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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 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
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
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?
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?
“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:
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?
of the state
Humanism: Spiritual Dignity
of Human Work
Balance of Power
by Hans Holbein
In what ways does this painting encapsulate the Renaissance?
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?