In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Maurice Scève

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference
  • Language
  • Other Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies
  • Works: 1535–1547
  • Works: 1547–1562
  • The Second Edition of Délie
  • Problems of Attribution
  • Modern Critical Editions of Single Works
  • Complete Works: Critical Editions
  • Minor Works: Critical Editions
  • Editions in French of Pernette du Guillet and Louise Labé
  • Translations of Délie, Pernette du Guillet, and Louise Labé
  • Structure and Patterns of Organization in Délie
  • Studies on Délie with Language Orientation
  • Versification and Rhetoric
  • Background on Emblematics
  • Spatiality and Mapping
  • Problems of Poetic Speech and the Ineffable
  • The Historical Dizains
  • Psychological Studies
  • Relation to Symbolist Poetry
  • Physiology, Medicine, and the Psychology of Love
  • Anatomical Blasons
  • Music
  • Numerology and Numbers
  • Religion
  • The Saulsaye
  • Philosophical and Cosmological Literature
  • Scève’s Portrait

Renaissance and Reformation Maurice Scève
Michael J. Giordano
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0307


Maurice Scève born in 1501 or the beginning of 1502 was celebrated in his own times as the preeminent poet of the French Renaissance in Lyon when that city was enjoying a burst of commercial and cultural success. Though few facts are known about his life, it is certain that there was an invigorating reciprocity between his considerable literary talents and Lyon’s prestigious position as a cosmopolitan crossroads bringing together influences from Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and the Low Countries. Scève is primarily known as the author of France’s first canzoniere, titled Délie, object de plus haulte vertu (1544), which in the manner of Francesco Petrarca’s Rime sparse unfolds as a sequence of love poems devoted to a single woman whose poet-lover gains self-knowledge through the vicissitudes of thwarted passion. Délie has been credited by historians as the only 16th-century work to incorporate imprese in a serious and sustained treatment of love. In addition to Petrarchism, the other main tributaries flowing through the work derive from the Greek Anthology, the Latin elegiacs, amour courtois, and Neoplatonism, especially of Marsilio Ficino, Sperone Speroni, and Leone Ebreo. At the same time, Scève is distinctively French in his decision to compose in his native language and to transform and condense Petrarch’s sonnets into the French ten-line stanza called a dizain. He also incorporated a number of linguistic reforms that would be prescribed by Joachim du Bellay in his Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse (1549). Moreover, Délie appealed to the music lovers in Lyon, since seven poems were put to music by contemporary composers as chansons of three or four voices. Though highly conscious of Italian models but innovative in implementing French reforms, Scève forged a style (or rather an idiom) so singular that it defies comparison, causing the critic Odette de Mourges to call him “un-French” at times. A year after Délie, the Lyonnais printer Jean de Tournes published a handsome volume titled Il Petrarca and dedicated it to his friend “M. Mauritio Scaeva.” In the preface De Tournes states that the author of Délie personally narrated to him the story of his discovery of the tomb of Petrarch’s beloved Laura in Avignon in 1533. True or not this created a symbolic association of Scève with Petrarch at a time (1545) when the Italian poet was held in such high esteem that even the King François Ier was reported to have visited the archaeological site. Scève’s entry into the literary world came in 1535 with a translation of the Spanish novel La déplourable fin de Flamete, élégante invention de Jehan de Flores Espaignol. This itself was a continuation of Boccaccio’s Fiammetta, which mixed love and adventure in a tragedy of frustration and disillusion. Scève’s first literary success took place at the Court of Ferrara where Renée de France, serving as judge of an anatomical poetry competition, awarded him the poetic laurel for his blazon titled “Le Sourcil” (“The Eyebrow”). This poem was first published in 1536 with another called “The Tear” (“La Larme”), and when we add other blazons on the “Forehead” (“Le Front”), “Sigh” (“Le Souspir”), and “Neck” (“La Gorge”), we have a total of five whose style consistently combines the fetish with Neoplatonism. The unpredictable, shocking death of the Dauphin in 1536 moved the humanist Étienne Dolet to organize a collection of works eulogizing his short life, and Scève’s contributions amounted to one-third of the volume consisting of five Latin epigrams, two French huitains, and a long allegorical eclogue in French Arion. In 1542 Scève published two psalm translations into the vernacular that associated him with a type of spirituality characteristic of such figures as Erasmus, Lefèvre d’Étaples, Clément Marot, and Marguerite de Navarre. Another original side of Scève can be seen in his second bucolic ecologue titled La Saulsaye, églogue de la vie solitaire (1547) where solitude in nature itself without the amenities of civilization is the debated goal. With regard to civic matters, the high esteem in which Scève was held by the city of Lyon is best shown when in 1548 he was chosen by the consulat to be the principal coordinator of pageantry for the prestigious Entrée Royale to honor of the new King Henry II and Queen Catherine de Médicis. Amid a background of political tensions Scève was also commissioned to write the official, printed account of the ceremony titled La Magnificence de la superbe et triumphante entrée de la noble et antique Cité de Lyon faicte au Treschrestien Roy de France Henry deuxiesme de ce nom, et à la Royne Catherine son Espouse, le XXIII de Septembre M.D.XLVIII. Readers will by now have appreciated the variety of genres practiced by Scève, but along with Délie the other great work he authored was the biblical epic Microcosme (1562). Consisting of 3,003 verses divided into three books, the poem is a sweeping view of human history with the humanist aim of portraying Adam’s temptation and fall as the incentives to advance unlimited human progress. Scève wrote short pieces such as epitaphs, encomia, celebratory and gift poetry (xenia), and commemorations; some of these were poèmes d’escorte such as sonnets opening and closing two works of the Queen Marguerite de Navarre. Not only was Scève among the first French writers to compose sonnets along with Clément Marot, Mellin de Saint Gelais, and Peletier du Mans, but also he was an honored member of the sodality of Lyonnais humanists (the Sodalitium Lugdunense) for his neo-Latin poetry. French literary history traditionally refers to L’école de Lyon grouping Scève with the two renowned poetesses Louise Labé and Pernette du Guillet; however, while one cannot justify the label “school of Lyon,” they are all love poets adapting Petrarchism and Neoplatonism to highly introspective lyric poetry. There are certain works that have sometimes been attributed to Scève in whole or in part, and debate will continue: these works are Le Petit Oeuvre d’amour, et gaige d’amytie (1537), Paradoxe contre des lettres (1545), and it is speculated that he contributed to Jeanne Flore’s Contes amoureux (1540) and La Pugnition de l’amoureux contempné (1540). There is evidence that Scève was still alive in 1563 but the date of his death is not known. Perhaps owing to his obscurity, it would not be until the 19th century that there would be renewed interest in Scève, partially explained by his works’ similarities with French symbolism. However since Verdun-Louis Saulnier’s majesterial 1948 study, Délie’s reputation has soared, attracting a range of scholarship; in 2013 the French educational system selected this work for its national agrégation exams. Unless otherwise indicated, translations in this article are by the author. D is an abbreviation of dizain, a popular ten-line stanza or poem in the French Renaissance. The word huitain designates a popular eight-line stanza or poem in the French Renaissance.

General Overviews

One of the best entries for readers with little knowledge of Scève is Mulhauser 1977, which concisely interweaves life, literature, and history. More developed and in French is Baur 1906, which although somewhat dated, remains useful. The cornerstone book on Scève is Saulnier 1948, a two-volume set that is the most-cited source and required reading for any scholarly inquiry. Much shorter than the previous three is Guégan 1967 (Notes pour une vie de Maurice Scève) preceding his edition of Scève’s complete poetic works that moves briskly and is amply documented. Weber 1955 accomplishes the feat of providing overarching literary history and detailed analysis of 16th-century French poetry, and McFarlane’s introduction to his edition of Délie (McFarlane 1966, cited under Numerology and Numbers) reminds readers of the few known facts about the author’s life. For pedagogical purposes it is hard to imagine a better introduction to Scève and the École lyonnaise (including Pernette and Louise) than Roubichou-Stretz 1973, which offers superb introductions for each, and samples well-chosen texts elucidated by useful notes. Ford and Jondorf 1993 collects fascinating essays capturing the city from a variety of angles. Coleman 1975 (cited under Structure and Patterns of Organization in Délie) develops the classical and Petrarchan traditions and downplays religion but filters much cultural information through a number of close readings. Alduy 2007 has produced one of the major reordering concepts of French Renaissance literary history and views the many collections of Petrarchan love poetry from Scève (1544) to Espinay (1560) as a whole new genre distinct from their predecessors and characteristically French. Roger-Vasselin’s “Avant Propos” to one of the most recent anthologies of critical essays on Délie, Roger-Vasselin 2012, and his essay “Parfait un corps en sa perfection” integrate the latest scholarship on Délie into an abundance of valuable background information interspersed with well-sampled Italian and neo-Latin texts.

  • Alduy, Cécile. Politique des “Amours”: Poétique et genèse d’un genre français nouveau (1544–1560). Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 2007.

    From 1544 to 1560 there was a steady rise in collections of Petrarchan love poetry from Scève’s Délie (1544), Du Bellay’s Olive (1549) and Ronsard’s Amours (1552–1560), to Labé’s Oeuvres (1555), Philieul’s translation of Petrarch (1555), and Espinay’s Sonets [sic] (1560). These collections, whatever their differences, constitute as a whole a new genre distinct from their predecessors and characteristically French. Scève is both the initiator and general model privileging the epigram, transforming the Petrarchan sonnet into its French version of the dizain, forging a strict unity of form, individuating a lyric voice that organically identifies author with persona, title, and genre, and weaving patriotism into moral reflection.

  • Baur, Albert. Maurice Scève et la Renaissance lyonnaise: Étude d’histoire littéraire. Paris: Champion, 1906.

    One of the first modern overviews of Scève’s life and works, this is divided chronologically into nine chapters addressing his youth and first literary successes, as well as his relations with the Lyonnais humanists and Marguerite de Navarre. There is also a chapter on Pernette, Louise, and their intellectual milieu; the 1548 Entrée Royale and the emergence of the Pléiade; and the last years of Scève’s life. Baur’s approach is to give proportionate development to each of Scève’s works and more than the usual amount of information on his circumstantial pieces. However, the author never mentions the emblems. Baur reminds us of Scève’s prepublication recitation of his poems to receptive social gatherings and cites Philbert Girinet’s statement that Scève had singing abilities (p. 107).

  • Ford, Philip, and Gillian Jondorf, eds. Intellectual Life in Renaissance Lyon. Proceedings of the Cambridge Lyon Colloquium, 14–16 April 1991. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge French Colloquia, 1993.

    Interesting for its insight into particular cultural figures and events, this contains essays on humanism and politics, Bernard Salomon, Guillaume de la Perrière, trends in emblem publishing, the Lyonnais editions of Marot, the Basia of Joannes Secundus and Lyon poetry, enigma and poetry, and a final chapter on the works of Scève in relation to public life.

  • Guégan, Bertrand. “Notes pour une vie de Maurice Scève.” In Œuvres poétiques complètes de Maurice Scève. Délie, La Saulsaye, Le Microcosme, Arion, et Poésies Diverses. By Bertrand Guégan, i–lxxvii. Geneva, Switzerland: Slatkine, 1967.

    Historical records are so plentiful as to encourage the reader to treat them emblematically in the sense of extracting them from the narrative and studying them one by one. Unlike in Baur, here we find only a brief treatment of Scève’s poésies diverses. Interestingly, Guégan does mention that Scève was a “brilliant conversationalist” (“causeur brilliant,” p. li). Guégan errs in naming Mathieu de Vauzelles as the author of the blason des cheveux (p. x). It was Jean de Vauzelles whom Guégan calls a “rimeur sans talent” (p. xii)—an opinion that recent scholarship may dispute (see Kammerer 2013, cited under Religion).

  • McFarlane, I. D., ed. The “Délie” of Maurice Scève. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

    “We are in a sense fortunate that we do not know a great deal about Scève’s life: this allows us to concentrate more easily on the essentials of his poetry” (p. 5). Whether this is a consolation or not, McFarlane orients the paucity of biographical information to the development and publication of Délie. Notable as well is his challenging of Guégan 1967 and Parturier 1916 (cited under Modern Critical Editions of Single Works) that Scève began composing the work in 1526–1527 and proposes that the working out of the sequence took place during the seven years preceding its 1544 publication (p. 14). See pp. 5–14.

  • Mulhauser, Ruth. Maurice Scève. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

    One of the best short introductions in English (138 pp.), clear and concise, organized chronologically with just the right balance between telling detail and biographical overview. Mulhauser offers a sure-handed command of facts from Renaissance France and Lyon to the publication of circumstantial poetry and the Microcosme (1562). Although the bibliography of secondary sources is thin, this does not adversely affect the book’s usefulness, since its aim is to concentrate on primary sources closely related to Scève’s life and works.

  • Roger-Vasselin, Bruno. “Avant Propos” and “‘Parfeit un corps en sa parfection’: Quelques références culturelles chez Scève.” In Maurice Scève ou l’emblème de la perfection enchevêtrée: Délie objet de plus haute vertu (1544). Edited by Bruno Roger-Vasselin, 11–21. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2012.

    The modest title belies the wealth of information on the literary and cultural background of Scève; its value lies in integrating relatively recent scholarship into the presentation. A second useful feature of this overview is that it quotes well-chosen texts directly and indirectly relevant to Scève that one would not normally find in literary histories. For example, here one can find the following: a sonnet from Guido Cavalcanti, two strambotti of Serafino dell’ Aquila, two emblems from Alciato, a neo-Latin poem of Étienne Dolet encouraging François I to invade Italy, a dizain of Marguerite de Navarre defining amour véritable, and a comparison of lines from Nicolas of Cusa’s De docte ignorantia and Scève’s Microcosme (pp. 60–92).

  • Roubichou-Stretz, Antoinette, ed. Maurice Scève et l’école lyonnaise. Extraits. Paris: Bordas, 1973.

    This has yet to be surpassed as the best French introduction for undergraduate and beginning graduate students to Scève, particularly because of its relationship to Pernette and Louise in the context of Renaissance Lyon. There is a judicious selection of texts from Scève (Délie, the Blason du Sourcil, the Microcosme), from Pernette (Epigrammes, Chansons, Elégies including “parfaicte amytie”), and from Louise (Elégies, Sonnets). These are followed by an Étude littéraire of all three writers, jugements, extracts from the Banquet de Platon of Ficino and the Dialogo d’amore of Speroni. There is an abundance of illustrations and reading problems are clarified in footnotes, which include concise blocks of information on thematic development. This book of 191 pages could be the central text of a course.

  • Saulnier, Verdun-Louis. Maurice Scève (ca. 1500–1560). 2 vols. Paris: Klincksieck, 1948.

    This is a magisterial study of Scève written with verve and insight, whose wealth of scholarly resources continues to inspire, provoke, and prompt new investigation. Saulnier’s Préface concludes with a consideration of the nature infinie of his subject, and faithful to this challenge, he provides all the major contexts for understanding and appreciating Scève. There are twenty-one chapters divided into three parts (“L’Heureux Écolier,” “La Crise Italienne,” and “L’épopée humaniste”) that reflect a l’homme et l’oeuvre methodology addressing each of Scève’s works but giving extensive treatment to Délie and the Microcosme. The study is impressive for its documentation and archival information and devotes a separate volume on bibliography that includes a meticulous, annotated, chronological list of Scève’s works and of those whose attribution is uncertain.

  • Weber, Henri. La Création poétique au XVIe siècle en France: De Maurice Scève à Agrippa d’Aubigné. Paris: Nizet, 1955.

    Scève is treated in a well-developed chapter (pp. 161–177) as part of the large-scale movement of poetry from Antiquity to Dante, the dolce stil nuovo and amour courtois punctuated with Petrarch and Italian humanism to French theory and practice including the major genres of Ronsard, Du Bellay, Magny, Belleau, Grévin, Peletier du Mans, Du Bartas, and D’Aubigné. Weber is not only sweeping in his command of history but precise in close readings illustrating general motifs and themes, seeing through each writer the richly complex history of European languages and traditions. This is also true for his chapter on the Microcosme (pp. 522–536).

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