Pietro Aretino, the scourge of princes

He was laughing so much about the joke about his sisters that he fell from the seat and died: An „incredible and ironic“ end for one of the most biting writers of the 16th century who is buried in the cemetery of San Luca in Venice. (Today a residential building is standing on top of the cemetery, where also the gost of Pietro is still spooking!)

Source: Wikipedia – Pietro Aretino painted by Titian

Young Pietro …

His last name reveals that Pietro came from Arezzo in Umbria. We don’t know a lot about his father, but his mother was different times a model for pictures of the Virgin Mary. Pietro was very proud about that.

When he was only 12 years old he left his home for Perugia and had to leave the city harum-scarum when he played an unusual prank: He had painted another mandolin in a painting of the Virgin Mary.

Snappy writings in Rome

Pietro disappeared for a few years from history (maybe he was a barkeeper, or a street musician or a galley slave?) until he appeared again in the eternal city where he worked for the banker Agostino chigi who welcomed artists and intellectuals in his house.

In Rome there was (and still is today) a statue with the name Pasquino on which the Romans attached funny and satiric comments on the events of the day. That’s the reason why these writings were called pasquils. Pietro to began to publish biting comments, becoming famous in the whole city and starting to be a guest at the table of Agostino Chigi.

Now, when Pope Leo X died and Adrian IV was named new Pope (a Dutchman) against whom Aretino had published different pasquils, Pietro had to leave the eternal city and became the official poet at the court of the Gonzaga in Mantova. He didn’t live there for a long time, as Adrian IV died and thus he could turn back to Rome.

Source: Wikipedia – Pasquino in Rome

Gossip makes money

Francesco Berni wrote about Pietro:

He earns his living by publishing infamous blasphemes. He has a sharp mouth and knows every compromising anecdote in this city. […] Everyone fears his satiric vein and he loves to hear himself be called a cynic and shameless blasphemer.

Actually, Pietro soon asserted that the literary activity was an unlimited source of money: When he praised someone publicly in his writings he was very well paid for it and if that someone would not pay him, he would reveal some private details and scandals in revenge.

Moving to Venice …

After an attack on his life, Aretino moved to Venice where he rented a house along the Grand Canal and held his own court. He called the most important names of the 16th century his friends, like Titian (who painted him 6 times!) and Jacopo Sansovino.

His writings though were not only snappy, but also licentious and pornographic: Imagine that his Dialogues (Courtesans) were printed and reprinted several times!

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