04 Origins of the Humanist Movement

Vincenzo Foppa, Young Cicero reading (1468)


St. Gallen: E-codices

Raphael School of Athens

Main goals today:

  • origins: city culture of Italy
  • basic goals, social contexts of movement
  • Petrarch as first famous representative

Roles of ancient authors

  • antiquity:  Greek and Latin
  • loss of Greek in West
  • First great period of recovery: 12-13th c
  • . Next: Renaissance

Origins and definitions

Phases: in Italy

early 1300-1400; middle 1400-1500; late 1500-1600 ca

15th c picture: who are the humanists

  • educational program: studia humanitatis
  • Grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, moral philosophy.

Rhetoric or poetics: “method” discipline

Cicero Quintilian

professions: “Man of letters”

  • teachers
  • secretaries
  • editors
  • founders of libraries

Writings: styles and genres based on Latin antiquity


Literary culture of Europe ca. 1300

Early humanists ca. 1300

teachers, lawyers, notaries: Padua, other northern cities

leisure reading, writing of literature

. Languages:


  • Church business
  • university scholarship

Provencal (vernacular)

courtly literature from north of Alps

Volgare (vernacular)

  • business documents
  • preaching: Dominicans, Franciscans

Exx: Brunetto Latini, Dante’s teacher (d. 1294)




School of Giotto, portrait of Dante Alighieri

Dante reconstruction

Recent reconstruction of Dante’s face

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

Vita Nuova;  Commedia

Francesco Petrarca  (1304 Arezzo-1374 Arquà)


portrait of Petrarch by Francesco Bonsignori

Exiled Florentine family; 1312 Avignon for father’s notarial career.

Montpellier, Bologna

Avignon; minor orders, household of Giov. Cardinal Colonna til 1337


1337 first visit to Rome

1340 crowned as poet there by King of Naples

1345 Discovery of Cicero’s letters to Atticus, Brutus, Quintus. Cicero, Augustine (354-430)

Petrarch’s house in Arquà

Arquà Petrarca

Casa Petrarca 


P auto

Petrarch’s Bucolicum carmen in 1357 autograph (Vatican Library, Vat. lat. 3358 fol. 49 recto)


Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406)

notary. Friend of Petrarch

chancellor of Lucca, then of Florence 1375-1406

war against Visconti in Milan

teacher of Greek, Manuel Chrysoloras, 1397-1400

collecting, copying mss


Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459)

Florence to study notarial arts (age 16-17)

In Florence:  Salutati

apostolic secretary (papal service) anti-pope John XXIII

Handwriting reform


humanist culture after 1400

collecting, editing manuscripts


public arena


group of learned people outside universities

–first big center: Florence