Renaissance and Reformation Poggio Bracciolini
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0095


Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini (b. 1380–d. 1459) is one of the more interesting of the early Italian humanists. He spent almost fifty years in the service of the papacy but never took orders and had no hesitations about ridiculing the vices of churchmen. His literary output covered a wide range, including speeches, dialogues, translations, letters, history, and fables, but he is probably best known today for his manuscript discoveries and for his polemics, which he unleashed against several of the most famous scholars of his day. His final years suggest well the contradictions posed by his life and works: at the age of fifty-five, he left his long-term mistress to marry a young woman of eighteen and delegitimized the fourteen children he had had with the mistress, but this did not keep him from being named Chancellor of Florence in 1453 and state historian.

Life and Works

Walser 1974, even though it was originally published in 1914, remains the fundamental biography of Poggio, with Folts 1976 offering a partial update, Bacci 1963 complementing Walser’s approach, and Gutkind 1932 presenting an analysis from a different perspective. Petrucci 1971 is the best short introduction to Poggio’s life and works, with Ehrman 1928 serving the same purpose for those who cannot read Italian. Bacci 1959 surveys Poggio’s reputation from his day through modern times, while Shepherd 1837 shows what a biography written during the Romantic period looks like.

  • Bacci, Domenico. Poggio Bracciolini nella luce dei suoi tempi. Florence: Enrico Ariani e L’arte della Stampa, 1959.

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    An introduction to Poggio, beginning with a biography and concluding with a survey of his reputation through the centuries. An unorthodox structure that nonetheless illuminates its subject from a useful angle.

  • Bacci, Domenico. Cenni biografici e religiosità di Poggio Bracciolini. Florence: Enrico Ariani e L’arte della Stampa, 1963.

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    A biography of Poggio, followed by a closer examination of his religious sensibility, with a focus on the famous reliquary he once owned, which passed in the 20th century from his parish church in Terranuova to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

  • Ehrman, Sidney Hellman. “Poggio Guccio Bracciolini, 1380–1459, A.D.” In Three Renaissance Silhouettes. By Sidney Hellman Ehrman, 25–48. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s, 1928.

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    A brief biography of Poggio, antiquated in its approach but useful for those who cannot access material not written in English.

  • Folts, James D. “In Search of the ‘Civil Life’: An Intellectual Biography of Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459).” PhD diss., University of Rochester, 1976.

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    An intellectual biography of Poggio, surveying his letters and treatises to show that he expended considerable effort to develop a coherent moral and social position for a learned layman such as himself. Not a replacement for Walser 1974, but an important supplement and updating.

  • Gutkind, C. G. “Poggio Bracciolinis geistliche Entwicklung.” Deutsches Vierteljahrschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 10 (1932): 548–596.

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    An attempt to offer an account of Poggio’s spiritual development that contrasts with Walser 1974, presenting a picture of Poggio in which an aesthetically centered worldview overlaid with Epicurean relativism regularly overrides ethical principles.

  • Petrucci, Armando. “Poggio Bracciolini.” In Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Vol. 13. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti, 640–646. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1971.

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    An excellent, short introduction to the life and works of Poggio, placing what he wrote and did into the larger development of early Italian humanism.

  • Shepherd, William. The Life of Poggio Bracciolini. 2d ed. Liverpool, UK: Harris Brothers, 1837.

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    An older account of Poggio’s life and works, written from a somewhat romanticizing perspective and to be supplemented with more recent scholarship by those who can read German and Italian. Reprint of 1802 edition (London: Cadell & Davies).

  • Walser, Ernst. Poggius Florentinus: Leben und Werke. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms Verlag, 1974.

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    Still indispensable for an overview of the life and works of Poggio, using documentary evidence, especially letters, to elicit his political, religious, and literary views, organized chronologically and emphasizing what the author sees as Poggio’s Christian orthodoxy. Reprint of 1914 edition (Leipzig and Berlin: B. G. Teubner).

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