FICINO, Marsilio. Epistole Marsilii Ficini Florentini

FICINO, Marsilio. Epistole Marsilii Ficini Florentini

Venice: Matteo Capcasa for Hieronymus Blondus, 11 March 1495

£ 20,000

FIRST EDITION of the collection of letters by Marsilio Ficino exchanged with a large number of notable figures of the Italian Renaissance. A fascinating volume, not only rich in literary and philosophical content, but also of deep historical significance, providing insights into the intellectual currents of the Renaissance and the relationships among prominent thinkers of the time.

Folio (305 x 202 mm), 204 leaves (6 unnumbered pages, clxxxxvii, 1 unnumbered leaf), printed in Roman type, numerous small woodcut initials throughout text. Title printed in black with woodcut motif of a phoenix, small contemporary inscription ‘Diem dies docet, Aedeus’, illegible oval ownership blindstamp, and ink signature of H. N. Coleridge dated 1834. Front blank with small ownership inkstamp of the Bibliotheca Heberiana. Elaborate woodcut border to title verso extended to first two pages of the prologue, depicting putti, sphynx and lions, as well as architectural, zoological and botanical ornaments throughout, large ‘M’ initial with phoenix woodcut decoration at beginning of prologue. Contemporary ownership inscription of Nicolas Pelletur dated 1499 to verso of blank leaf at rear, occasional minor mark or small waterstains, larger stains to upper outer corners of folios CXXIV to CXXIX, dampstaining to lower blank margin beginning at leaf CXXXXI and continuing till the end, with inconspicuous repairs to blank margins. 17th century full mottled calf, triple gilt ruled covers with gilt coat-of-arms of the Prince de Condé to centre of each, worn in areas, corner of rear cover repaired, rebacked to style, five raised bands and red leather label. A clean and crisp copy of Ficino’s letters.

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) was an Italian philosopher, priest, and one of the most influential thinkers of the Renaissance. Born in Florence, he became a leading figure in the Platonic Academy established by Cosimo de’ Medici. Ficino is best known for his efforts to revive and synthesize classical philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism, with Christian theology. He wrote extensively on philosophy, translated the works of Plato and other classical authors, and corresponded with influential figures of his time, including Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Lorenzo de’ Medici. Ficino’s comprehensive approach to scholarship extended to his interest in astrology, medicine, and the reconciliation of Hermeticism with Christianity. His contributions played a pivotal role in shaping the intellectual and cultural landscape of the Renaissance.

“The Letters occupy in fact a very important place in Ficino’s work. As historical documents, they give us a vivid picture of his personal relations with his friends and pupils, and of his own literary and scholarly activities. As pieces of literature, edited and collected by himself, the letters take their place among other correspondences of the time and are a monument of humanistic scholarship and literature. Finally, the letters are conscious vehicles of moral and philosophical teaching and often reach the dimensions of a short treatise.
Ficino began to collect his letters in the 1470’s, gradually arranged them in twelve books, had them circulated in numerous manuscript copies, and finally had them printed in 1495. The first book contains letters written between 1457 and 1476, and its manuscript tradition is especially rich and complicated. These letters derive great interest from the time of their composition, for they were written at the same time as some of the commentaries on Plato and as the Platonic Theology, Ficino’s chief philosophical work. The correspondents include many persons of great significance: Cosimo and Lorenzo de’ Medici, and members of other prominent Florentine families, allied or hostile to the Medici at different times: Albizzi and Pazzi, Soderini and Rucellai, Salviati and Bandini, Del Nero, Benci and Canigiani, Niccolini, Martelli and Minerbetti. There are two cardinals, Francesco Piccolomini, the later Pius III, a famous patron and bibliophile, and Bessarion, the great defender of Platonism. There is Bernardo Bembo, Venetian patrician and ambassador, Giovanni Antonio Campano, bishop and humanist. Francesco Marescalchi in Ferrara, and Giovanni Aurelio Augurelli from Rimini. There are the friends of Ficino’s youth, Michele Mercati and Antonio Morali called Serafico, and his favourite friend, Giovanni Cavalcanti. There are philosophers and physicians, and there are numerous scholars, of different generations, who occupy a more or less prominent place in the annals of literature: Matteo Palmieri and Donato Acciaiuoli, Benedetto Accolti, Bartolomeo Scala and Niccolò Michelozzi […] The book also includes several pieces that are important compositions in their own right: the dialogue between God and the soul, on divine frenzy, on humanity, on the folly and misery of man, on the use of time, on law and justice, on happiness, the theological prayer to God, and the praise of philosophy.” (Kristeller Paul Oskar, ‘Preface’ in The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, 1975, 17-18)

“As translator and commentator of Plato he represents one of the most important epochs in the history of Platonism. As leader of the Platonic Academy in Florence, he occupies a central position in the history of Renaissance civilization. Continuing the work of the earlier humanists, he was the first who gave that work a philosophical significance. Absorbing a vast body of ideas from ancient, early Christian, and medieval sources, he was able to incorporate them into a comprehensive system of Christian Platonism which displays many original and important characteristics of its own. Both as an original thinker and as a transmitter of earlier ideas he exercised a widespread and powerful influence on subsequent generations, and traces of this influence are found in many philosophers, scientists, theologians, moralists, poets, and artists of the later Renaissance, in Italy as well as in France, England, Germany, and other European countries.” (Kristeller Paul Oskar, Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, 1943, viii)



Nicholas Pelletur, 1499 (inscription at rear of volume); Louis de Bourbon (1621-1686), Prince de Condé, “The Great Condé” with his coat-of-arms to covers; Richard Heber (1773 – 1833), bibliophile and founder member of the Roxburghe Club, inkstamp; H. N. Coleridge (1798-1843), signature. The very early Latin manuscript ownership inscription in brown ink reads: ‘Nicolaus pelliparius artium et medicine doctor/hunc librum emit Lugdin’ precio 21 gross’/anno domini 1499/Ni pelletur’ (‘Nicholas Pelletur, doctor of arts and medicine/bought this book at Lyons for 21 groschen/in the year of our Lord 1499/Ni Pelletur’).

Hain-Copinger 7059; GW 9873; BMSTC Italian 250; Oates 1946; Goff F154; ISTC if00154000; Brunet II 1244; Graesse II 576; Polain B1477; GW 9873; Walsh 2431.