Penn Libraries Events & Exhibitions

In printed form as well as in manuscript, and again considering only the books on display here, Petrarch appears in both Latin and Italian from very early dates in Italy, France, and Switzerland. His works appeared in more places than these alone, of course. And if one adds translations -- a separate section in this exhibition -- the geographically widespread nature of Petrarch's readership and circulation becomes ever more apparent.

Many of the printed books on display, simply as an outgrowth of their physical form, have much to say about how fifteenth- and sixteenth-century readers regarded the fourteenth-century Italian writer. Some of these books are large and formidable: they exist as testaments to the cultural cachet of their contents and to the taste and standing of their owner. Others advertise the cultural standards of their printers, who used their editions of Petrarch to demonstrate their talents as bookmakers able to rise to the occasion when greatness demands to be dressed in an appropriate form. Still others indicate a book produced for the ready convenience of the reader who wants his (and, in some clear instances, her) Petrarch portable, able to sit easily in the hand. All of them — indeed, the very number of them even in this small exhibition — indicate a writer whose works stayed in heavy demand.

But they were not in demand only for show. Also notable is how many of these copies of Petrarch's various work provide considerable evidence that they were not left sitting idly on a shelf. These are used books -- old used books, it is true, but used books nonetheless. Their readers have left traces on them. Occasionally these traces are distressing. Several of the books shown here have been vandalized, early in their lives, by censors offended by one thing or another they contain. More encouragingly, however, other readers have added marginalia or comments, underlinings, or other marks of emphasis, all of which indicate a writer with whose works these readers engaged in a serious way. Petrarch certainly wrote for readers. The editions of his work that started to come from the press after printing from movable type reached Europe continues to this day. He got his readers even in manuscript; he still keeps his readers today.




Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 B.C.E.
[Epistolae ad Brutum, ad Quintum Fratrem, ad Atticum].
[Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1470.]
Cornell University Library.

This volume of Cicero, one of the earliest to issue from Jenson's Venetian press, is open to one of the non-Ciceronian texts the book contains. Petrarch's "Epistola ad Ciceronem" (letter to Cicero), taken from the Renaissance writer's Familiar Letters (XXIV.3), is addressed to the Classical author who perhaps meant as much to Petrarch as any writer of any era.. The Ciceronian texts are those Petrarch himself had found (at Verona, in 1345) during his explorations of monastic libraries.


Francesco Petrarca.
[Canzoniere.] Voi ch' ascoltate in rime sparse . . . (RVF 1).
Venice: [Gabriele di Pietro], not before 13 August 1473.
Cornell University Library.

This fifteenth-century edition of Petrarch's poetry was once thought to have issued (like the previous book) from Jenson's press but now appears to have been the work of Gabriele di Pietro. As can be seen from the opening leaf, to which the book is open, it has been treated to some extensive decoration. Such adornment, even of printed books, was often undertaken with books that presented culturally significant works. Audiences wished to make certain that the physical products they acquired displayed both their own as well as the work's elite nature.


Francesco Petrarca.
[De viris illustribus. Italian]. Incomincia il libro degli homini famosi . . .
Pojano: Felix Antiquarius and Innocens Ziletus, 1 October 1476.
Cornell University Library.

Donato degli Albanazi (ca. 1326-ca. 1411) translated De viris illustribus into Italian and Felix Antiquarius and Innocens Ziletus printed the book in Pojano. They clearly intended their large and sumptuous edition for adornment by illuminators, rubricators, and others — binders among them — who would ultimately produce a physical product worthy of the book's contents (and of its owners; see, e.g., previous book). This copy of their 1476 imprint, like many other of the Cornell University Library books on display in this exhibition, comes from the Petrarch collection gathered by Willard Fiske, now the heart of Cornell's magnificent Petrarch Collection. Its printed strapwork still awaits such decorative ministrations although, in the nineteenth century, the English firm of Bedford put the book into the kind of "collector's binding" then thought appropriate for such a work. The assumptions that underlie this physical production suggest Petrarch's status — partly achieved in his own lifetime but continuing to grow even within the first century of his death — in Italian and European print culture.


Francesco Petrarca.
[Trionfi e Canzoniere.]
[Venice: Petrus de Plasiis Cremonensis, dictus Veronensis, 22 April 1490.]
University of Pennsylvania Library.

The volume is open to the beginning of the Triumph of Love, decorated with two illuminated initials. At this time in printing, spaces were still left to allow for hand decoration.



Francesco Petrarca.
Francisci Petrarcae poetae oratorisque. Clarissimi de remediis utriusque fortunae . . .
[Cremona: Bernardinus de Misinti and Caesar Parmensis, 17 November 1492.]
University of Pennsylvania Library.

The volume is open to "De hereditatis expectatione" and "De alchimia." Note the printed capital "C". As printing methods rapidly develop, presses are able to handle multiple copies of fixed ornaments, such as initial letters. This allows for less expensive decorated editions, but contributes to the decline of manuscript arts and culture.

  Francesco Petrarca.
Le cose volgari de Messer Francesco Petrarcha.
Venice: Aldo Manuzio, 1501. Printed on vellum.
Cornell University Library.

"The great library of Charles Spencer, third Earl of Sunderland (1674-1722)," Seymour de Ricci writes in his 1930 study of English Collectors of Books and Manuscripts, "contained only a few manuscripts and some 20,000 printed books: it was particularly strong in incunabula (many being printed on vellum)." The Aldine Petrarch, a 1501 edition of the Rime, is a post-incunable. ("Incunables," or "incunabula," are printed books that date from before 1501; "post-incunables" date from 1501 to about 1520.) But this copy, "post" or not, comes from the Sunderland Library at Blenheim, is indeed printed on vellum, and is also a very pretty piece of early printed bookmaking from the press of Aldo Manuzio, one of the greatest printers of his time.


Francesco Petrarca.
Opere volgari di Messer Francesco Petrarcha.
Fano: Hieronimo Soncino, 7 July 1503.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Triumph of Eternity
from verse 96.
Continuation of the Triumph of Eternity
to end, and colophon.

The family that would later be called the Soncinos fled Speyer (a town in the Rhineland) in the wake of a general edict of 1435 expelling that town's Jews. Assisted by Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, they eventually settled in Soncino, the town in northern Italy from which they took the name by which they are now known. There, after a stint as bankers, the family turned in the early 1480s to printing. Joshua Solomon Soncino's nephews, Moses and Gershom, assisted him in this business. The peripatetic Gershom eventually worked not only in Soncino but also in Brescia, Barco, Pesaro, Ortona, Rimini, Cesena, Salonica, and Constantinople, as well as Fano, a town in the central Italian Marches where his Petrarch appeared. Gershom published books in Hebrew but his publications also included works of Humanism, Italian literature, Christian theology, Pope Pius II's "Hymn to the Virgin," and state documents. His handsomely printed edition of the Rime — in a veritable coup against Aldus, Soncino had a new and magnificent humanist cursive typeface designed by Francesco Griffo of Bologna; the edition itself was dedicated to Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli's model of the new "prince" — was intended to stand comparison — and thus to compete with — the Aldine Rime printed in Venice in 1501.


Francesco Petrarca.
Opera del preclarissimo poeta Miser Francesco Petrarcha, con li commenti sopra li Triumphi, Soneti, e Canzone . . .
Milan: per Ioanne Angelo Scinzenzeler, 1512. 2 vols. in 1.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Bound with Scinzenzeler's edition of the Sonnets and the Canzone (also from 1512), this reprint of his 1507 edition of the Triumphs is adorned with several high quality woodcuts. The volume is open to the illustration that depicts the Triumph of Death.


Francesco Petrarca.
"Francisci petrarche poete laureati psalmi confessionals . . . ," in Ludolf von Sachsen, Ludolfi Carthusiensis qui et autor fuit vite Christi in Psalterium expositio: in qua subiecte reperiuntur materie: Psalmi penitentiales et confessionales elegantes et devoti Domini Francisci Petrarche poete laureati . . .
[Paris]: Venundatur Parrhisijs in vico Divi Iacobi a Magistro Bertholdo Rembolt et Iohanne Parvo, [10 March 1514].
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Petrarch's penitential psalms continued to circulate widely in print, just as they had in manuscript. Here they appear in a French edition of a northern European commentary on the Psalms of David by Ludolf von Sachsen (1300-1377 or -8).


Francesco Petrarca.
Opera del preclarissimo poeta Misser Francescho Petrarcha con el commento di Misser Bernardo Lycinio sopra li triumphi . . . .
[Venice: Stampadi . . . per Augustino de Zanni, 20 May 1515.]
University of Pennsylvania Library.

"Triumph of Eternity."
Fol. 97 verso.
Fol. 98 recto.

This volume is open to the illustration that adorns the Triumph of Eternity, also called (here entitled "Triumphus Divinitatis"). Such books may have functioned as markers of status for their early owners, but those owners often paid genuine attention to the texts their books contained: they were not simply books which owners were satisfied to use as mere embellishments to a shelf, as a kind of "furniture." In this copy, such attentiveness is indicated by the handwritten additions visible to the coat of arms. Moreover, the initials of Christ have also been added, in a little cartouche, below the initials "IHS" [which stand for "in hoc signo"].


Francesco Petrarca.
Li sonetti canzone triumphi del Petrarcha . . .
[Venice:] Stampadi per Gregorio de Gregorij, . . . May 1519. 2 vols.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

This edition reprints the edition of the Rime printed originally in 1513. Volume 2 is open to the Triumph of Chastity.


Francesco Petrarca.
Le volgari opera del Petrarcha, con la espositione di Alessandro Vellutello de Lucca.
[Venice: Giovanniantonio & Fratelli da Sabbio, August] 1525.
Cornell University Library.

Map insert.

This edition of the Rime is distinguished by the stunning map of Avignon and Vaucluse to which the book is open. The map is an old-fashioned "visual aid" that attempts to give readers of Petrarch's poetry a sense of how to locate Petrarch and Laura in their home environment, to vivify aspects of the Petrarchan text and of Petrarch's life.


Francesco Petrarca.
Il Petrarca, con le osservationi de Messer Francesco Alunno.
[Venice: Stampato . . . per Francesco Marcolini da Forlì, December] 1539.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Frontispiece, with Portrait of Petrarch

Two English women (unless their names represent the single and married names of the same person, "Eliza. Tomlins" and "Eliz. Smallry") — both of them, as their handwriting suggests, of the late eighteenth-century in their dates — owned this copy of a sixteenth-century Italian edition of Petrarch. One of them (if they are indeed two different people) has appended a marginal explanatory note to her copy of this book. It reads, in part: "The famous Petrarch is the original of the kind of little poem called the sonnet, & has fill'd a whole book with them in honour of his Laura . . . "


Francesco Petrarca.
Francischi Petrarchae florentini poetae et oratoris clarissimi poëmata omnia recens quàm emendatissimè edita . . .
Basel: [Oporinus?], 1541.
Cornell University Library.

The book, an anthology containing the Petrarch's Latin works, the pastoral Bucolicum Carmen, the epic Africa, and Book III of his Epistolary, is open to the title-page.


Francesco Petrarca.
Francisci Petrarchae florentini, philosophi, oratoris, et poëtae clarissimi, reflorescentis literaturae latinaeque linguae, aliquot seculis horrenda barbarie inquinatae ac penè sepultae, assertoris et instauratoris, Opera que extant omnia. . .
Basel: excudebat Henrichus Petri, [March 1554]. 4 vols. in 2.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

These volumes — the fourth edition of Petrarch's collected works — are the first to contain his vernacular (Italian) poetry alongside his Latin compositions. Johannes Herold (1514-1567) edited this edition, which was printed in Basel by Sebastian Henricpetri. The image features the beginning of to Petrarch's Latin epic, the Africa, based on the exploits and triumphs of Scipio Africanus in the second Punic War. It is worth pointing out that while the volumes contain over 1400 pages, Petrarch's Italian works occupy fewer than 80.


Francesco Petrarca.
Francisci Petrarchae v. c. de suiipsius et multorum ignorantia, liber . . .
Geneva: Per Isaiam le Preux, 1609.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

This separately-published volume is one of a series that reprinted the texts established for the Basel edition. Le Preux brought them all together in 1610 as a two-volume set of "selections" from Petrarch, and made up a general title-page for the 1610 volumes. Its contents had, however, originally been printed between 1602 and 1610. The portability of this little book is obvious. What is slightly surprising is the elaborately tooled and clasped pigskin binding the volume wears. That binding is evidence, from the early years of the seventeenth century, of the cultural prestige that continued to accrue to Petrarch.


Francesco Petrarca.
Chronica delle vite de pontefici et imperatori romana, composta per M. Francesco Petrarcha . . .
[Venice: Stampato . . . per Maestro Iacomo de Pincida Lecco . . . , 3 December 1507].
University of Pennsylvania Library.


Francesco Petrarca.
Le vite degl'imperadori et pontefici romani, da Messer Francesco Petrarcha . . .
[Geneva (?)]: secondo la copia stampato à Firenze, apud S. Iacobum de Ripoli, anno Domini M.CCCC.LXX.VIII [1478], 1625.
University of Pennsylvania Library.


Two editions of the Vite dating from the early sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reprint a history of Rome's emperors and popes from Julius Caesar (100[?]-44 B.C.E.) to Pius III (Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, 1440-1503, and Pope for a brief period in the last two months of his life). The Vite is one of several works attributed to Petrarch. One might have supposed that the author's death in 1374 would have made even the most credulous of early modern readers suspect the likelihood of his having written anything about a Pope not born until 1440. Yet this work was printed, marketed, and apparently accepted as Petrarch's for many years (like "De vera sapientia"). The Vite's seventeenth-century printer notes that he follows a fifteenth-century printed edition whose authority, by implication, he has no reason to suspect. But printers might have attributed such works to Petrarch merely to promote their sale. No matter: they contributed, as did works whose authorship is now uncontested, to the impression his readers had of Petrarch. They remain worthy of attention for contributing to the ways in which the fourteenth-century author not only survived but was also made -- more or less literally manufactured -- by the works circulated under his name in both manuscript and print.

  Exhibition Introduction | Petrarch and His Milieu | Petrarch in Manuscript | Petrarch in Print
Petrarch and Censorship |Petrarch in Translation | Petrarch and Music