Pietro Bembo

Pietro Bembo: Lover, Linguist, Cardinal

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 656
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    Pietro Bembo
    Book Description:

    Bembo, a Venetian patrician and man of letters, had a close association with the printer Aldus. He enjoyed a rich life with illicit love affairs in the courts of Ferrara, Urbino, and finally Rome, where he was appointed Latin secretary to Leo X. Ten years later, ill and bored, Bembo left Rome for Padua with Morosina, the young sister of a Vatican courtesan. To guarantee a living he took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience in the aristocratic order of St John of Jerusalem, and then started a family. Bembo was active in education in Padua; and his great achievement was to have helped create a common language for Italy through the revival of medieval Tuscany in his poetry and prose. Appointed official historian of Venice, after Morosina's death he became a cardinal. An open mind, coupled with staunch support of the established church during the troubled years of the reformation, made him an asset to the papal curia. At the time of his accidental death in Rome in 1547 he was considered a likely successor to Paul III.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7192-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations,Translations and Illustrations Credits
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-1)
  5. 1 Early Life
    (pp. 3-23)

    Pietro Bembo was born in the golden age of Venice, on 20 May 1470, into the old nobility. The Bembo family had been one of the first to settle on the mud flats in the northwest Adriatic in the middle of the fifth century at the time of Attila’s invasion of the Roman Empire. According to tradition the family originated in Bologna.¹

    What made Venice one of the great powers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was the long-standing commitment of the entire population to the building and maintenance of the city state’s preeminence, their shared sense of responsibility for...

  6. 2 Maria Savorgnan
    (pp. 24-70)

    In the winter of 1499–1500 Bembo returned to his family in Venice. His father had been appointed governor of public finance, in charge of excise duties.¹ Pietro continued working on the Aldine edition of his father’s autograph manuscript of Petrarch’scanzoniereand tried to make progress withGli Asolani. But he was miserable, grieving over the end of his relationship with M.G., a lady he says he once loved with his whole heart (T I, 104).

    Although many of his letters of 1500 reveal the intensity of the feeling he had had for her and his bitterness at what...

  7. 3 Pietro and Lucrezia
    (pp. 71-98)

    In the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan there is a small collection of letters which Byron called “the prettiest love letters in the world.” With them is a lock of blond hair in a kind of gold and crystal monstrance. The hair is Lucrezia Borgia’s. The letters are addressed “to my distinguished and dearest Misser Pietro Bembo.”¹

    In early 1502 Lucrezia Borgia had arrived in north Italy, having been married by proxy in Rome, to Alfonso d’Este, heir to the duchy of Ferrara. Her progress from Rome to Ferrara through the wintry Appennines had been more than regal. Riding on horseback...

  8. 4 Gli Asolani
    (pp. 99-112)

    Gli Asolani[The People of Asolo], which Bembo dedicated to Lucrezia Borgia and delivered to her personally in Ferrara in April 1505, is a dialogue about love. It owes much to the medieval courtly tradition and was printed in the italic script invented for the newly published Bembo-Aldine edition of Petrarch, one of its sources of inspiration.¹ Although the setting is Asolo, Queen Caterina Cornaro’s domain in the foothills of the Alps north of Venice,Gli Asolaniseems to reflect the court at Ferrara where Bembo himself lived from 1497 to 1499 and where he worked on the book. The...

  9. 5 Bembo the Courtier
    (pp. 113-150)

    With the publication ofGli Asolaniin March 1505 the die was cast. Repeatedly defeated in his reluctant attempts to secure an elected position in the Venetian administration as his birth demanded,¹ Bembo had now advertised himself as a man of letters as well as a classical scholar and one who felt himself at home in the courts of Italy. He knew Asolo and Ferrara, had been entertained at perhaps the most refined court of all, in Urbino,² and had already been introduced into the brilliant papal circle in Rome. Rome, the ancient capital of the greatest empire the world...

  10. 6 Rome
    (pp. 151-192)

    The Rome in which Bembo lived for the best part of the next ten years was an extraordinary place. It was not a proper city like Naples, Florence, Milan, Paris, or London. It was rather a collection of settlements in places like encampments, with a combined population of about 50,000,¹ scattered inside the walls and half-buried ruins of an imperial city which had once held a million people. Those who saw bombed German cities in the late 1940s could perhaps best envisage it. Much of Rome was rural, even invaded by wolves in harsh winters.² The biggest population centre was...

  11. 7 Retirement and Domesticity in Padua
    (pp. 193-217)

    Bembo returned to Rome in the spring of 1520. He described his journey in a letter of 29 May 1520 to Christoforo Longolio, now in Padua. He had waited to write until the pope came back from hunting at Magliana. He had not been well enough to go there himself. The trip over the Appennines to Florence had exacerbated his ill health. He had gone to Florence to see Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, the pope’s cousin and the future Clement VII, now governor of the city, to try to buttress Longolio’s defence against charges of hostility to Rome.¹ But now...

  12. 8 Le Prose and the Question of Language
    (pp. 218-237)

    It may seem surprising that Bembo, a brilliant Latin scholar who, in the heyday of European humanism, undertook the long and hazardous journey to Messina to perfect his Greek with the famous Constantine Lascaris, should then, on his return to the Veneto, evince a passionate concern for the vulgar tongue. Ludovico Beccadelli, a personal friend and one of Bembo’s early biographers, stated that his father, Bernardo, had taken eight-year-old Pietro with him to Florence in 1478 so that he could learn Tuscan.¹ Bernardo had precious manuscripts of both Petrarch and Dante. Presumably he wanted Pietro to be able to appreciate...

  13. 9 Troubled Times
    (pp. 238-268)

    Having decided to live in Padua and off his benefices, Bembo had to find a town house. His nearby country villa was a delightful retreat, but as a scholar he needed to be closer to the intellectual powerhouse of the Venetian republic.¹ When he first returned to Padua from Rome he had written to his friend, Federigo Fregoso, archbishop of Salerno, now papal legate in France, that Padua was a “city of a most temperate climate and, in itself, very beautiful and, above all, comfortable and restful and just right for the leisure of writing and for studies, more than...

  14. 10 Man of Letters
    (pp. 269-297)

    In 1525 Bembo had published his lucubrations on a common vernacular language. His most important work,Le Prose, had preoccupied him for a quarter of a century. He now set about preparing his other writings for publication. Venetian editions ofGli Asolani, revised in the light of the linguistic research which had culminated inLe Prose della volgar lingua,¹ appeared in 1530. Also published that year were a collection of Italian lyrics calledRime, and four Latin works: theDe Aetnaof his student days; his early philological study of Vergil’sGnatand Terence’s plays (De Virgilii Culice et de...

  15. 11 In a Changing World
    (pp. 298-321)

    As letters of condolence arrived for his loss of “a sweet and faithful companion … a very tearful and bitter thing” (T III, 1753), Bembo faced the problem of single parenthood. The children grieved more intensely over the loss of their mother than he would have expected (T III, 1708). Elena was only seven, Torquato ten. Bembo himself was feeling weak and wearied (T III, 1712), but even in this crisis he struggled to provide for Torquato in the benefice lottery, while he sought a woman to look after Elena. He wrote to Gualteruzzi, asking him if he could find...

  16. 12 Cardinal Bembo
    (pp. 322-358)

    While he was waiting for the red hat Bembo’s life had followed its usual pattern. Problems about debts and their repayment continued (T IV, 1953, 1966). Struggles to pay taxes in one case required the melting down of some silver Bembo had had made in Rome in the time of Leo X and had always used (T IV, 1965). Then there was the long-lasting litigation over the water for his flour mills which required his presence in Venice (T IV, 1817, 1935, 2006) since his nephew Gian Matteo, who had looked after his interests in the past, was now a...

  17. 13 Last Things
    (pp. 359-385)

    Before he died in 1547 Bembo had completed twelve books of theHistory of Venicecovering the period from 1486 to 1513, when he was appointed apostolic secretary to Leo X. Between 1544 and 1546 he had also, at the instance of his beloved Lisabetta Quirina, translated the history into Italian for popular access.

    Bembo had accepted the appointment as official historian to the Republic of Venice in 1530 with some hesitation: History is the most difficult of literary works and is something for a young man, because of all the research involved, and should really be written by someone...

  18. 14 Conclusion
    (pp. 386-390)

    Pietro Bembo is a biographer’s delight. One does not have to speculate what he was like from his writings, his portraits, the comments of contemporaries, his obituaries. Bembo left almost 2,600 personal letters. In addition, letters written by three of the women he loved have survived and other letters written to him, including some by his young daughter, Elena, were published in Venice shortly after his death, creating an unrivalled biographical resource from the first half of the sixteenth century. There is almost anembarras de richesses. Admittedly Bembo’s letters were revised for publication, but the revisions were mainly stylistic...

  19. Appendix Bembo Iconography
    (pp. 391-394)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 395-494)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 495-524)
  22. Index
    (pp. 525-538)