Such Love I Don’t Envy!

Francesco Petrarca, Il Petrarca (Lyons, 1550) PQ4476 .B50

Francesco Petrarca, Il Petrarca (Lyons, 1550) / Whitaker Fund / PQ4476 .B50

If you find yourself in the grips of unrequited love this Valentine’s Day, you might seek company with the verse of Francesco Petrarca, esteemed lyric poet of early Renaissance Italy. Petrarca (often known as Petrarch in English) wrote that he first spotted his muse-to-be Laura in church, at an Easter mass in 1327. Her glowing beauty and evident virtue immediately overwhelmed him. She quickly became the heart (!) of hundreds of his poems. The title page from the pocket edition at left (printed in France by Jean de Tournes) shows the profiles of Petrarch and Laura: he gazes dreamily at the wondrous beauty before him, while she follows Cupid’s arrow with her eyes. A previous owner of the volume has commented with a manuscript annotation above: “tel amour n’envie,” “such love I don’t envy.”

The book contains Petrarca’s songs about Laura that form his Canzoniere, as well as his poems known as the Trionfi or Triumphs. Laura’s true identity has never been confirmed, although she may well have been Laure de Noves of Avignon, who was born in 1310 and died in 1348 during the Black Plague. The name Laura conveniently coincides with the Italian words for laurel and breeze, both particularly poetic.

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