Coluccio Salutati (16 February 1331 – 4 May 1406) was an
Italian humanist and man of letters, and one of the most important
political and cultural leaders of
Renaissance Florence; as chancellor
of the Republic and its most prominent voice, he was effectively the
permanent secretary of state in the generation before the rise of the
1 Early career
2 Chancellor of Florence
3 Cultural achievements
5 External links
Salutati was born in Stignano, a tiny commune near
province of Pistoia, Tuscany). After studies in Bologna, where his
father lived in exile after a
Ghibelline coup in Buggiano, the family
returned to Buggiano, which had become more securely part of the
Republic of Florence. There he worked as notary and pursued his
literary studies, coming into contact with the Florentine humanists
Boccaccio and Francesco Nelli. The refined and masterful classical
Latin of his letters to Florentine scholars earned him the admiring
nickname of "Ape of Cicero", In 1367 Coluccio was appointed
chancellor of Todi in the Papal States. Papal secretary Francesco
Bruni took Salutati with him to Rome from 1368 to 1370, as assistant
Papal curia of
Pope Urban V
Pope Urban V recently returned from Avignon.
In 1370, through his connections in the curia he was made chancellor
of the powerful Tuscan city of Lucca, a post he quickly lost in
internecine struggles there.
Chancellor of Florence
In 1374 Coluccio received an appointment in Florence and the following
year was appointed Chancellor of Florence, the most important position
in the bureaucracy of the Florentine Republic. In his position,
Salutati was responsible for the widely circulated official
correspondences with other states, drafting confidential instructions
to ambassadors, conducting diplomacy and negotiating treaties: "in its
chancellor Florence had someone truly exceptional, endowed not only
with legal knowledge, political cunning and diplomatic skill, but also
with psychological penetration, a gift for public relations, and
unusual literary skill." His abilities as a statesman were soon
tested as Florence was immediately faced with war with the papacy.
Salutati was charged with addressing Pope
Gregory XI to assure him
that Florence was still a loyal member of the
Guelf party. Although
he failed to prevent war with the papacy, Salutati soon became the
most celebrated chancellor in all of Italy and a master of the formal
letter. Florence's principal nemesis during his tenure, Giangaleazzo
Visconti, Duke of Milan, once remarked that one of Salutati's letters
could "cause more damage than a thousand Florentine horsemen."
During his life, Florence warred twice against its powerful northern
rival, Giangaleazzo Visconti. His treatise De tyranno ("On the
tyrant") published in 1400, has, most likely, its model in Visconti,
although in it Salutati (despite being a republican) remains a
supporter of the providential universal monarch already put forward by
Dante. Occasionally his letters had unintended consequences. When
he wrote to the people of Ancona in 1376, inciting them, in the name
of their freedom, to revolt against the governor imposed by the pope,
he called to mind the evils Italy had suffered on behalf of the
French. Word of his nasty tone got to the King of France, which
prompted a most conciliatory letter from Salutati, assuring the King
that he meant no harm and that Florence would always be a friend to
In testimony to his service as chancellor the city of Florence paid
250 florins for his funeral in 1406.
Coluccio's cultural achievements are perhaps even greater than his
political ones. A skilled writer and orator, Coluccio drew heavily
upon the classical tradition and developed a powerful prose style
based on the Latin of
Virgil and Cicero: "I have always believed,"
Salutati wrote "I must imitate antiquity not simply to reproduce it,
but in order to produce something new" In this sense his own view
of humanism was broader-based than the antiquarianism of the
generation of humanists he fostered.
An admiring correspondent of Petrarch, he spent much of his salary on
amassing a collection of 800 books, slightly less than his
contemporary Niccolò de' Niccoli. He also pursued classical
manuscripts, making a number of important discoveries, the most
important being Cicero's lost Letters to his Friends (Epistulae ad
Familiares), which showed
Cicero as a defender of republican
liberty. Coluccio also did important studies of history, tying
Florence's origin not to the
Roman Empire but to the Roman Republic.
In his lifetime, the study of secular literature, especially pagan
literature, was discouraged by the Roman Catholic Church. Coluccio
played an important part in changing this outlook, frequently engaging
in theological debates on the merits of pagan literature with Church
He promoted the work of younger humanists such as Gian Francesco
Poggio Bracciolini, Niccolò de' Niccoli,
Leonardo Bruni and Pier
He also brought the Byzantine scholar
Manuel Chrysoloras to Florence
in 1397 to teach one of the first courses in Greek since the end of
the Roman Empire. After Boethius, few Westerners spoke or read Greek.
Many ancient Greek works of science and philosophy were not available
in Latin translation. By Salutati's time, a few Latin texts of
Aristotle had arrived in Europe via Muslim Spain and Sicily. These
texts, however, had been translated from Arabic, rather than directly
from the Greek. By bringing Chrysoloras to Florence, Salutati made it
possible for a select group of scholars (including Bruni and Vergerio)
to read Aristotle and Plato in the original ancient Greek.
^ Some scholars as Augusto Campana, Mario Martelli (’’Schede per
Coluccio Salutati’’, Interpres, IX, 1989, pp. 237-25) and others
support the date of 1332 on the basis of letters in which Salutati
writes of his own age. This date of birth is also accepted by Harvard
University Press for Coluccio Salutati’s works edition (The I Tatti
^ Schwartz, Thomas G. (1934). A Biography of
Coluccio Salutati (Feb
16, 1331 – May 4, 1406). Retrieved 14 February 2018.
^ Italian "Scimmia di Cicerone", with implied praise.Tanzini, Lorenzo.
"Il cancelliere letterato". Medioevo. De Agostini (145/146):
^ The Avignonese papacy lasted from 1305 to 1367.
^ Witt, 2000:2.
^ Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: how the world became modern,
^ Witt, Ronald. In the Footsteps of the Ancients: The Origins of
Humanism from Lovato to Bruni. Boston: Brill, 2000. Page 305
^ Witt, 2000:305
^ Gundersheimer, Werner L. The Italian Renaissance. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1965. Page 13
^ Tanzini, Lorenzo. "Il cancelliere letterato". Medioevo. De Agostini
^ Witt, 2000:313.
^ Caferro, William. John Hawkwood. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. 2006.
^ Lauro Martines, The Social World of the Florentine Humanists,
1390–1460 :(Princeton) 1963:25.
^ Observed in Greenblatt 2011:
^ Brydges, Sir Egerton (1821). Res Literariæ: Bibliographical and
Critical, for Oct. 1820. C. Beranger. p. 278. Retrieved 14
^ Halvorson, Michael (29 August 2014). The Renaissance: All That
Matters. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 25. ISBN 9781444192964.
Retrieved 14 February 2018.
^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Coluccio di Pierio di
Salutati". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton
^ Griffiths, Gordon, Hankins, James, and Thompson, David. The Humanism
of Leonardo Bruni. Binghamton, NY: Medieval &
& Studies. 1987. Page 23
Salutati in the Bibliotheca Augustana
ISNI: 0000 0001 2101 7539
BNF: cb119869086 (data)