Leon Battista Alberti

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Writer, Renaissance architect, humanist philosopher, and artistic theorist, Leon Battista Alberti is considered to be the Renaissance’s "universal man" of learning. In addition to painting, designing buildings, and writing scientific, artistic and philosophical treatises, Alberti wrote the first book on Italian grammar and cryptography. Born in Genoa in the year 1404, out of wedlock but immediately legitimatized by his father Lorenzo. Leon's mother, Bianca Fieschi, was a Bolognese widow. She died during an outbreak of plague. He was a member of an aristocratic and wealthy Florentine family of merchants and bankers that had been exiled from Florence for political reasons in 1377. Having grown up in the shadow of exile, he spent his life in continuous travels even after his family was allowed to return to Florence in 1428. Under his father’s influence, he studied classical subjects at the best universities: literature in Venice and Padua, law and Greek in Bologna. But from an early age he privately cultivated the most diverse interests: music, painting, sculpture, architecture, physics, and mathematics. In 1421, on the death of his father, Alberti remained completely alone and began to suffer because of the differences with his family. This finally led him to turn to a safe ecclesiastical career, which also served to strengthen his social status. In 1428, he was able to return to Florence. In 1431 he became secretary for 34 years to the Patriarch of Grado and in a year he moved to Rome as papal abbreviator (writer of papal briefs). Moving between Ferrara, Bologna, Florence, Mantua, Rimini and, of course, Rome, he expanded his direct study of the ancient ruins, the scattered evidence of the imperial city's magnificence and the repositories of the language of Classical Antiquity. Della famiglia (On the Family), one of his earliest works; it is the first of several dialogues on moral philosophy, written in the vernacular, for a population not tutored in Latin. In...
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