Pietro Aretino was born in Arezzo, Republic of Florence, in 1492 into a humble family; he was the son of a shoemaker. His father abandoned the family and joined a troop of mercenaries when Pietro was a small child. His mother, Margherita (Tita) Bonci, was not of such obscure origins and, because of her great beauty, was frequently chosen as a model by the local painters. A few years after Pietro’s birth, she had a love affair with the wealthy nobleman Luigi Bacci, which might have been the reason for her husband’s sudden decision to leave and which continued long after he left, providing Margherita and her children (the son Pietro and two younger daughters) with all that was necessary to live. While Aretino maintained a tender relationship with both his mother and his sisters, he disowned his father’s name and adopted the name of his native community.
While still an adolescent, Aretino went to live in Perugia, where he soon became associated with men of arts and letters and was patronized by Francesco de Bontempi. The most influential among the local families seemed to appreciate him both as a painter and as a poet. In 1512, while still in Perugia, Aretino found the means to have his first book of verse printed in Venice: Opera nova is a collection of facetiae, folk songs, sonnets, and letters in rhyme in the manner of the poet Serafino Aquilano.
In 1517, after a brief stay in Siena, Aretino went to Rome to work for the Sienese Agostino Chigi, an extremely rich and powerful banker, a patron of the painter Raphael, and treasurer to the papal court of Leo X. The court was attended by other artists and prominent writers, such as Cardinal Bibbiena (Bernardo Dovizi) and Pietro Bembo. Aretino was soon able to attract the attention of the pope and Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, as well as the attention of the Roman public. His swift climb to fame and fortune reached its apex soon after the death of Leo X, in November, 1521, precisely during the conclave that resulted in the election of Adrian VI. On that occasion, Aretino displayed his talent as a fierce satirist, composing more than fifty biting sonnets that were to promote Giulio de’ Medici and defame his rivals. These so-called pasquinate made him popular among the Roman people, who were displeased with the unexpected election of the Flemish pope. The harshness of Aretino’s satire had been such that he wisely decided to leave Rome a month prior to the new pope’s arrival, at the end of July, 1522.
Between 1522 and 1523, Aretino was in Bologna, Arezzo, and Florence in Giulio de’ Medici’s suite. Then, the latter, in order not to compromise himself further in the eyes of the pope by openly protecting one of his enemies, deemed it necessary to send Aretino first to Mantua, to the court of young Federigo Gonzaga, then to Reggio in Emilia. There his nephew Giovanni delle Bande Nere, the famous condottiere, whom Aretino must have met in Rome in 1519, kept his headquarters. After the death of Adrian VI and the election of Giulio de’ Medici as Pope Clement VII in November, 1523, Aretino returned to Rome hoping to gain employment in the papal court as a cultural adviser. The new papal datary, Giovanni Matteo Giberti, was not, however, inclined to tolerate Aretino’s defiance and his intrusions into the court’s business. When Aretino succeeded in obtaining from the pope the release of Marcantonio Raimondi, an engraver who had reproduced sixteen erotic drawings by Giulio Romano, and then saucily proceeded to provide a text for the work by writing sixteen sonetti lussuriosi, Giberti and the pope were so outraged that Aretino had to leave the city in order to avoid imprisonment himself....
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