Giovanni Boccaccio

Giovanni Boccaccio was born in 1313, perhaps in Certaldo, the son of an unknown woman and of Boccaccino di Chellino, who married the noble Margherita dei Mardoli the next year. Giovanni was raised in Florence and received a standard urban education. In 1327 his father was appointed head of the Naples branch of the Bardi bank, and Giovanni accompoanied him there. Rejecting a banking career with his father’s firm, however, Boccaccio instead studied law at the University of Naples.

In Naples his father introduced him to the court of King Robert the Wise, and Giovanni soon became familiar with most of its important personalities, including fellow Florentine Niccolò Acciaiuoli and early humanists and friends of Petrarch, such as Cino da Pistoia, Paolo da Perugia, Barbato da Sulmona, Giovanni Barrili and Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro. After moving to Paris in 1332, he began his literary career with poetic works, such as La caccia di Diana (1334–37), Filostrato (1335?), Teseida (1339/40) and Filocolo (1336–39).

Boccaccio returned to Florence in 1341 and moved to Forlì c.1347 in search of patronage. During the 1340s he produced more verse works, including the Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine (1341/42), Amorosa visione (1342/43), Fiammetta (1343/44) and Ninfale fiesolano (1344/45). Following the Black Death in Florence in 1348, Boccaccio began work on the Decameron c.1349 and completed it by 1351. In the later 1350s, he became closely involved with humanism and followed the path of many early humanists as a diplomat, serving Florence on wide-ranging missions.

After their first meeting in October 1350, Boccaccio became a close friend and disciple of Petrarch, following his lead in the study of Greek and Latin literature, and in 1360 began his Genealogia deorum gentilium. Following a failed coup of 1361 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.

Boccaccio’s later works set a more classical standard. They include his De casibus virorum illustrium (The Downfall of the Famous, 1363), De claris mulieribus (On Famous Women), his geographical compendium De montibus…liber (1364) and his Esposizioni sopra la Commedia di Dante (1373). He retired to Certaldo in 1370 and died there on 21 December 1375.

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