Renaissance and Reformation Ludovico Dolce
Gennaro Tallini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0378


Ludovico Dolce (b. 1508/1510–d. 1568) was one of the most famous scholars of Renaissance Italian literature. Theorist of painting, editor, translator and one of the first critics of Italian literature and language in the middle of the 15th century, he was a broadly based Venetian humanist and prolific author working in the literary circle of the “academy” of Domenico Venier with Pietro Bembo, Pietro Aretino, Tiziano, Girolamo Parabosco, and other scholars, poets, and musicians active in the city in the same period. Probably born in Venice in 1510 and not in 1508 (as it had been believed), after his father died he studied in Padua with the help of the Venetian noble family Cornaro and Doge Leonardo Loredan (as he himself affirmed in the dedication of the Dialogo della pittura in 1554). After he completed his studies, he returned to Venice, where he worked in Gabriel Giolito de Ferrari’s typography, editing literary works by several Italian authors (Ariosto, Petrarca, Boccaccio, Castiglione, Bembo, Poliziano, Sannazaro, Bernardo Tasso) and popularizing several Greek (Homer, Euripides) and Latin authors (Virgil, Seneca, Catullus, Cicero, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal) of the classical period. His editorial catalogue counts at least ninety-six original works, 202 editions of other authors and writers, and fifty-four translations of several works. Most recently, contemporary critics have revealed his great interest in tragedy, reevaluating his writing and particularly works such as Giocasta (in 1566 adapted in English and performed at Gray’s Inn in London by G. Gascoigne and F. Kinwelmersh), Didone (one of the most influential tragedies in the Italian theater and an important model for Metastasio’s Didone abbandonata, written in 1744), Medea, Hecuba, Marianna, Tieste, and Ifigenia; at the same time, his comedies have been analyzed, opening up new research paths in the study of theater in the Renaissance (his most important comedies are Il capitano, Il marito, Il ragazzo, Il ruffian, and La Fabritia).

General Overviews, Life, and Works

A concise presentation of Dolce’s complete works does not exist. More detailed general treatments can be found only in Cicogna, which is the first work to provide a biography of the author and to give a catalogue of his printing works. For more than a century since this first bio-bibliographical approach, Dolce’s biography has undergone no particular variations, until Terpening 1997 renewed interest in Dolce by introducing new research hypotheses and framing him not as a simple polygraph but as one of the most important Italian Renaissance authors. Among modern treatments of Ludovico Dolce’s life and works, the standard bibliography was set by Cicogna 1863. His exact date of birth (1510) was accurately established by the author of Di Filippo Bareggi 1988, which cites Dolce’s interrogation by the Santo Uffizio in March 1558 during the trial against Alfonso de Ulloa; on this occasion, the Venetian theorist declares him to be forty-eight years old. A modern biography, Terpening 1997, in describing his life and works returns to him the leading role of a theorist of literature in the Renaissance. Romei 1991 constitutes a biographical entry in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI) and adds information to Cicogna 1863. Ludovico Dolce’s activity in Giolito’s workshop and his frequentation of Ariosto, Marcolini, and other Venetian printers (Bindoni, Tramezino) facilitates his identification as an operaio della letteratura (worker of literature), an expression coined in Dionisotti 1967 that is better adapted to the editorial process and industry.

  • Cicogna, Emmanuel Antonio. Memoria intorno la vita e gli scritti di Messer Lodovico Dolce letterato veneziano del secolo XVI. Venice: Presso la Segretaria dell’ I. R. Istituto, 1863.

    The principal bio-bibliographic scholarly monograph about Dolce; though dated, it is the most important source about his life. All subsequent biographical approaches depend on its contents.

  • Di Filippo Bareggi, Claudia. Il mestiere di scrivere: Lavoro intellettuale e mercato librario a Venezia nel Cinquecento. Rome: Bulzoni, 1988.

    A seminal work on Renaissance scholars and their contacts with Venetian printers such as Giolito, Giunta, Bindoni, Marcolini, Sessa, and Tramezino.

  • Dionisotti, Carlo. “La guerra d’Oriente nella letteratura veneziana del Cinquecento.” In Geografia e storia della letteratura italiana. By Carlo Dionisotti, 213–218. Turin, Italy: Einaudi, 1967.

    In this literary production about the war against the Turks in the Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century, Carlo Dionisotti describes Ludovico Dolce’s method of writing history as a part of the social and cultural Venetian context.

  • Romei, Giovanna. “Dolce Ludovico.” In Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 39, Deodato–Di Falco. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti, 399–405. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1991.

    Updated biography of Ludovico Dolce; Romei presents several new items, drawn from new biographical sources uncovered after Cicogna.

  • Terpening, Ronnie H. Lodovico Dolce, Renaissance Man of Letters. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.3138/9781442676763

    Terpening discusses the author, his life and works, and major issues surrounding his literary production; the book follows a strict approach to the principal questions offered by the poet in conjunction with new interpretations of his poetry and literature.

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