Importing Italian Culture


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Francesco Petrarca
Italian, 1304–1374
Les Triomphes Messire Francoys Petrarcque translatez de langage tuscan
en francois nouvellement imprimez à Paris (The Triumphs of Sire Francesco Petrarca translated from the Tuscan language into French, newly printed
in Paris
First edition of 1520
Petrarch Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections,
Cornell University Library


One of the earliest Renaissance humanists, the Tuscan poet Francesco Petrarca enjoyed a great prestige in 16th-century France. Indeed, the poet Maurice Scève was ordered by King François I to search for the burial place of Petrarch’s beloved, Laura, in the churches and cemeteries of Avignon (Provence); Scève was among those present at the tomb’s discovery sometime late in 1533, and wrote an epitaph signed by François.


On the other hand, this woodcut, opening the first edition in French of Petrarch’s Trionfi (1520), is a good example of the process of political appropriation on the part of the French. First of all, Petrarca is given the French title “Messire Petrarcque”; besides, his cult is linked to the territorial ambitions of the Kings of France, as well as the royal patronage of arts by Louis XII (here portrayed entering Milan in 1499, or Genoa in 1507) and then François I. The royal entries into Italian cities were largely inspired by Petrarch’s poems: in a tour-de-force, the triumphs of the Poets became the triumphs of the French Kings!