Vittorino da Feltre

Vittorino da Feltre
(Vittorino Ramboldoni, 1378-1446)
   Italian humanist, scholar, and educator, the son of a notary of Feltre. About 1390 he entered the University of Padua, where he studied dialectic, rhetoric, and philosophy and also canon law, but his deep-est interest was in the studia humanitatisthat is, in humanism. His teacher at Padua, Giovanni Conversino da Ravenna, had been a pupil of Petrarch. Next Vittorino studied rhetoric with Gasparino Barz-izza, an early leader in the effort to introduce humanistic reforms into the curriculum of schools and universities. In 1410 Vittorino com-pleted his doctorate in arts. Since he was poor, he had to earn a living by teaching introductory Latin language and mathematics. In 1415 he moved to Venice, where he studied Greek under Guarino da Verona and George of Trebizond, once again supporting himself by teaching Latin to schoolboys. Vittorino returned to Padua in 1419 and became a successful teacher there. Like other masters, he took students as boarders in his own home, and he reduced his fees for those who (like himself in earlier years) were poor. In 1422 the uni-versity appointed him Barzizza's successor in the chair of rhetoric, an appointment that committed him to a secular career; previously, he had considered entering a monastery. As a university professor, how-ever, he found that the prevailing teaching style conflicted with his own preferred methods and also that his students could not be given the careful moral supervision that he had provided for his private pupils. In 1423 he resigned his professorship and settled in Venice to found his own Latin grammar school.
   That same year, however, Vittorino received an invitation from Gi-anfrancesco Gonzaga, marquis of Mantua, to organize a school at the Mantuan court for the children of the ruler and prominent courtiers. The opportunity to educate and shape the character of a fu-ture ruler was attractive to him, and after making sure that he would be allowed to conduct the school according to his own preference, he moved to Mantua. This school at Mantua, which he called La Casa Giocosa / The Pleasant House, was one of the earliest and most in-fluential Italian schools specfically organized to teach the humani-ties. The students included members of the ruling family, sons of lo-cal nobles, and promising students from poor families to whom he could offer free education and connections with the rich and power-ful that would promote the students' future careers. These scholarship students made up about half of the enrollment; there were about 70 students in all, including a few girls.
   Vittorino insisted that it must be a boarding school, even for the children of the ruler, since he wanted to impart strict moral and reli-gious training and to insulate his adolescent students from the moral corruption and cynicism of court life. The program of study focused on the humanistic subjects of grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy and involved study of both Latin and Greek. It also included mathematics, music, philosophy, and religion. Since he was educating boys who would be future rulers and high officials — and hence also soldiers—Vittorino included physical training and mili-tary exercises. Religious instruction and regular participation in reli-gious services and sacraments were an important part of the school's atmosphere.
   The ultimate goal of the educational program was to prepare pupils to be useful members (and leaders) of society. The school soon de-veloped a reputation extending far beyond Mantua, so that prominent families throughout Italy strove to get their sons admitted to study with Vittorino. A number of men who became leaders of the next gen-eration of humanists studied there, including Niccolo Perotti and Lorenzo Valla. This school, together with the contemporary court school conducted at Ferrara by Guarino da Verona, established a model for the humanistic grammar school that became the ideal of Renaissance education throughout Italy and later throughout Europe.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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