Elegant Padova -- known in English as Padua -- is home to an ancient university, a Basilica that is an important centre for pilgrims and a chapel containing one of the world’s greatest art treasures. Use this website to help you plan a visit to this fascinating northern Italian city and find your way to the other beautiful towns and villages in the Veneto that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Why Padua University graduate Vittorino da Feltre gave free education to poor children

Vittorino da Feltre both studied and taught at Padua University
Vittorino da Feltre both studied
and taught at Padua University
Vittorino da Feltre, a scholar who was considered to have been the greatest humanist educator of the Renaissance, owed his success partly to the education he had received at the University of Padua.

Da Feltre, who was originally named Vittore dei Ramboldini when he was born in Feltre in the republic of Venice in 1378, went to study and then taught at the University of Padua. He later chose to settle in Padua and he became a successful teacher, welcoming pupils into his own home and varying his fee according to the financial situation of the pupil’s family.

He himself had come from a good family that had become impoverished and his own early education had been a struggle. This contributed to making him a strong and decisive character and made him leave his home in Feltre when he was 18 to go to Padua.

He supported himself financially while studying grammar and Latin at the university under Gasparino da Barzizza, the greatest Latin scholar of the age, by teaching grammar to children.

After receiving his degree of doctor of arts in Latin composition and logic, he began the study of mathematics. By 1415, Da Feltre was teaching both grammar and mathematics in Padua. He took students to live in his house and closely supervised their activities.

He was promoted to Chair of Rhetoric in Padua in 1422 and became one of the most popular teachers at the university.

Palazzo Bo, part of the University of Padua, where Da Feltre taught
Palazzo Bo, part of the University of
Padua, where Da Feltre taught
In 1423, he was asked to become tutor to the children of the powerful Gonzaga family, who ruled over Mantua. He agreed to do this providing he could set up his own school away from the Gonzaga court and its political influence.

He also enrolled other children to be taught at the school along with the Gonzaga children, both noble and poor children, who were selected because of their ability. The poor children did not have to pay for their education and were taught on an equal footing with the children from wealthy families. He also educated girls and did not consider the female pupils to be inferior to the male pupils.

Latin and Greek language and literature were at the centre of the curriculum of the school. The children were also taught arithmetic, geometry and music and did games and physical exercise, following the Greek ideal of development of the body as well as of the mind. The school was close to a lake and surrounded by beautiful countryside, which also contributed to the wellbeing of the pupils.

Federico da Montefeltro was among Da Feltre's pupils
Federico da Montefeltro was
among Da Feltre's pupils
Da Feltre saw education as a pathway to living a Christian life and made his pupils feel loved and cared for in terms of their health and characters. He adapted his teaching methods to their individual abilities and needs and never used corporal punishment. Among his students were Federico da Montefeltro, who became Duke of Urbino, and Gregorio Correr, who became Patriarch of Venice.

One of the first modern educators to develop during the Renaissance, da Feltre’s teaching methods were therefore innovative and many other schools in Europe were to adopt his educational model.

During his career, Da Feltre not only educated future Italian rulers and professional men but also taught Latin and Greek scholars who came to him from the east. This paved the way for the translation of the Greek manuscripts that were to inspire the Renaissance in Europe.

After Da Feltre’s death at the age of 68 in Mantua, Iacopo da San Cassiano, a humanist and mathematician who had been one of his pupils, took over the running of the school and inherited his library. Da Feltre was laid to rest in the Chiesa di Santo Spirito in Mantua.