Francesco Petrarch

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Petrarch, detail of a fresco by Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla (around 1450) Uffizi
Petrarch, drawing by Altichiero da Zevio , around 1370 to 1380

Francesco Petrarca (born July 20, 1304 in Arezzo , † July 19, 1374 in Arquà ) was an Italian poet and historian . He is considered a co-founder of Renaissance humanism and, together with Dante Alighieri and Boccaccio, one of the most important exponents of early Italian literature . Its name is based on the term Petrarkism , which describes a direction of European love poetry that was widespread into the 17th century.


His father, the notary Pietro di Parenzo (nicknames: Petracco, Patraca) was banished from Florence as a supporter of the Pope . At the age of seven, Petrarch followed him to Avignon , where Pietro di Parenzo had lived from 1312 while his family lived in Carpentras. Petrarch studied law in Montpellier from 1316 and in Bologna from 1320 . He returned to Avignon in 1326. He broke off his legal studies, received the minor orders and had his new domicile in a house in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in what is now the Département Vaucluse . Petrarch chose the church father Augustine as his model and tried to emulate his way of life. After his father died, Petrarch ran into economic difficulties.

Meeting with Laura

On April 6, 1327, according to him, a Good Friday , but actually an Easter Monday , he saw a young woman whom he called Laura and who was possibly identical to the then 16-year-old and newly married Laura de Noves . Her impression was so strong on him that he revered her as an ideal female figure and a permanent source of his poetic inspiration throughout his life, knowing and accepting that she was out of reach for him. As a poet he strove for fame and laurel (Latin laurus ) and found a means to do so in Laura .

“Laura [...] appeared to my eyes for the first time in my early youth, in the year of the Lord 1327, on the sixth day of April, in the church of St. Clare at Avignon [...]. And in the same city, in the same month of April, also on the sixth day, at the same hour, but in the year 1348, that light was withdrawn from the light of this world [...]. "

Geraldine Gabor and Ernst-Jürgen Dreyer write “that, under the unprejudiced gaze,› Laura ‹dissolved into pure language that plays in innumerable meanings: L'auro, the gold of Cupid's› aurato strale ‹(the golden arrow) and the› aurata piuma ‹(the golden plumage of the phoenix) […]“ Wolf-Dieter Lange adds:

“These words, which conceal rather than reveal, reveal the poet's position between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance . The numbers he speaks of have had a Christian symbolic value, especially since the Church Fathers. On April 6th, Adam was created, and on April 6th, Christ died. Between the beginning of her love for Laura in 1327 and her death in 1348 lie twenty-one, i.e. three times seven years, these too many Christian interpretations. In addition, the 'Canzoniere' with its apparently remorseful introductory sonnet consists of 366 poems. If you subtract this sonnet, the number could symbolically refer to the days of a year. Perhaps the number 366 refers directly to Laura's year of death, because 1348 was a leap year.

Petrarch himself described this Rerum vulgarium fragmenta , fragments of everyday things, "always as secondary to his friends, as youthful folly , as nugellae (little things)".

Ascent of Mont Ventoux

In a letter dated April 26, 1336, written in Latin and addressed to the early humanist Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro (* around 1300; † 1342), Petrarch describes how he and his brother climbed Mont Ventoux in Provence mounted. When he reached the top, he looked at the landscape and, inspired by a word he happened to hear from the Confessions of Augustine , turned to himself and thus to the radical subjectivity of his poetry:

Et eunt homines mirari alta montium et ingentes fluctus maris et latissimos lapsus fluminum et oceani ambitum et gyros siderum, et relinquunt se ipsos.
"And people go there to marvel at the heights of the mountains, the immense floods of the sea, the wide flowing rivers, the vastness of the ocean and the orbits of the stars and forget themselves." (Confessiones X, 8)

The coincidence of the experience of nature and the return to the self signifies a spiritual turning point which, with regard to the experience of conversion, places Petrarch in a row with Paul of Tarsus , Augustine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau . In contrast to medieval ideas, Petrarch no longer saw the world as hostile and perishable for people, which is only a transit station into a world beyond, but now possessed its own value in his eyes. As in the landscape painting of this time, Petrarch evokes a new experience of nature and landscape, in which aesthetic and contemplative perspectives are combined. Some scholars see the ascent of Mont Ventoux as a key cultural and historical moment on the threshold from the Middle Ages to the modern era. In addition, because of this first “tourist” mountain ascent, Petrarca is considered the father of mountaineers and the founder of alpinism .

Petrarch. Detail from a fresco by Altichiero da Zevio in the Oratorio di San Giorgio in Padua (c. 1376)

Later years

Petrarch retreated to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse near Avignon after traveling through France , Germany and Belgium , where he found Cicero's allegedly lost defense speech , pro archia , in Liege . He lived there from 1337 to 1349 and wrote a large part of his canzoniere . In 1341 Petrarch was crowned a poet (poeta laureatus) on the Capitol in Rome . In between he went to the court of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna in Avignon and was envoy in Milan for eight years. For the last decade he lived alternately in Venice and Arquà. To his circle of friends belonged u. a. Giovanni de Dondi (1318–1389), the inventor and builder of the "Astrarium", one of the first public astronomical clocks in the world.

However, Petrarch was critical of the natural sciences and medicine, especially the doctors of his time. Above all, he was an influential critic of late scholastic orthodox medicine, who as a pure scientia lacked divine sapientia .

Original manuscript of a poem by Petrarch discovered in Erfurt in 1985
Petrarca, De viris illustribus , autograph , probably written shortly before 1374. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 5784, fol. 4r


Petrarch is considered to be the co-founder of Renaissance humanism and was one of Italy's greatest poets. He wanted to revive the ancient world as a whole.

His Canzoniere , a cycle of 366 poems, including 317 sonnets , in which he celebrates his pure, enduring love for Laura, the madonna angelicata , shaped the content and form of the European poetry of the Renaissance ( Petrarkism ). Petrarch's treatise Secretum meum is often seen as an aid to understanding the canzoniere . This Latin dialogue , written in the style of his great idol Cicero , also offers some interesting clues about Petrarch's personality.

The starting point for his historiography was the ancient model. He tried to apply ancient historical examples to the present (viri illustres) . He chose the monographic form or reflected on important events (res memorandae) . Petrarch understood history as an example. He made judgments based on morals. Historiography must encourage people and give them examples of what they do. He made no source criticism , but followed the source that convinced him the most. What was new in the sense of a departure into the Renaissance was that Petrarch put people at the center of world events - in contrast to the medieval worldview, in which God was firmly anchored as the ruler of the world. This change of perspective influenced the history of historiography .


An important literary prize is named after Petrarch . The Petrarca Prize , donated by Hubert Burda, was awarded to contemporary poets and translators from 1975 to 1995 and again from 2010 to 2014 and is intended to commemorate the history of poetry.

A marble bath from Petrarch is located next to those from Dante , Tasso and Ariost in the poets' grove in front of the west side of Charlottenhof Palace , also known as "Siam". The herms were created by Gustav Blaeser . In Arezzo, a monument to the son of the city was erected in 1928 in the immediate vicinity of the Duomo, in the Paseggio del Prato Park.

The asteroid (12722) Petrarca , discovered on August 10, 1991, was named after him in March 2001.


His madrigals were of great importance as text templates for both the Trecento madrigal and the madrigal of the 16th and 17th centuries. Adrian Willaert and Cipriano de Rore had almost exclusively chosen Petrarch sonnets for their madrigals of the 1540s, which were quickly received as exemplary. In 1559 Willaert brought out his Musica nova with 22 madrigals on Petrarch sonnets. Luca Marenzio also set Petrarch to music. Claudio Monteverdi wrote four Petrarch madrigals. In 1818 Franz Schubert composed three of Petrarch's sonnets in the translation by August Wilhelm Schlegel and Johann Diederich Gries for voice and piano ( D 628–630). Franz Liszt set three Petrarca sonnets to music under the title Tre Sonetti del Petrarca for voice and piano ( Searle 270, 1–3) and 1843–1846 for piano (Searle 158). Arnold Schönberg has set Petrarch's sonnets to music in the translation by Karl August Förster in his orchestral songs op. 8 and in the serenade op . Also Akos Banlaky she set in the 20th century.

Grave opening

Petrarch found his tomb in Arquà Petrarca near Padua . In 2004, after a grave was opened, it was found that the skull in the coffin apparently belonged to a woman. Otherwise it is very likely that it is the remains of the poet. The scientists wanted to clarify whether the Petrarch's predicted height of 1.84 meters was correct. He would have been a giant compared to his contemporaries.

The poet's tomb, which was built in 1380 by his son-in-law Francesco da Brosano and raided by grave robbers in 1630, was opened on December 5, 1873 for the purpose of conducting anthropological studies. The opening took place at the request of the Academy of Bovolenta. The professors appointed for this purpose gave a report on the process.

The cemetery, which Petrarch chose as his final resting place, was redesigned in 1874 on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his death, which was covered with trachyte plates in 1965 . Petrarch's sarcophagus is made of Verona marble .

See also

Text editions and translations


  • Otto Schönberger , Eva Schönberger (eds.): Francesco Petrarca: Epistulae Metricae. Letters in verse. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2004, ISBN 3-8260-2886-4 (Latin text, German translation and commentary)
  • Canzoniere. Bilingual complete edition, based on an interlinear translation by Geraldine Gabor into German verse by Ernst-Jürgen Dreyer . Based on the edition by Giuseppe Salvo Cozzo, Florence 1904. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-423-02321-X
  • Monica Berté (Ed.): Francesco Petrarca: Improvvisi. Un'antica raccolta di epigrammi. Salerno Editrice, Rome 2014, ISBN 978-88-8402-918-8 (critical edition of Petrarch's occasional poems with Italian translation and commentary)
  • Erwin Rauner (Ed.): Psalmi et orationes. Psalms and prayers. Rauner, Augsburg 2004 (Latin text and translation)
  • Francesco Petrarca's Italian poems, translated and accompanied with explanatory notes by Karl Förster , professor at the K. Knight Academy in Dresden. 2 volumes, Brockhaus, Leipzig and Altenburg 1818/19 (bilingual edition; digital copies of volume 1 and volume 2 on Google Books)
  • One hundred selected sonnets by Francesco Petrarka, translated by Julius Hübner . Nicolai, Berlin 1868 (bilingual edition; digitized in the Internet Archive )
  • Francesco Petrarca's all the Italian poems. Newly translated by Friedrich Wilhelm Bruckbräu . With explanatory notes. Lindauer, Munich 1827 ( digitized version of the 1st volume in the MDZ )
  • further editions see Wikisource


  • Bernhard Huss , Gerhard Regn (eds.): Francesco Petrarca: Africa. 2 volumes. Dieterich, Mainz 2007, ISBN 978-3-87162-065-2 (Latin text and German translation; commentary in the second volume)

Prose letters

  • Res seniles. Libri I-IV. A cura di Silvia Rizzo con la collaborazione di Monica Berté. Florence 2006.
  • Letters of old age (Rerum senilium libri). Vol. 1: Books I-IX. Translated by Aldo S. Bernardo, Saul Levin and Reta A. Bernardo. New York 2005.
  • Gunilla Sävborg (ed.): Epistole tardive di Francesco Petrarca. Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm 2004, ISBN 91-22-02076-4 (critical edition with introduction and commentary)
  • Paul Piur (Ed.): Petrarch's 'Book without a Name' and the Papal Curia. A contribution to the intellectual history of the early Renaissance. Niemeyer, Halle (Saale) 1925 (contains a critical edition of Petraca's letters, Liber sine nomine )
  • Berthe Widmer (Ed.): Familiaria. Books of Confidentialities. Berlin 2009.
  • Florian Neumann (ed.): Francesco Petrarca: Epistolae familiares XXIV. Confidential letters. Dieterich, Mainz 1999, ISBN 3-87162-049-1 (Latin text, German translation and commentary)

Other prose works

  • August Buck (ed.), Klaus Kubusch (translator): Francesco Petrarca: De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia. About his and many others ignorance. Meiner, Hamburg 1993, ISBN 3-7873-1104-1
  • Giuliana Crevatin (ed.): Francesco Petrarca: In difesa dell'Italia (Contra eum qui maledixit Italie). Marsilio, Venice 1995, ISBN 88-317-5862-4 (Latin text and Italian translation)
  • Pier Giorgio Ricci (Ed.): Francesco Petrarca: Invective contra medicum. Testo latino e volgarizzamento di Ser Domenico Silvestri. [1352] Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, Rome 1950 (critical edition)
  • Secretum meum. Latin-German. Ed., Translated and with an afterword by Gerhard Regn and Bernhard Huss . Mainz 2004.
  • About the prince. Latin-German. Edited and translated by. Morderstedt 2005.
  • Eckhard Keßler, Rudolf Schottlaender (ed.): Francesco Petrarca: Remedies against luck and misfortune. De remediis utriusque fortunae. [1366] Fink, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-7705-2505-1 (Latin text and translation)
  • Jens Reufsteck (Ed.): Francesco Petrarca: Travel book to the Holy Sepulcher. Reclam, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-15-000888-3 (Latin text of the Itinerarium ad sepulcrum domini nostri Iesu Christi with translation)

Historical manuscripts and early prints


in alphabetical order by authors / editors

  • Achim Aurnhammer (Ed.): Francesco Petrarca in Germany. Its effect in literature, art and music (= early modern times. Vol. 118). Niemeyer, Tübingen 2006, ISBN 3-484-36618-4 .
  • Louis Cellauro: Landscape and Iconography: Petrarch's Country Houses and Gardens at Vaucluse and at Arquà . In: Die Gartenkunst  21 (1/2009), pp. 143–152.
  • Ugo Dotti: Vita di Petrarca. Il poeta, lo storico, l'umanista. Aragno, Turin 2014, ISBN 978-88-8419-676-7 .
  • Karl AE Enenkel , Jan Papy (Ed.): Petrarch and His Readers in the Renaissance (= Intersections. Vol. 6). Brill, Leiden et al. 2006, ISBN 90-04-14766-7 .
  • Ugo Foscolo : Essays on Petrarca (= Stauffenburg Library. Vol. 4). Translated, edited and commented by Giuseppe Gazzola and Olaf Müller . Stauffenburg-Verlag, Tübingen 2006, ISBN 3-86057-802-2 .
  • Paul Geyer, Kerstin Thorwarth (Hrsg.): Petrarca and the development of the modern subject (= founding myths of Europe in literature, music and art. Vol. 2). V & R Unipress et al., Göttingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-89971-486-9 .
  • Hans Grote: Reading Petrarca (= Legenda. 7). Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 2006, ISBN 3-7728-2424-2 .
  • Klaus Heitmann : Fortuna and Virtus. A study on Petrarch's wisdom (= Studi italiani. 1). Böhlau, Cologne et al. 1958.
  • Ursula Hennigfeld: The ruined body. Petrarkistic sonnets from a transcultural perspective . Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8260-3768-9 .
  • Victoria Kirkham, Armando Maggi (Ed.): Petrarch. A Critical Guide to the Complete Works. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL 2009, ISBN 978-0-226-43741-5 .
  • Andreas Kamp: Petrarch's philosophical program. About premises, anti-aristotelianism and “new knowledge” from “De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia” (= European university publications . Series 20: Philosophy. Vol. 288). Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1989, ISBN 3-631-42069-2 .
  • Birthe Koch:  Petrarch, Francesco. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 7, Bautz, Herzberg 1994, ISBN 3-88309-048-4 , Sp. 283-287.
  • Joachim Küpper : Petrarch. The silence of Veritas and the words of the poet. de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2002, ISBN 3-11-017557-6 .
  • Volker Reinhardt : Francesco Petrarca. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . March 2, 2009 , accessed April 2, 2020 .
  • Adolf Martin Ritter : The mountain as a place where God meets. Francesco Petrarca's ascent d. “Mons ventosus” in the light of ancient and Christian tradition. In: Andrea Jördens , Hans Armin Gärtner , Herwig Görgemanns , Adolf Martin Ritter (eds.): Quaerite faciem eius semper. Studies on the intellectual-historical relationships between antiquity and Christianity. A gift of thanks for Albrecht Dihle on his 85th birthday from the Heidelberg “Church Fathers Colloquium” (= series of publications studies on church history. Vol. 8). Kovač, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8300-2749-2 , pp. 338–352.
  • Werner von der Schulenburg : A new portrait of Petrarch. A study of the interaction between literature and the fine arts at the beginning of the Renaissance period . A. Francke, Bern 1918.
  • Karlheinz Stierle : Francesco Petrarca. An intellectual in 14th century Europe. 3. Edition. Hanser, Munich et al. 2005, ISBN 3-446-20382-6 .
  • Charles Trinkaus: The poet as philosopher. Petrarch and the formation of Renaissance consciousness. Yale University Press, New Haven et al. 1979, ISBN 0-300-02327-8 .
  • Berthe Widmer : The plague years 1348 in the life of the poet Petrarch. In: Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde , Vol. 106, 2006, pp. 133–154. ( )

Web links

Wikisource: Francesco Petrarca  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Francesco Petrarca  - collection of images, videos and audio files

supporting documents

  1. ^ Franz Josef Worstbrock : Petrarca, Francesco. In: Author's Lexicon . Volume VII, Col. 471-490; here: col. 471.
  2. Bernd Roeck: The morning of the world . 1st edition. CH Beck, 2017, p. 376 .
  3. Francesco Petrarca: From the Artzeney bayder Glück [...]. Augsburg 1532.
  4. Klaus Bergdolt : Doctor, illness and therapy at Petrarca. The Critique of Medicine and Science in Early Italian Humanism. Weinheim an der Bergstrasse 1992
  5. ^ Klaus Bergdolt: Petrarca, Francesco. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 1130.
  6. ^ Rudolf Peitz, Gundolf Keil: The 'Decem quaestiones de medicorum statu'. Observations on the medical class of the 14th and 15th centuries. In: Specialized prose research - Crossing borders. Volume 8/9, 2012/2013 (2014), pp. 283-297, here: pp. 284 f.
  7. Minor Planet Circ. 42362
  8. Karl Heinrich Wörner, Wolfgang Gratzer, Lenz Meierott: History of Music - A study and reference book . 8th edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993, p. 162 ff .
  9. Peter Gülke: Franz Schubert and his time . 2nd Edition. Laaber-Verlag, 2002, p. 369 .
  10. ^ Wolfgang Dömling : Franz Liszt and his time . 2nd Edition. Laaber-Verlag, 1985, p. 295 .
  11. ^ Klaus Wolters: Handbook of Piano Literature - Piano Music for Two Hands . 5th edition. Atlantis Musikbuch-Verlag, 2001, p. 391 .