Updated on November 30th 2020
The King Maker of Florence
We know a great deal about the illustrious Florentine families like the Medici and the Strozzi from the early 14th century through to the 16th century and beyond. We are told their intelligence and ruthless pursuit of profits and a genuine love of their city opened up the doors to the birth and flowering of the Florentine Renaissance. But without one man, even these great families would probably have floundered as powerful families did throughout Europe.
- This man was an intellectual titan with the cunning of a street vagabond and it was he, Coluccio Salutati, who steered the fortunes of Florence through the treacherous waters of European and Church skullduggery and in doing so laid the foundation of her great social, economic and artistic success as a great and powerful city that demanded respect from as far away as Russia.
In his youth in Bologna he took up the study of law but soon abandoned it as unsuited to his temperament. When his father died, leaving him an orphan, he overcame his reluctance towards law and apprenticed himself to a notary. After the fall of the Pepoli in Bologna (1351), Coluccio returned to his birthplace, Stignano, and later (1367) became chancellor of the commune of Todi (north of Rome in Umbria today), and of Lucca (1371) and of the Papal Curia in Viterbo. In 1375 he assumed the office of chancellor of the Florentine Signorie (elected lords ruling as despots), which he held for 31 years until his death, taking part in the complicated and turbulent politics of the city and of Italy generally. His Latin letters to other states were so effective that the tyrannical Duke of Milan, one of the targets of his scorn, said that a thousand Florentine horsemen were less damaging than Salutati’s epistles!
Although Salutati’s life was filled largely by political and administrative matters, he also developed a keen interest in Humanism, writing treatises and private letters on philosophical questions and on literary and textual criticism and influencing and patronizing a number of disciples, including Poggio and Leonardo Bruni.
- He sought out and welcomed the Byzantine scholar Manuel Chrysoloras, whose arrival in Florence in 1396 was one of the great events of the Renaissance, renewing as it did a general interest in Greek. Even in his advanced age, Salutati himself began studying Greek. He was also a bibliophile and collector of “lost” manuscripts; part of his large library of ancient Latin and medieval authors went to San Marco’s, in Florence. This magnificent collection of manuscripts nurtured the collective Florentine intellect and remained a very real and influential presence of a truly wise man for generations; a man who took Florence by the hand and led it into the light of greatness.
Coluccio Salutati was born February 16, 1331 in Stignano in Tuscany and died May 4, 1406 in Florence, having become one of the great Humanist’s of the day and Florence’s greatest chancellor. His daily office would have been the early 13th century Palazzo Vecchio in the heart of the old city of Florence. An appropriate workplace for the man who shaped the destiny of the city and its people.
Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who lived and worked in Italy from 1987 to 2018. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you and in a way that is entertaining and informative; together with great travel tips. Getting off the beaten track in Italy is always an adventure and he invites you to join him in discovering an Italy that will surprise and amaze you.