Guest Author - Christine Sharbrough
Boccaccio, Dante, and Petrarch were writers during the 1300s. Their works influenced artworks in the Renaissance tremendously. Dante’s Divine Comedy was important as one of the first major works of literature not written in Latin, but in Italian. He believed that how you first learn to express yourself is your most eloquent form of speaking. This thought jibed with the Renaissance artists’ view of depicting the world as everyone saw it – not as an idealized view but as it truly was. It was a world easily recognizable to the common man.
Petrarch trained as a lawyer but traveled as an ambassador. He became very learned in philosophy and Christian theology, particularly favoring the ideas of St. Augustine who believed that man’s salvation relied on himself, not god. This fed the second tenet of the Renaissance which was humanism. Humanism was based on the man being the center of the focus of the world not as was thought in the Middle Ages, God.
Boccaccio was also trained as a lawyer but decided to write instead. (Doesn't say much about the law profession, even back then) His two best known works are Decameron and Genealogy of the Gods. Because of the subjects about which he wrote – abuses of authority, people behaving badly, even priests behaving badly, his writings were frowned upon by the authorities both in the civil systems and the church. On more than one occasion, his books were sought for burning. Yet, they have survived to this day. They were appealing to the Renaissance populace because he wrote about people in everyday life doing everyday things. They were easily recognizable to the common man.
These three authors created vivid tapestries in the imaginations of both the general population and in the artists of the times. Many of their works as a result, show up as imagery in works of art of the time: paintings, sculpture, numismatics, and bas relief.
Whether the work is depicting a story from the Christian bible of angels, saints, the Godhead, or Virgin and Jesus or the pantheon of pagan gods – the figures depicted are likely influenced by the literature of the day. Remember, there was no television, no internet, and no telephone. People’s experiences and what they read were the sole influences of the time. Therefore, artistic license aside, much of what was in these works was representative of what was happening in their world. If you are stuck defining what you see – look to the literature. It often will provide just the clues you need.