|iovanni Boccaccio (also Boccacci) was born on June 16, 1313, to Boccaccino di Chellino, a Florentine banker and an unknown mother.||
The place of his birth is somewhat doubtful. Florence, Paris and Certaldo have all been mentioned by various writers as his native city. Boccaccio undoubtedly calls himself a Florentine, but this may refer merely to the Florentine citizenship acquired by his grandfather. The claim of Paris has been supported by Baldelli and Tiraboschi, mainly on the ground that his mother was a lady of good family in that city, where she met Boccaccio's father. There is a good deal in favour of Certaldo, a small town or castle in the valley of the Elsa, 20 m. from Florence, where the family had some property, and where the poet spent much of the latter part of his life. He always signed his name Boccaccio da Certaldo, and named that town as his birthplace in his own epitaph.
Petrarch calls his friend Certaldese; and Filippo Villani, a contemporary, distinctly says that Boccaccio was born in Certaldo. That Boccaccio was an illegitimate son is put beyond dispute by the fact that an official document, dated November 2, 1360 with which Pope Innocent VI confers to Giovanni, then a Florentine ambassador at his court, the canonicatus to ordain him as a priest specifically mentions his "birth-defect" ("super defectu natalium"), i.e. the fact that he was born of "mother unknown." In any case, Boccaccino officially and without hesitation recognizes Giovanni as his son.
Boccaccio grew up in Florence in the House of San Pier Maggiore, with a few trips to Certaldo in the countryside. Boccaccino marries Margherita de' Mardoli, noblewoman who gave him another son in 1320, Francesco, Giovanni's half-brother. with tender care by his father, a merchant of respectable rank who worked for the banking company "Compagnia dei Bardi". His elementary education was under Giovanni da Strada, an esteemed teacher of grammar in Florence. His father worked for the banking company "Compagnia dei Bardi" and in the 1320s married Margherita del Mardoli, a noblewoman whose family boasted of an ancestral connection with the family of Dante's Beatrice, the beautiful daughter of Folco Portinari, a cousin of Lippa de' Mardoli. Francesco, a half-brother was born in 1320, and thus Giovanni himself could claim to be a distant relative of the great poet that he so admired and celebrated in his writings throughout his life. It is believed that Boccaccio was tutored by Giovanni Mazzuoli and received from him an early introduction to the works of Dante.
Around 1327 whem his father was appointed head of the Neapolitan branch of the Bardi and Peruzzi banking company, Giovanni was moved to Naples. He spent six years there as an apprentice to the bank, but he disliked the profession. He eventually persuaded his father to let him study law at the Studium in the city, where he studied canon law for the next six years. He also pursued his interest in scientific and literary studies.
In the 1330s, through his father who was financial advisor to the king of Naples, Robert of Anjou (known as Robert the Wise), Giovanni was introduced to the French-influenced cultivated society of the court of Naples. There he knew scientists and theologians, men of letters and the law, but it seemed that Boccaccio enjoyed law no more than he did banking. He learned astronomy and mythology and was introduced to Greek language and culture. He read the classical Latin authors, French adventure romances, and Italian poets. His studies allowed him the opportunity to study widely and make good contacts with fellow scholars. In the refined, and learned environment of Naples he matured and became a writer. His early influences included Paolo da Perugia (a curator and author of a collection of myths, the Collectiones), the humanists Barbato da Sulmona and Giovanni Barrili, and the theologian Dionigi da San Sepolcro. His earliest composition is the Caccia di Diana (1334-7), 18 cantos in terza rima chronicling the events of the Neapolitan court under fictitious and allegorical names.
On Holy Saturday 1336 (th 1911 Encyclopædia, in the church of S. Lorenzo, Boccaccio saw and began to love ardently the young noblewoman whom he called Fiammetta in his works. She is said to have been Maria, the married natural daughter of King Robert and the wife of the Count of Aquino, though there is no documentary evidence of her identity. Fiammetta returned Boccaccio's love for a time and was the inspiration for all his youthful prose romances in Italian, including Il Filocolo (1336-9 or c. 1338). He also became the father of two illegitimate children, Mario and Giulio (with Maria?).
Boccaccio became friends of a fellow Florentine, Niccolò Acciaiuoli and benefited from his influence as administrator and perhaps the lover, of Catherine of Valois-Courtenay, widow of Philip I of Taranto. Acciaiuoli later became counsellor to Queen Joan (Giovanna) I of Naples and, evenjtually, her Grand Seneschal.
In Naples Boccaccio began what he considered as his true vocation, poetry. Works that Boccaccio produced in this period include Filostrato and Teseida (the sources for Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and The Knight's Tale, respectively), Filocolo (a prose version of an existing French romance), and La caccia di Diana a poem in terza rima listing Neapolitan women. The period featured considerable formal innovation, including possibly introducing the Sicilian octave to Florence, where it influenced Petrarch.
His father returned to Florence in 1338, havng been reduced to poverty by the bankruptcy of the Bardi. In 1340 he called Giovanni back to Florence from Naples.The death of his step-mother Margherita occurred shortly afterwards. Boccaccio returned to Florence in early 1341, avoiding the plague of 1340 in that city, but he also missed the visit of Petrarch to Naples in 1341. He had left Naples due to tensions between the Angevin king and Florence. Boccaccio continued to work, producing in 1341 the Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine (also known as Ameto) a mix of prose and poems, in 1342 completing the fifty-canto allegorical poem Amorosa visione, and Fiammetta in 1343. The pastoral piece "Ninfale fiesolano" probably also dates from this time.
In 1343 Boccaccio's father re-married to Bice del Bostichi. The children of his first marriage had all died, leaving only Boccaccio, his illegitimate son, so he was gladdened by the birth of another son, Iacopo, in 1344. Boccaccio also became a father again when another illegitimate child, Violante, was born in Ravenna.
In Florence the overthrow of Walter of Brienne brought about the government popolo minuto. It diminished the influence of the nobility and the wealthier merchant classes and assisted in the relative decline of Florence. The city was further hurt in 1348 by the Black Death which killed some three-quarters of the city's population, later represented in his Decameron.
From 1347 Boccaccio spent a great deal of time in Ravenna seeking new patronage and, despite his claims, it is uncertain whether he he was actually present in the plague-ravaged Florence. His step-mother died during the epidemic and his father, as Minister of Supply in the city, was closely associated with the government efforts. His father died in 1349, leaving Boccaccio as heir of what was left of the family fortune, and a household to run and maintain.
Boccaccio's father died in 1349, around the time he began work on the Decameron. The characters he created are notable for their era in that they are realistic, spirited and clever individuals who are grounded in reality (in contrast to the characters of his contemporaries, who were more concerned with the Medieval virtues of Chivalry, Piety and Humility). It is probable that the structure of many of the tales dates from earlier in his career, but the choice of a hundred tales and the frame-story lieta brigata of three men and seven women dates from this time. The work was largely complete by 1352 and it was Boccaccio's final effort in literature and one of his last works in Italian, the only other substantial work was the misogynistic Corbaccio (dated to either 1355 or 1365). Boccaccio revised and rewrote the Decameron in 1370-71. This later manuscript has survived to the present day.
From 1350, Boccaccio, though less of a scholar, became closely involved with Italian humanism and also with the Florentine government. His first official mission was to Romagna in late 1350. He revisited that city-state twice and was also sent to Brandenburg, Milan and Avignon. He also pushed for the study of Greek, housing Barlaam of Calabria and encouraging his tentative translations of works by Homer, Euripides and Aristotle.
From 1350 on, Boccaccio became an emissary of the Florentine government. In October of that year, he was delegated to greet Francesco Petrarch (Petrarca) for the first time as he entered Florence and he had the great man as a guest at his home during his stay. The meeting between the two was extremely fruitful and they became friends from then on, Boccaccio calling Petrarch his teacher and magister.
They met again in Padua in 1351 when Boccaccio was on an official mission to invite Petrarch to take a chair at the university in Florence. Although unsuccessful, the discussions between the two were instrumental to Boccaccio writing Genealogia deorum gentilium, the first edition of which was completed in 1360, then revised up to 1374. This work would remain one of the key references on classical mythology for over 400 years. The discussions with Petrarch also formalized Boccaccio's poetic ideas.
Certain sources also see a conversion of Boccaccio by Petrarch from the open humanist of the Decameron to a more ascetic style that was closer to the dominant 14th century ethos. For example, he followed Petrarch (and Dante) in the unsuccessful championing of an archaic and deeply allusive form of Latin poetry. In 1359 following a meeting with Pope Innocent VI and further meetings with Petrarch, and at some point Boccaccio joined a minor religious order. There is also a persistent but unsupported tale that in 1362 he repudiated his earlier works as profane, including the Decameron.
Following the failed coup in 1361, a number of Boccaccio's close friends and other acquaintances were executed or exiled in the subsequent purge. Not being directly linked to the conspiracy, Boccaccio left Florence for Certaldo, and in 1363 he experienced some sort of religious conversion.
He returned to diplomatic duties for Florence in 1365 with missions to Rome, Venice and Naples, probably completing his Corbaccio that year, and then to Padua and Venice. He undertook a mission to Pope Urban V. When the papacy returned to Rome in 1367 Boccaccio was again sent to Urban, to offer congratulations. He also had diplomatic missions to Venice and Naples.
He met Petrarch one final time in Padua in 1368. On hearing of Petrarch's death on July 19, 1374, Boccaccio wrote a commemorative poem to him, including it in his collection of lyric poems, the Rime.
Of his later works the moralistic biographies gathered as De casibus virorum illustrium (1355-74) and De mulieribus claris (1361-75) were most significant. Other works include a dictionary of geographical allusions in classical literature, De montibus, silvis, fontibus, lacubus, fluminibus, stagnis seu paludibus et de nominibus maris liber (a title desperate for the coining of the word "geography"). He gave a series of lectures on Dante at the Santo Stefano church in 1373 and these resulted in his final major work, the detailed Eposizioni sopra la Commedia di Dante.
His final years were troubled by illnesses, many relating to his great obesity, and he died in Certaldo on 21 December, 1375.
A statue of Giovanno Boccaccio by Odoardo di Odoardo Fantacchiotti in 1845 is in the Loggiato degli Uffizi, Statue degli "Illustri Toscani“, Florence. Fantacchiotti (1845).
(For an exhaustive bibliographical
Consoli, Joseph P. (1992) Giovanni Boccaccio: an Annotated
Bibliography. New York: Garland.)
Works relating to Boccaccio and/or Istria: Sources:
Works relating to Boccaccio and/or Istria: