Aretino and the Libertine Tradition

Friday, May 14, 2004–Saturday, May 15, 2004
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Massimo Ciavolella, University of California, Los Angeles and Peter H. Reill, University of California, Los Angeles

co-sponsored with the UCLA Department of Italian,
Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles, and
UCLA Center for Medieval and Rennaissance Studies
In December of 2002 the UCLA Center for 17th- & 18th-Century Studies acquired, for its William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, a major private collection of books by and relating to the Italian writer Pietro Aretino (1492–1556). The collection, rich in early editions of Aretino’s writings, translations (especially into French), and later editions, also includes works by both supporters and detractors of the author, particularly in Italy and France. It is the importance of this acquisition that the conference “Aretino and the Libertine Tradition” celebrates.

Pietro Aretino was one of the most versatile, innovative, and original writers of the Italian Renaissance. Throughout his literary career he excelled in all the important genres of his time, and when he died in 1556 he was undoubtedly one of the most famous writers in Europe. He had friendships with many powerful figures, but his reputation as the “scourge of princes” and the “prophet of sexuality”—a reputation he himself encouraged—over time contributed to his undoing. In the last canto of his Orlando furioso, Ludovico Ariosto praised him as a “divine” writer; while his many enemies and detractors branded him a blasphemer, a pornographer, an assiduous frequenter of prostitutes, and a vile sodomite. Within three years after his death, on the evidence of only two of his works—Le sei giornate and the Sonetti sopra i ‘XVI modi’—his entire literary production was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. The objective had been to condemn him to an actual damnation memorize, but in fact his fame grew ever brighter precisely because of that condemnation.

By the end of the century Le sei giornate and the Modi were among the best known underground books in Europe, and “that notorious ribald of Arezzo,”—as John Milton later describes him—is transformed into one of those “libertines,” condemned by Calvin in 1544, “deprouveues des sens et de raison”: men free from dogmatic-religious constraints and from moral obligations, and therefore able to: “se lâcher la bride, à une licence charnelle, et à mener une vie dissolue.” Not surprisingly, in Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie, the privileged interlocutor—the author hidden behind the description of many gallant encounters—is Pietro Aretino, and the voyeurism of the Sei giornate constitutes the background of the most renowned exploits of the Venetian libertine. This international conference explores the myth of Aretino as a “prophet of libertine literature,” as well as the relationship between culture and pornography from the late sixteenth century to the eighteenth century.