Medieval European Literature

Italian Renaissance

The growth and development of culture in Europe during the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is known as period of the Renaissance (in French - Renaissance). The Renaissance is a time period of transition from medieval to modern times. In France, in the mid-fifteenth century, elements of the Renaissance just emerged. As for Italy, in the second half of the fourteenth century, the country entered the era of the Renaissance.

The first humanist Francesco Petrarch revived the science of man - studia humanitatis (Cicero's term). Humanists believed that eternal truths are hiden under the cover of poetic invention of ancient literature. They rejected scholastic knowledge and assigned primary importance to ethics, the science of the formation of the human person, based on thoughtful reading Roman authors, with their ideal of human dignity. The defining feature of Italian humanism was proficiency in the classical, in contrast to the medieval, Latin language. Petrarch studied norms of the elegant Latin language from the Roman politician and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero for whose works he tirelessly sought in monastic libraries. In 1345, he discovered the "Letters to Friends" written by Cicero in the Cathedral of Verona. Until then, people knew only the impersonal letters - a letter-treatise of Seneca, Pliny's anecdote letter, an epistle-teaching by Saint Jerome; personal documents as a literary works were considered unthinkable. Letter (epistola) became the leading genre of Renaissance literature. Petrarch who used to mentally talk to Cicero immediately informed Cicero himself about his discovery, writing him a letter,

«'Greetings from Francis to the friend Cicero. I eagerly have read your letters which I have long and diligently searched for, finding them where I least expected. I have heard your voice, Marcus Tullius. Wherever you are, hear the answer that one of your descendants, fond of your name and your glory, are composing. Written in the world of the alive at Verona, on 16 June in the 1345th year after the coming of the God whom you did not know.'

Francesco Petrarch. Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul
Contemporaries appreciated Petrarch for treatises on history and ethics, written in fine classical Latin. As a great poet and scholar of his time Petrarch was crowned with the laurel at Rome in 1341.

The exhibition features a parchment manuscript with one of the foremost Latin treatises of Petrarch “Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul” (De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae). The book is decorated with the four half-length portrait of Petrarch, bearing a likeness to his lifetime images.

Francesco Petrarch. Songbook. Triumphs
Petrarch depreciated the Canzoniere or Songbook, dedicated to Donna Laura but it were the lyrics in the Italian tongue that gave him a place among the immortal classics. But perhaps, the classic Latin "science of man" taught Petrarch to freely express his feelings upon his love of a woman. Stored in the NLR, an elegant fifteenth century manuscript with Petrarch's sonnets is adorned with gold leaf initials.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), the author of the collection of short novellas in Italian «The Decameron», perfectly knew Latin classical authors, studied Greek and wrote a great encyclopedic treatise in Latin about ancient Greece and Rome gods, which he called «On the Genealogy of the Gods of the Gentiles».

Giovanni Boccaccio. The Filocolo
The novel «The Filocolo» relates to the early works of the humanist. The plot of the novel is based on the stories from medieval chivalric romances. It tells of the love of the son of the pagan king of Spain Florio to Catholic Biancifiore, a daughter of a noble Romans. Not wanting this marriage, Florio's cruel father sold the girl to traders, and those - to the Egyptian sultan. Florio, under the name Filocolo, goes on quest of his beloved and, after many adventures, finds her in Alexandria, and via Rome where he was converted to Christianity, returned to Spain.

Stored in the NLR, the great humanistic manuscript of the novel «The Filocolo» was created in Italy in the mid 15th century. Its first sheet is gilded and ornamented with a braided frame with beautiful medallions, cupids and animal images. A half-length portrait of Boccaccio, crowned with a laurel wreath, is painted within the initial letter "M".

Francesco Petrarca. De remediis utriusque fortunae.
Francesco Petrarch. Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul.

1388. Italy (Milan).
Parchment. In Latin.
From the Collection of P. Sukhtelen.
Ital. O.v.XIV.I
Francesco Petrarca. Canzoniеri. Trionfi.
Francesco Petrarch. Songbook. Triumphs.

15th cent. Italy.
Parchment. In Italian.
From the Collection of P. Sukhtelen.
Ital. F.v.XIV.1
Giovanni Bocaccio. Il Philocolo libri 5.
Giovanni Boccaccio. The Filocolo.
Mid 15th cent. Italy.
Parchment. In Italian.
From the Collection of P. Dubrovsky.