Florentine Academy

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"Florentine Academy," or Platonic Academy of Florence, is the name usually applied to the circle of philosophers and other scholars who gathered around Marsilio Ficino, under the auspices of the Medici, in Careggi, near Florence, between 1462 and 1494. These scholars were engaged in the study and discussion of the works of Plato and his followers and of Platonic philosophy. The name "academy" was adopted in memory of Plato. There is no direct link between this Platonic Academy and other academies active in Florence at a later date.

According to Ficino, the academy was founded by Cosimo de' Medici because his enthusiasm for Plato had been aroused by the lectures of Gemistus Pletho at the time of the Council of Florence (1438). In 1462 Cosimo placed a villa in Careggi at the disposal of Ficino, the promising young son of his physician, and lent him several Greek manuscripts of Plato and other ancient philosophers, assigning him the task of studying, translating, and interpreting these writings. This event may be considered the founding of the Florentine Academy. Unlike most later academies, Ficino's Platonic Academy had no formal organization, charter, or fixed membership, and its activities must be inferred from contemporary sources, mainly the letters and other works of Ficino and his associates.

The chief products of the academy are the numerous writings of Ficino and his associates. Whether the public lectures given by Ficino on Plato, Plotinus, and St. Paul were considered part of the work of the academy we do not know. Its activities probably included some regular readings of the Platonic texts and some lectures about them, and surely Ficino gave individual instruction to some of his pupils. On many occasions he addressed edifying sermonlike speeches to his gathered friends and pupils, and this fact, along with a few others, suggests a link between the academy and some of the lay religious associations of the same period. The most famous events of the academy are the banquets celebrated on Plato's reputed birthday, November 7, in 1468 and in 1473, and perhaps in other years. The banquet of 1468 provided the setting for Ficino's commentary on Plato's Symposium. The academy also held discussions on philosophical and other subjects on numerous occasions, and it was customary for learned or otherwise distinguished visitors to Florence to attend some of the meetings. The study in which Ficino talked to his pupils contained a painting that represented the globe, with the crying Heraclitus and the laughing Democritus on either side. The often repeated story that Ficino kept an ever-burning lamp before a bust of Plato must be rejected as a legend.

There is no philosophical doctrine common to the Florentine Academy distinct from that of Ficino, but the thought of all its members was influenced to a greater or lesser degree by his teachings. The circle included such philosophers as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Francesco Cattani da Diacceto, and such philosophically inclined scholars and poets as Cristoforo Landino, Lorenzo de' Medici, Angelo Poliziano, and Girolamo Benivieni, to mention only some of the better-known members whose writing showed the impact of the academy. The meetings of the academy became famous during its own time, and its intellectual influence, through its visitors and through Ficino's correspondence, spread to the rest of Italy and Europe. Thus, in spite of its informal and fluctuating character, the academy became, and has remained in history and tradition, the most tangible center of Renaissance Platonism.

There is a close link between Ficino's philosophical doctrine and the structure of the academy as he conceived it. Following the model of the ancient philosophical schools, Ficino considered the academy as a community of friends, and his philosophy included an elaborate theory of friendship that he identified with Platonic love. The members of the academy were, he felt, linked with each other and with their master through a "divine" friendship that was based on their common concern with the contemplative life and with the spiritual ascent toward the knowledge and enjoyment of God.

The goal of the academy was philosophical and, in a broader sense, spiritual and cultural rather than political. Although Ficino and the academy were closely identified with four generations of Medici rulers, it cannot be proved that he was their political tool or that his personal and scholarly attachments were limited to their partisans. Nonetheless, although Ficino lived until 1499 and remained active as a scholar throughout his later years, we hear next to nothing of the activities of the academy after 1494, the year in which the Medici were expelled from Florence, Poliziano and Pico died, and Ficino's published correspondence stopped. There is no direct evidence that the meetings of the academy were discontinued, but it is easy to understand that the illness and old age of its leader, the death of some of its most prominent members, and the political and religious climate that prevailed in Florence after 1494 must have put an end to the academy or at least reduced its activities to a strictly private character.

See also Ficino, Marsilio.


Barzman, Karen-edis. The Florentine Academy and the Early Modern State: The Discipline of Disegno. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

De Gaetano, Armand L. Giambattista Gelli and the Florentine Academy: The Rebellion against Latin. Florence: L.S. Olschki, 1976.

Della Torre, Arnaldo. Storia dell'Accademia Platonica di Firenze. Florence, 1902. This work is still indispensable.

Kristeller, Paul Oskar. "The Platonic Academy of Florence." Renaissance News 14 (1961): 147159. Reprinted in Kristeller's Renaissance Thought II, 89101. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

Marcel, Raymond. Marsile Ficin. Paris, 1958.

Wallach, John R. "The Platonic Academy and Democracy." Polis 19 (12) (2002): 727.

Paul Oskar Kristeller (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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