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Petrarch and the Petrarchan Tradition in Renaissance Literature and Thought. Petrarch and Laura , 1842 by Nicaise de Keyser (Flemish). Francesco Petrarca, ca.1450 by Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla . Statue (19 th century) of Petrarch, outside Uffizi Gallery, Florence .

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petrarch and the petrarchan tradition in renaissance literature and thought
Petrarch and the Petrarchan Tradition in Renaissance Literature and Thought

Petrarch and Laura, 1842

by Nicaise de Keyser (Flemish)

Francesco Petrarca, ca.1450

by Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla

Statue (19th century) of Petrarch, outside Uffizi Gallery, Florence

humanist thought in the early renaissance a context for petrarch norton c 2465 72

What are some of the important features of the Renaissance?

What broad changes in religion did the Renaissance witness?

What are some important inventions of the Renaissance?

What are some features that characterize the individual in Renaissance thought?

What is “humanism”?

What is “Renaissance melancholy”?

What is lyric poetry?

Humanist Thought in the Early RenaissanceA Context for Petrarch: Norton C, 2465-72
what is the renaissance

“Renaissance” is French for re-birth

The “Renaissance” a term typically used to refer to a period in Early Modern Europe spanning approximately 1350 to 1650

Shift in the vocabulary: “early modern” (1350-1800CE) to emphasize continuity of ideas

Different countries experienced their Renaissance at different times. Generally, the trend was northward. Italy’s Renaissance (14th century) occurred well before England’s Renaissance (16th century).

The Renaissance is better understood through its features.

What “is” the Renaissance?
important features of the renaissance

The Renaissance is conventionally understood as a flowering of the arts...

that emerged from “the questing, self-conscious individual” (Damrosch 149)...

who actively explored—and thus created—the self and the world in which the self exists (Pasinetti and James 2468).

Hence—the Reniassance encounter with the self

A “shift toward internal, mental, and psychological portraiture” (2465)

“characters...enjoy greater autonomy and more fully realized personalities” (2465)

“Deliberating with others and themselves about what to do seems at least as important...as putting their plans into action” (2465)

Important features of the Renaissance?
what are some important features of the renaissance

“Renaissance authors, like the characters they invent, inhabited a world of such widespread revolutionary change that they could not passively receive the traditional wisdom of previous ages” (Pasinetti and James 2465).

In addition to—and influencing the nature of—the flowering of the arts, great changes were occurring during the Renaissance in the areas of:

Religion

Technology and Science

World Exploration and Discovery

Bureaucratic and Institutional Power

Economic and Social Power

These changes were highly interrelated.

What are some important features of the Renaissance?
revolutionary changes in technology science
Revolutionary Changes in Technology & Science
  • The map of the world was being redrawn; by 1632, explorers had traveled to the western coast of South America
  • The world’s “center” was no longer a function of religious power and primacy, but subordinated to “mathematical precision” (Damrosch 151).
  • New inventions—like Galileo’s telescope, Gutenberg’s printing press, and important means of navigation—made the “previously unthinkable” eminently possible.
  • The quadrant enabled ships to travel from Europe to India and the New World (Damrosch 157). But gunpowder was also a new technology frequently put to use in less unifying ways (Damrosch 156).
  • Influx of ancient knowledge from the Middle East reinvigorated engineering, architecture, science, and so on.
  • Many of the greatest buildings in Europe were erected during this period, often to celebrate earthly powers and “the dignity of man.”
revolutionary religious social changes
Revolutionary Religious & Social Changes
  • This is a period of religious divisiveness. Violent protests about religion occurred, sparking Martin Luther’s Reformation (of the Catholic Church and its means of maintaining absolute power over the people).
  • Many religious sects left to find colonies and schools in other parts of the world; “These new wanderings were concerted efforts to win souls for Christ and to acquire gold, bread baskets, and new subjects for Europe’s sovereign states” (Damrosch 151). This also created uncertainty and debate, which we'll read about.
  • Such divisiveness was a part of the age's “preoccupation with this life rather than with the life beyond” (2468).
  • “For Renaissance intellectuals and for the literary characters they created, there was almost literally no firm ground to stand on as they moved through life in an increasingly complex and uncertain world” (2466).
religious social changes
Religious & Social Changes
  • Such “preoccupation with this life rather than with the life beyond” (2468) meant that in general, “the presence of God...is conspicuously less dominating” (2469) in the literature of the period.
  • See: “the dignity of man” and humanity's “privileged position in creation” (2471)
  • More accurately, artists and intellectuals were struggling with “the conflict between the values of worldly goods and...the religious conviction in the transitory nature of earthly possessions” (2469). The value of acquisition, its effects on self, neighbor, society here and elsewhere.
  • This divisive and uncertain “religious temper of the age is expressed in its art,” where the earthly and the spiritual are often intermixed (2470).
  • Petrarch's poems, for instance, reflects a complex treatment of earthly and spiritual desire.
the printing press as an agent of change e eisenstein
“The Printing Press as an Agent of Change” (E. Eisenstein)
  • The printing press was “an instrument for intellectual deliberation and the dissemination of ideas” (Pasinetti and James 2466).
  • In fact, the invention of the printing press facilitated the religious divisiveness of the Early Modern period.
  • Spurring the Reformation and much cultural and religious divisiveness, the printing press also allowed people to participate in a “republic of letters” (Pasinetti and James 2467).
  • With the expanded availability of the press came education and increasing levels of literacy. Men and women could publish their works, something unthinkable before the advent of print. For many more people, writing became “simply one aspect of…daily activities” (Damrosch 159).
  • Public circulation of literature fueled the emerging sense of self we call “Renaissance individualism”.
slide10
So... How can we understand this historical & cultural context?What are some of the important features of the Early Modern period?
slide11

Increasing Individualism

Worldly Goods

Artistic Invention

Arts

Spiritual Goods

Urbanization

Bureaucratization

of the state

Renaissance

Melancholy

Merchant

Classes

Invention

Re/discovery

Humanism: Spiritual Dignity

of Human Work

Trade

Balance of Power

Travel/Exploration

Religious Divisiveness

slide12

The Ambassadors,

by Hans Holbein

(1533)

In what ways does this painting encapsulate the Renaissance?

the renaissance individual
The Renaissance Individual
  • Deliberate encounter with the self—and with the other as other self, both like and unlike me.
  • The Renaissance individual characterized by “a singularly high capacity for feeling the delight of earthly achievement” (2471), and literature of the period delves in to the sensuous pleasures—and the questions—of individual, earthly experience.
  • This is in contrast with the ideal individual of the Medieval period who sees life on earth as mere preparation for the eternal life after death (2468)
  • Attention to the here-and-now reflected in the “Renaissance code of behavior” (2468); our manners and the specific form of our actions carry meaning
  • Balance of power began to move towards the cities: urbanization, commerce, conversation and exchange of ideas
humanism
Humanism
  • “Renaissance” connotes “a general notion of artistic creativity, of extraordinary zest for life and knowledge, of sensory delight in opulence and magnificence, of spectacular individual achievement” (2466).
  • “The Renaissance assumption is that there are things highly worth doing, within a strictly temporal pattern [namely, the proper exercise of political power, the act of scientific discovery, the creation of works of art]. By doing them, humanity proves its privileged position in creation...” (Pasinetti and James 2471).
  • The phrase “the dignity of man” refers to “this positive, strongly affirmed awareness of the intellectual and physical 'virtues' of the human being, and of the individual's place in creation” (2471).
  • Specifically, spectacular individual human achievement, most frequently visible in human productions—the arts and sciences, the “classics” that were “reborn” after the so-called Dark Ages
  • “The people who, starting at about the middle of the fourteenth century, gave new impulse to this emulation of the classics are often referred to as humanists.”
  • “The word...is related to what we call the humanities, and the humanities at that time [referred to the study of] Latin and Greek” texts (2467).
renaissance melancholy
Renaissance Melancholy
  • “The Renaissance coincided with, and perhaps to some extent occasioned, a loss of firm belief in the final unity and the final intelligibility of the universe” (2471)
  • With the profound belief in the capacity and ability of the individual, and the delight in earthly accomplishment, there comes the question of “its ultimate worth” (Pasinetti and James 2471)
  • If the here-and-now is held up as the proper province of human study and action, then how do we judge the value and purpose of “all this activity”?
  • “Once the notion of this grand unity of design has lost its authority, certainty about the final value of human actions is no longer to be found. For some minds...the sense of void becomes so strong as to paralyze...aspiration to power, thirst for knowledge, or delight in beauty”--this paradox results in an attitude often referred to as “Renaissance melancholy” (2471)
  • Also results in a “modern sense of alienation” (2476), as experienced by Petrarch—he is an alienated, isolated voice speaking into a void, trying to capture some concrete idea but always failing—beautifully.
slide16

The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621),

by Robert Burton

The Anatomy is a vast tome that, under the metaphor of the self as world, discusses the whole of human thought and emotion. Burton's interests range from medicine, love, and philosophy to monsters, geography, and exploration. He uses all the scientific and philosophical topics of the Renaissance to help him understand himself.

He rewrote and revised throughout his life. Its first edition was around 900 pages, and its digressive, sprawling style—reminiscent of Montaigne's—suggests that the book, its writer, and its readers were conversing with each other.

A grand example of Renaissance humanism—its highs, and its lows.

francesco petrarca petrach 1304 1374

Contemporary of Dante and Boccacio (late Medieval period)

But considered the first modern poet and the “Father of Humanism”

Most famous for his lyric poetry in the vernacular (Italian, rather than Latin, important because more people could read and understand—not just the educated, scholastic elite)

Set the standard for Renaissance lyric poetry, which is primarily characterized by a desire to interrogate and understand the self, the human—this same desire also visible in his letters and essays

“Petrarch bequeathed to later humanists the hope that scholar-poets might one day be recognized as shaping forces of the nation-state” (Pasinetti and James 2476).

Francesco Petrarca (Petrach)1304-1374
lyric poetry

The word “lyric” comes from the word “lyre,” a musical instrument

lyric poetry is known for its musicality and particularly its poetic exploration of interiority.

Unlike narrative or epic poetry, lyric poetry does not tell a story in the conventional sense—though there is content to the poems.

Lyric poetry tends to be more impressionistic than plot-based, focusing on states of being rather than outcomes.

Sometimes, but not always, the spiritual and the earthly (the numinal and the physical) are mingled in lyric poetry.

A technique central to humanist thought and methodology, this mingling of the numinal and the physical it is not only present in Western poetry, but in Eastern lyric poetry as well (the bakhti or devotional poems of Tukaram and Kabir, for instance).

Lyric Poetry
lyric poetry19

Important forms of lyric poetry are sonnets (which themselves come in different forms), odes, and elegies. The sonnet tradition is perhaps most central to the development of lyric poetry in the Renaissance.

Francis Petrarch, an Italian poet often called the “Father of Humanism” (fl.1300s), popularized the sonnet form with his Rime Sparse (or “scattered rhymes”; also called Fragments in the Vernacular), a sequence of lyric poems mingling spiritual love with earthly love in which the poetic speaker praises his beloved, Laura. Petrarch's sonnets tried to represent human love in human terms—using spiritual themes, but in the service of explaining or examining something earthly.

He is often celebrated for his use of lyric realism—“realistic” only insofar as it contrasts with the highly conventional and often clichéd language frequently used by courtly poets and troubadours, which depended on traditional and formulaic expressions (and variations from them) in order to convey meaning. By Shakespeare's time, though, even Petrarch would seem clichéd. Petrarch was highly influential, and his innovations became hallmarks of Renaissance humanism.

Lyric Poetry
lyric poetry20

Less absolute in its conventions, Renaissance lyric poetry depends for its meaning on evocative and unexpected associations between images, words, and ideas. Such poetry cultivates an intimate relationship between the poem, the poet, and the reader.

Often uses the first person (me, the self)

Petrarchan motifs and themes:

Love that burns, love that destroys;

The uncertain self, the self at odds with himself;

Beloved is idealized, more than human, angelic;

Earthly love is spiritualized, spiritual love is embodied.

Lyric Poetry
the ascent of mount ventoux genre slightly fictionalized letter

What, most broadly, happens in this letter? What story does it tell?

A motif is a repeated image that seems to have an important resonance in the text. What important motifs can you find in this letter?

Why do you think Petrarch take the winding path?

Petrarch calls this choice a “mistake” (2481) that he made “three times.” In what ways might the choice not be a mistake, but a good thing?

What important features of Renaissance thought are evident in this letter?

Keeping those important features of Renaissance thought in mind, return to the motifs you discovered. What might these motifs be metaphors for?

Why do you think the letter is a good genre or form for this writing? You might start by considering what a letter is.

“The Ascent of Mount Ventoux”Genre: slightly fictionalized letter
petrarch rime 78
Petrarch, Rime 78

Quando giunse a Simon l'alto concetto

ch'a mio nome gli pose in man lo stile,

s'avesse dato a l'opera gentile

colla figura voce ed intellecto,

di sospir' molti mi sgombrava il petto,

che ciò ch'altri à piú caro, a me fan vile:

però che 'n vista ella si mostra humile

promettendomi pace ne l'aspetto.

Ma poi ch'i' vengo a ragionar co llei,

benignamente assai par che m'ascolte,

se risponder savesse a' detti miei.

Pigmalïon, quanto lodar ti dêi

de l'imagine tua, se mille volte

n'avesti quel ch'i' sol una vorrei.

petrarch rime 7823
Petrarch, Rime 78

Simone Martini (fl. 1315-1344)

The Annunciation and Two Saints

(detail, “Mary”) 1333

Tempera on wood

Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

While Martini's portrait of Laura has been lost, the painter's stylistic signature is consistent. This image of the Virgin Mary suggests how Martini might have painted the Laura of Petrarch's rimes.

petrarch rime 7824
Petrarch, Rime 78

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) Pymalion and Galatea, c. 1890

Oil on Canvas

Metropolitan Museum of Art

In Rime 78, Petrarch invokes the classical image of Pygmalion from Ovid's Metamorphoses: “Pygmalion, how glad you should be of your statue” (9). The poetic speaker goes on to clarify why Pygmalion should be “glad” of his creation, arguing that the mythological artist “received a thousand times” the embraces and other human interaction that the speaker “yearn[s] to have just once!” (10).

Who was Pygmalion, and what can we learn about the poet's treatment of Laura from the classical allusion?