Francesco Petrarca Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Francesco Petrarca was born in Arezzo, Italy, on July 20, 1304, the oldest child of Pietro di Parenzo, an exiled Florentine notary. Di Parenzo, more commonly called Ser Petracco (“Ser” indicates a notary), was a White Guelph and, like Dante, had been exiled from Florence and its territory in 1302. (Petrarch later formed his own surname by ingeniously reworking Petracco into an elegant Latinate form.) Early in 1305, Petrarch’s mother, Eletta Canigiani, took her son to her father-in-law’s home in Incisa, north of Arezzo and in Florentine territory. There, she and Petrarch lived until 1311, when her husband moved them to the independent state of Pisa. In 1312, the family moved to Carpentras, in Provence, to be near the papal seat, which Clement V had moved to Avignon in 1309. In Carpentras, Petrarch began his study of the trivium with Convenevole da Prato and continued his studies there until 1316, when, at the tender age of twelve, he was sent to the University of Montpellier to study law. In 1320, he and his younger brother Gherardo, of whom he was very fond, moved to Bologna to continue their legal studies. Petrarch, however, never completed the work for his degree because of his many varied interests. Upon the death of his father in 1326, he abandoned forever his pursuit of law and returned with his brother to Avignon. There, the two of them began ecclesiastical careers in order to improve their financial situations. Petrarch received the tonsure, but he never went further than the minor orders. Gherardo, on the other hand, later became a Carthusian monk.

On Good Friday, 1327, Petrarch saw a woman in the Church of Santa Chiara in Avignon and fell in love with her. The poet identifies her only as Laura, except once when he calls her “Laureta”; her exact identity has never been definitively established. While many critics believe her to be Laura de Noves, who married Hugues de Sade in 1325, others question her very existence. Whatever the case, the figure of Laura, ever reluctant to return the poet’s love, is the inspiration or motivation for most of Petrarch’s Italian poetry. He even records her death from the plague on April 6, 1348, in his precious copy of Vergil, an indication of the reality and depth of his devotion to her.

In 1330, Petrarch entered the service of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna and remained under that family’s patronage for almost two decades. Petrarch soon became, as he characterized himself, a peregrinus ubique (pilgrim everywhere). In 1333, he traveled through northern France, Flanders, and Germany. He visited Paris, where Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro gave him a copy of Saint Augustine’s Confessions (c. 397); Liège, where he discovered two new orations by Cicero; and Aachen, where he visited the tomb of Charlemagne. In 1336, he climbed Mount Ventoux with his brother. At the top, he read from his copy of...

(The entire section is 1182 words.)

Francesco Petrarca Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
0111201570-Petrarch.jpg Petrarch (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Francesco Petrarca—or Petrarch (PEE-trahrk), as he came to be known—was born in Arezzo, Tuscany (now in Italy), on July 20, 1304, to Pietro di Parenzo and Eletta Canigiani. He spent his early years in Incisa, near Florence, where, in 1307, his brother Gherardo was born. Around 1316, Petrarch began to study law at the University of Montpellier, a vocation for which he had little love. Still, under pressure from his father, he continued his studies there for four years and then studied for three years at Bologna, where he also came into contact with the vernacular (Tuscan) poetry of the region, literature that influenced the best of his poetry.

Upon his father’s death in 1326, Petrarch and his brother settled in Avignon. There, in the Church of St. Clare on April 6, 1327 (Good Friday, by Petrarch’s poetic re-creation), he spied and fell in love with a young woman whose identity is still somewhat uncertain. This lady, named Laura in his poetry, was to become for Petrarch what Beatrice was for Dante: the object of his love, the theme of his poetry, and his poetic inspiration, even after her death of the plague in 1348. Indeed, from among the poems that he wrote about Laura, Petrarch finally assembled his most famous work, the Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (1470, also known as Canzoniere; Rhymes, 1976). Composed mainly of sonnets and odes, the Canzoniere is one of only two major works, besides the Trionfi (1470; Tryumphs, 1565; best known as Triumphs, 1962), that Petrarch wrote in Italian. Ironically, it is this work upon which Petrarch’s poetic reputation primarily rests, even though he believed that his Latin work would secure for him the fame that he so deeply desired.

In 1330, Petrarch’s friend Giacomo Colonna was appointed bishop of Lombez. Petrarch accompanied him there, where he met several other young men who shared Petrarch’s literary and scholarly interests and who would be important colleagues in Petrarch’s attempts to revive interest in classical learning. These interests characterized Petrarch and his friends as Renaissance humanists. Also in Lombez, Petrarch received his first clerical appointment, chaplain to Cardinal Giovanni Colonna. That and future appointments provided Petrarch with an income that would support him while demanding few duties, thus allowing him important time for his own literary pursuits.

In 1333, Petrarch began a period of travel, ultimately establishing a residence in Vaucluse, a secluded town near Avignon and where he would reside, off and on, until 1353. During this period, he visited France, the Low Countries, and Germany. In 1336, he and his brother climbed Mt. Ventoux, the mountain that had been a real presence in Petrarch’s early childhood. His accounts of this ascent, describing the beauty that he encountered and the keen tension between...

(The entire section is 1178 words.)

Francesco Petrarca Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Francesco Petrarch (PAY-trahrk), the most famous Italian literary figure next to Dante Alighieri, was born in Arezzo on July 20, 1304, while his father, the notary Ser Petracco (Petrarch changed the spelling of his surname at some point in his early life), was exiled from Florence, probably not for political but for personal reasons. His mother took him to the Tuscan town of Incisa, but when he was nine they joined his father in Avignon, France. At fifteen Petrarch was studying law, first in Montpellier from 1316 to 1320 and later, until 1323, at Bologna in Italy. The death of his father removed the pressure that he become a lawyer, but it also deprived him and his brother of their inheritance. Under the encouragement of Giacomo (or Jacopo) Colonna, bishop of Lombez, he took minor church orders and turned to the classics. Late in 1326 or early in the next year he returned to Avignon, then home of the pope.{$S[A]Petrarca, Francesco;Petrarch}

That was a fateful move. There, on April 6, 1327, he saw a lovely woman in the church of Santa Clara. He referred to this woman, whose biographical or historical identity cannot be clearly determined, as Laura, and to her he wrote a total of 366 poems making up a collection of odes, sonnets, and lyrics that ranks as one of the world’s greatest volumes of love poems. Some have identified her as a French lady, Laura de Noves, who had married a rich burgher two years earlier and who had eleven children by him before her death, during the plague, on April 6, 1348. (Petrarch’s patron, Bishop Colonna, died about the same time.) In the traditions of chivalry, Laura welcomed the tribute of the...

(The entire section is 672 words.)