By Ioannis Tzortzakakis

Pietro Bembo (1470–1547), the son of diplomat Bernardo Bembo, was born on this day, 20 May. He was a venetian humanist, writer, patron, art collector of antique and contemporary art and cardinal. Educated in Florence, Messina, Padua and Ferrara, his writings follow the tradition of Cicero and Petrarch, while using the Tuscan language instead of Latin, contributing to the Italian vernacular literature. His book Gli Asolani (The Asolians) was a bestseller of that time, for instance; written in dialogic form in the theme of platonic love for Lucrezia Borgia, Alfonso d’Este’s wife.

Bembo is set in the core of Venetian Humanism; influencing artists, i.e. Titian and living in the circle of Aldo Manuzio, while meeting Bramante, Michelangelo and Raphael while he was in Rome. Bembo also appears as a character in Baldassare Castiglione’s celebrated treatise on ideal courtly behavior, Il Cortegiano [The Courtier].Benvenuto Cellini is believed to have casted a medal with his portrait; Raphael, with whom he had been close friends, had made a portrait of his youth, while he has also depicted him as Zoroaster in the fresco The School of Athens.

Further reading

Susan Nalezyty (2017) Pietro Bembo and the Intellectual Pleasures of a Renaissance Writer and Art Collector, Yale University Press.

Titian, Cardinal Pietro Bembo, c. 1540, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Benvenuto Cellini, Cardinal Pietro Bembo, c.1539, medal, bronze, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Raphael, Portrait of the Young Pietro Bembo, c. 1506, oil on wood, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

Raphael, The School of Athens (detail), 1509-1510, East wall, Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican.

Titian, Cardinal Pietro Bembo, 1545, oil on canvas, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.

Attributed to Titian or Jacopo Bassano, Cardinal Pietro Bembo in old age, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

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