In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Leon Battista Alberti

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Biographies
  • General Studies
  • Online Sites
  • Serious Writings in Latin
  • Technical Treatises

Renaissance and Reformation Leon Battista Alberti
David Marsh
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0115


Leon Battista Alberti (b. 1404–d. 1472), humanist and architect, was born in Genoa, the illegitimate son of Lorenzo Alberti, a Florentine banker in exile. After studies in Padua and Bologna, he was employed as a papal secretary. He was a prolific and innovative writer in both Latin and Italian. More than any of his contemporaries, Alberti succeeded in fusing ancient and modern elements in all of his humanistic projects ranging from literature to architecture.

Introductory Works

In Alberti’s autobiography, written in 1437, he celebrates the versatility that inspired Burckhardt’s notion of the “universal man of the Renaissance” (see Burckhardt 1878 and Fubini and Menci Gallorini 1972). In the late 20th century, Burckhardt’s image of the optimistic Alberti was challenged by a closer reading of his texts, and studies such as Garin 1972 and Marolda 1988 emphasized the humanist’s conflictual nature, which is seen most prominently in the contrast between his idealizing treatise On Architecture and his bitter satire Momus. Various aspects of Alberti’s humanist compositions are discussed in Marsh 2012 and McLaughlin 2016. A synthetic analysis of Alberti’s philosophical dimension is found in Michel 1930, a classic French monograph.

  • Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Translated by S. G. C. Middlemore. London: Kegan Paul, 1878.

    The source of influential notions such as the “universal Renaissance man” and the “state as a work of art.” German original by Burckhardt published in 1860 as Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien: Ein Versuch (Basel, Switzerland: Schweighauser).

  • Fubini, Riccardo, and Anna Menci Gallorini. “L’autobiografia di Leon Battista Alberti: Studio e edizione.” Rinascimento 12 (1972): 21–78.

    The critical text with an important introduction on Alberti’s use of the recently translated Lives of the Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius.

  • Garin, Eugenio. “Il pensiero di Leon Battista Alberti: Caratteri e contrasti.” Rinascimento 12 (1972): 3–20.

    A challenge to Burckhardt’s portrait of an optimistic Alberti.

  • Marolda, Paolo. Crisi e conflitto in Leon Battista Alberti. Rome: Bonacci, 1988.

    A survey of the contradictory aspects of Alberti’s writings, debunking the optimistic picture of this universal genius.

  • Marsh, David. Studies on Alberti and Petrarch. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

    Includes fifteen essays on Alberti as humanist with particular emphasis on allegory and symbolic thinking in his literary works.

  • McLaughlin, Martin. Leon Battista Alberti: La vita, l’umanesimo, le opere letterarie. Florence: Olschki, 2016.

    Seven essays in Italian on different aspects of Alberti’s life and writings including valuable discussions of Canis, De familia, and De re aedificatoria.

  • Michel, Paul-Henri. Un idéal humain au XVe siècle: La pensée de Léon-Baptiste Alberti, 1404–1472. Paris: Belles Lettres, 1930.

    A synthesis of Alberti’s thought as a unified vision of the world, perhaps too Burckhardtian in its idealism, but useful as examining the esthetics of the humanist’s writings.

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