the church of Sainte-Claire d'Avignon on 6 April 1327. She awoked love and passion in him.

Francesco Petrarca01
Laura de Noves

Laura may have been Laura de Noves, the wife of Count Hugues de Sade (an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade). There is little definite information in Petrarch's work concerning Laura, except that she is lovely to look at, fair-haired, with a modest, dignified bearing. Laura and Petrarch had little or no personal contact. According to his "Secretum", she refused him because she was already married. So, he channeled his feelings into love poem.

The Rerum vulgarium fragmenta is divided into two parts: the first part contains the poems Petrarch wrote before he met Laura, and the second part contains the poems he wrote after he met her. Upon her death in 1348, the poet found that his grief was as difficult to live with as was his former despair. While it is possible she was an idealized or pseudonymous character—particularly since the name "Laura" has a linguistic connection to the poetic "laurels" Petrarch coveted—Petrarch himself always denied it.

The Rerum vulgarium fragmenta is considered a masterpiece of Italian literature and is credited with helping to establish the Italian language as a literary language

Sonnet 227

Original Italian English translation by A.S. Kline

Aura che quelle chiome bionde et crespe
cercondi et movi, et se’ mossa da loro,
soavemente, et spargi quel dolce oro,
et poi ’l raccogli, e ’n bei nodi il rincrespe,

tu stai nelli occhi ond’amorose vespe
mi pungon sí, che ’nfin qua il sento et ploro,
et vacillando cerco il mio tesoro,
come animal che spesso adombre e ’ncespe:

ch’or me ’l par ritrovar, et or m’accorgo
ch’i’ ne son lunge, or mi sollievo or caggio,
ch’or quel ch’i’ bramo, or quel ch’è vero scorgo.

Aër felice, col bel vivo raggio
rimanti; et tu corrente et chiaro gorgo,
ché non poss’io cangiar teco vïaggio?

Breeze, blowing that blonde curling hair,
stirring it, and being softly stirred in turn,
scattering that sweet gold about, then
gathering it, in a lovely knot of curls again,

you linger around bright eyes whose loving sting
pierces me so, till I feel it and weep,
and I wander searching for my treasure,
like a creature that often shies and kicks:

now I seem to find her, now I realise
she’s far away, now I’m comforted, now despair,
now longing for her, now truly seeing her.

Happy air, remain here with your
living rays: and you, clear running stream,
why can’t I exchange my path for yours?


Francesco Petrarca2
Statue of Petrarch on the Uffizi Palace, in Florence

Petrarch is often referred to as the father of humanism and considered by many to be the "father of the Renaissance". He inspired humanist philosophy, which led to the intellectual flowering of the Renaissance. He believed in the immense moral and practical value of the study of ancient history and literature—that is, the study of human thought and action.

Petrarch was a devout Catholic and did not see a conflict between realizing humanity's potential and having religious faith,.

Personal life

Arquà Petrarca Punto di vista di un'aquila
Petrarch's Arquà house near Padua where he retired to spend his last years

His career in the Church did not allow him to marry, but he is believed to have fathered two children by a woman or women unknown to posterity. A son, Giovanni, was born in 1337, and a daughter, Francesca, was born in 1343. He later legitimized both.

Giovanni died of the plague in 1361. Francesca married Francescuolo da Brossano (who was later named executor of Petrarch's will) that same year. In 1362, shortly after the birth of a daughter, Eletta (the same name as Petrarch's mother), they joined Petrarch in Venice to flee the plague then ravaging parts of Europe. A second grandchild, Francesco, was born in 1366, but died before his second birthday. Francesca and her family lived with Petrarch in Venice for five years from 1362 to 1367 at Palazzo Molina; although Petrarch continued to travel in those years.


About 1368 Petrarch and Francesca (with her family) moved to the small town of Arquà in the Euganean Hills near Padua, where he passed his remaining years in religious contemplation. He died in his house in Arquà on 18/19 July 1374. The house hosts now a permanent exhibition of Petrarchian works and curiosities, including the famous tomb of an embalmed cat long believed to be Petrarch's (although there is no evidence Petrarch actually had a cat). On the marble slab, there is a Latin inscription written by Antonio Quarenghi:

Original Latin English translation

Etruscus gemino vates ardebat amore:
Maximus ignis ego; Laura secundus erat.
Quid rides? divinæ illam si gratia formæ,
Me dignam eximio fecit amante fides.
Si numeros geniumque sacris dedit illa libellis
Causa ego ne sævis muribus esca forent.
Arcebam sacro vivens a limine mures,
Ne domini exitio scripta diserta forent;
Incutio trepidis eadem defuncta pavorem,
Et viget exanimi in corpore prisca fides.

The Tuscan bard of deathless fame
      Nursed in his breast a double flame,
        Unequally divided;
      And when I say I had his heart,
      While Laura play'd the second part,
        I must not be derided.

      For my fidelity was such,
      It merited regard as much
        As Laura's grace and beauty;
      She first inspired the poet's lay,
      But since I drove the mice away,
        His love repaid my duty.

      Through all my exemplary life,
      So well did I in constant strife
        Employ my claws and curses,
      That even now, though I am dead,
      Those nibbling wretches dare not tread
        On one of Petrarch's verses.

Petrarch's will

Petrarch's will (dated 4 April 1370) leaves 50 florins to Boccaccio "to buy a warm winter dressing gown". He left a horse, a silver cup, a lute, a Madonna to his brother and his friends; his house in Vaucluse to its caretaker; and the bulk of his estate to his son-in-law, Francescuolo da Brossano, who is to give half of it to "the person to whom, as he knows, I wish it to go"; presumably his daughter, Francesca, Brossano's wife.

Petrarch's library of notable manuscripts was already promised to Venice, in exchange for the Palazzo Molina. This arrangement was probably cancelled when he moved to Padua, the enemy of Venice, in 1368. The library was seized by the lords of Padua, and his books and manuscripts are now widely scattered over Europe. Nevertheless, the Biblioteca Marciana traditionally claimed this bequest as its founding, although it was in fact founded by Cardinal Bessarion in 1468.

Interesting facts about Petrarch

Thorvaldsen Cicero
Petrarch revived the work and letters of the ancient Roman Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero
Dante Luca
Dante Alighieri, detail from a Luca Signorelli fresco in the chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto.
  • Petrarch's father and Dante Alighieri were friends.
  • The model for the modern Italian language is based on Petrarch's works.
  • Petrarch was endorsed as a model for Italian style by the Accademia della Crusca.
  • Petrarch loved writing letters to his friends and relatives. Boccaccio was among his notable friends to whom he wrote often.
  • He also wrote and published letters to his long-dead friends from history such as Cicero and Virgil.
  • Cicero, Virgil, and Seneca were his literary models.
  • He traveled widely in Europe, served as an ambassador, and, because he traveled for pleasure, has been called "the first tourist".
  • Petrarch is credited with creating the concept of a historical "Dark Ages", which most modern scholars now find inaccurate and misleading.
  • Petrarch was an enthusiastic Latin scholar and did most of his writing in this language. His Latin writings include scholarly works, introspective essays, letters, and poetry.
  • Most of his Latin writings are difficult to find today, but several of his works are available in English translations.
  • Petrarch's poetry was set to music frequently after his death, especially by Italian madrigal composers of the Renaissance in the 16th century. However, only one musical setting composed during Petrarch's lifetime survives. This is Non al suo amante by Jacopo da Bologna, written around 1350.
  • Petrarch was said to have been 1.83 meters (about six feet) tall, which was very tall for his period.
  • He is credited with being the first and most famous aficionado of Numismatics. He described visiting Rome and asking peasants to bring him ancient coins they would find in the soil which he would buy from them, and writes of his delight at being able to identify the names and features of Roman emperors.


Petrarca Tomb (Arqua)
Petrarch's tomb at Arquà Petrarca

Petrarch's influence is evident in the works of Serafino Ciminelli from Aquila (1466–1500) and in the works of Marin Držić (1508–1567) from Dubrovnik.

The Romantic composer Franz Liszt set three of Petrarch's Sonnets (47, 104, and 123) to music for voice, Tre sonetti del Petrarca, which he later would transcribe for solo piano for inclusion in the suite Années de Pèlerinage.

While in Avignon in 1991, Modernist composer Elliott Carter completed his solo flute piece Scrivo in Vento which is in part inspired by and structured by Petrarch's Sonnet 212, Beato in sogno. It was premiered on Petrarch's 687th birthday.

Works in English translation

  • Francesco Petrarch, Letters on Familiar Matters (Rerum familiarium libri), translated by Aldo S. Bernardo (New York: Italica Press, 2005). Volume 1, Books 1–8; Volume 2, Books 9–16; Volume 3, Books 17–24
  • Francesco Petrarch, Letters of Old Age (Rerum senilium libri), translated by Aldo S. Bernardo, Saul Levin & Reta A. Bernardo (New York: Italica Press, 2005). Volume 1, Books 1–9; Volume 2, Books 10–18
  • Francesco Petrarch, My Secret Book, (Secretum), translated by Nicholas Mann. Harvard University Press ISBN: 9780674003460
  • Francesco Petrarch, On Religious Leisure (De otio religioso), edited & translated by Susan S. Schearer, introduction by Ronald G. Witt (New York: Italica Press, 2002)
  • Francesco Petrarch, The Revolution of Cola di Rienzo, translated from Latin and edited by Mario E. Cosenza; 3rd, revised, edition by Ronald G. Musto (New York; Italica Press, 1996)
  • Francesco Petrarch, Selected Letters, vol. 1 and 2, translated by Elaine Fantham. Harvard University Press
  • Francesco Petrarch, The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, translated by Mark Musa, Indiana University Press, 1996,

See also

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