Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/595

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literature and art. The time was ripe for raising the new studies to a somewhat higher level by the exercise of a keener criticism, such as is generated by the play of mind upon mind within a limited social circle, to which the only passport is a recognised standard of attainment or genius. The age of Academies was at hand. Florence, the metropolis of humanism, was the place where the earliest of such societies arose. We have seen that the visit of Gemistos Plethon in 1438 had stimulated the Florentine study of Plato, and had impelled Cosmo de' Medici to found his Platonic Academy. But the palmy days of that institution were rather in the time of his grandson, Lorenzo de1 Medici, who became head of the State in 1469, and died in 1492.

Lorenzo was remarkable for versatility even among the men of the Renaissance. Few can ever have been more brilliantly qualified, by natural abilities and by varied accomplishments, to adorn the part of a Maecenas. The Platonic Academy usually met in his palace at Florence, or in his villa on the heights of Fiesole. Only a few members of the society can be named here. Platonic studies were more especially represented by Marsilio Ficino, who had given a great impulse to them, though he had no critical comprehension of Plato. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola brought to Lorenzo's circle those varied gifts of mind and character which so strongly impressed his contemporaries. A keen interest in ancient philosophy, and a desire to harmonise it with Christian doctrine, were distinctive of him. He was destined to die, at the age of thirty-one, in 1494. Leo Battista Alberti, architect, musician, painter, an excellent writer in both Latin and Italian, contributed an example of versatile power almost comparable to that of Lionardo da Vinci. There, too, was Michelangelo, already a poet, but with his greatest artistic achievements still before him. Scholarship had several representatives. Foremost among them was Politian, who has commemorated in Latin verse the gatherings at his patron's villa. Another was Cristoforo Landino, an able Latinist, the author of some dialogues, on the model of Cicero's Tusculans, which aid us in imagining the kind of discourse to which the meetings of the Academy gave rise. These are the well-known Disputationes Camaldunenses, so called because the conversations are supposed to take place at a house of the Camaldulite Order in the Apennines. Landino introduces us to Lorenzo de' Medici and a party of his friends, who have sought refuge there from the summer heat of Florence. The conversation turns on the merits of that active life which they have left behind them in the fair city on the Arno, as compared with the contemplative life of the philosopher or the monk. Alberti argues in favour of the contemplative existence; Lorenzo, of the active: and their hearers pronounce the opinion that both must contribute to form the complete man. So passes their first evening among the hills. On three following days the friends discourse of Virgil. Humanists though they are, they cling (as Petrarch did) to