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Pietro Aretino

Scourge of Princes

Portrait of Aretino by Titian

His literary talent, his clear and sparkling style, his varied observation of men and things, would have made him a considerable writer under any circumstances, destitute as he was of the power of conceiving a genuine work of art, such as a true dramatic comedy; and to the coarsest as well as the most refined malice he added a grotesque wit so brilliant that in some cases it does not fall short of that of Rabelais. Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, 1855.

A native of Arezzo in Tuscany (like his good friend Sansovino), Aretino (1492-1556) was the first man to run a literary protection racket – princes and cardinals paid him not to write about them. Like Sansovino, he came to Venice in 1527 as a refugee from Rome, after a career smearing the reputations of cardinals (paid for by Giulio de’ Medici, when he wanted to be elected pope), publishing erotic sonnets—openly bisexual, he is given credit for inventing modern literary porn—and surviving an assassination attempt by a bishop.

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Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Images by PD Art