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Medieval And Renaissance Biography

The works of Plutarch, Suetonius, and St. Jerome remained models for biographers in the medieval and Renaissance periods. The characteristic biographical form of the medieval period was the life of the saint (the sacred life or hagiography). Although many collections of saints' lives or acts (martyrologies) were compiled, there was often little differentiation between the characteristics of individual saints. While medieval hagiographers heavily drew on classic biographies, they focused on praising the spiritual virtues of their subjects and offered evidence for their canonization. Hagiography consequently developed unique conventions, such as the preservation of miracles and the martyrdom of saints. Exemplary lives of this period include Adamnan's Life of St. Columba (c. 690), Bede's Life of St. Cuthbert (c. 731), Eadmer's Life of St. Anselm (c. 1124), and Jean de Joinville's History of St. Louis (c. 1309). Other important biographical works include the Lives of the Fathers and the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours (538–594), Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (c. 731), and later Einhard's Life of Charlemagne (c. 829–836; based on Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars).

Humanist biographers in the Renaissance were influenced by classical lives and the lives of saints. Petrarch's incomplete De viris illustribus (begun c. 1337; On illustrious men) is in the tradition of single biographies of eminent ancient figures (following Suetonius and Plutarch). Giovanni Boccaccio's Trattatello in laude di Dante (1354–1355; English trans. Life of Dante, 1990) exemplifies the revival of the single life of a subject presented as an ideal. Influenced by Petrarch, Boccaccio assembled two collections of single lives concerning illustrious ancient figures, De casibus virorum illustrium (1355–1374; On the fall of illustrious men) and De claris mulieribus (1360–1374; On famous women), the first collection of women's lives. Partly in response to Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus, Christine de Pisan (1364–c. 1430) wrote her vernacular Le livre de la cité des dames (1405; English trans. The Book of the City of Ladies, 1998), often considered the first work of feminist literature. Notably, the earliest modern English autobiography is The Book of Margery Kempe (c. 1432–1436), by Margery Kempe (c. 1373–c. 1440), a work that largely follows the conventions of medieval sacred biography.

Renaissance biographers borrowed extensively from the works of Diogenes Laertius and St. Jerome, especially in developing new serial lives assembled according to notions of cultural progress. In De origine civitatis Florentiae et de eiusdem famosis civibus (c. 1381–1382; On the origins of the Florentine state and her most famous citizens), Filippo Villani presented short sketches of a wide variety of Florentine citizens, including poets, musicians, and painters. Later, Giorgio Vasari wrote his Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550, rev. ed. 1568), following progressive developments in art through a series of biographies that culminated in Michelangelo. In England, William Roper (1496–1578) wrote the Life of Sir Thomas More and George Cavendish (1500–1561?) wrote the Life of Cardinal Wolsey. Other biographical writings were the Lives of Famous Ladies and the Lives of Famous Men by Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme (c. 1540–1614) and Macarius's Stepennaya Kniga (1563; Book of degrees) in Russia.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Bilateral symmetry to Boolean algebraBiography - Ancient Biography, Medieval And Renaissance Biography, The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, The Nineteenth And Twentieth Centuries