He was born in Venice and while still a boy he accompanied his father to Florence, and there acquired a love for that Tuscan form of speech which he afterwards cultivated in preference to the dialect of his native city. Having completed his studies, which included two years' devotion to Greek under Lascaris at Messina, he chose the ecclesiastical profession.
After a considerable time spent in various cities and courts of Italy, where his learning already made him welcome, he accompanied Giulio de' Medici to Rome, where he was soon after appointed secretary to Leo X. On the pontiff's death he retired, with impaired health, to Padua, and there lived for a number of years engaged in literary labours and amusements. In 1529 he accepted the office of historiographer to his native city, and shortly afterwards was appointed librarian of St Mark's.
The offer of a cardinal's hat by Pope Paul III took him in 1539 again to Rome, where he renounced the study of classical literature and devoted himself to theology and classical history, receiving before long the reward of his conversion in the shape of the bishoprics of Gubbio and Bergamo. He died on January 18 1547.
Bembo, as a writer, is the beau ideal of a purist. The exact imitation of the style of the genuine classics was the highest perfection at which he aimed. This at once prevented the graces of spontaneity and secured the beauties of artistic elaboration. One cannot fail to be struck with the Ciceronian cadence that guides the movement even of his Italian writings.
His works (collected edition, Venice, 1729) include a History of Venice (1551) from 1487 to 1513, dialogues, poems, and what we would now call essays. Perhaps the most famous are a little treatise on Italian prose, and a dialogue entitled Gli Asolani, in which Platonic affection is explained and recommended in a rather longwinded fashion, to the amusement of the reader who remembers the relations of the beautiful Morosina with the author. The edition of Petrarch's Italian Poems, published by Aldus in 1501, and the Terzerime, which issued from the same press in 1502, were edited by Bembo, who was on intimate terms with the great typographer. See Opere de P. Bembo (Venice, 1729); Casa, Vita di Bembo, in 2nd vol. of his works.