Matteo Bandello was a Dominican priest and courtier whose life and novelle reveal the vicissitudes of the tumultuous political environment of sixteenth-century Italy. Bandello, born in Castelnuovo Scrivia in Lombardy, was educated from age twelve by his uncle Vincenzo, vicar general of the Dominican order, at the Milanese monastery S. Maria delle Grazie. He studied law and theology at Pavia, but favored literature, history, and Platonic philosophy. He made his first religious vows in Genoa, probably in 1504.
Cosmopolitan perspectives were opened to him on an inspection tour of mon­asteries throughout Italy with his uncle. In Florence he composed love poetry for "Viola" (Violante Borromeo); at Rome he knew courtesan culture and was introduced to the famous courtesan Imperia; in Naples Matthias Corvinus's widow, Beatrice d'Aragona, became his protector after his uncle Vincenzo died there. Bandello returned to Lombardy, where he befriended humanists and the poets Cecilia Gallerana and Camilla Scrampa and attached himself to the house­hold of Alessandro Bentivoglio and Ippolita Sforza. Enmeshed in the struggle for control of Milan between King Louis XII of France and the Sforza, after the French victory at Marignano (1515), he had to flee to the Gonzaga court at Mantua. He remained there until 1522 as secretary to Isabella d'Este* and com­posed poetry to a second platonic love, "Mincia." After the French withdrawal from Milan, Bandello returned briefly but fled a second time when Spanish troops advanced on the city after the French defeat at Pavia (1525). His house sacked and his books and manuscripts dispersed, he became an itinerant courtier. From 1526 he worked first for Federigo Gonzaga di Bozzolo, then for Giovanni delle Bande Nere while making the acquaintance of Niccolo Machiavelli,* next for Ranuccio Farnese, and by 1528 for Cesare Fregoso at Verona while partic­ipating in intellectual circles at the houses of the Canossa, Saula, and Serego. In 1537 he met Lucrezia Gonzaga and celebrated her in verse; on a subsequent trip to France he dedicated other compositions to Marguerite de Navarre.* When Fregoso died in 1541, Bandello stayed on to serve his widow, Costanza Ran-gone, accompanying her eventually to Bordeaux. In 1550 he was given a ben­efice and lived quietly in France until his death in 1561.
Of significant literary note are Bandello's 240 novelle, composed over many years. They are divided into four parts. The first three were edited by Bandello himself and were published in Lucca by Busdraghi (1554); the fourth appeared posthumously at Lyons (1573). Bandello introduces each tale with a dedicatory letter to a prominent individual; once thought to be authentic biographical in­dicators, these letters are now understood to be mere literary conventions. The tales, rather, convey aspects of real life: the dismantling of the Italian state system, the divisive impact of the Reformation, the encroachment of the Turks in eastern Europe, and the tenor of life across social classes. They draw upon the interest of humanist and vernacular writers in classical literature and ancient and recent history: the rape of Lucretia, the marriages of Henry VIII,* and most famously a version of the story of Romeo and Juliet that served as one of Shakespeare's sources.
T. Griffith, Bandello's Fiction: An Examination of the Novelle, 1955.
Luci Fortunato DeLisle

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

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