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Aretino, Pietro

    Image Credit: Veneto Inside

    Full Name: Aretino, Pietro

    Other Names:

    • Pietro Aretino del Tura

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1492

    Date Died: 1556

    Place Born: Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

    Place Died: Venice, Veneto, Italy

    Home Country/ies: Italy

    Career(s): art critics


    Art critic and writer, collaborator with Vasari; his Letters form a proto-art history. Aretino’s father was a shoemaker, known as Luca del Tura. Aretino himself trained both as a writer and an artist. After time in Venice and Siena, Aretino was in Rome by 1517 where he was attached to the household of Agostino Chigi (1466-1520). There he met Sebastiano del Piombo and Jacopo Sansovino, Raphael, and Michelangelo. He was briefly in the circle of Pope Leo X (1475-1521). Aretino was frequently associated with political tracts, satires and illustrated erotica. In 1525 he was forced to flee Rome because of the publication of the erotic I Modi texts (illustrations by Marcantonio Raimondi after Giulio Romano) and by 1527 he had settled permanently in Venice. There he associated with Venetian artists, including Titian. Beginning in 1538 he published The Letters (Lettere), a biography of his experiences in letter form. Many of the letters pertained to art and artists. Important entries include the 1537 and 1545 entries on Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, and others to Titian. Concluding posthumously in 1557, the Lettere form a valuable commentary on the life and works of renaissance artists. Like other art critics of the period, he employed a personal and somewhat subjective genre of art analysis. Giorgio Vasari used them as a model, in part, for his more important Lives of the Artists (1550). The Lettere employed both analytical criticism, such as that of the Michelangelo painting, and ekphrastic descriptions, such as that praising Vasari’s cartoon of the Fall of Manna. Aretino possessed an small art collection, portions of which are extant in modern collections. Portraits of him exist by Raimondi, Sebastiano del Piombo and Titian, the latter located in the Frick Collection, New York) and a similar likeness by Titian, the Ecce homo, 1543 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. His religious writing and artistic description influenced contemporary artists.

    Selected Bibliography

    [first appearance of the Lettere] I qvattro libri de la hvmanità di Christo. Venice: Per Francesco Marcolini da Forlì il mese di agosto nel, 1538; [first complete set] Del primo [-sesto] libro de le lettere di M. Pietro Aretino. 6 vols. Perugia: Appresso Matteo il Maestro …, 1608-1609 [Vols. 2-6 have the title, “Il secondo libro …” ]; Dialogo di M. Pietro Aretino: nel qvale la Nanna il primo giorno insegna a la Pipa sva figlivola a essere pvttana, [etc.]. Turin: [actually, Venice]: P. M. L. Francesco Marcolini, 1536, English [of part I], The School of Whoredom. London: Hesperus, 2003.


    Kultermann, Udo. Geschichte der Kunstgeschichte: Der Weg einer Wissenschaft. 2nd ed. Frankfurt am Main and Vienna: Ullstein, 1981, pp. 24-6; Burckhardt, Jacob. Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien. Leipzig: E. A. Seeman, 1909. Vol. 1: 178-82 [n.b., Burckhardt does not discuss Aretino as an art historian here]; Land, Norman E. “Pietro Aretino’s Art Criticism,” in The Viewer as Poet: The Renaissance Response to Art. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994, pp. 128-50. The Dictionary of Art 2: 387-88; Menetti, Elisabetta. “Commento.” Aretino, Pietro. Lettere. Rome: Carocci, 2000; Freedman, Luba. Titian’s Portraits Through Aretino’s Lens. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1995.


    "Aretino, Pietro." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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