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Lodovico Dolce

Lodovico Dolce

Italian theorist of painting
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Italian theorist of painting
Occupations Linguist Writer Playwright
Gender male
Birth 1 January 1508 (Venice, Province of Venice, Veneto, Italy)
Death 1 January 1568 (Venice, Province of Venice, Veneto, Italy)
The details

Lodovico Dolce (1508/10–1568) was an Italian theorist of painting. He was a broadly-based Venetian humanist and prolific author, translator and editor; he is now remembered for his Dialogue on Painting.


The date of Dolce's birth, long accepted as 1508, has been more likely set in 1510. Dolce's youth was difficult. His father, a former steward to the public attorneys (castaldo delle procuratorie) for the Republic of Venice, died when the boy was only two. For his early studies, he depended on the support of two patrician families: that of the doge Leonardo Loredano (see Dolce's dedication of his Dialogue on Painting) and the Cornaro family, who financed his studies at Padua.

After he completed his studies, Dolce found work in Venice with the press of Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari. He was one of the most active intellectuals in 16th-century Venice. Claudia Di Filippo Bareggi claims that over the course of thirty-six years Dolce was responsible for 96 editions of his own original work, 202 editions of other writers, and at least 54 translations. As a popularizer, he worked to make information available to the non-specialist, those too busy to learn Greek and Latin.

Following a productive life as a scholar and author, Dolce died in January, 1568, and was buried in the church of San Luca in Venice, although in which pavement tomb is unknown.


Dolce worked in most of the literary genres available at the time, including epic and lyric poetry, chivalric romance, comedy, tragedy, the prose dialogue, treatises (where he discussed women, ill-married men, memory, the Italian language, gems, painting, and colors), encyclopedic summaries (of Aristotle's philosophy and world history), and historical works on major figures of the 16th century and earlier writers, such as Cicero, Ovid, Dante, and Boccaccio. From 1542, when he first went to work for the Giolito, until his death in 1568, he edited 184 texts out of just over 700 titles published by Giolito. These editions included works by Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Castiglione, Pietro Bembo, Lodovico Ariosto, Pietro Aretino, Angelo Poliziano, Jacopo Sannazzaro, and Bernardo Tasso. And he translated into Italian works of authors such as Homer, Euripides, Catullus, Cicero, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, the playwright Seneca, and Virgil.


As a dramatist he wrote numerous tragedies: Giocasta (1549, derived probably from Euripides' The Phoenician Women via the Latin translation of R. Winter), Thieste, Medea, Didone, Ifigenia, Hecuba and Marianna. An English-language adaptation of the first of these, the Jocasta by George Gascoigne and Francis Kinwelmersh, was staged in 1566 at Gray's Inn in London. His tragedy Didone (1547) was one of his more influential tragedies in Italy, a precursor of Pietro Metastasio's Didone abbandonata (1724).


He also wrote numerous comedies, including Il Marito, Il Ragazzo, Il Capitano, La Fabritia, and Il Ruffiano.


Two of his histories—the Life of Charles V (1561) and the Life of Ferdinand I (1566) were very successful in the sixteenth century. His History of the World (Giornale delle historie del mondo, 1572, posthumous) is a lengthy calendar of notable historical and literary events, listed for each day of the year. The events he employs range in time from the origins of civilization to his own day.


His Treatise on Gems (Trattato delle gemme, 1565) falls into the lapidary tradition, with Dolce discussing not only the physical qualities of jewels but the power infused in them by the stars. As his authorities, he cites Aristotle, the Persian philosopher Avicenna, Averroes, and the Libri mineralium of Albert the Great among others, but, according to Ronnie H. Terpening, he appears to have simply translated Camillo Leonardo's Speculum lapidum (1502) without crediting the earlier author. In addition to translating Cicero's De Oratore (1547), Dolce authored several treatises on language, among them the Osservationi nella volgar lingua (1550). This was a linguistic and grammatical study in which Dolce draws examples from and comments on Dante, Boccaccio, and Ariosto, among others.

Chivalric Romances

In the genre of chivalric romance, Dolce produced several reworkings of traditional material, including Sacripante (1536), Palmerino (1561), Primaleone, figliuolo di Palmerino (1562), and the posthumous Prime imprese del conte Orlando (The Early Deeds of Count Orlando) (1572).

Classical Epic

Drawing heavily on Virgil, he wrote an epic poem on Aeneas, the Enea, published the year of his death. For those who had no knowledge of Greek or Latin, he compiled a work in ottava rima, L'Achille et l'Enea, joining Homer's epic to Virgil's, a work published posthumously in 1570.

Editions of Other Writers

Among the authors edited by Dolce (for which see "Works" above), he focused most significantly on Ariosto. He edited three of Ariosto's comedies, La Lena (c. 1530), Il Negromante (c. 1530), and I Suppositi (1551); the poet's Rime (1557), and the Orlando furioso (1535). For the latter poem, he published a work explaining the more difficult aspects, the Espositioni (1542), and an analysis of the poem's figurative language, the Modi affigurati (1554).


Whether Dolce knew Greek or not has been questioned by Emmanuel Antonio Cicogna. Nevertheless, using (but not acknowledging) Latin translations of authors such as Euripides, he translated the works of several Greek authors into Italian, among them Achilles Tatius (Leucippe and Clitophon, 1544), Homer's Odyssey (L'Ulisse, 1573, posthumous) and the History of the Greek Emperors (1569, posthumous) by Nicetas Acominatus. He also translated various Latin authors, sometimes very loosely, other times, such as for Seneca's ten tragedies, with fidelity to the original.

Ronnie H. Terpening concludes his book on Dolce by noting that

Truly, then as now, taking into account all his imperfections and those of the age, this is a worthy career for any man or woman of letters. Without his unstinting efforts, the history and development of Italian literature would surely be the poorer. In addition, if what others have said about him is accurate, Dolce was also a good man, for after “indefatigable” the adjectives used most often to describe him are “pacifico” and, of course, “dolce”. In such a contentious age, these are simple but high words of praise indeed. (p. 169)

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