Casa, Giovanni Della
CASA, GIOVANNI DELLA
Italian priest and poet; b. Mugello (Florence), June 28, 1503; d. Montepulciano, Nov. 14, 1556. Della Casa had a good classical education at Florence and Bologna. After taking minor orders—he delayed final ordination for some years—he entered the clerical bureaucracy at Rome, meanwhile leading the rather dissipated life reflected in the verses he wrote at that time. In 1544 he was named archbishop of Benevento, but he never resided in that see. Instead Paul III appointed him apostolic nuncio to Venice, the chief duties imposed on him being to ward off the influence of Charles V over that city and to repress any nascent Protestantism. He prosecuted both tasks with skill and resolution. His indictment of Vergerio, Bishop of Capodistria, for heresy caused the bishop to flee from Italy. Vergerio composed a scathing denunciation, on moral grounds, of Della Casa, a document that may have helped to impede the archbishop's ecclesiastical advancement. His nunciature ceasing upon the death of Paul III (1549), Della Casa retired to the country and to his books. In 1555 Paul IV recalled him to Rome and made him secretary of state, but not, to Della Casa's disappointment, a cardinal. Yet it was the failure of his worldly ambitions that in fact brought out his best capacities as a poet. The whole theme of his last and finest sonnets— poems that place him high among the Italian masters of this form—is bitter reflection on the vanity of human wishes and the need for humble conversion to God.
Galateo (1551–54), his elegant treatise on good manners, was a compliment to Galeazzo Florimonte, Bishop of Sessa, who had suggested its composition. While stressing external civilities, the work also insinuates the claims of conscience; and it is perhaps this discreet edge of moral teaching, along with the polished style, that has kept the work alive. But it is on his small output of Italian poems, mostly sonnets, that Della Casa's reputation ultimately rests. He is a minor poet, but a very remarkable one, and this for reasons both of content and of style. Della Casa's chief theme was the old Augustinian and Petrarchan one: the desperate need of the soul for the peace to be found in God alone. The poet treated his material with a certain adult gravity; his stress on the insufficiency of the "world" rather than the "flesh" struck a distinctly new note in 16th-century Italian poetry. To this relative novelty of theme Della Casa brought a distinctive style, at once weighty and musical, involved and delicate. His last poems mark a saturation point; here the Italian sonnet has received all it can from classical influences without losing its native grace.
Bibliography: Works. Opere, ed. g. prezzolini (Milan 1937). Lirici del Cinquecento, ed. l. baldacci (Florence 1957). Studies. b. croce, Poesia popolare e poesia d'arte (Bari 1933) 375–384. l. baldacci, Il petrarchismo italiano nel Cinquecento (Milan 1957) 181–268.