Leonardo Bruni Biography


(History of the World: The Renaissance)

Article abstract: Bruni was a leading Italian Renaissance figure, a Humanist scholar whose work was important in the development of historiography.

Early Life

Leonardo Bruni was the son of Cecco Bruni, a small grain dealer in Arezzo. As a result of civil war, Bruni and his father were imprisoned in 1384, with the young Bruni held apart from his father in a castle room on the wall of which was a portrait of Petrarch. Bruni would later write that his daily viewing of the painting of this famous Italian poet and Humanist inspired him with an eagerness for Humanist studies. The years following the war and his imprisonment were difficult for Bruni. His father died in 1386, his mother in 1388; family resources declined sharply.

In spite of the family hardship, Bruni moved the forty miles to Florence, perhaps to live with relatives, and began his studies. From 1393 to 1397, he studied law in Florence and came to the attention of the medieval scholar Lino Coluccio Salutati. In 1396, another scholar, Manuel Chrysoloras, moved to Florence and did much to broaden Bruni’s career and education. In 1397, Bruni shifted to the study of Greek, in which Chrysoloras educated and then inspired him to complete a series of translations of several classical literary items from ancient times, many of which had been overlooked for centuries. These included works by Xenophon, Saint Basil, Procopius, Polybius, Demosthenes, Plutarch, Thucydides, and Aristotle. Before he was thirty-five, Bruni’s achievement in this work led to his stature among contemporaries as the leading authority on the subject of ancient literature.

Life’s Work

As a result of his recognition as a literary figure and because of his proficiency in Latin and Greek, Bruni received an appointment in 1405 as a secretary to Pope Innocent VII. Except for a brief period in 1410 and 1411, he would spend ten years with the papal court in Rome. In 1411, when he was forty-one years of age, he married. While little is known about his wife or her family, it is known that she brought to the marriage a dowry that reflects a family of wealth and status. Bruni also became a close acquaintance of Baldassarre Cossa, who became Pope John XXIII during the Schism of the Papacy until the famous deposition in 1415 at the Council of Constance. As a result of the loss of power by his patron, Bruni returned to Florence, where he settled into an active life in historical study and writing, Florentine politics, and personal investments.

It was as a historian that Leonardo Bruni became a great Renaissance scholar. Through translations, dialogues, biographies, commentaries, and his monumental Historiae Florentini populi (1610; history of the Florentine people), Bruni changed historical writing and thought so significantly that he was referred to as the “father of history” for at least two centuries after his death. Numerous Italian historians were influenced by his methods and style, and his impact extended into other disciplines. Although there is no complete chronology of Bruni’s historical works, the list is impressive. It begins with his Laudatio Florentinae urbis (in praise of the city of Florence) and the Dialoghi ad Petrum Paulum historum (dialogues dedicated to Pier Paolo Vergerio), both produced between 1401 and 1405.

Laudatio Florentinae urbis is an attempt to present a thorough view of the Florence city-state in its geographic and historical perspectives, a total view of the city. The work is based, in part, upon the model of Aristides’ eulogy of Athens in ancient Greece. Bruni sought to explain how Florentine institutions and politics evolved from the Italian past, in itself a new historical method. It was also in this work that Bruni’s civic Humanism emerged. He expressed the view that the health of the state must ever be based upon the educated and ethical sense of the citizenry, factors which, in his view, had contributed much to the glory and fame of Florence. Dialoghi ad Petrum Paulum historum was a combination of two dialogues that served as reproductions of conversations between scholars from two Florentine generations. Here Florence is presented as the preserver of the best features of republican Rome and classical Greece. Together the two works are credited with marking the beginning of a new...

(The entire section is 1795 words.)