Bembo, Pietro
(1470-1547)
   Venetian humanist and cardinal, noted for his lyric poetry, his editions of earlier Italian authors, his classical scholarship, and his excellent style in both Latin and the Tuscan vernacular. Born to patrician parents and sent as a youth to study in Florence, Rome, and Bergamo under a number of distinguished humanists, including the Venetian Ermolao Barbaro, he also went to Sicily to study Greek under Constantine Lascaris, whose Greek grammar he edited for publication. He became a leading representative of the purist movement in Latin composition known as Ciceronianism, a viewpoint developed in his De imitatione / On Imitation (1513) but opposed by some contemporary humanists, most notably Erasmus of Rotterdam. Bembo was close to the humanists and Neoplatonic philosophers who dominated the intellectual life of Florence in the late 15th century. In his own writings he espoused Neoplatonism. He emphasized the concept of Platonic love in his vernacular dialogues Gli Asolani / The Asolans (1505). For several years beginning in 1506, he lived at the elegant and highly intellectual court of Urbino. His interest in Platonism is reflected in the Book of the Courtier by his friend Baldassare Castiglione, a dialogue that is set in the court at Urbino and presents Bembo as a defender of Platonic love against the misogynistic contempt of women expressed by several of the characters.
   Bembo's pure Latin style (and his aristocratic connections) in 1514 secured for him a position as Latin secretary to the Medici Pope Leo X. His efforts to attain higher church offices were disappointed, and in 1519 he moved to Padua. He spent most of the 1520s and 1530s living at Padua and Venice. Despite his reputation for writing elegant Ciceronian Latin, he was also interested in vernacular literature. In 1501 and 1502 he published with the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius critical editions of the poems of Petrarch and Dante's Divine Comedy, and both his edition of Petrarch and his own poems promoted the growth of Petrarchism. An important product of his interest in vernacular literature was his Prose della volgar lingua /Prose Works on the Vernacular Language (1525). In it he discussed the relative merits of writing literary works in Latin and in Italian and also defended the excellence of the Tuscan dialect as Italy's literary language. His views on language had great influence on contemporary authors. The poet Ariosto, for example, revised his epic poem Orlando furioso in accord with the standards set forth by Bembo. Bembo's Rime / Collected Poems (1530) exemplified this ideal. In 1529 Bembo became historian and librarian to the Venetian Republic. He produced Historia Veneta, 1487-1513, a continuation of a work by an earlier author. It was published posthumously in both Latin and his own Italian translation.
   Although his philosophical works, especially Gli Asolani, upheld the asexual and purely spiritual ideal of Platonic love, which was also attributed to him in Castiglione's Courtier, in real life Bembo had a number of lovers, including the woman to whom he dedicated Gli Asolani, Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI. He was consistent in regarding women as fully human persons deserving respect, a view also attributed by Castiglione to his character "Bembo." Bembo took a vow of chastity in 1522 in order to preserve his eligibility for benefices, but from 1513 until her death in 1535, he maintained an enduring connection with a woman with whom he had three children. Under Pope Paul III, Bembo was promoted to the rank of cardinal, ordained to the priesthood, and made a bishop. The influence of one of his female admirers, the aristocratic and highly intellectual poet Vittoria Colonna, probably had much to do with his sudden advancement. This relationship, unlike some of the others, seems to have been purely spiritual and was based on mutual interest in Petrarchan style and Neoplatonic philosophy. Bembo spent much of these last years at Rome, where he played an active role in curial affairs.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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