One of the more versatile and prolific writers in the Italian vernacular, Pietro Aretino made a significant impact on the literary, political, social, and artistic worlds of sixteenth-century Italy. Born in Arezzo, Italy, Aretino came under the protection of the nobleman Luigi Bacci at an early age, where he grew up in a cultivated atmosphere and probably received occasional lessons. Aretino contin­ued his unconventional humanist education in Perugia under the protection of the humanist Francesco Bontempi, coming into contact with men of letters, intellectuals, and artists and publishing his first collection of works in 1512. In 1517 Aretino went to Rome under the patronage of Agostino Chigi and sub­sequently under Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, later elected Pope Clement VII. At the court of Rome, Aretino developed his skill at political and clerical gossip in the form of pasquinades and lampoons. During his stay there, Aretino also drafted La cortegiana (The courtesan), in which he satirized the papal court and Baldesar Castiglione's* manual for courtly behavior, Il cortegiano (The Court­ier). While Aretino is frequently described as an anticlassical, antihumanistic, and scurrilous author who proudly boasted of never having studied Latin, La cortegiana reveals a rich heritage of sources, including Virgil, Desiderius Eras­mus,* and the contemporary humanistic treatise. In 1524 Aretino had to briefly flee Rome owing to his publication of a series of erotic sonnets to accompany sixteen pornographic engravings designed by Giulio Romano.* During this pe­riod, Aretino was successfully presented to Francois I,* king of France, who in 1533 sent Aretino a golden chain.
After practically being assassinated on the order of Bishop Giberti, who had been offended by Aretino's writings, Aretino left Rome in 1525 and went to Mantua for a brief period under the patronage of Federico Gonzaga II,* the marquis of Mantua, where he composed the satiric comedy II marescalco (The Farrier). Aretino then took permanent refuge in Venice, where he gained security with the protection of the doge, international respect, and a network of contacts with the Venetian patriciate as he consolidated his power with his influential publications. Amid his literary output, Aretino also gave voice to his caustic version of "truthful" political reporting in the form of satire and knowledgeable commentary on the contemporary political scene in the local broadsheets. In 1534 Aretino published the first part of I ragionamenti, a series of dialogues in which prostitutes vividly discuss their profession. Like many of his other works, this play interweaves literary and historical plots with a satirical target as it parodies the literary form of the dialogue and Neoplatonic theories then in vogue as embodied in Pietro Bembo's* Gli Asolani. Aretino also composed religious works that appear to reflect the current religious taste that responded to the atmosphere of the religious Reformation with its restlessness, need for rehabil­itation, and desire for renewed personal faith.
Much of Aretino's fame comes from his collection of letters published at intervals beginning in 1537. The letters, which show a mixture of gossip, flat­tery, praise, and criticism as they simultaneously document the political and cultural life of the time, received a very wide circulation. While outwardly they seem spontaneously written, they are actually well-planned and composed set pieces that combine historical truth with literary fiction. Owing to Aretino's acknowledged lack of Latin culture, critics have tended to dismiss his letters from the long Latin tradition from which they derive. Many of these letters contain insightful comments on the figurative arts, and Aretino himself be­friended several artists, including Titian,* from whom he commissioned his portrait and whose career he actively promoted, helping to spread the artist's reputation. In response to Aretino's artistic expertise, Ludovico Dolce made Aretino one of the protagonists in his important sixteenth-century treatise on painting, memorializing his artistic knowledge and career.
Because of his influential letters, lewd works, never-ending desire for prestige, and notoriety as revealed in his sobriquet, the "Scourge of Princes," coined by Ludovico Ariosto* in Orlando Furioso in 1532, Aretino's reputation as a writer has frequently been underrated. His language, however, reveals a humanistic learning of the arts and letters, and his comedies uncover literary myths through their historical satirical targets, which he often reinforced with classical models. Because of Aretino's responsiveness to public demand and knowledge of the contemporary literary scene, his works found wide readership.
P. Aretino, Selected Letters, trans. George Bull, 1976.
C. Cairns, Pietro Aretino and the Republic of Venice, 1985.
Mary Pixley

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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