Aretino, Peter

, an author who once raised considerable fame by invective and indecency, was born in 1492, at Arezzo in Tuscany, the natural son of Lewis Bacci by a woman whose name was Tita. In his early years he was employed to bind books, and from looking occasionally into their contents acquired some little learning. He was driven from his native city, for what was perhaps the most harmless of his works, a satire on indulgences, and went to Perugia, where he gave the first specimen of his abominable taste, by altering a picture on a sacred subject. He then walked to Rome, with no effects but his apparel, and there he lost his first situation, in the service of a merchant, by being detected in a theft. He next became a domestic of the cardinal Giovanni, on whose death he obtained an employment in the Vatican under Julius II. and by his orders he was soon after expelled the court, but he contrived to return to Rome and ingratiate himself with Leo X. who bestowed presents on him, and he likewise enjoyed the favour of Clement VII. the successor of Adrian VI. Six infamous sonnets which were written on as many indecent paintings by Julio Romano, and engraved by M. A. Raimondi, occasioned his being again sent out of Rome, It is painful to connect the names of these eminent artists with the productions of Aretino, but there is less cause to wonder at this insult to public decency, when we find that notwithstanding Aretino’s expulsion and character, John de Medici patronised him, and invited him to Milan, where he rendered himself agreeable to Francis I.; and the credit which he had acquired by the friendship of John Medici recommended him to the notice of many of the most celebrated men of the times. From this period he fixed his residence at Venice, and resolved not to attach himself to any patron, but to enjoy his freedom, and to procure his own subsistence by the labours of his pen.

Of his works, it has been justly said by Mr, Roscoe, that whether in prose or verse, sacred or profane, epic or dramatic, panegyrical or satirical, and notwithstanding their great number and variety, not one piece exists which in point of literary merit is entitled to approbation; yet the jcommendations which Aretino received from his contemporaries are beyond example. These would not be worth | recording as praise bestowed on such a character, but they are striking and useful features in the character of an age on which some writers have bestowed great commendations on account of its learning and patronage of learned men. Aretino seems to have been born to sport with the passions of the great, and to exalt and perpetuate the vices of the vulgar. As a proof how well he knew how to manage the former, we may state from his latest biographer the following examples of misapplied patronage. Francis I. not only presented him with a chain of gold, and afforded him other marks of his liberality, but requested that the pope would allow him the gratification of his society. Henry VIII. of England sent him at one time three hundred gold crowns, and Charles V. not only allowed him a considerable pension, but on one occasion placed him on his right hand, and rode with him in intimate conversation. Julius III. gave him a thousand crowns, accompanied with a papal bull, nominating him a knight of St. Peter, to which dignity was also annexed an annual income. These favours and distinctions, which were imitated by the inferior sovereigns and chief nobility of Europe, excited the vanity of Aretino to such a degree, that he expected to be created a cardinal, and actually boasted that he had refused that honour. He assumed, however, the titles of “II Divino,” the “Divine,” and “the Scourge of princes.” Medals were struck in honour of him, representing him decorated with a chain of gold, and on the reverse the princes of Europe bringing to him their tribute. On the other hand, however, he was frequently in danger of his life from the persons he had lampooned, and his literary adversaries frequently employed their pens in exposing his vanity and infamous character.

His death is said to have been hastened by a violent burst of laughter on hearing of an indecent story, respecting his two sisters, who were prostitutes at Venice. This happened in 1557. In his latter days he composed some works of the pious kind, but never appears to have quitted his vices. His pious works were, a paraphrase on the penitential psalms, and another on Genesis, the life of the Virgin Mary, that of St. Catharine of Sienna, and of St. Thomas Aquinas. 1


Gen. Dict. —Moreri. Roscoe’s Leo. Life by Mazzuchelli 3 Padua, 1741, 8vo. Biog. Universelle.