Pietro Aretino

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Pietro Aretino
Portrait of Titian , 1545
"Divine Pietro Aretino"
Bronze medal from the 16th century

Pietro Aretino (born April 20, 1492 in Arezzo ; † October 21, 1556 in Venice ), called " il Divino " ("the divine"), " flagello de 'principi " ("scourge of the princes"), also " condottiere della penna "(" mercenary of the pen "), was a versatile Italian writer , poet , satirist and polemicist of the Renaissance , the Cinquecento . He wrote prophetic and religious edification books, plays, polemical satires, erotic dialogues and poems, such as the Sonetti lussuriosi on pornographic copperplate engravings by Marcantonio Raimondi , as well as a large number of literarily brilliant and culturally and historically rich letters, of which more than 3000 have survived.

Aretino embodies the type of an independent social climber who is successful in a court society solely on the basis of his intellectual achievements, " censor (e) del mondo, oracolo della verità ", "censor of the world, oracle of truth".

On the title pages of his last books he called himself "Pietro Aretino, uomo libero per grazia di Dio", "Pietro Aretino, free man by God's grace."


If one reads one of the older biographies of Aretiner, for example that of Ginguené , Mazzuchelli, Chasles, then one cannot avoid a mild shower in front of the“ sewer of all vices and wickedness ”, as which the author of the Ragionamenti is drawn there, and one does not come out of the astonishment that such a man of Julius III. Kissed on the forehead and made Knight of Saint Peter, made Knight of Rhodes by Clement VII , embraced by Emperor Charles V , proposed cardinal by the Duke of Parma , Pier Luigi Farnese , ennobled by his hometown and appointed Gonfaloniere by Ariostus and others called divine, painted twice by Titian and appreciated by the best of his time for their friendship . "

- Heinrich Conrad : Pietro Aretino. Courtesan talks. Ullstein vacation classic, Berlin 1966, p. 179.


Aretino was born in Arezzo in 1492 ( Aretino means "from Arezzo") as the son of a shoemaker and Margherita (Tita) Bonci, according to his own statements he was the son of a nobleman. There is no reliable information about his youth. Apparently he did not get a good education and no lessons in Latin . At the age of about 14 he was in Perugia , where he may have studied painting, attended the local university and wrote his first literary works. His sonnets were first published in Venice in 1512.


Statue of Pasquino in Rome
Pasquinades , abusive poems , have been
pinned to it since 1501

Around 1517 he went to Rome , where he brokered the banker Agostino Chigi a job with Cardinal Giulio de 'Medici was given and access to the court of Pope Leo X received. In the following years he gained more and more influence and made friends with Raffael and Giulio Romano, among others . During the Conclave of 1521 he wrote the first of his notorious and feared mocking verses, named Pasquinate after the statue of Pasquino near Piazza Navona in Rome, to which such anonymous verses were commonly pinned by students. Aretino used a traditional facility that had previously been limited to academic and scholarly subjects and gave it a new satirical and anti-clerical orientation.

In 1522 the pious and moral strict Adrian of Utrecht ascended as Pope Hadrian VI. the throne, and Aretino preferred to find a patron far from Rome. The election of his old patron Giulio de 'Medici as Pope Clement VII in 1523 prompted him to return to Rome. His first great success as an author came in 1525 with the publication of his obscene sonnets, the sonetti lussuriosi , to the copperplate engravings by Marcantonio Raimondi after Giulio Romano's drawings. However, they cost him the Pope's patronage. Aretino left Rome for good after death threats from the victims of his blasphemous ridicule and abuse and after a failed assassination attempt by Achille della Volta in July 1525. Subsequently, he stayed in the vicinity of Federico II Gonzaga in Mantua and the Condottiere Giovanni de 'Medici, known as Giovanni dalle Bande Nere . In order to secure the pope's favor for the appointment of his brother as cardinal, the Gonzaga planned an assassination attempt on Aretino. Aretino then fled to Venice , where he moved into an apartment in a palace on the Grand Canal .


There he first wrote a satirical work directed against the Pope about the Sacco di Roma and an appeal for peace to Emperor Charles V. In Venice he quickly gained access to the upper class, enjoyed the protection of Doge Andrea Gritti and became friends with Tizian and Sansovino . The art of printing, which flourished in Venice in the early 16th century, created ideal conditions for Aretino's literary activity and the rapid and general dissemination of his writings and letters. With his sharp pen he interfered in the political affairs of the various republics and states and had contacts with both the German Emperor and the French King Franz I. From Venice he started begging actions, among others, to the political opponents who both supported him in the Hope that he might do as much damage as possible to the political opponent, but spare the respective patron, generously subsidize it. Aretino himself called himself condottiere della penna , condottiere of the pen, that is, he sold his literary services to whoever paid the best for them. Letters and articles with this mixture of flattery, targeted revelations, abuse, hidden and open threats, which he often used as a means of blackmail, circulated all over Italy. From 1535 he gave his printed matter the motto: Veritas odium parit (truth breeds hatred). Ariostus called him the scourge of princes . It is known from letters from Aretino to Michelangelo that he offered himself as a consultant for the theological concept of the altar painting in the Sistine Chapel . However, Michelangelo wanted to be as free as possible from content specifications. The offended Aretino then accused the artist of homosexuality .

From 1538 he published collections of these letters as books at intervals. In addition, he published the lives of saints , for which he recognized a market in connection with the conflict between Rome and Luther's Reformation . There was also a rich production of satires , polemics and plays. Aretino managed to earn a considerable income through his literary work alone. Between 1550 and 1551 he wrote the poems for the glory of Pope Julius III. and hopes for a cardinal's hat , but they never came true.

The Death of Pietro Aretino by Anselm Feuerbach (1854)

Aretino died in Venice on October 21, 1556, probably of a stroke. Legend has it that he fell off his chair while laughing after a crude joke and broke his neck in the process. After his death, Pope Paul IV placed his works on the list of prohibited books, Index Librorum Prohibitorum , compiled for the first time .

Aretino was buried next to the church of San Luca in the sestiere of San Marco . His grave has been lost since the church was rebuilt in the 19th century.

The literary work

"Questo è pure un bel cazzo lungo
e grosso"
. Sonetto lussurioso n ° 9, woodcut after Giulio Romano , 1527

Aretino already wrote his first poems in Perugia, which were printed in 1512 and 1513. They are canzons in the Petrarchan manner popular at the time , which Aretino later so thoroughly ridiculed and parodied . These poems were a good recommendation for him in court in Rome. Around 1525 he published three panegyric canzons to the glory of Pope Clement VII.

Between 1524 and 1525 the so-called sonetti lussuriosi came out. The divino owes its reputation as a classic of erotic literature to these hearty, brazen poems and the Ragionamenti , (courtesan) conversations written in 1534/1536 . For each of the erotic drawings by Giulio Romano , which had been engraved in copper by Marcantonio Raimondi , he wrote a sonnet that is characterized by naturalistic accuracy and clarity in the description of physical love. He was still a long way from the sophistication, wit and elegance of his later erotic texts.

From 1525 he began his comedy La Cortigiana , a parody of Baldassare Castiglione's book Il Cortegiano . It shows the adventures of Messer Maco from Siena , who travels to Rome to become a cardinal. When he falls in love with a woman there, he realizes that he only has a chance with her as cortegiano , as the man of the court. He takes lessons from a swindler who teaches him the virtues of a courtier: he learns to deceive and cheat, and he sits in front of the mirror for hours. In the style of his Pasquill, Aretino disenchanted the conditions at the courts of his time, the customs of the courtiers and exposed the widespread hypocrisy and the prevailing literary and philosophical fashions, such as Platonism or Petrarkism.

Between 1533 and 1536 Aretino wrote two versions of his Ragionamenti . They belong to the genre of the hetaerae talks . The prostitutes Nanna and Antonia talk about the future and the optimal way of life for Nanna's daughter. Nanna, who has been a nun, wife and prostitute in her life, comes to the conclusion during the conversation that a woman's abilities and talents can only develop sufficiently in a life as a prostitute, only here would the optimal opportunity arise for the woman to participate in social life. The most important prerequisite for a successful life is, however, not to fall in love with men so as not to be cheated and exploited by them. In his Ragionamenti, Aretino parodies contemporary doctrines of virtue and mocks the idealization of women, as was common in the literature of Italy after Petrarch's successor.

Aretino: I tre libri della humanità di Christo , Venice 1536

Around the same time he was working on his play Il Marescalco , in which his patron, the Duke of Mantua, appears personally as deus ex machina . The comedy is about a homosexual courtier who does not want to get married under any circumstances and who is brought to the attention of the advantages of marriage in a funny way from different sides. The bride, with whom he is married by the Duke, fortunately turns out to be a handsome youth.

Subsequently, Aretino published several works with a religious content, such as a story of the passion of Jesus and the seven psalms of penance of David , as well as the life stories of the Virgin Mary, Saint Catherine and Thomas Aquinas , the last two as commissioned by the imperial governor del Vasto. Between 1542 and 1546 he brought out two comedies and his only tragedy , the Orazio .

Important works
The letters

In 1538 Aretino published the first volume of a six-volume collection of more than three thousand of his letters, which were already publicly accessible as individual printed pieces. The editor was his friend, the printer Francesco Marcolini , who had published some of his poetic works. Aretino no longer wrote his letters in Latin, like the humanists , but in the vernacular volgare . His correspondence with the greats of his time documents a period of profound social change in Italy, which was shaped by the tensions and armed conflicts between France and the Roman-German Emperor , the political upheavals as a result of the Reformation in Germany and a general destabilization of the Equilibrium between the Italian states. Aretino's letters to the greats of his time show a multifaceted and informative picture of himself through the unveiled, impartial and sometimes cynical view of the author, through his alert and committed participation in political events, in art and literature, in gossip and all sorts of intrigues Time. As the motto on his books expresses, he felt obliged to the "truth" and considered himself a free man in a political system that kept the individual in economic, political and spiritual dependency.

Aretino in art and literature



Work editions

  • Edizione nazionale delle opere di Pietro Aretino. A critical work edition in the process of being published since 1992 and comprising 23 volumes ( 23 tomi ) .
  • Pietro Aretino: Dubbii amorosi, altri dubbii e sonetti lussuriosi. [Paris 1757]
  • Pietro Aretino: Sonetti lussuriosi. Edizione critica e commento di Danilo Romei. nuovorinascimento.org, 2013 (PDF, 763 kB)
  • The conversations of the divine Pietro Aretino. Transferred from Heinrich Conrad . Insel Taschenbuch 2570, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-458-34270-2 . (First published in 1903 under the title Die Gespraeche des divine Pietro Aretino as a two-volume edition by Insel-Verlag Leipzig in an edition of 850 copies for subscribers.)
  • Pietro Aretino / Thomas Hettche : Positions Or from the beginning and end of pornography. (Original title: I modi , bilingual edition). DuMont, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-8321-7836-8 .
  • Pietro Aretino: The sinful monastery sisters. Reprint of the original edition from 1932. Melchior, Wolfenbüttel 2009, ISBN 978-3-941555-30-3 .

Secondary literature

  • Christopher Cairns: Pietro Aretino and The Republic of Venice. Tresearches on Aretino and his circle in Venice, 1527 - 1556 . Olschki, Florence 1985.
  • James Cleugh: The divine Aretino: Pietro of Arezzo, 1492-1556: a biography . Anthony Blond, London, 1965 - Review by: Battin, Loris. In: Italica, vol. 44, no. 1, 1967, pp. 96-99 - JSTOR and Google book .
  • Paula Findlen: Humanism, Politics and Pornography in Renaissance Italy. In: Lynn Hunt (Ed.): The Invention of Pornography. Profanity and the Origins of Modernity . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1994, pp. 44-131.
  • Johannes Hösle : Pietro Aretino's work . de Gruyter, Berlin 1969.
  • (it) Giammaria Mazzuchelli: Nota sulla vita di Pietro Aretino, premessa al testo dell'Orlandino, 1540 - Tratta dalla vita di Pietro Aretino
  • Hermann Kesten : Pietro Aretino - A journalist in Italy. In: Hermann Kesten: Lauter literati . Knaur Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1966.
  • Klaus Thiele-Dohrmann : Courtesan friend and plague of princes - Pietro Aretino and the art of revelation . Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf / Zurich 1998.
  • Raymond B. Waddington: Aretino's Satyr: Sexuality, Satire, and Self-Projection in Sixteenth-Century Literature and Art . University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2003.
  • JV Widmann : From the letters of Aretin. In: Neue Freie Presse № 13421 (Morgenblatt) of January 4, 1902, pp. 1-4.
  • Loel Zwecker: Pietro Aretino. The Machiavelli of art criticism. Meyer, Bern / Vienna 2017.

Web links

Wikisource: Pietro Aretino  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Pietro Aretino  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Pietro Aretino named himself after his place of birth Arezzo. "L'Aretino" means "the one from Arezzo"
  2. ^ " Il flagello de 'principi, il divin Pietro Aretino ". Quote from: Ludovico Ariosto : The raging Roland (Orlando furioso), 46th song, 14th verse . "Fagello dei principi", scourge of the princes, called him his contemporaries because of his satires and pamphlets. - “Il Divino Aretino”, “the Divine Aretino”, by analogy with this, the French Surrealists awarded the Marquis de Sade the honorary title “le divin marquis”, “the Divine Marquis”.
  3. Michael Buchmann: Aretino, the condottiere of the pen. In: Texturen , magazine for the literary business - The conversations of the divine Pietro Aretino , part 1 (54 minutes, MDR Figaro 2003) for listening and downloading .
  4. ^ Klaus Thiele-Dohrmann : Courtesan friend and plague of princes - Pietro Aretino and the art of revelation . Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf / Zurich 1998, ISBN 3-538-07077-6 , p. 63.
  5. ^ Pietro Aretino ardito di penna e di gola
  6. Alessandro Del Vita : L'Aretino, Uomo libero per grazia di Dio . Ed. Rinascimento, Arezzo 1954.
  7. Joseph Victor Widmann : From the letters of Aretin. In: Neue Freie Presse (Vienna) No. 13421 (Morgenblatt) of January 4, 1902, pp. 1–4 ( digitized by ANNO ).
  8. ^ Hidden Treasures. The Pietro Aretino's tomb in San Luca church in Venice , accessed September 5, 2019
  9. Italian text of the 'sonetto IX' - on Wikisource; Edition 1986.
  10. ^ Joel Schachter: Georg Büchner's Lost Play. In: Theater. Ed. Yale School of Drama. Vol 3. 1972, pp. 94-98.
  11. ^ Edizione Nazionale delle Opere di Pietro Aretino - Piano editoriale and newspaper article by Maria Pia Forte: Il libertino che scrisse eccezionali testi religiosi , in: L'Eco di Bergamo, 27. September 2010 and
  12. Short review with quoted text example at ikonenmagazin.de.