Authors: Pietro Aretino

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian poet and playwright

Author Works


Il marescalco, pb. 1533 (revised version of the original text of 1527; The Marescalco, 1986)

La cortigiana, pb. 1534 (revised version of the original text of 1525; The Courtesan, 1926)

Lo ipocrito, pb. 1540

La Talanta, pr., pb. 1542

Il filosofo, pb. 1546

La Orazia, pb. 1546 (verse)


Opera nova, 1512

Sonetti lussuriosi, 1524 (The Sonnets, 1926)

Marfisa, 1532

L’Orlandino, 1868


Ragionamento della Nanna et della Antonio, 1534

I sette salmi de la penitenzia di David, 1534

La passione di Gesù, 1534

Dialogo nelquale la Nanna il primo giorno insegna a la Pippa, 1536

Lettere, 1537-1557 (The Letters, 1926)

I quattro libri de la humanità di Cristo, 1538

Il Genesi, 1538

Ragionamento de le Corti, 1538

Vita di Maria Vergine, 1539

Vita di Caterina Vergine, 1539

Vita di San Tomaso Signor D’Aquino, 1543

Le carte parlanti, 1543

The Ragionamente: Or, Dialogues, 1889 (includes all the ragionamenti in English translation)

The Letters of Pietro Aretino, 1967

Aretino: Selected Letters, 1976


The Works of Aretino, 1926 (2 volumes)


Pietro Aretino (ah-RAY-tee-noh), the “scourge of princes,” was a native of Arezzo; according to some sources, his father was a poor shoemaker. He is thought to have studied literature and painting at Perugia in 1511 or 1512. One tradition holds that he was forced to leave his birthplace because he had composed a sonnet deriding indulgences, and a more doubtful tradition says that he was forced to leave Perugia because he had stealthily added a worldly detail to a holy picture. His reputation in later life inspired many such tales.{$I[AN]9810000704}{$I[A]Aretino, Pietro}{$I[geo]ITALY;Aretino, Pietro}{$I[tim]1492;Aretino, Pietro}

Pietro Aretino

(Library of Congress)

About 1516 he went to Rome and soon entered the service of Agostino Chiga, a banker. Later, when he became attached to the court of Pope Leo X, he already had attained some fame as a poet. After the pope’s death in 1521, Aretino waged an unsuccessful fight by means of pasquinades (satirical verses imprinted on fly-sheets and affixed to a certain mutilated statue called “Pasquino”) to promote the election of his patron, Cardinal de Medici, to the papal throne. Although the College of Cardinals chose Adrian VI, Aretino won notorious celebrity. He wisely fled Rome and did not return until the election of Clement VII.

In 1524 he fell into disfavor because of his Sonetti lussuriosi, written to accompany a series of sixteen indecent engravings cut by Marcantonio Raimondi. He was soon forgiven and, returning from another brief exile, began writing his first and possibly finest comedy, La cortigiana, which he appears to have drafted early in 1525. In the same year he almost lost his life when stabbed by a henchman of Marcantonio Giberti: He was wounded in five places, and his right hand was permanently disabled.

He left Rome again, campaigned with Giovanni delle Bande Nere, and eventually reached Venice in 1527. There, in close association with Sansovino and Titian, he began a life that, though subject to vicissitudes, was rich in pleasures and literary achievements. He occupied a house on the Grand Canal, and there he not only composed most of his later works but also found leisure to consort with his large household of mistresses, the “Aretines.” His favorites were Caterina Sandella and Pierina Riccia.

In 1538 he narrowly escaped being expelled from Venice for bestiality, and he made a last visit to Rome to be received by Pope Julius III, who had awarded him a pension. He died on October 21, 1556, probably of a stroke, and was buried in the church of San Luca at Venice. The writings of Aretino reflect his spontaneous vitality. He is regarded as the very embodiment of the sixteenth century Italian spirit: scornful, astute, proudly obscene, and as direct as a stiletto.

BibliographyAndrews, Richard. “Rhetoric and Drama: Monologues and Set Speeches in Aretino’s Comedies.” In The Languages of Literature in Renaissance Italy, edited by Peter Hainsworth et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. A study of Aretino’s plays.Cairns, Christopher. “Aretino’s Comedies and the Italian ‘Erasmian’ Connection in Shakespeare and Jonson.” In Theatre of the English and Italian Renaissance, edited by J. R. Mulryne and Margaret Shewring. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. A study of Aretino’s plays.Cairns, Christopher. Pietro Aretino and the Republic of Venice: Researches on Aretino and His Circle in Venice, 1527-1556. Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1985. Although this study focuses on Aretino’s friends and acquaintances in Venice, it helps readers understand his writings. Bibliography and indexes.Cottino-Jones, Marga. “Rome and the Theatre in the Renaissance.” In Rome in the Renaissance: The City and the Myth: Papers of the Thirteenth Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, edited by P. A. Ramsey. Binghampton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1982. A study of Aretino’s plays.Freedman, Luba. Titian’s Portraits Through Aretino’s Lens. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. Examines the portraits of Aretino done by Titian. Bibliography and index.Lawner, Lynne, ed. and trans. I Modi: The Sixteen Pleasures: An Erotic Album of the Italian Renaissance. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University, 1988. A look at the eroticism of Aretino, Marcantonio Raimondi, Giulio Romano, and Count Jean-Frederic-Maximilien de Waldeck. Reveals some of the motives behind and themes of Aretino’s works.Ruggiero, Guido. “Marriage, Love, Sex, and Renaissance Civic Morality.” In Sexuality and Gender in Early Modern Europe: Institutions, Texts, Images, edited by James Grantham Turner. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. An ethical study; includes bibliography and index.Waddington, Raymond B. “A Satirist’s Impresa: The Medals of Pietro Aretino.” Renaissance Quarterly 42, no. 4 (Winter, 1989): 655. This essay examines the medals of Aretino and his popularity as a writer.Woods-Marsden, Joanna. “Toward a History of Art Patronage in the Renaissance: The Case of Pietro Aretino.” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 24, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 275. Analyzes the relationship between sitter (patron) and artist.
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