Matteo Maria Boiardo

The Italian poet Matteo Maria Boiardo, Conte di Scandiano (1440-1494), is best known for his Orlando innamorato. This masterpiece is the first chivalric poem in which love is the dominant theme.

Matteo Maria Boiardo was born at Scandiano near Reggio Emilia. He went to Ferrara as a child and began classical studies. He held high positions at the court of Ferrara, particularly under the patronage of Ercole d'Este. Boiardo married Taddea dei Conti Gonzaga di Novellera in 1479. Although he preferred poetry and studies to politics, he was involved in the political events of his time as captain of the ducal forces at Modena from 1480 to 1482 and governor of Reggio from 1487 until his death on Dec. 19, 1494.

Literary Works

Boiardo's Latin eclogues, modeled on the Latin poet Virgil and written in honor of Ercole d'Este between 1463 and 1465, as well as numerous other Latin poems and translations from Latin authors, reveal his humanistic culture. Boiardo's first important work in Italian was the Canzoniere, or Amorum libri tres. Inspired by his unhappy love for Antonia Caprara, this collection of 50 sonnets, interspersed with 10 poems of various meters, was completed between 1472 and 1476 and published at Reggio in 1499. They are considered the finest Italian love lyrics of the 15th century.

Orlando innamorato was to consist of three books dedicated to Ercole and Isabella d'Este. The first two books (60 cantos in octaves) were published in 1484. The third book, interrupted in the ninth canto, was printed posthumously, together with the first two, at Scandiano in 1495. This work combines thematic material from the Carolingian cycle and the Breton romances, both of French origin.

Boiardo's poem, which reflects the interests of the court of Ferrara, tells a series of wonderful tales revolving about Roland's love for Angelica, Angelica's love for Rinaldo, and the pagan Ruggero's love for Bradamante (Ruggero was to be the mythical founder of the house of Este). The poem portrays a marvelous and extraordinary bygone age, and its adventures are enlivened by magic and monsters. While Boiardo's interest in moral values remains evident, he makes no religious distinction between pagans and Christians. Love is the only motivating sentiment, and the laws of honor and chivalry govern both Christian and pagan knights.

Boiardo intended to ennoble his popular source material by achieving a fusion of modern and classical poetry, but the language of his poem, rich in dialectal forms, was foreign to the refined tastes of the Renaissance. In the 16th century Francesco Berni rewrote the Innamorato in a more polished literary language. This adaptation completely altered Boiardo's poem, depriving it of its archaic charm; it was so well received, however, that the original was neglected until the 19th century.

Further Reading on Matteo Maria Boiardo

There is no biography of Boiardo in English. Ernest Hatch Wilkins, History of Italian Literature (1954), contains a section on Boiardo and many references to his influence on Italian prosody. Francesco de Sanctis, History of Italian Literature (2 vols., 1931; trans. 1959), does not discuss Boiardo but deals intimately with that period of Renaissance literature. John Addington Symonds's classic work Renaissance in Italy (7 vols., 1898) includes Boiardo in a discussion of the art of the time in volume 1 and serves as useful background for the period.

Additional Biography Sources

Looney, Dennis, Compromising the classics: Romance epic narrative in the Italian Renaissance, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1996.

Marinelli, Peter V., Ariosto and Boiardo: the origins of Orlando furioso, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

Woodhouse, H. F., Language and style in a renaissance epic: Berni's corrections to Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato, London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 1982.