Born: 1313, in Paris, France
Died: December 21, 1375, in Certaldo, Italy
Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the first piece of prose in the history of Italian Renaissance. He was the illegitimate son of a Florentine merchant and a French noblewoman. He was raised in Florence by his father whose marriage to a Florentine gave Boccaccio a half-brother.
Boccaccio showed an aptitude for writing verse at the age of seven. He studied with Giovanni da Strada, a grammarian in Florence. Despite this, and against his will, he was apprenticed to a merchant in Florence for six years.
In 1323, Boccaccio studied accounting and then cannon law in Naples. However, due to his love for literature, he spent his free time reading writers such as Ovid, Virgil, and Statius. After twelve years of law, he switched to study classical and scientific writings.
He joined the court of Robert d'Anjou, king of Naples, where it is rumored that for three years he courted the illegitimate (and already married) daughter of the king, Maria de Conti. In his works, she is thought to be the woman named Fiametta.
From 1340 to 1347, he traveled between Naples and Florence. In 1344, he became a minor diplomat in Florence. His father died in 1349, but did not leave him with much money to have the leisure to write.
He befriended the humanist poet, Petrarch, about 1350. Inspired by Plato, Petrarch was interested in human, rather than otherworldly, matters--an unconventional practice at the time. Petrarch encouraged Boccaccio to continue writing and invited him to stay in his more luxurious house.
From 1348 to 1353, Boccaccio created his greatest work, Il Decameron. This collection of 100 short stories includes tragedy and humor from Greek and Latin Classic, Italian life, and French folk stories. It is based in a remote villa, where a group of people have settled to avoid the plague.
Boccaccio was influenced by the writings of Dante. He wrote a biography about Dante as well as writing essays and lectures about the author. He used the vernacular Italian in literary works, particularly the Tuscan dialect spoken in north-central Italy. Boccaccio's work was first translated into English in 1620, and his influence extended to many authors of the Romantic period.
Boccaccio went to Naples believing that he would be sponsored by Queen Joanna. However, when he was turned away by the queen, he moved on to visit Petrarch in Venice in 1363, and then returned to his estate in Certaldo near Florence. He turned to religious meditation.
Boccaccio became ill in 1374 and died the next year. He was buried in the Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo.