Renaissance and Reformation Francesco Barbaro
Seth Parry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0216


Francesco Barbaro (b. 1390–d. 1454) was the preeminent Venetian humanist of the early 15th century. He was a senator and a scholar, a politician and an intellectual, an aristocrat and a humanist. He received a first-rate education from humanist tutors before attending the university at Padua, and he was guided by prominent mentors. Barbaro is best remembered today for De re uxoria (“On Marriage”), a treatise he wrote when only twenty-five to his friend Lorenzo de’ Medici the Elder as a wedding gift. This work is still studied on its own merits, and as a lens revealing 15th-century Italian attitudes toward marriage and family life. Nearly as significant, Barbaro corresponded with dozens of the leading intellectual and political figures of his day, and his collected epistles are a treasure trove of information for 15th-century society and culture. Considering his literary significance, it is remarkable that Barbaro also had a successful and fulfilling political career. Barbaro was elected by the Senate or the Maggior Consilio to posts including ambassador, military governor, member of the Council of Ten, and ducal councilor, before being made one of the nine procurators of St. Mark—the second-highest positions in the Republic, after Doge. Later in his life, he also became a significant patron of humanist learning, particularly emphasizing the revival of Greek scholarship that was to become a trademark of Venetian humanism. Many of the Greek scholars who flourished in quattrocento Venice owed their standing to Barbaro’s largesse. Barbaro was certainly a Renaissance man, in that he was equally at ease—and successful—in the political and intellectual arenas.

General Overviews

Despite being the most prominent of the first-generation Venetian humanists, few full-length analyses of Francesco Barbaro’s life are available. Agostini 1754 was the first to attempt to provide a biography, and this work contains useful context for studying Barbaro. Gualdo 1964 is a succinct starting point for understanding Barbaro’s life. Montanari 1840 provides a thorough overview of Barbaro’s political career, while Sabbadini 1910 analyzes a specific period. The fullest treatment of Barbaro’s life is Gothein 1932, which provides a useful interpretational framework for studying Barbaro’s life and career. Lazzarini 1933 corrects some of the factual mistakes in Gothein 1932. Nevertheless, the field is open to a full-length, modern interpretation of this important scholar and politician.

  • Agostini, Giovanni degli. Notizie istorico-critiche intorno la vita e le opera degli scrittori viniziani. Vol. 2. Venice: Presso Simone Occhi, 1754.

    The first substantial biography of Barbaro. An 18th-century work, but still valuable for the context it provides.

  • Gothein, Percy. Francesco Barbaro: Früh-humanismus und Staatskunst in Venedig. Berlin: Verlag die Runde, 1932.

    Gothein’s book is thorough, and it is the most recent complete biography and analysis of Barbaro’s life and work, despite how long ago it was written. He emphasizes throughout the usefulness of Barbaro’s humanist studies for his life as a politician and man of action. Gothein also highlights Barbaro’s lifelong attachment to the works of Plutarch, acquired from his studies with Guarino Guarini and appealed to throughout his career.

  • Gualdo, Germano. “Barbaro, Francesco.” In Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 6, Baratteri–Bartolozzi. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti, 101–103. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1964.

    A brief, but informative, biographical entry on Barbaro that draws from the other sources in this section. A good starting point for Barbaro studies.

  • Lazzarini, Lino. “Un libro su Francesco Barbaro.” Archivio Storico Italiano, 7th ser., 20 (1933): 97–104.

    A fine, short article that serves as a biographical analysis of Barbaro’s life as well as a review of Gothein 1932. Lazzarini discusses Barbaro’s melding of Renaissance humanism with Venetian culture to create a unique brand of Venetian humanism that would be pursued by his successors. Lazzarini concludes his essay by correcting a number of errors in Gothein 1932.

  • Montanari, Giuseppe Ignazio. Biografia di Francesco Barbaro veneziano. Rome: n.p., 1840.

    A succinct account of Barbaro’s life, emphasizing his political career. It concludes with a chronological discussion of the various editions of his works (principally De re uxoria) through the mid-19th century.

  • Sabbadini, Remigio. “La gita di Francesco Barbaro a Firenze.” In Miscellanea di studi in onore di Attilio Hortis. Vol. 2. Edited by Scipione De Sandrinelli, 615–627. Trieste, Italy: G. Caprin, 1910.

    A study of Barbaro’s time as ambassador to Florence: his political/diplomatic career and the influence this experience had on his intellectual career as a humanist. Reprinted in Storia e critica di testi latini, 2d ed., edited by Sabbadini (Padua, Italy: Antenore, 1971), pp. 25–35.

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