Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374), the poet laureate of the early Italian Renaissance, has enjoyed a reputation over the last seven centuries as the first humanist. Known chiefly for perfecting the Italian sonnet, he was also an astute Latin scholar. Living chiefly in Provence, Petrarch was frequently in the service of the Church during the Avignon Papacy (1305–1378). Most of his poetry expressed his unrequited love for Laura, a married noblewoman of Avignon.
The Petrarch Collection, which Willard Fiske began to assemble in the spring of 1881, represents copiously all the facets of Petrarchs literary production as well as scholarship on the poet. Included are magnificent bound manuscripts of his Italian poems, the Trionfi and the Sonnetti.
Within a decade, Willard Fiske had collected most of the books in his Petrarch collection. A French Petrarch scholar recalled some years after Fiskes death that he had received a letter in 1892, written in the purest Italian, in which Fiske had commented: My Petrarchian library grows very slowly, because I find few things I do not already possess.