A journey to discover the origins of la bella lingua would not be complete without a stop in the very heart of Tuscany; the village of Certaldo Alto, a well-known medieval village located halfway between Firenze and Siena. According to tradition, this was the place where the third and last “Florentine Crown of the Italian Language” – namely, the great Giovanni Boccaccio – was born back in the summer of 1313.
Just as it was the case with Dante’s Commedia and Petrarch’s Canzoniere, it is really hard to underestimate the far-reaching influence of Boccaccio’s most perfect masterpiece: not only would his Decameron have a great impact on the development of Italian language and literature, it would also affect European culture as a whole (for example, by serving as an important structural model for Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales). Written in the Florentine vernacular and told by the viewpoint of ten young men and women who take refuge in a villa outside Florence to escape the plague of 1348, the one hundred novellas that constitute the Decameron offered an unprecedented use of realistic dialogue and everyday language, as well as a real slice of life in the Middle Ages. Whereas the 16th century scholar Pietro Bembo recognized Petrarch as the model for Italian poetry, when it came to prose nobody seemed worthier to him for this role than Boccaccio.
Even though Boccaccio would soon move to Naples to continue his studies, he would never forget about his Florentine heritage. On the contrary, Dante and Petrarch would become great sources of inspiration for him in the years to follow: he would not only write treatises and commentaries about the two masters’ work, he would also give the very first public lectures on the Inferno and copy down by his own hand as much as three manuscripts of Dante’s Comedy (just think that it was precisely Boccaccio who first talked about it as “Divine”). At the same time, in the year 1350 he would meet Petrarch in person for the first time and start to correspond with him.
Following a lifetime of literary achievements and public engagement between Napoli and Firenze, Boccaccio would eventually and abruptly fall from grace during the 1360s, when some people connected to him were accused of conspiring against the Florentine Republic. The writer would then spend most of his old age back in his native Certaldo, in the house on present-day Via Boccaccio n. 18, the one where – according to sources – he would eventually die of illness in 1375.
It is quite fascinating to visit this building today, after almost 650 years, but keep in mind that the casa del Boccaccio actually met the same fate as the casa del Petrarca in Arezzo. In the early 19th century, it had been purchased by the marchioness Carlotta Lenzoni de’ Medici, who renovated it and commissioned the neoclassical painter Pietro Benvenuti with the realization of a large fresco representing Boccaccio at his writing desk. In more recent times, though, the whole building was devastated by the bombings of the Second World War: only the wall with Benvenuti’s fine fresco did miraculously escape destruction. But even so, in the post-war period the entire house has been rebuilt and finally opened to the public as a museum, as well as being chosen as the official seat for the Ente Nazionale Boccaccio. Thanks to the efforts of the local community, it is now possible for everyone to step inside the casa del Boccaccio to take a look at the poet’s rooms: you can find here – among others – a series of artifacts dating back to the 14th century, commemorative badges and medals, a reproduction of Boccaccio’s first portrait ever, and a collection of modern theatrical costumes inspired by the Decameron.
Our journey ends just a few steps away from Boccaccio’s former home, in a small church in the vicinity of Certaldo’s gorgeous Palazzo Pretorio: here, under the floor of the Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo lies Giovanni Boccaccio himself. A 1503 marble bust by Giovan Francesco Rustici portrays the great Certaldese as he holds his own masterwork. Underneath we find Boccaccio’s own epitaph, but also an awe-inspiring gravestone carved by the 20th century sculptor Mario Moschi, who recreated the writer’s features by drawing from the Renaissance artist Andrea del Castagno’s series of “Illustrious People”. Needless to say, Petrarch and Dante appeared alongside Boccaccio as part of this series.
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.