Vittorino da Feltre

views updated May 23 2018


Also known as Vittorino de' Rambaldoni; Humanist, scholar, and educator; b. Feltre, Italy, 1378; d. Mantua, 1446. In 1396 Vittorino entered the University of Padua, an institution famed not only in Italy, but beyond the Alps. He was associated with Padua as student and teacher for nearly 20 years. During this period, he studied grammar and Latin letters with Gasparino Barzizza, the greatest Latin scholar of the age, as well as dialectic, philosophy, rhetoric, and Canon Law. After receiving his doctorate, he obtained private instruction in mathematics and Greek, and soon became known for his knowledge of mathematical and literary subjects. His attractive personality made him one of the outstanding scholars in Padua. As his fame grew steadily, his teaching was much in demand. A competent scholar and an exemplary Catholic layman, he continually tried to harmonize Christian principles with ancient learning. More than any other humanist, he helped to systematize the new studies.

Vittorino opened a private school in Padua and, in 1422, accepted the chair of rhetoric at the University. The following year he resigned either because of the immorality of the university city or because of his inability to control the students. His experience at Padua convinced him that the critical adolescent years demand close supervision and guidance. In 1423 he went to Venice where he organized a school. That same year he accepted the invitation of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga to come to Mantua and assume charge of his children's education. Vittorino continued in the service of the Gonzaga family for until his death many years later.

At Mantua Vittorino established a court school, Casa Giocosa (pleasant house), that offered instruction not only to the Gonzaga family and to the sons of the leading Mantuan families, but also to the promising sons of indigent parents. The spirit, curriculum, and method that characterized the Casa Giocosa made it the first great school of the Renaissance and an outstanding model school of the humanities. The pupils learned mathematics, music, philosophy, Latin, and Greek. The favorite writers of Vittorino, the schoolmaster, were Virgil and Livy in Latin; Homer, Demosthenes, and Aeschylus in Greek; and he introduced St. Chrysostom and St. Augustine from among the Church Fathers. He included physical training, which he regarded as an integral part of a complete education.

Vittorino concerned himself seriously with his pupils' work, welfare, interests, abilities, personalities, and character, and gave them personal, educational, and vocational guidance. In his opinion, the chief purpose of education was to train young men to serve God and state in whatever position they would be called upon to assume. The same humanistic education was offered to both girls and boysone of the most cultured women of the 15th century, Cecilia Gonzaga, studied at the court school. Vittorino left no educational treatises, but at Casa Giocosa trained many who later became prominent teachers, ecclesiastics, scholars, and statesmen.

Bibliography: p. j. mccormick, Vittorino da Feltre and Guarino de Verona: An Educational Study of the Fifteenth Century (Washington 1906). w. h. woodward, Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators: Essays and Versions (Cambridge, England 1897; repr. 1921).

[v. staudt sexton]

Vittorino da Feltre

views updated May 23 2018

Vittorino da Feltre

The Italian humanist and teacher Vittorino da Feltre (1378-1446) was one of the greatest educational the orists and schoolmasters of the Italian Renaissance.

Vittorino da Feltre was born Vittorino Ramboldini at Feltre in the north of Italy. He was the son of Bruto di Ramboldini, a notary whose family, once of some social importance, had fallen on hard times. When he was 18 years old, Vittorino left Feltre for the University of Padua, where he supported himself for a time by teaching grammar to boys. After receiving his degree of doctor of arts in Latin composition and logic, he began the study of mathematics. He remained in Padua until 1415, teaching both grammar and mathematics. In 1415-1416 he studied with Guarino da Verona in Venice. Vittorino then rejoined the university in Padua. As was then the custom, he took a number of students to live in his house and closely supervised their studies.

Upon his promotion to the chair of rhetoric at Padua in 1422, Vittorino was one of the most popular masters at the university. Small but wiry and graceful, he was a dedicated teacher whose sympathy with the revolutionary scholarly methods of humanism did not in the least move him from his profound Christian convictions. In 1422, however, conditions at Padua forced him to move briefly to Venice and then, at the invitation of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, to the city of Mantua, where he opened a school to tutor the marquis's children. Mantua then became Vittorino's home for the rest of his life.

Vittorino's school was created with the ideal of educating the Christian boy by using the newly discovered disciplines of classical, particularly Roman, antiquity in moral philosophy and literature. Vittorino was one of the greatest classical scholars of his day. In his school, a palace provided by the marquis, he trained not only the Gonzaga children but also children from the town and from other cities. He supervised the physical as well as the moral and intellectual development of his students.

The chief direction of Vittorino's school was training in the classics, and Latin was the language of teaching as well as of conversation. Students learned to write Greek, often by the age of 12. Vittorino collected an exceptionally fine library in Mantua, and he retained the devotion of his patrons and students throughout his life. Vittorino's name was known throughout Italy as one of the greatest humanist scholars of his day. He died in Mantua.

Further Reading

The best biography of Vittorino is in William Harrison Woodward, Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators (1897), and the movements with which he was associated are further discussed in Woodward's Studies in Education during the Age of the Renaissance, 1400-1600 (1906). □