In This Article Francesco Filelfo

  • Introduction
  • Biography

Renaissance and Reformation Francesco Filelfo
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 January 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0276


Of all the major humanists of the Italian Renaissance, Francesco Filelfo (b. 1398–d. 1481) probably has the worst reputation. In his own day he was reviled for being jealous, vain, and greedy, and his modern biographers repeat the same criticisms and add a few others, such as an exaggerated self-assurance that approached narcissism. Even those who did not like him admitted freely that Filelfo was a great scholar, one with a better knowledge of Greek than almost any Westerner of his day. However, his bad personal reputation seems to have caused many modern researchers to keep their distance from Filelfo as well. As the bibliography below indicates, this is starting to change, with Jeroen De Keyser in particular approaching Filelfo with a more sympathetic eye, but much more work remains to be done.


Rather surprisingly, there is no full modern biography of Francesco Filelfo. Viti 1997 offers an excellent short introduction, with Garin 1956 also worth consulting and Sheppard 1935 an acceptable summary for those restricted to English sources. Adam 1974 and Robin 1991 provide excellent accounts of significant aspects of Filelfo’s life and work, but Rosmini 1808 remains indispensable after 200 years, with Benadduci 1901 (cited under Editions) offering additional material. Robin 1983 sketches out the direction a new biography might take, while Ruggeri 1992 presents an important source that future biographical work must draw upon.

  • Adam, Rudolf Georg. “Francesco Filelfo at the Court of Milan: A Contribution to the Study of Humanism in Northern Italy (1439–1481).” PhD diss., Oxford University, 1974.

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    A major study of Filelfo and his works, placed into the larger setting of 15th-century Italian political and intellectual life. Unfortunately never published and therefore hard to obtain, but always cited in any serious scholarship on Filelfo.

  • Garin, Eugenio. “L’opera di Francesco Filelfo.” In Storia di Milano: L’età sforzesca dal 1450 al 1500. Vol. 7. Edited by Giovanni Treccani, 541–561. Milan: Fondazione Treccani degli Alfieri, 1956.

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    A good introductory overview, assessing Filelfo’s character, his relationship with the political powers of his day, his major works, and his long-term influence and reputation.

  • Robin, Diana. “Reassessment of the Character of Francesco Filelfo.” Renaissance Quarterly 36 (1983): 202–224.

    DOI: 10.2307/2860869E-mail Citation »

    An important effort to lay the groundwork for a new intellectual biography of Filelfo by attributing the generally negative portrait of him to a handful of contemporary sources that reflect the biases of their authors.

  • Robin, Diana. Filelfo in Milan: Writings, 1451–1477. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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    A hybrid volume, part intellectual biography stressing Filelfo’s status as marginalized “other” and his ambivalent relationship with his patrons, and part a selection of previously unpublished texts (see Robin 1983).

  • Rosmini, Carlo de’. Vita di Francesco Filelfo da Tolentino. 3 vols. Milan: Muigi Mussi, 1808.

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    Still the essential starting place for the study of Filelfo’s life and works, accompanied by an extensive selection of relevant documents.

  • Ruggeri, Fausto. “Il testamento di Francesco Filelfo.” Italia medioevale e umanistica 35 (1992): 345–366.

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    Contains the text with a brief study of an important document, the will preserved in the Archivio del Capitolo metropolitano di Milano, which had been lost since the mid-18th century.

  • Sheppard, L. A. “A Fifteenth-Century Humanist, Francesco Filelfo.” The Library 16 (1935): 1–26.

    DOI: 10.1093/library/s4-XVI.1.1E-mail Citation »

    A useful overview of Filelfo’s life and works, with much derived from Rosmini, for those who do not read Italian.

  • Viti, Paolo. “Francesco Filelfo.” In Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 47. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti, et al., 613–626. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, 1997.

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    An excellent introduction, offering a detailed chronology of Filelfo’s life followed by a balanced assessment of his works, concluding with four columns of bibliography.

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