The first Italian vernacular literature began to take shape in the 13th cent. with the imitation of Provençal lyric poetry at the court of Frederick II in Sicily. The Sicilians are credited with inventing the sonnet, which became the most widely used form of Italian poetry and later flourished throughout Europe. The Sicilian style was dominant in the north until c.1260, when Guido Guinizelli, a Bolognese poet and jurist, moved from the Provençal conception of courtly love to a more mystical and philosophical spirituality.
The poets who took Guinizelli as their model originated the "sweet new style" ( dolce stil novo )—so named by Dante Alighieri in canto 24 of his Purgatorio. The group included Guido Cavalcanti, Cino da Pistoia, Lapo Gianni, Dino Frescobaldi, and Dante himself, whose youthful La vita nuova, part prose and part poetry, recounts the poet's love for Beatrice in terms of the transcendental view of love typical of the stil novo. Dante's other works, of which the Divine Comedy is a masterpiece of world literature, go beyond the themes and manner of stil novo and embrace the whole of contemporary knowledge and experience. Dante invented the difficult terza rima (iambic tercets) for his epic journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
The 13th cent. also produced folk poetry, doctrinal poetry, imitations of the chansons de geste in various dialects, and a magnificent flowering of religious poetry in the laudi of Jacopone da Todi and in the Hymn to Created Things of St. Francis of Assisi. Laudi in dialogue form represent the beginning of dramatic literature, the sacre rappresentazioni. Prose works included translations from the Latin and French as well as collections of tales, anecdotes, and witty sayings.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.