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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art

Recovering the Golden Age

Showing off an antique sculpture garden

Showing off an antique sculpture garden

Like many other collectors, the humanist Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459) adorned his villa near Florence with ancient sculpture and other antiquities, including a series of busts representing important thinkers and writers from antiquity. Some of the hidden motivations and pretensions of collectors are exposed in this passage from Poggio’s A Book on Nobility (c. 1538), in which the author gamely allows two of his antiquarian friends to poke fun at the social aspirations and public posturing that underlie his sculptural display.

I have often heard the [nature of true nobility] discussed by some of my eloquent and very close friends. Some time ago, when I retreated from the city into the country for a change of air, Niccolò Niccoli and Lorenzo de’ Medici, both learned men and my best friends, joined me at my request. I particularly wanted to show them some sculptures I had brought from the city. When we were in the little garden, bare except for a little household furniture, but which I wanted to fill up with imported marble statues, Lorenzo, smiling as he looked around, said: “Reading how prominent people in classical times adorned their homes, villas, gardens, arcades, and gymnasiums with various images and paintings, as well as with statues of their ancestors to glorify the nobility of their family, our host, lacking images of his own ancestors, wants to make this place and himself noble with these puny and broken remains of marble, hoping the novelty of his collection will perpetuate his fame hereafter.”


Knowledge, Goodness, and Power: The Debate over Nobility among Quattrocento Italian Humanists, ed., trans., and with introductions by Albert Rabil, Jr., Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 88 (Binghamton, NY: The State University of New York at Binghamton, 1991), pp. 64–5.