A Mirror for Statesmen: Leonardo Bruni’s History of the Florentine People
By James Hankins
Introduction: It will perhaps seem odd to claim that Leonardo Bruni’s History of the Florentine People has been neglected by students of Renaissance political thought. Written over the space of a quarter century, between 1415/16 and 1442, it was the civic humanist’s most important original work. When the famous Florentine chancellor died in 1444 he was laid out at his public funeral on a bier clasping a copy of the History against his breast, a pose later preserved by Bernardo Rossellini in a portrait sculpture for the Bruni tomb in Santa Croce. The work was an official history, preserved in the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence along with the Pandects of Justinian (captured at the conquest of Pisa in 1406), the banners of defeated foes, and other civic trophies. It survives in some sixty manuscripts and was translated into Italian by command of Bruni’s employer, the Florentine Signoria; the translation, by Donato Acciaiuoli, was also widely circulated in manuscript and was printed a number of times in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Then and now it was considered one of the greatest works of humanist historiography and was the model for an entire genre of city-state histories in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.