Matteo Bandello (1480-1562), Italian novelist, was born at Castelnuovo, near Tortona, about the year 1480. He received a very careful education, and entered the church, though he does not seem to have prosecuted his theological course with great zeal. For many years he resided at Mantua, and superintended the education of the celebrated Lucrezia Gonzaga, in whose honour he composed a long poem. The decisive battle of Pavia, which gave Lombardy into the hands of the emperor, compelled Bandello to fly; his house at Milan was burnt and his property confiscated. He took refuge with Cesare Fregoso, an Italian general in the French service, whom he accompanied into France. In 1550 he was raised to the bishopric of Agen, a town in which he resided for many years before his death in 1562. Bandello wrote a number of poems, but his fame rests entirely upon his extensive collection of Novelle, or tales (1554, 1573), which have been extremely popular. They belong to that species of literature of which Boccaccio's Decameron and the queen of Navarre's Heptameron are, perhaps, the best known examples. The common origin of them all is to be found in the old French fabliaux, though some well-known tales are evidently Eastern, and others classical.
Bandello's novels are esteemed the best of those written in imitation of the Decameron, though Italian critics find fault with them for negligence and inelegance of style. They have little value from a purely literary point of view, and many of them are disfigured by the grossest obscenity. Historically, however, they are of no little interest, not only from the insight into the social life of the period which they afford, but from the important influence they exercised on the Elizabethan drama. The stories on which Shakespeare based several of his plays were supplied by Bandello, probably through Belleforest or Paynter.