Italian (Florentine) School; Petrarch (1304-1374) (Francesco Petrarca); National Trust, Blickling Hall;

Petrarch, the famous poet and father of the Renaissance, was born on July 20, 1304 in the city of Arezzo, Tuscany, as Francensco Petracco (Petrarca) to Ser Petracco and Eletta Canigaini. He had one brother, Gherardo, whom he was particularly close to as they studied and traveled together along with his closest friend, Giovanni Boccaccio. His father had been a White Guelphs alongside his friend Dante, and was exiled in 1302 from Florence, when he found his way to Arezzo, but the exiled Flortines were not welcome. Ser Petracco had to look elsewhere for work while his wife found shelter in a little home they owned in Incisa. Both boys were born in this period, but things turned around for the family when Ser Petracco found work for the Pope.  They followed the Pope to Avignon, where Petrarch was forced to study law from 1316 to 1323 by his father; Petrarch hated the legal system and often referred to it as the art of selling justice. 

After his parents passed, Petrarch became a cleric in Avignon. He found more time for his own works, but he always craved more. In 1336, he climbed Mont Ventoux and became one of the world’s first alpinists (he’s also our first tourist). People in this time did not travel for pleasure nor did they find the efforts to climb mountain peaks worthy of their precious lives, but Petrarch did, and this ascent brought him the enlightenment to spark the Renassaince. He had been inspired to make the journey by Philip V of Macedon’s climbing of Mount Haemo (1st century), but it was Saint Augustine’s book of confessions that he read once on top that inspired him. While the view was likely unbelievable, he came to the realization he should be searching for inner beauty of the soul instead of earthly beauty. He was quiet upon the descent from the mountain, reflecting upon his own soul. He returned to his job with a new vigor and began searching for the meaning of being human and birthing the concept of Humanism. 

He released his epic of Roman general Scipio Africanus, Africa, and by 1341 was infamous around Europe as well as an accomplished ambassador. He used his fame to further his exploration of humanism by piecing together documents and art from Rome and Ancient Greece (though he could not read Greek and was not a huge fan of Homer). For these translations, he used Leontius Pilatus, but did not trust his work). In 1345, he discovered the lost manuscripts of Ciecro that no one knew existed. His works (including his collection of poems or ‘canzoniere’ named Rerum vulgarium fragmenta) were mostly inner reflection on himself and his own morality, especially when it came to his lengthy obsession with a married woman named Laura. Both his own work and his studies of the generations before him helped inspire the generations after him. He coined terms we still use like the ‘Dark Ages’, advised rulers like Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VII, and inspired men including Serafino dell’ Aquila. Thanks to him, humanism was born, and with it, our outlooks on ourselves and communities began to change. In a way, he began an intellectual evolution for the Europeans and set the tinder for the fire that was Protestism. He died in the city of Arquà in the Republic of Venice on July 19, 1374 (the day before he turned 70).

I hope you enjoyed learning more about a man who influenced more than one nation during the 14th century. Let us know what your thoughts on Petrarch on our social media, as well as anyone else you would like us to write about! Thank you for your support!

Notable Sources:

  • “The Canzoniere, Or, Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta.” Google Books, Google, 
  • “SIAM J. Appl. Math.” SIAM Journal on Applied Mathematics, 
  • “Rereading the Renaissance.” Google Books, Google, 
  • “Petrarch.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 
  • “The Worlds of Petrarch.” Google Books, Google, 
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