Bruni, Leonardo (1369–1444)

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Bruni, Leonardo (13691444)

Scholar, historian, and leading citizen of Florence, Leonardo Bruni was born in the town of Arezzo. He studied law and the classics, taking inspiration from the historians and orators of ancient Greece and Rome. An ardent supporter of the Florentine republic, in 1401 he praised the city in a Panegyric to the City of Florence. In 1405 he attained the important post of apostolic secretary to Pope Innocent VII. He was elected as the chancellor of Florence in 1410 but resigned within a year and returned to Rome as a papal secretary. In 1415, after Pope John XXIII was ousted from office, Bruni returned to Florence.

In the meantime, Bruni's scholarship was bringing to light the works of Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, and Demosthenes, whom he translated from Greek into Latin, making them accessible to many students and scholars for the first time. Bruni wrote popular biographies of the Italian poets Petrarch and Dante, the Roman orator Cicero and the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He is best known for History of the Florentine People, which was inspired by the books of the Roman historian Livy. Writing in Latin, he began this work in 1415 and continued on it until his death nearly thirty years later. Unlike the medieval chroniclers, who relied on legends and hearsay, History of the Florentine People drew on primary sources and important public and private documents.

In his works of history, Bruni was the first scholar of the Renaissance to describe a period of ignorance and superstition after the collapse of the western Roman Empire, an age followed by his own more sensible and enlightened times. (This gave rise to the concept of the Middle Ages, a phrase coined by Bruni's contemporary Flavio Biondo to describe the period in Europe from a.d. 500 to 1500 that has endured to the present day.) Bruni also pioneered the movement of humanism, a secular study of art and philosophy that made no reference to faith and that lay outside the strict boundaries of religious doctrine. As a political leader he advocated a streamlined and more democratic government for Florence; his De Militia supported the founding of a citizen army for the republic to replace the rapacious and unreliable mercenaries known as condottieri. He was made an honorary citizen of the city, exempt from taxation and other forms of service, for penning the History of the Florentine People, which the city government published in 1442. In 1427, he again attained the post of chancellor, which he held until his death in 1444.

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Bruni, Leonardo (1369–1444)

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