Francesco Petrarch and his office — some remarks

Monday 5th September, 2022 - Bruce Sterling

Petrarch lived him his “country house” for the last six years of his life, and the building has been a Petrarch shrine for one hundred times that long. I visited the place and took a few photographs, but I confess I’m a little skeptical about the scenes there.

That domestic space was very likely his real office when he was in his old age, but that “Petarch chair” (as they’ve been known for centuries) is not a writer’s chair. If you tried to write while sitting inside it, those enormous arching armrests would confine your elbows; you could not dip a pen in an inkwell.

Also, despite its four wooden axles, this weighty and dignified Petrarch chair does not fold up. It can be taken apart and reassembled, but it’s not lightweight handy furniture that might drift into a small office by accident. So it may have been his chair — opinions vary — but it’s not an office chair.

The treasure-chest for manuscripts makes sense because Petrarch was known for his well-chosen library and his Veneto farmhouse was a modest place that could have been burgled.

The picture of the Petrarch literary production desk, with the lazy-susan arrangement for upright rotating books, is a bit more convincing, but also probably a later invention. That very narrow bench is far from cozy.

Petrarch once expressed a desire to die over his books, and it seems pretty likely that he achieved that — his family thought at first that he was sleeping.