Italian, 1304 - 1374
Italian poet and humanist. He was the central figure of Italian literary culture in the mid-14th century. The son of an exiled Florentine notary who moved to Avignon in 1312, Petrarch led a peripatetic career as a man of letters. After studying law at Montpellier (1316) and Bologna (1320), he alternated residence between France and the Italian courts until 1353, when he finally settled in Italy. He often acted as an ambassador and orator on state occasions. His work largely initiated the transition from the fragmentary humanism of the late Middle Ages to the more systematic classicism of the Renaissance. His observations on art were sporadic and usually marginal, but they are crucially important for the understanding of the development of a critical vocabulary for art, and for revealing how an appreciation of the visual arts began to be absorbed into the concerns of literary humanism. Petrarch also has an important place in art history owing to his known connections with contemporary artists, the visual interpretation or illustration of his work in the Trecento, and the unusually large number of portraits made of him during or just after his lifetime.
—John Richards, Grove Art © Oxford University Press