In This Article Pietro Bembo

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Bibliography
  • Manuscripts and Textual Transmission
  • Translations into English
  • General Works on Bembo
  • Humanism
  • Bembo’s Library
  • Latin Writings
  • Aldus Manutius
  • Gli Asolani
  • Ciceronian Controversy
  • Prose della volgar lingua
  • Petrarch
  • Boccaccio
  • Rime
  • Literary Relationships
  • Influence
  • Bembo in Spain
  • Religion
  • Bembo and the Arts

Renaissance and Reformation Pietro Bembo
by
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0321

Introduction

Pietro Bembo (b. 1470–d. 1547) was born into an aristocratic Venetian family, one in which his father Bernardo ensured that he received an excellent humanistic education. His earliest works were grounded in his knowledge of Latin and Greek, but, in conjunction with Aldus Manutius, one of the most famous scholar-printers of his day, he developed an interest in the vernacular that had also been initiated by his father. Resident for a time at the courts of Ferrara and Urbino, Bembo eventually made his way to Rome, where he served first as Latin secretary to Pope Leo X, then as a cardinal. Bembo’s name today evokes many associations, from the typeface that was named after him to the famous portrait by Titian, but he is best known for his role in fixing the norms of a literary version of Italian that was modelled on the poetry of Petrarch and the prose of Boccaccio. For this he receives due notice in every history of the Italian language and literature, which has led to the dominant vision of him as a sort of high-level schoolmaster intent on enforcing linguistic purity. Another narrative, based on his relationships with Lucrezia Borgia and Maria Savorgnan, presents Bembo through a sort of romanticized haze. There is some truth to both of these visions, but neither is adequate by itself. Bembo was the scion of a distinguished family, but he struggled to find his place in the world, ending up in a position of power within a religious institution for which he probably had little genuine calling. This article gives due recognition to the classic works of scholarship, but, wherever possible, it reflects an emphasis on the fuller, more nuanced picture of Bembo that has been emerging in recent years.

Biography

Although accurate basic information on the life and works of Bembo is available in several sources, no major Bembo scholar in the last several generations has done a book-length biography. Dionisotti 1966, supplemented by Mazzacurati 1980 and Vecce 1997, presents the basics, with Cian 1885 offering important information for the period the author considers. Cian 1926 and Santoro 1937 are outdated in their approach but still contain valuable material. Kidwell 2004 and Meneghetti 1961 are worth consulting but must be used with care; they are generally not cited by serious scholars in Italy.

  • Cian, Vittorio. Un decennio della vita di M. Pietro Bembo, 1521–1531. Turin, Italy: Loescher, 1885.

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    An important intellectual biography of Bembo covering the decade in which a number of his most important works were composed, still cited regularly after more than a century. Rpt. (Bologna: Forni, 1982); also available online.

  • Cian, Vittorio. “Pietro Bembo: Quarantun anno dopo.” Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 88 (1926): 225–255.

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    An overview of the life, works, and character of Bembo, rooted in the sort of humanist hagiography that is sometimes found in Italian scholarship of a century ago, but a still-cited, representative publication of one of the leading Bembo scholars of his generation.

  • Dionisotti, Carlo. “Pietro Bembo.” Dizionario biografico degli Italiani 8 (1966): 133–151.

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    Now fifty years old, but still the standard treatement of Bembo’s life and works by one of the great Bembo scholars of the 20th century, always cited in lieu of a worthy book-length treatment. Especially valuable for earlier bibliography.

  • Kidwell, Carol. Pietro Bembo: Lover, Linguist, Cardinal. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.

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    A readable, generously illustrated intellectual biography that marches the reader enthusiastically through what can be gleaned from the surviving evidence, but without the depth of scholarly analysis that would allow the book to be taken seriously by Italian scholars who are familiar with the same sources.

  • Mazzacurati, Giancarlo. “Pietro Bembo.” In Storia della cultura veneta: Dal primo Quattrocento al Concilio di Trento. Vol. 4. Edited by Gianfranco Folena, 1–59. Venice: N. Pozza, 1980.

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    A lengthy study of Bembo’s life and works within the context of his native Venetian culture during the Early Modern period, by a recognized authority.

  • Meneghetti, Gildo. La vita avventurosa di Pietro Bembo, umanista, poeta, cortigiano. Venice: Tipografia commerciale, 1961.

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    A florid, often romantic, biography, generally accurate and containing a number of relevant documents in an appendix, but a sparsely annotated throwback to an earlier age of scholarship.

  • Santoro, Mario. Pietro Bembo. Naples, Italy: Alberto Morano, 1937.

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    An intellectual biography in the Italian tradition, beginning with an account of Bembo’s life and moving to a treatment of his literary works. A valiant effort to move beyond the stereotype of Bembo as dictator of style but inevitably a bit dated.

  • Vecce, Carlo. “Pietro Bembo.” In Centuriæ Latinæ: Cent une figures humanistes de la Renaissance aux Lumières offertes à Jacques Chomarat. Edited by Colette Nativel, 97–107. Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance 314. Geneva, Switzerland: Librairie Droz, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    A valuable short treatment of Bembo’s life and works by a recognized expert, to be used with Dionisotti 1966, which it updates. Contains a valuable, but sometimes quirky, bibliography.

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