Roman Catholic Cardinal. A renowned Italian scholar, poet and literary theorist, Pietro Bembo was an influential figure in the development of the Italian language, specifically Tuscan. His writings assisted in the sixteenth century revival of interest in the works of Petrarch while his ideas were also decisive in the formation of the most important secular musical form of the named century, the Madrigal. Born in Venice to an aristocratic family, his father Bernardo was an ambassador for the Venetian State, and while still a boy Pietro was able to accompany him on many of his travels. One of the places he visited was Florence. There he acquired a love for the Tuscan form of Italian, a love which was to prove so important in literary and musical history. He studied Greek for two years under Lascaris at Messina and afterwards frequented the University of Padua, where he studied philosophy under Pomponazzo. Further travels included two years spent at the Este Court in Ferrara, then a significant literary and musical centre. While there, he met Ariosto and commenced writing his first work, 'Gli Asolani', a dialogue on the subject of courtly love. The poems in this book were reminiscent of Boccaccio and Petrarch, and were widely set to music in the sixteenth century. Bembo himself preferred his poetry to be performed by a female singer accompanied by a lute, a wish which was granted to him when he met Isabella d'Este in 1505, sending her a copy of his book. Back in Ferrara, he experienced a love affair with the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, who was the wife of Alfonso d'Este, after gaining their attention while studying in the named city. He left around the time of Josquin des Prez's hire by Ercole I d'Este as composer to the chapel, and in time to avoid the plague which decimated the city in 1505. Between 1506 and 1512 he lived in Urbino, and it was here that he began to write his most influential work, a prose treatise on writing poetry in Italian, 'Prose della Volgar Lingua', although it was not to be published until much later. In 1513, Bembo accompanied Giulio de' Medici to Rome, where he was soon after appointed secretary to Pope Leo X. On the Pontiff's death in 1521, he retired, with impaired health, to Padua on the request of his lover Ambrogina Faustina della Torre, and there lived for a number of years, during which he continued to write, and in 1525, finally published his famous 'Prose'. In 1529, he accepted the office of historiographer to Venice, and shortly afterwards was appointed librarian of St Mark's cathedral. Assigned as a Venetian senator, he showed in his letters a frivolity bordering pagan morals. The father of several illegitimate children, Bembo was a member of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Pope Paul III created him cardinal deacon in the consistory of December 20, 1538. Originally retained 'in pectore', his name was ultimately published in the consistory of November 10, 1539, with Bembo receiving the deaconry of San Ciriaco alle Terme. Ordained priest when he was sixty nine years of age in 1539, he changed his way of life and renounced the study of classical literature, devoting himself to the study of Patristics and the Scriptures. Administrator of the see of Gubbio from July 29, 1541 until February 18, 1544, he opted for the order of cardinal priests and the title of San Crisogono on February 15, 1542. Administrator of the see of Bergamo from February 18, 1544 until his death, he never received the episcopal consecration nor did he ever visit his dioceses. Opting for the title of San Clemente on October 17, 1544, he remains considered as one of the most recognized poets and humanist scholars of his century. His works include a history of Venice from 1487 to 1513, dialogues, poems, criticisms, letters and what we would now call essays. The Cardinal died at the Roman palace of Marquis Baldassani at Campo Marzo and was buried in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva of the Dominican Friars near the tomb of Pope Leo X.
Bio by: Eman Bonnici