FRANCESCO PETRARCA, 1304-1374
“Babylon Sonnets,” Canzoniere, nos. 136, 137, 138
Florence, ca. 1460-1470
MS 873, ff. 43v-44r
Throughout his life, Petrarch had a problematic relationship with the papal court in Avignon. Three sonnets of the Canzoniere (nos. 136, 137, 138) vehemently condemn what Petrarch considered to be the new corrupt Babylon. In this collection of humanist texts, the title of the sonnets on f. 43r (written above “Fiamma dal cielo,” in red ink) reflects Petrarch's harsh words in the poetry: “Sonetti del Petrarcha contro alla pompa della corte di Roma” (“Sonnets by Petrarch against the extravagance of the court of Rome”).
The papacy (especially in the 16th century) was obviously not pleased, and in 1559, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum of Pope Paul IV prohibited the sonnets from being read. Numerous manuscripts show the effects of the Index, including Beinecke MS 706, which has ink frames around the sonnets. There are also examples in printed books, such as the 1552 and 1595 editions of the Canzoniere elsewhere in this exhibition.
It is interesting to note that the manuscript was owned by a tailor and cloth merchant in Florence in late 15th or early 16th century. On f. 42r, he wrote: “Questo libro è di Mo Giovanni detto Penello sarto et rigatiere buono maestro, chi lo truova lo renda perché è buono compagnio in Firenze.” (“This book is owned by Giovanni called Penello, tailor and good master seller of cloth; whoever finds it, return it because you are a good friend of Florence.”) Not only did he enjoy the anti-Babylon sonnets, he obviously was also delighted by the playful drawing on f. 44r.