Penn Libraries Events & Exhibitions

Not all of Petrarch's readers could read Italian or Latin. Others found him through translations into other European languages that quickly became available. Versions of his works are displayed here in French, Spanish, and German, languages into which it is easy to expect Petrarch soon to have been translated; and — a bit more surprising — Czech. His Latin Africa in Italian ottava rima is a reminder than, even in the Italian peninsula, a writer using two languages might not reach Italians who knew only one. Musical settings of Petrarch's poems exhibit yet another form of "translation."

The 1567 Spanish-language version of Petrarch's Rime, translated by Salomon Usque Hebreo and the Italian-language edition of his Rime issued in 1503 by Gershom Soncino's press at Fano suggest another aspect of Petrarch's appeal across borders perhaps less hard and fast than they now seem. Petrarch took only minor orders but was still part of the Church. Yet a later Jewish translator, like an earlier Jewish printer, found his work attractive enough — whether or not its author had been a churchman — to warrant investments of money, time, and intellectual effort. Moreover, the poet's stature allowed Spain's "Rey Catolico" to give his privilege to the "Hebreo's" translation despite the Jewish identity of the translator.

One more form of "translation," unemphasized in an exhibition that concentrates on Petrarch rather than his followers, is suggested by Alvar Gòmez's Spanish versions of some of Petrarch's sonnets printed in an edition of Jorge de Montemayor. Wide dissemination of Petrarch's work in both manuscript and print, as well as the high value contemporaries and immediate successors placed on it, quickly made it a model for other writers. In England (entirely unrepresented here), Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, wrote poems deeply influenced by Petrarch generally and occasionally imitative of one or another of his poems specifically. Writers throughout Europe treated him the same way. Petrarch become a well into whose limitless resources writers could dip at will without in any way diminishing his ability to nourish other writers as well as themselves. Gòmez's versions of Petrarch permit the 1580 Antwerp Montemayor to locate that writer among all those who drank of Petrarch before heading off on their own. It gestures at an altogether different exhibition, one not "just as big as this one" but even bigger. Petrarch is only one author. The number of writers he influenced is legion.

But even one writer can be limitless, as Petrarch's followers and imitators knew. Here is a taste of Petrarch as his works begin to circumnavigate the globe.




Francesco Petrarca.
[De remediis utriusque fortunae. Czech. 1501.] Franciskus Petrarcha.
[Prague: Lita Bozijeho Tisyczijeho Pietisteeho Prwnijeho, 1501.]
Cornell University Library.

This edition, a Czech-language edition of De remediis utriusque fortunae from the very beginning of the sixteenth century, has been translated by Rehor Hrubý (known as Gregorius Gelenius in the Latinized form of his name; ca. 1460-1514). Petrarch's works circulated in the Slavic east as well as the Roman west and Germanic north. His themes — as is indicated by the highly conventional title-page illustration of Fortune's Wheel to which the book is open — were familiar to a wide European audience.


Francesco Petrarca.
Triomphos de Petrarca: translacion de los seys triumfos de Francisco Petrarca de toscano en castellano . . .
[Seville: en casa del jurado Juan Varela: corrigida y emendada de algunos deffectos que antes tenia, 5 September 1532].
University of Pennsylvania Library.

This 1532 edition reprints an earlier Spanish version of the Triumphs printed in 1526. The text is in verse, translated by Antonio de Obregón y Cerecedo (16th century), accompanied by the commentary of Bernard Ilicini (that is, Bernardo Lapini, fl. 1475). The volume is open to the Triumph of Fame.


Selections from Petrarch's De remediis utriusque fortunae appear in Niclas von Wyle's anthology of translations, a stunning exemplar of an illustrated German sixteenth-century book. Compare the treatment of Fortune's Wheel in the Prague 1501 Czech-language translation of De remediis. Show-through from the too heavily inked verso of the 1536 Augsburg edition slightly mars the effect of the woodcut but, if one makes allowances for the problems caused by sixteenth-century technological deficiencies, this illustration can be recognized as a witty, precise, and merciless depiction of the fate of those who trust to rise by Fortuna's grace.


Francesco Petrarca.
Toutes les evvres vulgaires de Francoys Petrarque . . .
Avignon: Imprimerie de Barthelemy Bonhomme . . . , 1555.
Cornell University Library.

Vasquin Phileul (1522-ca. 1582) translated the Canzoniere into French, relying on the arrangement of Alessandro Vellutello (16th century). The Triumphs occupy a fourth book. (Vellutello's commentary is used, for instance elsewhere in this exhibition, but that book is open to a map, not the commentary.) As the opening to "The first book of Laura" makes clear, Phileul guides his readers' understanding by noting the "argument" of each sonnet.


Francesco Petrarca.
De rebvs memorandis: Franciscus Petrarcha der Hochgeleert und weitberümpt Orator vnnd Poet von allerhandt fürtrefflichen Handlungen so sich von Anbegin der Welt wunderbarlich zügetragen unnd begeben haben, wol wirdig dass sie in ewige Zeit nimmer in Vergess gestellt dergleichen auch in Teutscher Spraach vor nie gesehen gehört noch geredt worden . . .
Frankfurt-am-Main: Bey Christian Egenolffs seligen Erben, 1566.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Page 1. Petrarch's Introduction.
Life of Appius Claudius.

Like Niclas von Wyle's translations from Petrarch, Boccaccio, and others, this German translation of De rebus memorandis is an exceptionally elaborate piece of bookmaking. Its title-page is printed in red and black and each of the books into which Petrarch's text is broken is preceded by a woodcut. The book is open to a tailpiece and highly wrought initial. These adornments are indicative of the cultural significance that sixteenth-century German readers attached to such texts as Petrarch's.


Francesco Petrarca.
De los sonetos, canciones, mandriales y sextinas del gran poeta y orador Francisco Petrarca. Traduzidos de Toscano por Salomon Usque Hebreo . . .
Venice: En casa de Nicolao Bevilaqua, 1567.
Cornell University Library.

Another issue of this same translation into Spanish of the Rime, also dated 1567, goes undisplayed. It identifies the translator as Salusque Lusitano (i.e., "from the Lusitanian, or Spanish, peninsula"). This is the same name by which the dedication to Alexander Farnese (Prince of Parma and commander of King Philip II of Spain's armies in the Low Countries) is signed, both in that issue and in this one. But the title-page of this copy calls the translator Salomon Usque Hebreo (i.e., "the Jew"; fl. 1567). The book nonetheless appears, as the title-page verso notes, "Con Privilegio del Rey Catolico" (he is listed alongside two noble ladies). That, and the attentive reading this book has received — indicated by the extensive marginal notes written in the margins of the leaves to which the book is open — suggest that a Jewish translator apparently posed no serious issues even three quarters of a century after a reunited Spain had expelled its Jews. The Bevilaqua family of printers had a long history of involvement with Petrarchan texts; see, e.g., the third, 1503 edition of his collected Latin works.


Francesco Petrarca.
L'Africa del Petrarca in ottava rima, insieme col testo latino. Fedelissimamente tradotta da M. Fabio Maretti, gentilhuomo Senese . . .
Venice: appresso Domenico Farri, 1570.
Cornell University Library.

One hardly thinks of Petrarch as needing translation into Italian — but of course his epic Africa, composed in Latin, was not immediately accessible to Italianate readers who lacked a reading knowledge of the older language. In 1570, Fabio Maretti "most faithfully" translated three of the poem's nine books into Italian ottava rima. This was the verse form which Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) had established as the standard for Italian romance and epic in his mid fourteenth-century poems, Il filostrato and Teseida. Its stature as the appropriate verse form for epic had been further solidified by both Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533), in Orlando furioso (1516), and Torquato Tasso (1544-1594), in Gerusalemme liberata (1581). Anglophone readers may know the form best from its use by Byron (1788-1824) in Don Juan (1819-1824.) Farri printed his Italian-language translation of the Africa alongside Petrarch's Latin.


Jorge de Montemayor, 1520?-1561.
Los siete libros de la Diana . . .
Antwerp: En casa de Pedro Bellero, 1580.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

This book contains Montemayor's Diana, Alcida y Sylvano, and Piramo y Tisbe, and it concludes with his sonnets. The sonnets, however, are preceded by the Spanish-language translation, by Alvar Gómez (b. ca. 1488), of Petrarch's Triumph of Love. Gomez's translation is the only work not by Montemayor in this book. Its presence seems intended to make clear to any reader the literary genealogy of Montemayor's sonnets, rooted in Petrarch's, that conclude this volume.


Francesco Petrarca.
Les ouevres amoureuses de Pétrarque, traduites en françois, avec l'italien à costé, par le Sieur Placide Catanusi.
Paris: Chez Estienne Loyson, 1669.
University of Pennsylvania Library.

Petrarch's Italian faces Catanusi's translations into French prose. The volume is intended to demonstrate, as Catanusi (n.d.) writes in "Aux Lecteurs," why "for more than three centuries this poet has been esteemed throughout the world . . . by the greatest Princes of Europe." The "extraordinary" honors he received even "astonished himself." Not only Princes but also "les Gens de lettres" ("men of letters") regard him highly, Catanusi adds. Correct then, he remains correct now. His is surely the right note on which to conclude an exhibition that celebrates the moment when Petrarch's works embark on their eighth century.

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