By Anne Leader
Humanist scholar Leonardo Bruni died on 9 March 1444 in Florence. He was 74. Trained in Greek and Latin, Bruni was active as a writer and translator throughout his life. He served as papal secretary to two popes, Innocent VII and Gregory XII, and was Chancellor of the Florentine republic from 1427 to 1444. Many of his writings praised Florence as a new Rome, including the treatise Laudatio florentinae urbis (c. 1400) and History of the Florentine People (9 vols. 1439).
Bruni provided a scheme to Lorenzo Ghiberti for the third set of bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery. His plan was similar to the preexisting doors with 24 panels showing scenes from the Old Testament. Ghiberti ultimately rejected Bruni’s plan in favor of 10 much larger fields that allowed him to experiment with one-point linear perspective.
After his death, the city government commissioned sculptor Bernardo Rossellino to construct an elaborate wall tomb for Bruni, which included a marble coffin and effigy on a bier. This type of tomb had previously been reserved for high-ranking ecclesiastics, but there was precedent for civic heroes to be honored in such a way, like the painted cenotaph for mercenary soldier John Hawkwood in the cathedral of Florence. Because of Rossellino’s magnificent creation, this tomb type came to be known as the “humanist tomb,” though this is a misnomer.
Bruni had requested a simple marble slab of the type common in Florentine churches in the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance, but the communal government went against these wishes to create a more splendid and special memorial. The effigy records Bruni’s appearance when he lay in state at his funeral. He holds a copy of a book and wears a crown of laurel leaves, both references to his life as a man of letters.
Reference: M. C. Davies. “Bruni, Leonardo.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.
Bernardo Rossellino, Tomb of Leonardo Bruni, 1444-50, Santa Croce, Florence
Tombs of Boscoli and Cavalcanti families, Santa Croce, Florence