The Italian humanist and teacher Vittorino da Feltre (1378-1446) was one of the greatest educational the orists and schoolmasters of the Italian Renaissance.
Vittorino da Feltre was born Vittorino Ramboldini at Feltre in the north of Italy. He was the son of Bruto di Ramboldini, a notary whose family, once of some social importance, had fallen on hard times. When he was 18 years old, Vittorino left Feltre for the University of Padua, where he supported himself for a time by teaching grammar to boys. After receiving his degree of doctor of arts in Latin composition and logic, he began the study of mathematics. He remained in Padua until 1415, teaching both grammar and mathematics. In 1415-1416 he studied with Guarino da Verona in Venice. Vittorino then rejoined the university in Padua. As was then the custom, he took a number of students to live in his house and closely supervised their studies.
Upon his promotion to the chair of rhetoric at Padua in 1422, Vittorino was one of the most popular masters at the university. Small but wiry and graceful, he was a dedicated teacher whose sympathy with the revolutionary scholarly methods of humanism did not in the least move him from his profound Christian convictions. In 1422, however, conditions at Padua forced him to move briefly to Venice and then, at the invitation of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, to the city of Mantua, where he opened a school to tutor the marquis's children. Mantua then became Vittorino's home for the rest of his life.
Vittorino's school was created with the ideal of educating the Christian boy by using the newly discovered disciplines of classical, particularly Roman, antiquity in moral philosophy and literature. Vittorino was one of the greatest classical scholars of his day. In his school, a palace provided by the marquis, he trained not only the Gonzaga children but also children from the town and from other cities. He supervised the physical as well as the moral and intellectual development of his students.
The chief direction of Vittorino's school was training in the classics, and Latin was the language of teaching as well as of conversation. Students learned to write Greek, often by the age of 12. Vittorino collected an exceptionally fine library in Mantua, and he retained the devotion of his patrons and students throughout his life. Vittorino's name was known throughout Italy as one of the greatest humanist scholars of his day. He died in Mantua.
The best biography of Vittorino is in William Harrison Woodward, Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators (1897), and the movements with which he was associated are further discussed in Woodward's Studies in Education during the Age of the Renaissance, 1400-1600 (1906). □