Renaissance and Reformation Art of Poetry
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0396


The art of poetry has deep roots within the western tradition, but since poetry was one of the five disciplines that the humanist educational reform privileged, the analysis of poetry on the theoretical level and practical instructions on how to write a good poem flourished in the Renaissance. Since Renaissance humanism predicated a search for ancient models, Horace’s Art of Poetry, Aristotle’s Poetics, and (to a lesser extent) Plato’s observations on poetry provide a foundation for inquiry. Production of the arts of poetry exploded in 16th-century Italy and spread from there throughout Europe. Modern scholarship in this field remains anchored in a number of key books that were produced quite a while ago, but there has been a revival of interest recently that has generated new editions of key texts by Vida, Scaliger, Puttenham, and Vossius. The bibliography that follows has been designed to access a range of scholarship on the most important of the Renaissance arts of poetry and a representative sampling of the less influential treatises.

General Overviews

Aguzzi-Barbagli 1988 and Kallendorf and Randall 1999 offer overviews that consider the art of poetry within the general development of literary theory in the Renaissance, while Ferguson 1983 extends this evolution into the defense of poetry as a genre. Hathaway 1968, Plett 1994, Spingarn 1924, and Trabalza 1915 offer book-length surveys of Renaissance literary theory and the place of the art of poetry within it, with Barilli 1984 and Tateo 1960 emphasizing the rhetorical foundation of much of the work in this area.

  • Aguzzi-Barbagli, Danilo. “Humanism and Poetics.” In Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy. Vol. 3, Humanism and the Disciplines. Edited by Albert Rabil Jr., 85–169. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

    After a brief discussion of the early humanist approach to poetry as an educational instrument, Aguzzi-Barbagli surveys four traditions in 16th-century literary criticism: those based on Horace, Aristotle, and Plato, followed by the one formed by the arts of poetry proper. A richly annotated, mid-length survey.

  • Barilli, Renato. Poetica e retorica. Saggi de estetica e di politica. Milan: Mursia, 1984.

    A widely ranging, frequently cited book that grounds an inquiry into the close relationship between rhetoric and poetry in a series of texts ranging from Cicero to 20th-century new criticism. Contains chapters on several Renaissance writers, including Girolamo Fracastoro (b. 1478–d. 1553), Lodovico Castelvetro (b. 1505–d. 1571), and Francesco Patrizi (b. 1529–d. 1597).

  • Ferguson, Margaret W. Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Poetry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1xp3tdx

    Examines three Renaissance arts of poetry, the Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse (1549) of Joachim Du Bellay (b. 1522–d. 1560), the Apologia in difesa della “Gerusalemme liberata” (1585) of Torquato Tasso (b. 1544–d. 1595), and the Apology for Poetry (1595) of Philip Sidney (b. 1554–d. 1586) from a Freudian perspective, arguing that in the effort to contend with both classical models and recent competitors, these arts of poetry become a distinct genre, the defense. An often-cited book that takes the literary theory of the period in an interesting new direction.

  • Hathaway, Baxter. Marvels and Commonplaces: Renaissance Literary Criticism. New York: Random House, 1968.

    A summary of critical ideas about literature in Italy, England, and France, with an emphasis on the former, focused on the unresolved tension between verisimilitude and a craving for the marvelous. Contains a useful biographical glossary with basic information on the important literary critics of the Renaissance.

  • Kallendorf, Craig, and Catherine Randall. “Poetics.” In Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. Vol. 5. Edited by Paul Grendler, 64–72. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1999.

    A concise survey that begins with the defenses of poetry composed through the 15th century, follows the reception of the major ancient sources and their transformation into independent arts of poetry in 16th-century Italy, and continues with the diffusion of Italian ideas through the rest of Europe in the later Renaissance, followed by a section focused specifically on France.

  • Plett, Heinrich. Renaissance-Poetik/Renaissance Poetics. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110872064

    A collection of essays that is not limited to the arts of poetry proper, but sweeps this specialized genre up into discussions about poetics in the Renaissance, first in a series of more general articles, then in a second group of focused applications.

  • Spingarn, Joel. A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1924.

    A classic overview of literary criticism in Italy, France, and England, now dated in some areas but still cited regularly in the secondary literature. Originally published by Spingarn (b. 1875–d. 1939) in 1899 (London: Macmillan).

  • Tateo, Francesco. Retorica e poetica fra Medioevo e Rinascimento. Bari, Italy: Editrice Adriatica, 1960.

    Traces the development of aesthetics in Italy from Dante to the end of the 16th century via the interplay between poetics and rhetoric, with a focus on Boccaccio followed by a history of style from the Middle Ages to the Cinquecento (the 16th century).

  • Trabalza, Ciro. La critica letteraria nel Rinascimento. Milan: F. Vallardi, 1915.

    An older overview of the development of literary criticism in the Renaissance, beginning with its humanist origins, continuing into the 16th century, and concluding with the emergence of wit as a critical category in the 17th century.

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