Cast bronze medal of Pietro Aretino

Venice, Italy, around AD 1542

The 'scourge of princes': a Renaissance poet, publicist and pornographer

Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) was a great celebrity of the sixteenth century. He published a large number of poems, plays, letters and other writings that served to increase his fame and reputation as a venomous satirist of great rulers. Born in Arezzo in Tuscany, he worked at first for powerful patrons in Rome, where he wrote the Sonetti Lussoriosi, poetry illustrated with explicit prints by Marcantonio Raimondi, a pupil of Raphael. Travelling around the courts of Italy from 1520, Aretino finally settled in Venice in 1527, where he was to make his fortune. Even his most powerful patrons came to fear his attacks, made through publishing volumes of open letters that were widely read, and they gave him generous gifts to keep his favour. His motto, describing him as the 'scourge of princes' and 'divine', reflect the power of this literary blackmail. However, he was also generous, and was close friends with many artists, including Titian.

Portraits of Aretino were produced in painting, sculpture, prints and medals. This widely circulated example, not attributed to any medallist, shows an idealized portrait of the 'divine' Aretino. The reverse has a complicated allegory, adapted from a woodcut, parodying a medal made for the Duke of Mantua, one of his patrons. It shows Truth sitting on a rock, looking up at the reclining figure of Zeus, who holds a thunderbolt. On the right, Victory is crowning Truth, who rests her foot on a satyr. The legend, meaning 'Truth creates hatred', shows that the image is a metaphor for Aretino's writings. His satires reveal the truth about bad rulers, placing him above others, making him a target for hatred: the satyr (meaning 'satire'), is the servant of truth and the means by which Aretino, like Zeus, can strike his enemies.

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More information


S.K. Scher, '"Veritas Odium Parit": comments on a medal of Pietro Aretino', The Medal-5, 14 (1985), pp. 4-11

L. Freedman, Titians portraits through Aret (Pennsylvania, Penn State University Press, 1995)


Diameter: 81.000 mm

Museum number

CM George III Illustrious Persons 25


George III Collection


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