Italian literature

The Renaissance

The Tuscan vernacular that had been established by Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio was inhibited by a strong return to Latin in the 15th cent. among humanist writers and philosophers. Coluccio Salutati, Lorenzo Valla, Marsilio Ficino, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola were among the writers and scholars who sought to return to the fonts of classical antiquity for inspiration and guidance in matters of language, literary style, moral instruction, and simply a new vision of the relation of humanity to its surroundings and to God. When the vernacular began to be used again in the late 15th cent., poetic language and tastes had been refined by the values of humanist learning.

In the circle of Lorenzo de'Medici, Tuscan vernacular was used in popular, Petrarchan, and pastoral poetry and in a return to medieval subject matter. Luigi Pulci's grotesque Morgante (c.1480) recounts the adventures of Orlando (Charlemagne's Roland) and other paladins with great comic verve. Boiardo's Orlando innamorato (3 parts, 1483–1494) adds Breton subject matter to the Carolingian and introduces motifs from classical mythology and contemporary society. The great masterpiece of Italian Renaissance poetry is Ariosto's Orlando furioso (1516, rev. 1521 and 1532), in which varied and improbable adventures are worked into an aesthetic whole. The great lyric poet Tasso in Gerusalemme liberata (1581) wrote a Christian epic, making use of the same form (ottava rima), with attention to the Aristotelian canons of unity.

Other Renaissance genres brought to a high level of perfection by outstanding writers were the pastoral poem (Poliziano, Tasso, and Guarini); the pastoral romance (Sannazaro); the Petrarchan lyric (Bembo, Michelangelo, Gaspara Stampa); imitations of classical tragedy (Trissino) and classical comedy (Ariosto, Machiavelli, Aretino); dialogues in the Platonic manner (Castiglione's The Courtier ); treatises on a variety of topics (Leonardo's Della pittura; Alberti's Della famiglia; Bembo's Prose della volgar lingua, which established the principle of linguistic purism for Italian literature; and Machiavelli's The Prince ); biographical and autobiographical writings (Vasari, Machiavelli, and Cellini); and history (Guicciardini and Machiavelli).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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