Blessed Baptista Mantuanus
Carmelite and Renaissance poet, born at Mantua, 17 April, 1447, where he also
died, 22 March, 1516. The eldest son of Peter Spagnoli, a Spanish nobleman at
the court of Mantua, Baptista studied grammar under Gregorio Tifernate, and
philosophy at Pavia under Polo Bagelardi. The bad example of his schoolfellows
led him into irregularities. He fell into the hands of usurers and, returning
home, was turned out of his father's house owing to some calumny. He went to
Venice and later on to Ferrara where he carried out his resolution of entering
the Carmelite convent which belonged to the then flourishing Reform of Mantua.
In a letter addressed to his father (1 April, 1464), and in his first
De Vitâ beatâ, he gave an account of his previous life and of the
motives which led him to the cloister.
Baptista pursued his studies at Ferrara and Bologna where he was ordained
priest, received his degrees, and delivered lectures in philosophy and divinity.
The Duke of Mantua entrusted him with the education of his children, and the
connection with the ducal family resulted in a number of poetical works, the
Trophaeum Gonzagae and the
Fortuna Gonzagae, on the various misfortunes of
the young duke;
Contra amorem containing good advice to Sigismondo Gonzaga,
and other poems celebrating the latter's elevation to dignities, even to the
Roman purple. Six times (each for two years with four years interval) Baptista
was nominated vicar general of his congregation, and, in 1513, general of the
whole order through the exertions of his former disciples, the duke and the
cardinal. The chapter, however, resenting the intervention, restricted his
powers. He held the office until his death, but, broken in health and energy, he
exercised but little influence beyond consolidating the congregation of Albi, a
French imitation of the Mantuan Reform. Baptista Mantuanus was beatified in 1890,
his feast being assigned to 23 March.
Chiefly known as one of the most prolific Renaissance poets he excelled in
almost every form of Latin verse; Virgil, however, was his favourite model. A
monument represents the two poets of Mantua with Poetry hesitating to whom she
is to offer the crown:
Cui dabo? Baptista exercised too little self restraint,
however, to deserve it. He was bitterly attacked concerning the good taste of
his earlier works printed without his knowledge, and also, but groundlessly,
with reference to the legitimacy of his birth. To the end he made too free use
of pagan mythology.
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