In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lorenzo Valla

  • Introduction
  • Life and Works
  • Collections of Essays
  • Translations
  • Valla as Humanist
  • Grammar and Language Use
  • Rhetoric and the Philosophy of Language
  • Dialectic
  • On Pleasure (or the True and False Good)
  • Philosophical Issues
  • Theology and Biblical Studies
  • The Donation of Constantine

Renaissance and Reformation Lorenzo Valla
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0129


Lorenzo Valla (b. 1407–d. 1457) was the great provocateur among the early Italian humanists, a dazzlingly original intellectual who launched frontal assaults on the traditional way of doing things in one field after another, then pilloried the scholars who criticized his efforts. He attempted to reorient dialectic by integrating it into rhetoric, then tried to redefine the standards for good Latin style according to classical usage. Those who found themselves unpersuaded by his work included some of the best scholars of the day, whom he assaulted in polemics that remain legendary even now. Valla was not a simple iconoclast, however, but a complicated figure who resists facile analysis: he was accused of heresy by the Neapolitan Inquisition for his attempt to integrate Christianity with the ancient philosophical system that seemed least compatible with it and challenged the authenticity of the document granting temporal authority to the Church, but his application of humanist philology to the New Testament also marks the beginning of modern biblical scholarship. It should come as no surprise that over the last several generations, a figure like Valla has attracted some of the best scholars working in Italian Renaissance humanism, nor should we be surprised to learn that Valla remains as capable of arousing controversy today as he was in his own lifetime.

Life and Works

Fubini 1997, Kristeller 1964, Lorch 1988, and Nauta 2011 offer short, accessible introductions to Valla’s life and works. For a full-length biography one has to go back to the 1890s: Barozzi and Sabbadini 1891 presents relevant documents and a good narrative, Mancini 1891 is still widely cited, and Wolff 1893 provides some additional information. For bibliography on Valla, Rossi 2007 is invaluable, with Izbicki 1993 offering a list of English-language material.

  • Barozzi, Luciano, and Remigio Sabbadini. Studi sul Panormita e sul Valla. Florence: Successori Le Monnier, 1891.

    Contains a documentary chronology by both authors (pp. 49–148) that presents extracts from Valla’s works that give information about his life and an intellectual biography by Barozzi (pp. 151–265) that discusses Valla’s early life, his place in the history of Italian humanism, his tendencies toward polemic, his moral philosophy, and his methods of historical analysis. More than a century old but still essential.

  • Fubini, Riccardo. “Valla (Lorenzo) (1407–1457).” In Centuriae latinae: Cent une figures humanistes de la Renaissance aux Lumières offertes à Jacques Chomarat. Edited by Colette Nativel, 767–771. Travaux d’humanisme et Renaissance 314. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 1997.

    A short but valuable introduction, sketching the key events in Valla’s life and offering an overview of his important writings, with a short bibliography of recent works.

  • Izbicki, Thomas M. “Lorenzo Valla: The Scholarship in English through 1992.” In Humanity and Divinity in Renaissance and Reformation: Essays in Honor of Charles Trinkaus. Edited by J. W. O’Malley, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Gerald Christianson, 287–301. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1993.

    A survey of English translations of Valla’s works and of scholarship on Valla in English, documenting the shift in the scholarly perception of Valla from pagan free thinker to Christian humanist.

  • Kristeller, Paul Oskar. “Lorenzo Valla.” In Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance. By Paul Oskar Kristeller, 19–36. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964.

    A good overview of Valla and his work, viewing him both as a typical representative of Italian humanism and as someone possessing a distinctive critical spirit that made an important contribution to the history of philosophy.

  • Lorch, Maristella de Panizza. “Lorenzo Valla.” In Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy. Vol. 1, Humanism in Italy. Edited by Albert Rabil Jr., 332–349. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

    A good introduction to the man and his writings, arguing that Valla is “the most powerful figure among fifteenth-century Italian humanists, among whom he is also, in many respects, the most controversial” (p. 336).

  • Mancini, Girolamo. Vita di Lorenzo Valla. Florence: Sansoni, 1891.

    A lengthy biography of Valla, designed primarily to place his writings in their larger social and intellectual context. Dated but valuable for its thoroughness.

  • Nauta, Lodi. “Lorenzo Valla.” In Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy. Edited by Henrik Lagerlund, 702–707. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2011.

    An unusually thoughtful brief overview of Valla’s life and works, arguing that his philological and philosophical efforts were unified by the belief that language lies at the basis of all intellectual endeavors.

  • Rossi, Marielisa. “Bibliografia degli scritti su Lorenzo Valla.” In Lorenzo Valla: Edizioni delle opere (sec. XV–XVI). Edited by Marielisa Rossi, 176–206. Dal codice al libro 31. Manziana, Italy: Vecchiarelli, 2007.

    A valuable list of 367 books and articles on Valla written from 1845 to 2007.

  • Wolff, Max von. Lorenzo Valla, sein Leben und seine Werke: Eine studie zur litteratur-geschichte Italiens im XV. Leipzig: E. A. Seeman, 1893.

    Like Mancini 1891, an older biography, shorter but still worth consulting.

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