Leonardo Bruni

Dafato Team | Jan 14, 2023

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Leonardo Bruni, also called Leonardo Aretino (Arezzo, 1369 - Florence, 1444), was an Italian humanist, historian and politician.

Although his family was Tuscan, he moved to Florence, so that Leonardo became a Florentine citizen in 1416. In Florence he learned rhetoric and became friends with the humanists Niccolò Niccoli, Poggio Bracciolini and Palla Strozzi, his contemporaries, and also frequented masters such as Coluccio Salutati and Manuel Crisoloras. From 1405 he embarked on a political career in Rome, in the service of Innocent VII. In 1411 he participated in the Council of Constance in the retinue of Antipope John XXIII and from 1415 he settled permanently in Florence, serving as chancellor of the Republic of Florence from 1427 until his death in Florence in 1444. He is buried in the church of Santa Croce.

He wrote a Historiae Florentini populi in 12 books that was printed in 1492. This work stands out in his time for adopting a scientific historiographic method: confrontation of documents and distancing himself from a providentialist conception of history. In vulgar language he wrote a Vita di Dante and a Vita di Petrarca, both from 1434, as well as some rhymes and novelle. He also composed a dramatic piece that is one of the antecedents of La Celestina, the comedy Poliscena. He was one of the best Latin writers of his time and was determined to have the works of Plato and Aristotle translated from Greek. He disputed with the Spanish humanist Alfonso de Cartagena over his translation of the latter's Ethics.

His translation, made in 1417 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, was quite controversial because it varied greatly from the respected translation of Roberto Grosseteste and introduced the famous discussion on the "highest good" that occupied the cream of the Italian intelligentsia during the following years.

Florentine humanism arose precisely from the intersection of humanist Petrarchism with the political ideology of Quattrocento Florence.

Leonardo Bruni played a fundamental role at that time. He was a disciple of Coluccio Salutati, chancellor of Florence. From this time on there was a series of Florentine chancellors, all great humanist writers, who exercised an important political influence until the arrival of the Medici, when Cosimo came to power in 1434. The Medici power lasted until the end of their first period of rule in 1494.

The humanists explain how a popular regime of civic liberties makes possible the domination of an oligarchy made up of a series of family groups whose economic and wealth base has been sustained by the exercise of commerce, the handicraft industry (textile) and banking. Consequently, we are before a bourgeoisie that is aristocratized, with a tendency to remain in power. Medieval structures are mixed with the impact of the emergence of a pre-capitalist economy coupled with the defeat of the landed class. This does not mean the disappearance of feudal structures, but the possession of land in the Florentine sphere is subordinated to the interests of the urban world. The guild division reflects the Florentine social organization: major arts versus minor arts. There are vertical social conflicts between powerful and inferior groups, but also internal struggles at the horizontal level between the main families of the city.

The history of Italy in the early and late Middle Ages is a history of wars between cities and will be so until the middle of the 15th century. In these wars between republics, some won and others lost; some became great at the expense of others.

Around 1400, the enlarged urban republics were no longer just cities, but had occupied the territory around them. The city acts as the center of power of the territory it controls; it has become a lordship, exercising a lord-like power over the environment. Florence then dominates Tuscany.

Bruni became the highest expression of Florentine humanistic history before Machiavelli. He came from Arezzo, like Petrarch. He received an excellent humanistic education and went on to be educated in Florence in the circle of Coluccio Salutati. In this Florentine humanist circle, Greek was already being taught. From then on, Bruni's career was a professional one in the service of Florence, and even more so of the papacy. This did not prevent him from identifying with the ideals of the city, or of the oligarchy that dominated it, and he was twice appointed chancellor. In practice, his office corresponded to a sort of current Minister of Foreign Affairs. Since offices in Florence are temporary, the chancellor acquires power to the extent that he becomes a constant official. Bruni was chancellor between 1410 and 1411, and between 1427 and 1444, the year of his death.

Bruni is a humanist in every sense of the word. He considers himself Florentine even though he is not originally Florentine. He translated into Latin Plutarch, Xenophon, Demosthenes, St. Basil, Homer, Plato and, above all, Aristotle. As a historian, and within the civic humanism, he is the author of Laudatio florentinae urbis ("Praise of the city of Florence"). There is in him a literary model that imitates Aristides, and there is a transformation of patriotism into ideology. He wrote a work where he poured all his ideology: The History of the Florentine People, distributed in thirteen books. The work was published in Italian in 1473.

We will find in Bruni's work all the features of humanistic precepts, and more specifically of Florentine precepts. The object of his works of history is the Florentine people themselves. The historiographical model he uses is Titus Livy. Bruni's work is chronologically justified; it is a narrative structure in the manner, one might say, almost chronological. A chronological record that from time to time is interrupted to offer an explanation or ratio, something that is fundamental. It is not simply a chronicle or a record of events because an explanation of the facts is given. On the other hand, it does not resort to transcendental explanations nor does it allude to Providence; man is not a patient being. The displacement of Providence does not imply a trait of atheism or agnosticism; Bruni was very religious. The responsibility for the facts lies with the acting subjects. The classics teach that the result of the action is not consequential; fortune must be included. In Bruni the concept of fortune does not fit in too much, contrary to Machiavelli.

In humanist historiography, when events are recorded, causality is determined by a precedent in a strict order of succession: in a, b, c, d, e, f..., f is explained taking into account a, b, c, d, e. Oratio or discourse is introduced; the subjects speak. This is fundamental in Machiavelli. Before acting, the subjects explain why they act. The narrative thus has more dramatic force. The humanist historian can demonstrate his literary skills, although this poses a danger to the veracity of the facts narrated. For Bruni, history must always seek the truth. But in the pursuit of truth, discourse is also introduced and an attempt is made to demonstrate literary skills. It is here that the temptation appears to divert the contents away from the veritas, thinking more of the rhetorical character of the work.

The humanist work follows a classical model. To this end, the most appropriate author is sought at each moment according to the type of story to be told. The imitatio does not consist only in resembling as much as possible the chosen model, because the author has to tell his story, showing in his creation his own rhetoric. The good humanist historian will use original documents that allow him to reconstruct the historical fact. The document used does not imply the consideration of the humanist author as a researcher, since it is not accompanied by an exhaustive claim. But this does not mean the lack of a method that requires an approach with respect to the classical authors.

Bruni accepts from some and denies from others. His sources are mainly narrative. By the time Bruni makes history, he has already had access to contemporary documentation. At that time he is mainly concerned with the foreign policy of his city. Bruni's narrative discourse is equal to the historical process. He structures his main work in books and follows classical literary models (imitatio). But the work must meet certain literary requirements: good Latin and good Tuscan, complying with the canons of literary precepts and the rules of eloquence. Only the well written, the eloquent, provokes in the reader the pleasure of reading. Eloquence, therefore, is an indispensable means for the work to fulfill its objective: delectare; only through the reader's taste is it possible to reach it. For Cicero, history is a teacher of life; but it can only be so if it produces delectatio. It is only learned if there is delectatio: by means of delectare one achieves docere (it has a utilitas. Every historian writes with a sense of the utility of his historical work. Each author will seek a different utilitas with his history. In the case of Bruni, this historian writes for the greater glory of the Florentine people.

Bruni makes a tripartite division of society: the feudal nobility, to which he devotes little attention; the majority, which he calls the multitude, composed of artisans, shopkeepers, day laborers, etc.; and the oligarchic class, an oligarchy composed of merchants, bankers and others who have formed lineages and participate in the political life of the city. We will see this relatively idealized vision reworked in Machiavelli. That type of society is the right one for the republic, an idealized republic of Florence.

Bruni elaborates a history destined to reaffirm the political idea he defends. He elevates Florence to the category of the model of Rome. In Florence, the Medici maintained the appearance of a republican system, but the reality was that the city was ruled by a dominant oligarchy. The author hides this reality by exposing a moralistic model in his works. The history of Florentine civic humanism will be incompatible with that written for the greater glory of the ruling prince.

Every work of humanist history is also characterized by an evaluation of the past. The present is understood and explained from the past, so the past must also be constructed. Bruni must find a starting point in the Florentine past. The myth of origin is found both in Bruno and in other historians. A community is just as its founders created it: it depends on its founding moment. An idea of original sin therefore creeps in. Since the republic is a system of liberties, it is necessary to elaborate an original myth of Florence that responds to that present. The problem that arose is that Florence was not important during the Roman republic or during the empire. There is little evidence of the Florentine origin, which must be investigated in classical sources, opting for a republican or Caesarian foundation of the city. For Bruni and others, the greatness of Rome began to decline with the empire; therefore, they are inclined towards a republican origin of Florence.

Another problem for Bruni is that of the continuity of the empire. The topical conception of the Middle Ages is seen in Biondo, but also in Bruni, for whom the empire ends in the 5th century when it is destroyed by the barbarians. For him it is fundamental to deny the continuity of the Roman Empire in the Holy Roman Empire of the Othonides. For a Renaissance author the ancient world dies in the 5th century. This does not necessarily entail a negative evaluation of the entire Middle Ages. For Bruni, the recovery and independence of the cities from the twelfth century onwards means the flourishing of new freedoms. He associates urban liberties with the loss of territorial power of the Germanic Empire, to which he denies the representativeness of the former Roman Empire. On the other hand, when Bruni writes literary lives, which do not constitute political history, he does so in Tuscan and not in Latin. This is his greatest concession to the category of the subject.

The problem of interior peace is one of the humanist and scholastic questions. Concord is always raised as the ultimate goal of the community, both political and ecclesiastical. Concord derives from the exercise of public and private virtues, and from the political organization or constitutional order. Bruni analyzes discord and the causes that produce it. In his Prohemio he refers to the political institutions of his city and establishes a relationship between the governing personality and the multitude. For the social thought of the time, potential confrontation is inherent in the nature of things. The reading of the classics reaffirms the humanists in this consideration. Thus, Bruni's work records the city's conflict with the papacy, the economic situation, etc. He situates the Giompi revolution in a context of internal and external political crisis. The dispute between parties leads to the elimination of the opponent; the winning party expels and represses the defeated party.

In his biography of Dante, Bruni presents Dante as a model of life, capable of combining his literary activity with the study of the reality of his time. He praises his education and patriotism, as well as the fact that he had a wife and children (in the face of the misogyny of his time), and a position and government in the republic.

After Bruni, Florentine historiography has other important names, although their importance is more of a literary nature. As the fifteenth century progresses, Bruni's defense of political commitment in relation to history does not occur in new authors. Among these, Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) stands out, especially as a humanist and less as a historian, who preserves Bruni's rhetoric and makes his work a model of prose for his contemporaries. He did important work in the recovery of classical texts; it was he who discovered the codices of the monastery of St. Gallen. As a historian he continues Bruni's history of the Florentine people. He is part of the saga of Florentine chancellors.

He is credited with the following sentence referring to the abolition of compulsory military service in his city: "If the citizens of Florence entrust the care of their defense to others, it is because they are already incapable of defending themselves and fighting for their homeland".


  1. Leonardo Bruni
  2. Leonardo Bruni
  3. Cf. Gaeta (1955:15).
  4. Segundo a Wikipédia italiana
  5. ^ Gary Ianziti, Writing History in Renaissance Italy: Leonardo Bruni and the Uses of the Past, Harvard University Press, 2012, p. 432, ISBN 978-0674061521.
  6. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. 11ª edizione . Cambridge University Press. p. 684.
  7. ^ Gary Ianziti (2012). Writing History in Renaissance Italy: Leonardo Bruni and the Uses of the Past. Harvard University Press. p. 432. ISBN 978-0674061521.
  8. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bruni, Leonardo". Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 684.
  9. ^ Burke, Edmund (1908). "Leonardo Bruni". In Catholic Encyclopedia. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  10. ^ Stuart M. McManus, 'Byzantines in the Florentine polis: Ideology, Statecraft and ritual during the Council of Florence', The Journal of the Oxford University History Society, 6 (Michaelmas 2008/Hilary 2009), pp. 8-10
  11. ^ Levey, Michael; Early Renaissance,p. 57-9, 1967, Penguin

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