Medieval Studies Iacopone da Todi
Alessandro Vettori, Matteo Leonardi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0287


Iacopone da Todi (b. 1230/36–d. 1304/06) is the most important writer of laude between the 13th and 14th centuries and is considered an unavoidable model for laude collections of subsequent centuries. The genre of laude, which are religious poetic texts in the vernacular, came to life in the 13th century under the impulse of penitential movements, within the mendicant groups and the newly constituted religious confraternities. It prospered in the context of paraliturgical celebrations in the vernacular, thanks to which the faithful lay people reinterpreted the official Latin liturgy in forms that were more suited to them. After a worldly youth—according to ancient biographical accounts—Iacopone joined the Franciscan Order and participated in the bitter disputes between Spiritual and Moderate Franciscans, siding with the Spirituals and defending a more rigorous interpretation of Francis’s Rule. His inflexible stand also originated his conflict against Pope Boniface VIII, which caused his incarceration between 1298 and 1303, after the fall of the fortress of Palestrina where Iacopone was involved in a resistance together with other papal opponents. He wrote a collection of approximately one hundred spiritual laude and two Latin texts, the Tractatus utilissimus and Verba. The attribution to him of the Latin sequence “Stabat Mater” is debated. Some of Iacopone’s laude are catechetical texts, moral exhortations, political and ideological diatribes (for example, against incoherent Franciscan friars and clerics), ascetic meditations, and mystical confessions. At the heart of Iacopone’s mysticism is the concept of esmesuranza (extra-measure), or the infinite love human beings are called to give back for God’s infinite love on the cross. That is how human beings can transcend themselves, transforming into the image of God. Iacopone’s language includes the most disparate expressive registers, oscillating between a jongleur’s vigorous realism and passionate lyrical outbursts. His relationship to his contemporary Dante Alighieri is still much debated by literary criticism, although no philologically credible proof exists that the two ever knew of each other’s work or existence. Dante’s passion for Franciscan themes, such as poverty as an essential component of church purification and the mystical union with divinity, creates interesting parallels in the works of the two poets. Over the years, criticism has acknowledged the importance of the Iacoponian poetic model for the construction, over the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, of a lyrical grammar of divine love, which was shared by the European tradition of ecstatic confessions.

General: Life and Works

The scarce historical information about Iacopone’s life is complemented by the numerous anecdotes in ancient legendae, for the most part hagiographic, unreliable depictions, which were edited in Menestò 1977. Suitner 1999 offers an attempt at integrating historical sources with the charm of ancient biographies in a coherent diachronic perspective. Menestò 2007 summarizes all current knowledge on Iacopone’s biography, while contributions by Peck 1980, Canettieri 2001, Montefusco 2006 and Vettori 2007 offer a general historical and literary context for the poet, and Cremonini 2007, Serventi 2007, and Jori 2005 measure the depth of Iacopone’s influence on 14th- and 15th-century laude collections.

  • Canettieri, Paolo. Iacopone da Todi e la poesia religiosa del Duecento. Milan: Rizzoli, 2001.

    Contextualization of Iacopone and his works on the background of the first season of lauda and Franciscan spirituality. This text traces Iacoponian mysticism back to interpretive and anthropological categories (pp. 54–65). It also contains a partial edition of his laude (pp. 142–241).

  • Cremonini, Sefano. “Iacopone e Feo Belcari.” In La vita e l’opera di Iacopone da Todi: Atti del Convegno di studio (Todi, 3–7 dicembre 2006). Edited by E. Menestò, 683–703. Spoleto, Italy: Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2007.

    A study of Iacoponian echoes in Feo Belcari’s 15th-century production of laude, which also contains many other sources of inspiration.

  • Jori, Giacomo. “Tradition des imprimés et lectures de Iacopone aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles.” In Pour un vocabulaire mystique au XVIIe siècle: Sèminaire 2000–2001 du Professeur Carlo Ossola—Collège de France. Edited by François Trémolières, 97–152. Turin: Aragno, 2005.

    Text on the most important 16th- and 17th-century editions of Iacopone’s work that highlight the mediating role of Iacopone’s spirituality through contemporary culture, as for example the new Oratorian piety.

  • Menestò, Enrico. Le vite antiche di Iacopone da Todi. Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1977.

    This is an edition of the most important accounts of Iacopone’s life (Oddi, Mariano da Firenze, Modio, Pietro Ridolfi da Tossignano, Possevino, Marco da Lisbona, Valerio da Venezia, Rader, Tresatti, Wadding, Jacobilli), complemented by a new edition of biographies by Guazzaroni, Stefanucci, and Petti.

  • Menestò, Enrico. “‘Che farai, fra Iacopone?’: Conferme e novità nella biografia di Iacopone da Todi.” In La vita e l’opera di Iacopone da Todi: Atti del Convegno di studio (Todi, 3–7 dicembre 2006). Edited by E. Menestò, 1–37. Spoleto, Italy: Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2007.

    After a careful analysis of the documents on Iacopone’s life, the essay re-examines the friar’s problematic association with radical Franciscanism, as well as his involvement in the group opposed to Pope Boniface VIII, to reach the last phase of Iacopone’s life after his release from prison.

  • Montefusco, Antonio. Iacopone nell’Umbria del Due-Trecento: Un’alternativa francescana. Roma: Istituto storico dei Cappuccini, 2006.

    This articles places Iacopone’s poetry in dialectic relation with Franciscan culture and with the production of laude of various confraternities, emphasizing Iacopone’s project to build a “Franciscan alternative” to the secular lyric tradition.

  • Peck, George T. The Fool of God: Iacopone da Todi. Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1980.

    This book presents Iacopone’s historical as well as cultural-spiritual profile, offering abundant information, even though it occasionally lacks exactness. It also traces the stages of Iacopone’s ascetic itinerary as it is designed in the laude, reaching as far as his “holy madness.”

  • Serventi, Silvia. “Il linguaggio mistico di Iacopone nel laudario del Bianco da Siena.” In La vita e l’opera di Iacopone da Todi: Atti del Convegno di studio (Todi, 3–7 dicembre 2006). Edited by E. Menestò, 725–742. Spoleto, Italy: Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2007.

    An analysis of the presence of Iacoponian motifs and writing styles in the 14th-century collection of laude by Bianco of Siena, who shares the same mystical language with Iacopone.

  • Suitner, Franco. Iacopone da Todi: Poesia, mistica, rivolta nell’Italia del Medioevo. Rome: Donzelli, 1999.

    A summary of indisputable historical information and of plausible data as drawn from ancient biographies and from the laude themselves by retracing Iacopone’s human and literary itinerary, from his worldly youth to conversion, from the hermitage years to his admission into the Franciscan Order, from his choice to compose laude to his role in the conflict between “radical” and “relaxed” application of the rule of poverty, and also in the clash with Boniface VIII, as far as imprisonment and release.

  • Vettori, Alessandro. “Iacopone da Todi.” In Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies. Vol. 1. Edited by Gaetana Marrone, 955–958. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2007.

    A concise assessment of Iacopone’s life and literary production in the context of Franciscan thought at the beginning of Italian poetry. This encyclopedia entry points out all the main qualities of Iacopone’s laude, starting from their language to their expression of mystical concepts.

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