Biography and Autobiography in the Italian Renaissance

Martin McLaughlin

in Mapping Lives

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780197263181
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734595 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Centenary Monographs

Biography and Autobiography in the Italian Renaissance

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During the period of 1300–1600, autobiography and biography flourished in Italy despite the controversial thesis of the ‘rise of the individual’ during the Italian Renaissance. In the same period, a typology of biographical works emerged distinguishing the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Italy. These three strands of biography are: collection of lives, a De viris illustribus tradition, revived in Petrarch's work of the same name and inspired by Classical lives of famous rulers, by medieval Viri illustres, and by famous writers and artists; individual biographies, again either of a single ruler or of an individual, and once more derived from Classical models, such as Boccaccio's De vita et moribus Francisci Petrarcchi and Trattatello in laude di Dante; and autobiography, which was pioneered by Petrarch through his Secretum, a purportedly secret dialogue in which St. Augustine was the subject. This chapter discusses distinctive examples of the three strands of biography, with emphasis on the biographies and autobiographies of the writers. It charts the rise and principal developments of these genres during 1350 to 1550.

Keywords: 1300–1600; autobiography; biography; Italy; Italian Renaissance; biographical works; collection of lives; De viris illustribus

Chapter.  13844 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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