Renaissance and Reformation Ludovico Ariosto
Dennis Looney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0156


Ludovico Ariosto (b. 1474–d. 1533), whose work links 15th-century humanism with the vernacular classicism that burgeoned later in the 16th century, is a crucial figure in the development of Italian Renaissance literary culture. An accomplished Neo-Latin poet whose earliest letter is a request for books on Platonism from the Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius (1498), Ariosto used his considerable knowledge of classical Latin literature to forge a literary corpus that blends ancient literary models with medieval ones to create an impressive example of vernacular classicism. No less than his contemporary Michelangelo Buonarroti did for art, Ariosto took the literary revival of Antiquity to new heights. Accordingly, Ariosto can be seen as a forerunner of Miguel de Cervantes and other vernacular prose artists whose critical recapitulations of medieval chivalric fiction under the influence of classical works and classicizing authors like Ariosto eventually led to the birth of the novel. For modern readers who are accustomed to the conventions of modern fiction, at times Ariosto sounds strangely familiar, even postmodern.

General Overviews

Catalano 1930–1931 remains the essential critical study of Ariosto’s life, which also includes detailed discussions of the creation and production of all of his works. Subsequent biographies such as those listed here must start with Catalano’s study. There is nothing as thorough and good in English. Noyes 1904 and Gardner 1968 provide useful information on the cultural milieu in which the poet lived and worked. Italians continue to produce full-scale studies of Ariosto that reflect the most recent critical discoveries and discussions (Sangirardi 2006, Ferroni 2008, Jossa 2009), whereas readers in English must depend on Brand 1974 and Griffin 1974, still sound but now somewhat outdated.

  • Brand, C. P. Ludovico Ariosto: A Preface to the Orlando Furioso. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1974.

    Introduction to the man and his works in the context of a larger reading of Orlando Furioso.

  • Catalano, Michele. Vita di Ludovico Ariosto ricostruita su nuovi documenti. 2 vols. Geneva, Switzerland: Olschki, 1930–1931.

    The fundamental biography of Ariosto, with minute attention to what he did and when he did it.

  • Ferroni, Giulio. Ariosto. Rome: Salerno Editrice, 2008.

    Full introduction to Ariosto’s works, with much attention to the humanist tendencies and perspectives that shaped them.

  • Gardner, Edmund. The King of Court Poets: A Study of the Work, Life, and Times of Ludovico Ariosto. New York: Greenwood, 1968.

    Originally published in 1906. At times breezy but much more informative than you might think and surprisingly dependable.

  • Griffin, Robert. Ludovico Ariosto. New York: Twayne, 1974.

    Excellent straightforward introduction to the man and his works.

  • Jossa, Stefano. Ariosto. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 2009.

    Part of the new series published by Il Mulino on literary history, intended to complement Bruscagli’s discussion in Il Quattrocento e il Cinquecento in the same series.

  • Noyes, Ella. The Story of Ferrara. London: Dent, 1904.

    A fast-paced popularizing history for the tourists of once upon a time, a volume in the Medieval Towns series, with much on Ariosto throughout. Reprinted, Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1970.

  • Sangirardi, Giuseppe. Ludovico Ariosto. Florence: Le Monnier, 2006.

    Full treatment of all of Ariosto’s works from the theoretical perspective of psychoanalytic criticism. The approach never gets in the way.

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