Petrarch's writing

Writing for Petrarch is driven by fecund estethic, graphic ideals and nurtured with a profound feeling of nature. His ample artistic interests do not include only his personal relationship with Simone Martini in Avignon between 1336 and 1344. Among the Italian painters working in Avignon in those year is particularly significant the senese Matteo Giovannetti whose sensitive and loving attention to the earthly scene, the plants, the animal and the open air living represents a figurative embodiment of similar element in Petrarch’s poetry (Petrucci 58-59; Castelnovo 39). For Giovannetti and his entourage writing was not an ornament of the painting but had an autonomous function as a gloss and discursive explanation. Like Giovannetti Petrarch made the choice of an essential, clear, correct and comprehensible writing. To this goal, Petrarch started a graphic and cultural revolution, the humanist tendency to abandon the medieval script “Gothic book hand,” widespread in Northern Europe, to recuperate and renew the Roman littera antiqua, creating the premises for humanist cursive writing, written with rounded letters joined together.

Petrarch was naturally inclined to writing (“natura pronus ad calamum” Sen. VII, 1) as  the substantial and fundamental tool of literary creation and reflective thought (Petrucci 62). Therefore, writing for him is neither a neutral technology to leave to mercenary scribes and scholastic book production; nor simply a personal technique devoted to registering his emotions and the idols of his desire. Above all, it constitutes the ultimate tool to appreciate the borders of human and individual consciousness, and the limits of representation of the self and the other.

He does not conceive it in purely esthetic or ontological terms but as a performative, ethical gesture. As he says in poem 339, whatever he wrote about Laura, is just “breve stilla d’infiniti abissi” (“a little drop from infinite depths”). He goes on to say that the “stilo,” the individual style expressed in writing, does not extend beyond the human mind; in other words, he recognizes how individual consciousness and human reason created through writing cannot transcend the practice that makes them possible. Hence the continuous emphasis and meditation on the practice of writing that pervades the Rvf and, at the same time, the continuous and progressive process of revision of the micro- and macro-text of his collection of poetry.

 It is through writing and reading that Petrarch understands how the divine sign in the human creature implies not only the ontological structure of the self but also its frailty and weakness, which he expresses in his poetry conceived as the language of mutabilitas. Petrarch’s philosophical idea of writing –in which we can see at work an original combination of Platonic and Christian elements– draws him to conceive the Rvf as a life-long project and to postulate that human consciousness and the representation of the other are not reducible to subjectivist approaches or to  esthetic or epistemological problems. For Petrarch they have ethical and metaphysical implications that emerge in the micro and macro structure of the Rvf


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