Bembo, Pietro

born May 20, 1470, Venice
died Jan. 18, 1547, Rome

Italian prelate and linguist.

Born into an aristocratic family, he became librarian of St. Mark's Cathedral and was created a cardinal in 1539. After writing lyric poetry in Latin, he turned to the vernacular, producing Italian poems in imitation of Petrarch and an Italian history of Venice. His Discussions of the Vernacular Language (1525) was one of the earliest books to codify Italian spelling and grammar, and it helped establish the Italian literary language. Bembo successfully advocated the adoption of 14th-century Tuscan as a model for literary Italian.

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▪ Italian cardinal and writer
born May 20, 1470, Venice
died Jan. 18, 1547, Rome

      Renaissance cardinal who wrote one of the earliest Italian grammars and assisted in establishing the Italian literary language.

      Of an aristocratic family, Bembo was educated principally by his father, a man of great authority in the Venetian republic. In 1513 the son became secretary to Pope Leo X in Rome. On Leo's death (1521), he retired to Padua. He accepted the office of historiographer of Venice in 1529, and was shortly thereafter appointed librarian of St. Mark's Cathedral. Created a cardinal in 1539, Bembo returned to Rome, where he devoted himself to theology and classical history.

      Bembo wrote Latin lyric poetry of formal excellence and then turned to the vernacular, modeling his poetry on that of Petrarch. His way of making direct imitations of Petrarch was widely influential and became known as bembismo. A collected edition of his Italian poems, Rime, appeared in 1530. His other vernacular works include: Gli Asolani (1505), dialogues on platonic love, the systemization of which influenced Ludovico Ariosto, Baldassare Castiglione, and Torquato Tasso; a history of Venice; and Prose della volgar lingua (1525; “Discussions of the Vernacular Language”). In the Prose, Bembo codified Italian orthography and grammar, essential for the establishment of a standard language, and recommended 14th-century Tuscan as the model for Italian literary language. His view, opposed by those who wanted Latin and by others who wanted a more modern Italian as the model, had triumphed by the end of the 16th century.

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Universalium. 2010.

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