Renaissance and Reformation Flavio Biondo
Nicoletta Pellegrino
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0112


Flavio Biondo (b. 1392–d. 1463) was born in Forlì in the Romagna region of Italy. After obtaining a law degree in 1427, Biondo was hired by the local ecclesiastical governor, Domenico Capranica. At the end of 1432, Biondo was called to Rome and nominated notary of the Camera Apostolica; early in 1434 he was made a pontifical secretary, combining the two positions and becoming close to the cardinal camerlengo. The papacy of Eugene IV (r. 1431–1447) marked the most intense and rewarding period of Biondo’s career in the Curia. In 1447, Nicholas V was elected pope, and, in late 1449, Biondo vacated the office of pontifical secretary, which he was not to hold again until 1453. His last years spent in relative poverty, he wrote more commercially viable works in an attempt to earn money while at the same time trying to complete the edition of the Decades. He died in Rome while still working on the Decades on 4 June 1463.

General Overviews

During the periods marked by humanism and the Renaissance, Rome was compelled to find a path between its dual roles as a center of classical culture and the capital of Christendom. Every scholar who has written about Biondo has recognized Biondo’s role in creating this new era and in the making of a universal Rome. Miglio 1975, Stinger 1985, and D’Amico 1983 offer a general introduction to the period, while Grafton 1991 posits Biondo as the beginning of a decisive cultural shift. Fubini 2003 and Fubini 2009, written by Riccardo Fubini (the author of Fubini 1968, cited under Reference Works), gives Biondo a larger space in his overview of the times, while Stinger 1981, McCahill 2013 and Marcellino 2014 comment that Biondo’s original reading of past glories reflects present ones. Mazzocco and Laureys 2016 is an edited collection of essays that aims to reassess Biondo’s work and scholarship. Repertorium Blondianum is a website that seeks to provide a comprehensive guide to Biondo and his associates.

  • D’Amico, John F. Renaissance Humanism in Papal Rome: Humanists and Churchmen on the Eve of the Reformation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.

    The short pages dedicated to Biondo posit his story—of a noncleric who finds success in the Curia—as representative of the intellectual and social diversity fostered by humanism in Renaissance Rome.

  • Fubini, Riccardo. Humanism and Secularization from Petrarch to Valla. Translated by Martha King. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822384014

    Fubini’s interest in Biondo is especially evident in the first of these five essays (“Consciousness of the Latin Language among Humanists: Did the Romans Speak Latin?”). Fubini claims that Biondo was the first scholar to look at language for its institutional role as opposed to its rhetorical and philological one. English translation of Umanesimo e secolarizzazione da Petrarca a Valla (Rome: Bulzoni, 1990).

  • Fubini, Riccardo. Politica e pensiero politico nell’Italia del Rinascimento: Dallo stato territoriale al Machiavelli. Florence: Edifir, 2009.

    In this analysis of the political thought of the time, Biondo is celebrated for his intellectual independence.

  • Grafton, Anthony. Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450–1800. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

    This is an analysis of humanism as a central moment in the development of modern epistemology. It includes a brief but interesting mention of Biondo’s reliance on cultural authority to address contradictory sources.

  • Marcellino, Giuseppe. “Lo Studio delle Antichità Romane e la Propaganda Antiturca nella ‘Roma Triumphans’ di Biondo Flavio.” Studi Classici e Orientali 60 (2014): 163–186.

    Roma triumphans, the last great work of the Italian humanist Flavio Biondo, was composed after the fall of Constantinople at the hands of Mahomet II in 1453 and completed during the Congress of Mantua convoked by Pope Pius II in order to set up a crusade against the Turks. According to Marcellino, while Biondo is talking of ancient Rome, he is evidently inspired by contemporary problems. Ancient glory is celebrated as the outcome of virtuous actions, such as fighting for one’s faith—for example, by going on a crusade against the Turks. Marcellino claims that the thematic continuity between the prefatorial letter and the conclusion of Book 10 suggests that anti-Turkish propaganda was in fact an important element of this work.

  • Mazzocco, Angelo, and Marc Laureys, eds. A New Sense of the Past: The Scholarship of Biondo Flavio, 1392–1463. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2016.

    Flavio Biondo’s originality and scope were shaped by the political and cultural turmoil of his time. Addressing the enduring complaints among scholars that Biondo has received less attention than some of his contemporaries, this collection of articles celebrates his intellectual interests and literary production. At the same time, the book represents a significant expression of the renewed scholarly attention that is being paid to Biondo in recent years. This collection of articles explores a variety of topics, from language and philology to archival research and antiquarianism.

  • McCahill, Elizabeth. “Eugenio IV, Biondo Flavio, Filarete, and the Rebuilding of Rome.” In Reviving the Eternal City: Rome and the Papal Court, 14201447. By Elizabeth McCahill, 168–198. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 2013.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674726154.c7

    This book explores the many conflicting realities within the Rome that the popes returned to after the Western Schism. McCahill dedicates one chapter to Biondo, affirming that even though many scholars have emphasized Biondo’s concern with restoration, there are no detailed studies on the intersection between his preoccupation with the idea of revival and that of his patron, the pope. The similarities and differences in their plans reflect the role of humanism in the Curia of the 1440s.

  • Miglio, Massimo. Storiografia pontificia del Quattrocento. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 1975.

    This old collection of essays is still useful to gain insight into the work of the humanists in the Curia and their attempts to reconcile classic historical writing with the centrality of Christianity.

  • Muecke, Frances, ed. Repertorium Blondianum.

    The website goal is to provide a comprehensive guide to Biondo and to his intellectual milieu. Following the model of the Repertorium Pomponianum, dedicated to one of Biondo’s contemporaries, the website disseminates information on the latest research on Biondo Flavio, such as conferences, lectures, and seminars as well as publications.

  • Stinger, Charles. “Roma Triumphans: Triumphs in the Thought and Ceremonies of Renaissance Rome.” Medievalia et Humanistica 10 (1981): 189–201.

    Flavio Biondo regarded the triumphs of ancient Rome as the antecedents of the Christian processions. However, his contemporaries did not all agree. They were more inclined to see the building of churches and the ruins of pagan Rome as God’s work.

  • Stinger, Charles L. The Renaissance in Rome. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

    A comprehensive fresco of Renaissance Rome, it provides a good introduction to Biondo’s intellectual environment and to some of the issues in which he was especially interested, such as the relationship with the material remains of the past.

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