1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jovius, Paulus

JOVIUS, PAULUS, or Paolo Giovio (1483–1552), Italian historian and biographer, was born of an ancient and noble family at Como on the 19th of April 1483. His father died when he was a child, and Giovio owed his education to his brother Benedetto. After studying the humanities, he applied himself to medicine and philosophy at his brother’s request. He was Pomponazzi’s pupil at Padua; and afterwards he took a medical degree in the university of Pavia. He exercised the medical profession in Rome, but the attraction of literature proved irresistible for Giovio, and he was bent upon becoming the historian of his age. He presented a portion of his history to Leo X., who read the MS., and pronounced it superior in elegance to anything since Livy. Thus encouraged, Giovio took up his residence in Rome, and attached himself to Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, the pope’s nephew. The next pope, Adrian VI., gave him a canonry in Como, on the condition, it is said, that Giovio should mention him with honour in his history. This patronage from a pontiff who was averse from the current tone of Italian humanism proves that Giovio at this period passed for a man of sound learning and sober manners. After Adrian’s death, Giulio de’ Medici became pope as Clement VII. and assigned him chambers in the Vatican, with maintenance for servants befitting a courtier of rank. In addition to other benefices, he finally, in 1528, bestowed on him the bishopric of Nocera. Giovio had now become in a special sense dependent on the Medici. He was employed by that family on several missions—as when he accompanied Ippolito to Bologna on the occasion of Charles V.’s coronation, and Caterina to Marseilles before her marriage to the duke of Orleans. During the siege of Rome in 1527 he attended Clement in his flight from the Vatican. While crossing the bridge which connected the palace with the castle of S. Angelo, Giovio threw his mantle over the pope’s shoulders in order to disguise his master.

In the sack he suffered a serious pecuniary and literary loss, if we may credit his own statement. The story runs that he deposited the MS. of his history, together with some silver, in a box at S. Maria Sopra Minerva for safety. This box was discovered by two Spaniards, one of whom secured the silver, while the other, named Herrera, knowing who Giovio was, preferred to hold the MSS. for ransom. Herrera was so careless, however, as to throw away the sheets he found in paper, reserving only that portion of the work which was transcribed on parchment. This he subsequently sold to Giovo in exchange for a benifice at Cordova, which Clement VII. conceded to the Spaniard. Six books of the history were lost in this transaction. Giovo contented himself with indicating their substance in a summary. Perhaps he was not unwilling that his work should resemble that of Livy, even in its imperfection. But doubt rests upon the whole of this story. Apostolo Zeno affirms that in the middle of the last century three of the missing books turned up among family papers in the possession of Count Giov. Batt. Giovio, who wrote a panegyric on his ancestor. It is therefore not improbable that Giovio possessed his history intact, but preferred to withhold from publication those portions which might have involved him in difficulties with living persons of importance. The omissions were afterwards made good by Curtio Marinello in the Italian edition, published at Venice in 1581. But whether Marinello was the author of these additions is not known.

After Clement’s death Giovio found himself out of favour with the next pope, Paul III. The failure of his career is usually ascribed to the irregularity of the life he led in the literary society of Rome. We may also remember that Paul had special causes for animosity against the Medici, whose servant Giovio had been. Despairing of a cardinal’s hat, Giovio retired to his villa on the lake of Como, where he spent the wealth he had acquired from donations and benefices in adorning his villa with curiosities, antiquities and pictures, including a very important collection of portraits of famous soldiers and men of letters, now almost entirely dispersed. He died upon a visit to Florence in 1552.

Giovio’s principal work was the History of His Own Times, from the invasion of Charles VIII. to the year 1547. It was divided into two parts, containing altogether forty-five books. Of these, books v.–xi. of part i. were said by him to have been lost in the sack of Rome, while books xix.–xxiv. of part ii., which should have embraced the period from the death of Leo to the sack, were never written. Giovio supplied the want of the latter six books by his lives of Leo, Adrian, Alphonso I. of Ferrara, and several other personages of importance. But he alleged that the history of that period was too painful to be written in full. His first published work, printed in 1524 at Rome, was a treatise De piscibus romanis. After his retirement to Como he produced a valuable series of biographies, entitled Elogia virorum illustrium. They commemorate men distinguished for letters and arms, selected from all periods, and are said to have been written in illustration of portraits collected by him for the museum of his villa at Como. Besides these books, we may mention a biographical history of the Visconti, lords of Milan; an essay on mottoes and badges; a dissertation on the state of Turkey; a large collection of familiar epistles; together with descriptions of Britain, Muscovy, the Lake of Como and Giovio’s own villa. The titles of these miscellanies will be found in the bibliographical note appended to this article.

Giovio preferred Latin in the composition of his more important works. Though contemporary with Machiavelli, Guicciardini and Varchi, he adhered to humanistic usages, and cared more for the Latinity than for the matter of his histories. His style is fluent and sonorous rather than pointed or grave. Partly owing to the rhetorical defects inherent in this choice of Latin, when Italian had gained the day, but more to his own untrustworthy and shallow character, Giovio takes a lower rank as historian than the bulk and prestige of his writings would seem to warrant. He professed himself a flatterer and a lampooner, writing fulsome eulogies on the princes who paid him well, while he ignored or criticized those who proved less generous. The old story that he said he kept a golden and an iron pen, to use according as people paid him, condenses the truth in epigram. His private morals were of a dubious character, and as a writer he had the faults of the elder humanists, in combination with that literary cynicism which reached its height in Aretino; and therefore his histories and biographical essays are not to be used as authorities, without corroboration. Yet Giovio’s works, taken in their entirety and with proper reservation, have real value. To the student of Italy they yield a lively picture of the manners and the feeling of the times in which he lived, and in which he played no obscure part. They abound in vivid sketches, telling anecdotes, fugitive comments, which unite a certain charm of autobiographical romance with the worldly wisdom of an experienced courtier. A flavour of personality makes them not unpleasant reading. While we learn to despise and mistrust the man in Giovio, we appreciate the author. It would not be too far-fetched to describe him as a sort of 16th-century Horace Walpole.

Bibliography.—The sources of Giovio’s biography are: his own works; Tiraboschi’s History of Italian Literature; Litta’s Genealogy of Illustrious Italian Families; and Giov. Batt. Giovio’s Uomini illustri della diocesi Comasca, Modena (1784). Cicogna, in his Delle inscrizioni Veneziane raccolta (Venice, 1830), gives a list of Giovio’s works, from which the following notices are extracted: 1. Works in Latin: (1) Pauli Jovii historiarum sui temporis, ab anno 1494 ad an. 1547 (Florence 1550–1552), the same translated into Italian by L. Domenichi, and first published at Florence (1551), afterwards at Venice; (2) Leonis X., Hadriani VI., Pompeii Columnae Card., vitae (Florence, 1548), translated by Domenichi (Florence, 1549); (3) Vitae XII. vicecomitum Mediolani principum (Paris, 1549), translated by Domenichi (Venice, 1549); (4) Vita Sfortiae clariss. ducis (Rome, 1549), translated by Domenichi (Florence, 1549); (5) Vita Fr. Ferd. Davali (Florence, 1549), translated by Domenichi (ibid. 1551); (6) Vita magni Consalvi (ibid. 1549), translated by Domenichi (ibid. 1550); (7) Alfonsi Atestensi, &c. (ibid. 1550), Italian translation by Giov. Batt. Gelli (Florence, 1553); (8) Elogia virorum bellica virtute illustrium (ibid. 1551), translated by Domenichi (ibid. 1554); (9) Elogia clarorum virorum, &c. (Venice, 1546) (these are biographies of men of letters), translated by Hippolito Orio of Ferrara (Florence, 1552); (10) Libellus de legatione Basilii Magni principis Moscoviae (Rome, 1525); (11) Descriptio Larii Lacus (Venice, 1559); (12) Descriptio Britanniae, &c. (Venice, 1548); (13) De piscibus romanis (Rome, 1524); (14) Descriptiones quotquot extant regionum atque locorum (Basel, 1571). 2. Works in Italian: (1) Dialogo delle imprese militari et amorose (Rome, 1555); (2) Commentarî delle cose dei Turchi (Venice, 1541); (3) Lettere volgari (Venice, 1560). Some minor works and numerous reprints of those cited have been omitted from this list; and it should also be mentioned that some of the lives with additional matter, are included in the Vitae illustrium virorum (Basel, 1576).  (J. A. S.) 

The best and most complete edition of Giovio’s works is that of Basel (1678). For his life see Giuseppe Sanesi, “Alcuni osservazioni e notizie intorno a tre storici minori del cinquecento—Giovio; Nerli, Segni” (in Archivio Storico Italiano, 5th series, vol. xxiii.); Eug. Müntz, Sul museo di ritratti composto da Paolo Giovio (ibid., vol. xix.).