Associations, originally loosely organized and unofficial, formed from about the middle of the 15th century by local groups of Italian humanists to promote the growth of humanistic studies and in general the revival of ancient civilization. The use of the term "academy" was a reminiscence of the Platonic Academy of ancient Athens. From about 1540, local princes and city governments sometimes sponsored and encouraged such associations, which tended to become more formal than previously. The academies consisted of self-proclaimed leaders of intellectual life, and both before and after the age of public sponsorship, membership in them was a sign of belonging to the intellectual elite. The Roman Academy of the 15 th century sprang up as an informal association among the humanists employed in papal administrative agencies. Pomponio Leto, one of the most erudite humanists of the day, was its central figure. Pope Paul II suppressed the group in 1468-1469, supposedly because its enthusiasm for ancient culture raised suspicions of pagan religious practices, but more likely because he suspected some of its members of political conspiracy. The organization revived under Popes Julius II and Leo X, both of whom had been associated with the earlier group, but Clement VII suppressed it in the aftermath of the imperial army’s sack of the city of Rome in 1527. The most influential of the early informal academies was the so-called Platonic Academy of Florence, a loose association of intellectuals dominated by the philosopher Marsilio Ficino and devoted to the propagation of Plato’s philosophy. This group included humanists like Angelo Poliziano and Cristoforo Landino but also wealthy patricians and politicians such as Bernardo Rucellai and Lorenzo de’Medici. By no means all assemblies of local notables and intellectuals called themselves academies: the informal gatherings in the gardens of Bernardo Rucellai in the late 15 th century to discuss political questions, meetings that had an impact on the political thought of Niccolò Machiavelli, were never called an academy.

By the 16th century, most large Italian cities had several academies, while even small towns had one or two. Most of this activity remained informal, and many academies were short-lived. Some academies specialized in one or a few defined fields of learning, such as Platonist philosophy or natural science; others took the whole of human learning as their subject. In a number of places, local rulers became the patrons of such groups. By 1600 several hundred academies had been founded in Italy, and some major cities had large numbers. For example, Rome in the 17th century had 132, a mark of its leading position in Italian cultural life in that period. By no means all academies were serious associations of scholars. Humor and recreation were often more important than scholarly activity. One that was scholarly was the Florentine Academy (about 1540), devoted to preservation of the Tuscan dialect as the literary language for all educated Italians. Its successor, the Accademia della Crusca, founded in 1582, pursued the same goal. There were academies for discussion and perfection of the fine arts, such as the Carracci academy founded at Bologna in the late 16th century to promote certain stylistic trends in painting, or the Accademia del Disegno in Florence. In the late 16 th and 17th centuries, scientific academies like the Accademia dei Lincei at Rome (1603-1630) and the Accademia del Cimento at Florence (1657-1667) were important as centers for critical assessment of Aristotelian science that would not have been tolerated in the tradition-bound universities.

From late in the reign of Francis I (1515-1547), French intellectuals encouraged their government to foster academies similar to the Italian ones. While most Italian academies remained essentially local, the growth of centralized royal authority in northern Europe led to the emergence of large, nationally organized academies founded and sometimes even financed by the royal government, such as the Académie Française (1634), devoted to literary and linguistic studies, the Académie Royale des Sciences (1666), devoted to natural science, and the Royal Society of London (1660), which fostered learning in general but increasingly focused its attention on natural science.

The academies of Renaissance Europe were never conceived or organized as schools. Although formal lectures might be delivered, such as those of Ficino on Platonic philosophy, there was never a program of formal instruction. The academies were essentially gatherings of like-minded scholars to discuss ideas and problems in which the members had a shared interest. The most serious ones were historically important because they provided relatively informal settings in which controversial issues and new ideas could be discussed in a way that would have been impossible in universities and institutions dedicated to the instruction of youth.


(1463-1512). Italian physician, anatomist, and philosopher, a moderate follower of the "Averroistic" interpretation of Aristotle that dominated philosophical teaching in 15th-century Italy. His philosophy reflects the influence of the English scholastic philosopher William of Ockham. Educated at the University of Bologna, Achillini taught logic, natural philosophy, and medicine there and at Padua. He was an early practitioner of dissection of the human body. His chief medical works were Humani corporis anatomia / Anatomy of the Human Body and the posthumous Annotationes anatomicae /Notes on Anatomy (1520).


(1454-1523, pope 1522-1523).This connection drew him into political service to the Habsburg dynasty. When john inherited the Spanish throne in 1516, Adriaan accompanied him to Spain, where he served as regent during john’ many absences. He became bishop of Tortosa and a cardinal. In 1522 a deadlocked college of cardinals unanimously elected him pope, the last non-Italian chosen until John Paul II in 1978. Although a conservative scholastic theologian, he showed some sympathy for scholarly editions of biblical and patristic texts by humanists like Erasmus, whom he invited to enter papal service. Adrian was admired for his personal piety and moral integrity and showed awareness of the need for significant reform of the church. Entrenched members of the papal bureaucracy resented him as a foreign intruder and a threat to their lifestyle. His early death prevented him from carrying out his plan for a genuine but conservative reform. He firmly opposed what he regarded as the theological errors and insubordination of Martin Luther and other leaders of the Reformation.


(vernacular name Georg Bauer, 1490-1555).

German writer on metallurgy and mining. Educated in Latin grammar at Leipzig and in medicine at Bologna, he wrote on subjects ranging from grammar to weights and measures to the plague, but his work as a physician in a mining town in Bohemia gave rise to an interest in minerals and metallurgy that led to several publications on mines and fossils, culminating in his De re metallica / On Metals (1556), a summary of the most advanced knowledge in metal-working and mining, accompanied by hundreds of woodcut illustrations.


(Latinized name Roelof Huisman, 1444-1485). Frisian humanist. The illegitimate son of a clergyman, he received an excellent grammatical education at Groningen and then studied at the universities of Erfurt, Cologne, and Louvain, taking the M.A. degree in 1465 at Louvain, where he began the study of law and became interested in Italian humanism. He was also a talented musical performer and composer. In 1469 he continued his study of law at Pavia in Italy but soon shifted his interest to humanism (studia humanitatis). In 1475-1479 he was employed as an organist by the duke of Ferrara. Ferrara was a major center of humanistic education, and Agricola studied Greek there. He moved back to Germany in 1479, living first at Dillingen, where he completed his major work, De inventione dialectica / On Dialectical Invention (not published until 1515). In 1480 he became secretary to the city council of Groningen, but he found both his official duties and the intellectual climate unsatisfying.

In 1482 Agricola accepted the patronage of Johann von Dalberg, bishop of Worms, adviser to the Elector of the Palatinate, and chancellor of the University of Heidelberg. Although linked more closely to the electoral court than to the university, he participated actively in local intellectual life and began the study of Hebrew. In 1485, returning from a diplomatic mission to Rome, he fell ill and died. Though his major work remained unpublished until 1515, he left behind a great reputation among German humanists. His De inventione dialéctica became the central text in humanistic reform of the study of dialectic from the time of its publication, and most of the textbooks used for the study of dialectic after the humanists became able to push through reforms of the university curriculum were derived from it. Agricola also published an influential life of the Italian humanist Petrarch and a work upholding the value of education in the humanities. He was admired by the humanists of the generation of Erasmus, who recalled briefly meeting him while still a schoolboy in Deventer.


(1486-1535). German humanist and polymath, known in his own time principally for his learning in magic and other occult sciences. Born near Cologne and educated in liberal arts there, he seems to have studied also at Dole, Paris, and Pavia and claimed degrees in both law and medicine. He studied Greek and Hebrew and investigated occult learning that he believed to be very ancient, such as the Jewish mystical thought known as Cabala and the Hermetic books. In 1510 Agrippa produced the first version of his famous book on magic, De occulta philosophia / On Occult Philosophy, which was first printed in 1531-1533. Although he was influenced by the German humanist and Cabalist Johann Reuchlin and the occultist abbot Johannes Trithemius of Sponheim, his mastery of both humanistic studies and the occult arts increased greatly during six years (1512-1518) spent in Italy. He may have taken a law degree during this period, but he spent most of it studying and lecturing on occult arts and Neoplatonic philosophy. His subsequent writings, including the revised version of De occulta philosophia, show influence by the Italian Neoplatonists Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Like them Agrippa affirmed the existence of a body of secret learning, originally revealed by God and embodied in the books of the Jewish Cabalists, Hermes Trismegistus, Pythagoras, Zoroaster, and Plato. These interests reflect a Christianized religious universal-ism that acknowledged a divine revelation at the roots of every human culture.

Between 1518 and 1524, Agrippa lived in Metz, Geneva, and Swiss Fribourg as city legal counsellor, medical director of the civic hospital, and city physician, respectively. In this period he displayed sympathy with the Lutheran Reformation, though he was a critic of church corruption and clerical arrogance rather than an adherent of Lutheran theology. At Metz Agrippa defended the French humanist Lefevre d’Eta-ples from attacks by local mendicant friars. In 1524 he moved to Lyon as personal physician to Louise of Savoy, mother of King Francis I. Resentment of his outspoken criticism of the queen mother, suspicions of sympathy for Martin Luther, and objections to his study and practice of magic caused him to lose favor at court.

During this time of disappointment and financial hardship, Agrippa wrote his second major book, De incertitudine et vanitate scientium et artium / On the Uncertainty and Vanity of AH Sciences and Arts, first published in 1530. In it he discusses every field of human endeavor and every type of academic learning and concludes that all of them are unreliable and useless; only a simple Christian piety based on the words of Scripture has enduring value.

In 1528 he moved to the Netherlands, where he became historiographer to the governor, Margaret of Austria. Once again, Agrippa’s interest in magic, suspicions that he favored the Lutheran cause, and resentment of his caustic attacks on traditional learning and established religious and political authorities cost him the favor of his patron. He left the Netherlands in 1532 to live with a new patron, the archbishop-elector of Cologne, Hermann von Wied. He moved to Lyon in 1535 and was briefly arrested because of his public criticisms of the mother of King Francis. He died at Grenoble later that year.

In his own time and for centuries afterward, Agrippa was famous (or infamous) chiefly for his knowledge and active practice of occult arts such as astrology and alchemy, but also for his skeptical book on the uncertainty of human knowledge, De incertitudine et vanitate. Popular stories about his magical learning and practices made him the subject of legends and bred rumors of diabolical connections. These stories merged with contemporary legends about the German charlatan Georg Faust (ca. 1480-1540), so that the literary figure of Faust in German popular books and in the famous play by the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe contains elements derived from the life and legend of Agrippa. He revelled in paradoxical assertions contrary to contemporary opinion, a tendency expressed not only in De incertitudine et vanitate but also in his De nobilitate et praecellentia foem-inei sexus / On the Nobility and Superiority of the Female Sex, which defended the proposition that the female sex is not only equal but actually superior to the male sex, an opinion wildly contrary to prevailing opinion. This little book was frequently reprinted and translated into several European vernaculars during the 16th and 17th centuries.


(1404-1472). Italian humanist and architect, unusual in that he bridged the social gap between the educated humanist and the practicing artist. Born at Genoa as the illegitimate son of an exiled Florentine banker, he studied law at Bologna but was more interested in classical studies. His humanistic writings included a Latin comedy and a collection of original dialogues and essays on moral issues, the Intercenales /Dinner Pieces. He also produced two vernacular works on love that became very popular in his own lifetime, and a treatise on domestic life, Delia famiglia / On the Family, that discussed housekeeping, estate management, marriage, and child-rearing. Alberti’s literary reputation and his excellent Latin style won him employment at the papal curia. In 1432 he accompanied the curia to Florence. There he met the leading Florentine humanists and painters. Although his upbringing in northern Italy made the Tuscan literary language alien to him, he produced the first grammar of literary Italian, Grammatica della lingua toscana / Grammar of the Tuscan Language.

Alberti was best known in later times for his De re aedificatoria / On the Art of Building (1452), a Latin treatise on the theory and practice of architecture based on the Roman architect Vitruvius. He also wrote a treatise on sculpture and the influential Elementa picturae / The Elements of Painting (1435), which contains a clear description of the principles of single-point (linear) perspective introduced into Italian art by the sculptor Donatello and the painter Masaccio. He wrote many other books, including philosophical treatises and a pioneering Latin treatise on cryptography. Alberti also became a successful architect, admired for his design of the Palazzo Rucellai in Florence and the church of S. Andrea at Mantua and for remodelling the exterior of the church of S. Francesco at Rimini in the classical style.


Wealthy mercantile family of Florence whose head, Maso degli Albizzi, led a junta of wealthy families who seized control of the city by force in 1382. This event reversed a period of democratizing political reform (1343-1382) and left a faction of rich families headed by Maso in charge. While their successes in defending the city from the aggressive Giangaleazzo Visconti of Milan and conquering the seaport city of Pisa made their domination tolerable, there was resentment at the way in which the Albizzi corrupted the republican constitution and put effective control into the hands of a junta.

When Maso died in 1417, his son Rinaldo degli Albizzi (1370-1442) became the faction leader. Unlike his father, Rinaldo had an aloof manner and exerted his political power openly, stirring up resentment even among Albizzi partisans. Faced with political unrest generated by his failed attempt (1429-1433) to conquer the city of Lucca, Rinaldo decided to strike down the most popular potential leader of political opposition, Cosimo de’Medici, who had tried to avoid direct confrontation but had opposed the rash attempt to conquer Lucca. Rinaldo had Cosimo put on trial for treason before a special judicial commission (baila). Although the Albizzi dominated the balla, there were enough moderate members that the body decided to sentence Cosimo to exile rather than executing him.

This arbitrary treatment of a popular and respected citizen merely increased resentment. Just a year later, in 1434, a newly selected signoria reversed the sentence against Cosimo. Rinaldo attempted an armed coup, but the signaría had taken effective measures to prevent his seizure of power. Sympathizers with Cosimo now created a special court (baila) to reform the government. The recall of Cosimo was confirmed, and Rinaldo himself, together with his closest political supporters, was banished. Rinaldo’s fall from power marks the beginning of 60 years (1434-1494) of almost unbroken Medici political dominance of the republic.


New Spanish university formally founded in 1499 by Cardinal Francisco Ximénes de Cisneros, archbishop of Toledo. After careful preparation, instruction began in 1508. Although Cardinal Ximénes was a conservative friar, he was determined to reform the Spanish church by fostering deeper spirituality and by creating a new leadership based on merit rather than family influence. This goal implied preparation of an educated elite of future leaders of the clergy. Even though Ximénes was in no way a humanist, he realized that this goal meant an emphasis on study of the Bible and therefore provided professorships in Hebrew and Greek, the two biblical languages. Thus even though founded by a conservative Franciscan theologian, Alcalá became the first university that fulfilled the humanists’ goal of trilingual (Latin, Greek, and Hebrew) learning.

Ximénes also sponsored scholarly study of the text of the Bible, assembling a team of experts who produced a multilingual edition known as the Complutensian Polyglot Bible. Although formal theological instruction was still based on medieval scholastic authors, the emphasis on linguistic study of the biblical sources aligned the university with Renaissance humanism and made Alcalá one of the centers for the growth of humanism in 16th-century Spain.


Science (or pseudoscience) that studied the transformation of physical substances from one nature to another and attempted to discover, regularize, and apply the relationships and procedures discovered through observation and experimentation to perform useful works, not only the transmutation of base metals into gold but also the production of chemical medicines. In a general way, it was a precursor of modern chemistry, and until at least the 18 th century the distinction between genuine chemical reactions and alchemical transmutations was vague.

Alchemy was known in ancient times, often linked with jewellers and metallurgists; it passed from the ancients to medieval Arabic natural philosophers and from them, along with other Arabic science, to Christian scholars. Its theoretical foundation was belief in a hierarchical organization of the universe, a theory that seemed to support the idea that the material nature of one substance could be transformed into a different substance through some sort of manipulation. The whole field was given credibility by the vaguely Platonic idea that the entire universe, inorganic as well as organic, is alive.

Sometimes alchemists sought to apply spiritual forces (angelic or demonic) to facilitate their work, and in that case they were practicing something very close to witchcraft. Alchemists observed astrological signs and sought to carry out their work when the influences of the stars would favor their goal. The desire for gold and other precious substances (such as gemstones) explains why individuals, even rulers, sometimes granted subsidies to alchemists who promised to increase their wealth.

Although making gold from base metals was the most common goal of alchemists, others sought to produce the "philosopher’s stone," which supposedly had the power to heal disease, to prolong life, and to "perfect" metals. Similar medical and material advantage was believed to result from operations that produced the "quintessence" or fifth element. This fifth element was thought to possess great powers, including the power to cure disease and prolong life. Almost always, chemical learning was occult—that is, kept secret— and the alchemist normally claimed to have secret information that would ensure the success of his experiments even though others had failed. A particularly influential practitioner of alchemy was the unconventional physician Paracelsus.


(1492-1550). Italian humanist and lawyer, educated in classical languages in his native Milan and then in law at Pavia, Bologna, and Ferrara. His Emblematum liber / Book of Emblems (1531) was one of the most influential examples of a type of Renaissance publication, the emblem-book, that became popular and was imitated throughout late Renaissance Europe. His other claim to fame was as a reformer of legal study. While teaching at the papal university at Avignon in 1518, he developed a new approach to jurisprudence inspired by humanism. What set Alciati apart from traditional teachers of Roman law was his application of the critical linguistic and textual methods of the humanists to the standard text of Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, while belittling the commentaries and glosses by medieval jurists, which had come to be the main focus of traditional legal education. Just as the humanists did with literary texts, he taught directly from the ancient text, giving a philological and historical exposition. This humanistic approach caused great enthusiasm among his students at Avignon and Bourges and came to be known as "the French manner" (mos gallicus), in contrast to the traditional "Italian manner" (mos italicus) which focused attention on the opinions of famous medieval professors.

Mos gallicus found more followers in French and German jurisprudence than in Italy, though most followers adopted a hybrid approach that combined the new with the traditional. Alciati’s development of this new approach to Roman law was strongly influenced by the Florentine humanist Angelo Poliziano, by the Dutch humanist Erasmus, and by his French friend Guillaume Budé. He eventually returned to Italy, where he ended his career as one of the most famous law professors of his generation.


(1522-1605). Italian physician and naturalist, known for his travels throughout Europe in pursuit of scientific knowledge and for his publications in that field. He established a botanical garden in 1568 in Bologna, where he received his medical degree and later became professor of botany and natural history. His publications in natural history are primarily collections of information, some of it traditional and even mythical but a large part of it based on his personal observations. Subjects covered by his publications included birds, insects, fish, and quadrupeds.


(1480-1542). Italian humanist who later became one of the most influential agents of papal opposition to the Reformation. A native of Treviso, educated at Padua, he began his career in the service of a wealthy cardinal at Venice, where he also worked for the famous humanist and printer Aldus Manutius and became a friend of Erasmus. In 1508 he moved to Paris, where he lectured on Greek language and literature. After briefly working for the prince-bishop of Liège, in 1519 Aleandro entered papal service at Rome, first as librarian but soon as papal legate to Germany. From his period, his activities increasingly were related to the Protestant Reformation rather than to the Renaissance. During his legatine travels in Germany, he became convinced that the reformist ideas of his former friend Erasmus were the ultimate source of Martin Luther’s heresies. He remained a powerful figure at Rome down to his death, being named archbishop of Brindisi in 1524 and a cardinal in 1538.


(1431-1503; pope, 1492-1503). Commonly regarded as the worst example of the corruption and worldliness of the Renaissance church, Rodrigo Borja (in Italian, Borgia) was born in Spain. He studied canon law in Italy under the patronage of his uncle Alonso, who was a cardinal. The election of Alonso as Pope Calixtus III in 1455 made Rodrigo’s fortune. Despite his youth, in 1456 he received the powerful position of papal vice-chancellor and was appointed a cardinal; and he began accumulating church offices that soon made him the wealthiest of the cardinals. Despite his vow of celibacy, he fathered seven or more children (at least one of them after he became pope) by various women. His reputation for political skill, reinforced by the vast wealth which enabled him to offer huge bribes, led to his election as pope in 1492. Although several of the preceding popes had been guilty of nepotism, Alexander’s use of the papacy to promote the careers of his relatives, especially his own children, surpassed any of his predecessors. Exploiting the struggle between France and Spain for control of Italy, he looked out more for the interests of his family than for the papacy as an institution, attempting to create a hereditary principality in Italy for his favorite son Cesare Borgia and using the marriages of his daughter Lucrezia to advance his political schemes. In legend (and perhaps in fact) Alexander and his children used poison to eliminate hostile cardinals. Although not so great a patron of Renaissance art and learning as his two successors, Alexander was well educated and did commission important paintings and engage in building programs, though (significantly, perhaps) several of the latter involved construction of fortifications. One of his most famous acts as pope was drawing the line of demarcation that separated Spanish from Portuguese claims in the rapidly emerging world of overseas colonization.


(ca. 1170-ca. 1250). French grammarian whose Doctrinale (1199) became the standard textbook of Latin grammar in medieval universities. This collection of doggerel Latin verses became an object of contempt among humanist educational reformers who sought to introduce a more classical style of Latin. In most places, its replacement by a recent humanistic grammar based on the practices of the best classical authors was a major step toward the new educational program of the Renaissance.

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