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Three Books on Life: Marsilio Ficino

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  • Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) was an Italian Renaissance philosopher, theologian, priest, and physician, best known for his translations and exegeses of the works of Plato. His most important original writings include Theologia Platonica (Platonic theology, 1469-74) and Liber de Christiana religione (Book on the Christian religion, 1474). Presented here is the codex of one of Ficino's later works, De triplici vita (Three books on life, 1489), from the Plutei Collection of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. The colophon on the verso of folio 174 indicates that the manuscript was completed on September 16, 1489. It thus predates the editio princeps (first printed edition), which was printed in Florence by Antonio Miscomini on December 3, 1489. The illuminations are by Attavante Attavanti. De triplici vita consists of three books. De vita sana (On healthy life), dedicated to Ficino's patron, Lorenzo il Magnifico, is intended to help scholars achieve a healthy life through proper diet and habits. De vita longa (On long life), which Ficino dedicates to Filippo Valori, a notable Florentine and protégé of Lorenzo, provides similar advice to the elderly. De vita coelitus comparanda (On obtaining life from the heavens) delves into the possibility of drawing strength on Earth from celestial objects. Ficino dedicated this book to King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1443--90). Also included in the codex are two philosophical works, Apologia quaedam, in qua de medicina, astrologia, vita mundi, item de magis, qui Christum statim natum salutaverunt inscripta (Apology for medicine, astrology, the life of the world, and even the Magi who greeted Christ at his birth) and Epistola, cuius argumentum est: Quod necessaria sit ad vitam securitas, et tranquillitas animi (Letter on the safety and tranquility of the soul necessary for life). The codex is one of the volumes commissioned for the Bibliotheca Corviniana of Matthias Corvinus that remained in Florence after the sudden death of the Hungarian king. The Plutei Collection consists of the approximately 3,000 manuscripts and books from the private holdings of the Medici family, which, bound in red leather with the Medici coat of arms, were arranged on the benches of the Laurenziana when the library first opened to the public in 1571. Cosimo de' Medici (1389-1464) is known to have owned 63 books in 1417-18, which grew to 150 by the time of his death. His sons Piero (1416-69) and Giovanni (1421-63) vied with each other in commissioning illuminated manuscripts. Lorenzo il Magnifico (1449-92), son of Piero, acquired a great number of Greek codices and, starting in the 1480s, ordered copies of all texts lacking in the library with the aim of transforming the Medici library into an important center of research. Following the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1494, the books were taken from the family. Giovanni de' Medici, elected Pope Leo X in 1513, restored the collection to the Medici and another Medici pope, Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici), organized the establishment of the Laurenziana.

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