Renaissance and Reformation Pier Candido Decembrio
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0345


Pier Candido Decembrio (b. c. 1392–d. 1477) was probably the most important humanist in Milan during the first half of the 15th century, acting as secretary to Filippo Maria Visconti from 1419 to 1447. He later served at the papal Curia from 1450 to 1456, then as secretary to the Neapolitan kings from 1456 to 1459, and he received a pension from the Este rulers in Ferrara from 1466 to 1474. Like many humanists of his day, his relationships with his peers were often troubled: he succeeded in remaining friendly with Poggio Bracciolini and Lorenzo Valla, but fought bitterly with Panormita and Francesco Filelfo, and he passed into and out of favor with Guarino da Verona and Leonardo Bruni. His fame spread abroad, especially to England (he advised Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester on how to build his library) and Spain (he exchanged letters for many years with Alonso of Cartagena, bishop of Burgos), and many manuscripts of his works are found in these two countries. Decembrio was the author of some 127 works, ranging from translations to original scholarship written in Latin on a wide variety of topics. His most famous work is his biography of Filippo Maria Visconti, while his grammatical treatise, his translation of Plato’s Republic, and his Peregrina historia circulated widely as well. For a humanist of his generation, he produced an unusually large number of vernacular compositions, largely translations from Latin and Greek. As far back as the mid-20th century, Paul Oskar Kristeller was able to state that modern scholarship on Decembrio was considerable (see Kristeller 1966, in Other Works, p. 538). Since then, some notable work has been done on Decembrio as a historian and as a natural scientist, but scholarship about him has tended to get caught up in the repeated citation of the same handful of articles, and a good deal remains to be done in several key areas.


For an author as prolific as Decembrio, a number of lesser works are destined to remain accessible only in early printed books or in manuscript, but modern editions exist of most of the key texts. Historical works have been published in Butti, et al. 1925–1958 and Kretschmer 1893, with Decembrio 1913 and Decembrio 1983 making key material available in Italian and German translations, respectively. Petrucci 2013 presents the first volume of Decembrio’s important letter collection, while his translations of Plato can be accessed in Gallego Moya 2001 and Martinelli Tempesta 2009, with Martinelli Tempesta 2010 assessing these last two works. Decembrio 1984 and Ponzù Donato 2012–2013 provide access to other works of Decembrio’s. See also Ditt 1931, in Life and Works and Lucca 1952, in Politics and Culture in Lombardy; Battistella 1895, in Decembrio’s Humanism; Borsa 1893 and Petraglione 1907, in Politics and Culture in Lombardy; all of the entries in Homer and Virgil; Fubini 1966, in Translations of Plato; and Mazzocchi 2007 and Suárez-Somonte, et al. 1988, in Reception in Spain.

  • Butti, Attilio, Felice Fossati, and Giuseppe Petraglione, eds. Petri Candidi Decembri Opuscula historica. 9 vols. Rerum italicarum scriptores, new ed. 20.1. Bologna, Italy: Nicola Zanichelli, 1925–1958.

    A critical edition of Decembrio’s historical works in a venerable Italian series with massive supporting annotation that often reduces the text to one or two lines on a folio-sized page.

  • Decembrio, Pier Candido. Leben des Filippo Maria Visconti und Taten des Francesco Sforza. Translated by Philipp Funk. Das Zeitalter der Renaissance, series 1, 7. Jena, Germany: Eugen Diederichs, 1913.

    A German translation of Decembrio’s life of Filippo Maria Visconti, his account of the deeds of Francesco Sforza, and twelve letters written by Decembrio that illustrate the points brought up in the other two works. Contains a fifty-page introduction that summarizes the Milanese history that the translated texts refer to. Useful for those who read German comfortably.

  • Decembrio, Pier Candido. Vita di Filippo Maria Visconti. Translated by Elio Bartolini. Piccola biblioteca Adelphi 156. Milan: Adelphi, 1983.

    An Italian translation of Decembrio’s Vita Philippi Mariae tertii Ligurum ducis, his biography of Filippo Maria Visconti, a psychologically acute portrait of one of the dominant political figures of the day who embodies in many respects the self-conscious construction and projection of power that Machiavelli outlines on a more theoretical level.

  • Decembrio, Pier Candido. Das Tierbuch des Petrus Candidus, Codex Urbinas 276, Eine Einführung. Translated by Theo Honref and Julia Schlechta. Codices e Vaticanis selecti 60. Commentary by Cynthia Munro Pyle. Zurich, Switzerland: Belser Verlag, 1984.

    A facsimile of Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Urb. lat. 276, which contains Decembrio’s De animantium naturis, a key text in the evolution of natural science from within the paradigm of Renaissance humanism. Spanish and Italian translations exist as well.

  • Gallego Moya, Elena. “La versión latina de Pier Candido Decembrio del ‘Lysis’ del Platón.” In Mentis amore ligati: Lateinische Freundschaftsdichtung und Dichterfreundschaft in Mittelalter und Neuzeit. Festgabe für Reinhard Düchting zum 65. Geburtstag. Edited by Boris Körkel, Tito Licht, and Jolanta Wiendlocha, 95–114. Heidelberg, Germany: Mattes, 2001.

    Offers a critical edition of Decembrio’s Latin translation of Plato’s Lysias, along with an introduction that discusses the weaknesses of the translation and provides an account of the manuscript witnesses.

  • Kretschmer, Konrad. “Die Kosmographie des Petrus Candidus Decembrius.” In Festschrift Ferdinand Freiherrn von Richthofen zum sechzigsten Geburtstag am 5. Mai 1893 dargebracht von seinen schülern. 267–305. Berlin: Geographische Verlagshandlung Dietrich Reimer, 1893.

    A critical edition of De cosmographia veteri et nova, the first book of the Historia peregrine, that offers important information on the state of geographical knowledge that was available to educated people in Decembrio’s time. The twenty-page introduction contains information about Decembrio, the contents of the treatise, its sources, and the manuscripts through which it has been transmitted.

  • Martinelli Tempesta, Stefano, ed. Platonis Euthyphron Francisco Philelfo interprete: Lysis Petro Candido Decembrio interprete. Il ritorno dei classici nell’Umanesimo, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali 3, Edizione nazionale delle traduzioni dei testi greci in età umanistica e rinascimentale 6. Florence: SISMEL Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2009.

    Contains a critical text of Decembrio’s Latin translation of the Lysis, along with Francesco Filelfo’s translation of the Euthyphron, which provides information on the circulation of Plato’s lesser works in the Quattrocento along with the material with which to compare the two translators’ knowledge of Greek and theories about translation.

  • Martinelli Tempesta, Stefano. “Ancora sulla versione del ‘Liside’ platonico di Pier Candido Decembrio.” Acme: Annali della Facoltà di lettere e filosofia dell’Università degli studi di Milano 63 (2010): 263–270.

    Compares the author’s edition of Plato’s Lysis (see Martinelli Tempesta 2009) to that of Gallego Moya 2001, listing first the places in which he prefers the readings of the other edition, then discussing the different editorial principles on which the two editions are founded.

  • Petrucci, Federico, ed. Petri Candidi Decembrii Epistolarum iuvenilium libri octo. Premio tesi di dottorato. Florence: Firenze University Press, 2013.

    The publication of Decembrio’s letter collection has been delayed for many years in anticipation of the edition on which Vittorio Zaccaria was working, which never appeared (see Zaccaria 1952, in Other Works). The first volume of Petrucci’s critical edition, which has been very carefully prepared, covers the years 1423–1432 and places Decembrio’s political and literary activity into the arc of Italian humanism that extends from Petrarch to Valla.

  • Ponzù Donato, Paolo. “Il Bellum Alexandrinum e il Bellum Africum volgarizzati da Pier Candido Decembrio.” Interpres 31 (2012–2013): 97–149.

    A critical edition of Decembrio’s Italian translation of the Bellum Alexandrinum and the Bellum Africum from the Corpus Caesarianum. The work is placed into its context at the Visconti court, and a linguistic analysis of the vernacular text shows that the Latin manuscript that Decembrio used has unique variants. Includes a careful description of the manuscripts and an analysis of their relationship. Article continues in Interpres 32 (2014): 7–111.

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