BAÏF, Jean-Antoine de

(1532-1589)
Less well known than his fellow poets of the Pleïade school, Jean-Antoine de Baïf remained a faithful member of the group and produced an astonishing number and variety of works in his lifetime. The results of his musical research, his metrical experiments, and his proposed spelling reforms were not widely adopted, but together with his collected poetry they embody the versatility and enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge and invention characteristic of the French Renaissance.
The natural son of the author Lazare de Baïf, Jean-Antoine received an ex­cellent early education, then studied the classics and modern Italian literature at the College de Coqueret in Paris under the renowned humanist Jean Dorat. Baïf joined Pierre de Ronsard* and Joachim Du Bellay,* fellow students at Coqueret, in forming the influential French poetic circle entitled the Pleïade.
In 1552 Baïf published the two books of his Amours for Meline, a canzoniere of Petrarchan-style love poetry written for an idealized woman. Baïf wrote the four books of his Amours de Francine (1555) for Francoise de Gennes, a young woman he met in Poitiers. In his love poetry, Baïïf follows the Italian models - Petrarch, above all—that were well known and widely used by French Renais­sance poets.
Baïïf took orders in the church and received an ecclesiastical income that supplemented his inheritance and allowed him to devote all of his time to writ­ing. Charles IX eventually named Baïf royal secretary, which allowed him to live with the king's entourage in Paris.
In 1567 Baïïf published his comedy in verse Le brave (The Braggart), a loose adaptation of Plautus's Miles gloriosus. The play met with success when it was staged at the Hotel de Guise in 1567. Along with his poetry, this and several translations by Baïïf of classical plays point to the poet's desire to experiment in all genres. Also in 1567 Baïf published a short scientific and didactic poem, Le premier des météores, dedicated to Catherine de' Medici.* The volume re­flects the increasing popularity of scientific writings, and of astrology in partic­ular, in Baïf's day, as well as the poet's own interest in scientific truth, which for him superseded poetic imagination.
Along with Thibaut de Courville, and with Charles IX's approval and pro­tection, Baïf founded the Academie de poesie et de musique in 1570. A principal aim of the academy, in keeping with the Pleïade's early doctrine, was to explore the close link between poetry and music. As a part of his work within the academy, Baïïf continued his research on rhythm and rhyme and created new metrical patterns based on Greek poetry, as well as a new, reformed system of spelling based on phonetics. In 1572 Baïf published his collected Oeuvres en rime in four volumes. In 1574 he published his Etrenes de poezie fransoëze an vers mezureés, printed using his new system of orthography. Baïïf's spelling re­forms never took hold, but he continued to use them in his own work until his death. In 1574 Henri III elevated the status of the academy, renamed the Aca­demie du Palais, making it one of the most important cultural institutions in France. Under the influence of the new king, however, the focus of the acad­emy's work shifted from that of music and poetry to eloquence in the service of morality.
In 1576 Baïf published the first edition of his last collection, entitled Mimes, enseignemens, et proverbes. Following a popular sixteenth-century trend, Baïïf's Mimes use proverbs, popular expressions, fables, and rhyming adages for both the pleasure and the moral edification of the reader. The collection also includes political satires and épures. In the final years of his life, surrounded by civil wars in France, Baïïf turned his interest to religious questions and texts. He translated the Psalter into metrical verse, into Latin verse, and into French rhym­ing verse.
Bibliography
M. Auge-Chiquet, La vie, les idees, et l'oeuvre de Jean-Antoine de Baïf, 1969.
J.-A. de Baïïf, Le brave, ed. Simone Maser, 1979.
J.-A. de Baïf, Mimes, enseignemens, et proverbes, ed. Jean Vignes, 1992.
Karen S. James

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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