Renaissance and Reformation Ermolao Barbaro the Younger
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0365


Ermolao Barbaro the Younger (b. 1454–d. 1493) was born into a prominent Venetian family. His father, Zaccaria, sent him to Rome, where he studied under Pomponio Leto, after which he returned to the Veneto, where he took up a position teaching at the University of Padua. The decisive event in his life was his abortive effort to take up an appointment as patriarch of Aquileia in 1491; when this failed, he remained in Rome until his death a short time afterward. Widely respected as a humanist scholar in his own day, he represented well the distinctively Venetian strain of this intellectual movement, which was more oriented toward Aristotelian philosophical studies, plus self-effacing service to the Venetian state, than its better-known Florentine variety, which focused more on man’s potential, plus his role in society. He prepared translations of and commentaries to a number of the texts he taught, along with treatises that drew from his experiences in life and a modest amount of poetry. While modern scholarship is extending the understanding of Barbaro’s work in some interesting new directions, he has not attracted an interest commensurate to that of some of his contemporaries. The most bracing recent work is clarifying the distinctive nature of his scholarship, which has been distorted in places by a certain reluctance to meet Venetian humanism on its own terms, but for Barbaro in general, much more remains to be done.

Life and Works

Like many Italian humanists, Barbaro would benefit from a good modern intellectual biography. Bigi 1964, supplemented by Céard 1997 and King 1986, offers a reliable short introduction to Barbaro’s life and works, and Mazzuchelli 1753–1763 contains much of the information on which these works still rely. Paschini 1957 goes into more detail but is still only of article length. Ferriguto 1922 offers bulk, but it is now almost a century old and is padded out with a great deal of extraneous information; Stickney 1903 is even older and less accessible. The essays in Marangoni and Pastore Stocchi 1996, several of which are explicitly focused on Barbaro’s life and family, offer the patient reader the resources to construct a larger picture.

  • Bigi, Emilio. “Ermolao Barbaro.” In Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 6. Edited by Alberto Maria Ghisalberti, 95–96. Rome: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia italiana, 1964.

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    A good introduction to Barbaro’s life and works that takes into account the complexity of his character and interests, along with a basic primary and secondary bibliography, unfortunately limited by the fact that this entry appeared in one of the earlier volumes of the DBI, which is becoming increasingly outdated.

  • Céard, Jean. “Ermolao Barbaro.” In Centuriae Latinae: Cent une figures humanistes de la Renaissance aux Lumières offertes à Jacques Chomarat. Edited by Colette Nativel, 79–84. Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance 314. Geneva, Switzerland: Librairie Droz, 1997.

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    A nice little overview that places Barbaro’s major works into the key events in his life, followed by a reference list that contains biographical material, editions of Barbaro’s works, and secondary scholarship. Updates Bigi 1964.

  • Ferriguto, Arnaldo. Almorò Barbaro: L’alta cultura del settentrione d’Italia nel 400, i ‘sacri canones’ di Roma e le ‘sanctissime leze’ di Venezia (con documenti inediti). Miscellanea di storia veneta edita per cura della R. deputazione veneta di storia patria, series 3, 15.2. Venice: A Spese della Societa, 1922.

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    An expansive survey of Barbaro’s life and works, beginning with issues in his intellectual life and providing a wide-ranging discussion of those issues. Not everything is directly relevant to Barbaro, but the work contains an enormous amount of information.

  • King, Margaret L. “Ermolao Barbaro.” In Venetian Humanism in an Age of Patrician Dominance. By Margaret L. King, 322–323. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

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    A good schematic introduction to Barbaro, providing basic information on his education, career, works, and correspondence, along with a brief discussion of his importance and a list of works about him. Barbaro also makes regular appearances in King’s narrative, which served as a definitive treatment of Venetian humanism when it appeared.

  • Marangoni, Michela, and Manlio Pastore Stocchi, eds. Una famiglia veneziana: I Barbari; Atti del Convegno di Studi in Occasione del Quinto Centenario della Morte dell'Umanista Ermolao, Venezia, 4–6 novembre 1993. Venice: Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 1996.

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    For those who read Italian, the essential starting place for modern scholarship on Barbaro, containing fifteen essays by the world’s leading scholars on his family, his relation to the important people of his day, his individual works, and his broader cultural environment.

  • Mazzuchelli, Giammaria. “Ermolao Barbaro.” In Gli scrittori d’Italia cioé notizie storiche, e critiche intorno alle vite, e agli scritti dei letterati italiani. Vol. 2.1. By Giammaria Mazzuchelli, 256–264. Brescia, Italy: Bossini, 1753–1763.

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    The earliest recognizably modern bio-bibliographical study of Barbaro, with an overview of the major events of his life followed by a list of his works, divided into those that had been published by the middle of the 18th century and those that remained in manuscript at that point.

  • Paschini, Pio. “Ermolao Barbaro.” In Tre illustri prelati del Rinascimento: Ermolao Barbaro, Adriano Castellesi, Giovanni Grimani. By Pio Paschini, 9–42. Lateranum, n.s., 23.1–4. Rome: Facultas Theologica Pontificii Athenaei Lateranensis, 1957.

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    A competent basic biography, beginning with Barbaro’s formation as a man of letters, focusing significant attention on his nomination to be patriarch of Aquileia, and concluding with a discussion of his time in Rome and premature death.

  • Stickney, Trumbull. De Hermolai Barbari vita atque ingenio. Paris: Société Nouvelle de Librairie et d’Édition, 1903.

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    A thirty-page biography, followed by an appendix containing a generous selection of Barbaro’s letters. Often cited, but, in the end, not especially helpful.

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