Who Is Francesco Petrarch? The Amazing Poet


Who Is Francesco Petrarch?

Born in 1304 in what is now the region of Tuscany, Italy, Francesco Petrarca, known simply in English as Petrarch, was a poet and one of the founders of Renaissance humanism. Renaissance humanism was a movement that blossomed out of the “dark ages” (a concept which Petrarch actually developed) and was characterized by the revitalized interest in classical antiquity such as the culture, science, and arts of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

The hallmark of humanism is the renewed appreciation for humanities such as philosophy, poetry, art, and history. This is easily seen if you happen to stroll through an art museum and mark the differences between medieval art and Renaissance art, where much of the art from the Renaissance is more naturalistic, especially anatomically, than its predecessor.

The Renaissance of course did not only change the way of painting. Literature and poetry changed as well. In fact, Petrarch’s works along with those of another significant Italian poet of the time, Boccaccio, were the foundations of the Italian language as we know it today.

Who Is Francesco Petrach?
View of Mont Ventoux in southern France.

Who Is Francesco Petrarch: Origins

When he was young, Petrarch was urged by his father to study law, which he did for many years. Petrarch later considered these years to be wasted since he had always been interested in pursuing Latin literature. He also had an interest in traveling for the fun of it, essentially becoming one of the world’s first tourists. One of his most notable journeys was his climb up Mont Ventoux, the summit of which is over 6,000 feet tall. He apparently was inspired to climb this particular mountain because he had heard that no one had ever climbed it before.

Despite having two children, Petrarch never married, his true loves rather being literature, poetry, and most particularly, a woman named Laura. He wrote a wide variety of essays, scholarly works, and even wrote letters to long-dead historical figures that he admired such as Cicero and Seneca. He primarily wrote these works in Latin.

Laura de Noves.

One of the saddest aspects of Petrarch’s life was his lasting and intense love for a woman named Laura. He spotted her one day in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon located in southeastern France. He was so taken by her beauty, her long golden hair, the noble air around her, that it would be impossible for him to forget her from then on.

The Details

He felt so strongly for her that he wrote more than 300 sonnets and 350 or so poems about her. It is believed that Petrarch never actually met Laura or at least had very little interaction with her since she was already married. His love for her was hopeless but it becomes even more so when Laura died of the bubonic plague which was ravaging Europe, especially Italy, at the time. After her death, utterly distraught, he wrote even more poems about her, perhaps more ardently than before.

Out of Petrarch’s two children, his son died of the plague while his daughter, Francesca, and her daughter, came to live with him in the city of Venice in an attempt to avoid the sickness. In the late 1360s, they then moved to Arqua, a small town in which he spent his final years. He died there in his home at the age of 70 in 1374.

His tomb remains there and can still be seen today. Interestingly, through recent forensic studies on the skeleton that has been exhumed from Petrarch’s tomb, it is nearly certain that the skeleton is indeed Petrarch’s, however, the skull is not according to DNA testing. The skull is actually from a female who lived before Petrarch was even born. It is believed that the tomb may have been ransacked by robbers during the 1600s, and scientists have since been searching for Petrarch’s true skull.

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