Famous ItaliansGiovanni Boccaccio

Giovanni Boccaccio
A Great Italian Writer


Giovanni Boccaccio was born in the year 1313 in the town of Certaldo, Tuscany.  Nobody is certain about the identity of his mother.  Some believe that she was from Paris, however, it is certain that his parents were not married. 

When the baby Giovanni was born, his father, called Boccaccio di Chellino, was already married to a lady called Margherita.  Nevertheless, the baby boy was taken to his father's house where he grew up and was looked after by his stepmother. The family lived in Florence.

At that time, Florence (Firenze) was considered to be a very large city.  In fact, it was more than twice the size of London and was one of the most important places in the world.  It was important for business, banking, art and literature.

Giovanni's father was a wealthy banker.  In 1327, the family moved to Naples (Napoli) because Giovanni's father worked for a bank that had business in Naples.  The teenage Giovanni was introduced to the Neopolitan court of King Robert the Wise and here he received an excellent education.  

Giovanni grew up in an aristocratic environment, with the education and the lifestyle of an upper-class person.  His father wanted him to become a lawyer but Giovanni wanted to write as a poet.

During his years in Naples, he fell in love with a married lady.  He wrote about her and gave her the name Fiammetta, meaning 'little flame.'  Her real name was Maria d'Aquino and she was the daughter of King Robert the Wise, or in Italian Roberto Il Saggio

The painting above is called 'A Vision of Fiammetta' by Italian artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The painting above is of Robert The Wise. 
Artist: Simone Martini.

Eventually, Giovanni Boccaccio returned to Florence.  But he returned at a terrible time.  In 1348, the most dreadful outbreak of the plague was sweeping across Europe.  It was called the Black Death. 
In Italian the plague is called la peste.  The English word 'pest' comes from this.

In Florence, it seemed that everyone was dying from the terrifying disease.  It killed Giovanni's father, stepmother and friends.  Even Fiammetta died.

Giovanni Boccaccio's most famous piece of work is called Decameron and it was influenced by his experience of the plague.  He started to write Decameron in 1349.  It is the story of ten upper-class young people (seven ladies and three men) who are forced to flee the city of Florence during the plague.  They go to the country villa of one of the group and they pass the time telling stories.  One of the seven ladies is called Fiammetta.
in campagna - in the countryside

The group spends ten days in the countryside, waiting for the worst part of the plague to pass.  To entertain themselves, each person tells a story every day.  Over the ten day period this results in one hundred stories.  As you can see, the number 'ten' is significant in the Decameron.

Below is a painting by John William Waterhouse, depicting the telling of a tale in the Decameron.  This painting can be seen in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool.

The Decameron is a collection of one hundred short stories.  In Italian, these little stories are called 'novelle.' There is also a very interesting introduction to the book.  It is interesting because it explains what daily life was like in Florence during the plague of 1348.  The description is so real that it is almost like looking through a window into the past.

The introduction of the Decameron describes -
1. How people ran away from home, abandoning their sick and dying relatives.  Even children were left alone.
2. How servants made lots of money by being paid to look after the wealthy, abandoned people.
3. How the countryside was considered the safest place to stay whilst waiting for the plague to pass.
4.  The terrifying symptoms if you caught the disease.

The stories of the Decameron are very varied.  Some are funny, some are serious and some are religious.  The whole setting and the characters seem to be real.  It is said that the English writer Geoffrey Chaucer was so impressed by the Decameron that he decided to write in a similar style and produced The Canterbury Tales. 

Portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer.  Artist unknown.
Painting belongs to The Government Art Collection.

It is known that Giovanni Boccaccio had three children but that he was not married to their mothers.  The children were Mario, Giulio and Violante
Giovanni was always a great admirer of his fellow Italian poets Dante Alighieri and Petrarca.

Giovanni Boccaccio died in 1375 at the age of sixty-three in the town of his birth, Certaldo.  His tomb and the house (La Casa di Boccaccio) where he lived can be visited.  Below is a photo of a room in Giovanni Boccaccio's house.

Boccaccio''s house

 Grazie Giovanni Boccaccio!  Thank you for all the great stories that you wrote in the Decameron

Grazie mille!