Petrarch, (Italian: Francesco Petrarca) (1304–1374), an Italian poet and scholar. Petrarch is called the father of the Renaissance because of his love of classical literature and his intellectual restlessness. He was one of the first since ancient times to collect books, manuscripts, and coins, and has been called “the first tourist" for his love of travel. Petrarch's writings reflect a more worldly spirit than that of the Middle Ages. Marked by technical perfection and formal polish, his poems about his beloved Laura are classics of the Italian language.
Petrarch was born in Arezzo, the son of a Florentine exile. He grew up near Florence and Avignon, France. After studying law at Montpellier and Bologna, Petrarch took minor religious orders in 1326 to qualify for an income from church benefices. He began to travel widely, visiting scholars in many parts of Europe and passing on to them his interest in the learning of ancient Greece and Rome. His passion was to recover the many ancient manuscripts that had been forgotten or mislaid.
In 1327 Petrarch met and fell in love with Laura, a married woman who has never been positively identified, but who may have been the wife of Count Hugues de Sade. Petrarch's lyrics to her, in the troubadour tradition of courtly love, were collected as the Canzoniere (Songbook). They advanced the growth of Italian as a literary language and popularized the form of the sonnet that is called the Petrarchan sonnet. Many years after Laura's death in 1348, Petrarch wrote Trionfi, a religious allegory in which she was idealized.
Petrarch wrote mainly in Latin, which he hoped to restore to classical purity. Cicero, Virgil, and Seneca were his literary models. Among his works were books of history, biography, and moral philosophy; a dialogue with Saint Augustine; and volumes of letters. After being crowned in Rome as poet laureate (1341) for his Latin epic, Africa, he was honored throughout Italy. Giovanni Boccaccio turned to scholarship under Petrarch's influence. Although Petrarch wrote poems in praise of a free Italy, he accepted the patronage of the Visconti, tyrants of Milan, from 1353 to 1362. In 1369 he settled near Padua.