In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Collections of Papers and Series
  • Historiography
  • Philological Studies
  • Concordism
  • Rhetoric and Philosophy
  • Human Nature
  • Religion and Theology
  • Metaphysics
  • Theory of Knowledge
  • Astrology
  • Library and Books
  • Ecclesiastical Condemnation and Rehabilitation
  • Osteology

Renaissance and Reformation Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
M.V. Dougherty
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0221


The Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (b. 1463–d. 1494) is best known today for his Oratio de hominis dignitate, a speech often touted as an emblematic expression of the Renaissance. Originally, however, the Oratio was intended to open a debate in Rome where Pico had hoped to dispute his Conclusiones nongentae, a work of nine hundred theses covering a vast array of philosophical, theological, and esoteric topics that Pico had published in late 1486. A papal prohibition by Innocent VIII, however, canceled the planned disputation, and Pico was excommunicated after he authored in 1487 his Apologia, a sharp defense of thirteen of the nine hundred theses that had been identified as doctrinally problematic by an ecclesiastical commission. Pico was only fully rehabilitated in 1493 by the new pope Alexander VI. Pico’s other extant works testify to his wide-ranging interests and training. In addition to studying ancient and scholastic philosophy, Pico learned Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, and he was one of the first to use Kabbalah to support points of Christian doctrine. He had a life-long interest in reconciling philosophers of the past, arguing that the main oppositions between Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics were simply verbal, and he intended to publish a work titled Concordia Platonis Aristotelisque. He had an early epistolary debate with Ermolao Barbaro on the relationship of philosophy and rhetoric, wrote on metaphysics in De ente et uno, engaged in biblical exegesis in the Heptaplus, and criticized astrology in his longest book, the unfinished Disputationes. Pico enjoyed the protection of Lorenzo de’ Medici and his intellectual contacts included Marsilio Ficino, Angelo Poliziano, and Girolamo Savonarola. Much of Pico’s work was published posthumously in 1496 by his nephew and literary executor, Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola. Pico was introduced to an English audience in the early 16th century by Thomas More, who produced an abbreviated English rendering of Gianfrancesco’s biography of his uncle, along with translations of three letters and several short spiritual writings by Pico.

General Overviews

At present no general, full-scale, reliable study of Pico’s life and works in English is available. A valuable but somewhat idealized biography was penned by Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola in the short Vita of 1496. Pico della Mirandola 1997 contains a text and English translation. Garin 2011 reprints an early and often-cited classic study from 1937. Valcke 2005 is the most up-to-date account of Pico’s life and works, and Roulier 1989 also provides a comprehensive account. Borghesi 2008, Garin 2008, and Toussaint 2010 offer shorter overviews of Pico’s writings in the context of the main events in Pico’s life. Cassirer 1942 is an influential and often-reprinted article that did much to popularize Pico in the mid-20th century, even though its central speculative conclusions are no longer generally accepted.

  • Borghesi, Francesco. “A Life in Works.” In Pico della Mirandola: New Essays. Edited by M. V. Dougherty, 202–220. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    A careful presentation of Pico’s intellectual formation that discusses the principal events surrounding Pico’s literary production.

  • Cassirer, Ernst. “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: A Study in the History of Renaissance Ideas.” Journal of the History of Ideas 3.2 (1942): 123–144.

    DOI: 10.2307/2707173

    See also pp. 316–346. A frequently reprinted article that presents Pico’s thought as displaying “the true spirit of the Renaissance.” Argues for a hidden unity to Pico’s thought by alleging a theory of symbols in Pico’s writings and emphasizing the theme of freedom.

  • Garin, Eugenio. History of Italian Philosophy. Vol. 1. Edited and translated by Giorgio Pinton. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789401205221

    Chapter 14 (“Giovanni Pico della Mirandola,” pp. 295–325) offers a short overview of Pico’s life and philosophical works with an emphasis on theistic features in Pico’s outlook. This book is an English translation, with supplementary material, of Garin’s Storia della filosofia italiana, 3d ed. (Turin, Italy: Giulio Einaudi Editore, 1978).

  • Garin, Eugenio. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: Vita et dottrina. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2011.

    Reprinting, with original pagination, of an early influential study of Pico’s life and works by the 20th-century editor of several of Pico’s major texts. Originally published in 1937.

  • Pico della Mirandola, Gianfrancesco. “The Life of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.” In The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. Vol. 1, English Poems, Life of Pico, The Last Things. Edited by Anthony S. G. Edwards, Katherine Gardiner Rodgers, and Clarence H. Miller, 279–381. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

    A Latin text and English translation of the Vita of 1496, the short biographical work composed by Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola.

  • Roulier, Fernand. Jean Pic de la Mirandole (1463–1494): Humaniste, philosophe et théologien. Geneva, Switzerland: Éditions Slatkine, 1989.

    A detailed study of Pico’s life and works. Interprets the texts on the human condition in the Oratio as metaphysical rather than literary and carefully identifies sources at Pico’s disposal. Contains a valuable discussion of Pico’s interest in concordia.

  • Toussaint, Stéphane. “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494): The Synthetic Reconciliation of All Philosophies.” In Philosophers of the Renaissance. Edited by Paul Richard Blum and translated by Brian McNeil, 69–81. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt32b217.9

    Short presentation of the themes and sources of Pico’s works. English translation of “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494): Synthetische Aussöhnung aller Philosophien.” In Philosophen der Renaissance, edited by Paul Richard Blum (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1999), pp. 65–76.

  • Valcke, Louis. Pic de la Mirandole: Un itinéraire philosophique. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2005.

    DOI: 10.14375/NP.9782251344751

    The best comprehensive account of Pico’s life and works. Argues for an evolution of Pico’s thought.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.