University of Notre Dame
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Leon Battista Alberti and the Languages of the Italian Humanist Quattrocento

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posted on 2021-07-10, 00:00 authored by Maria Sole Costanzo

My dissertation offers a reassessment of the linguistic situation of the Italian humanist Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), addressing specifically Alberti’s bilingualism and the unique role that his switching between Latin and Italian, even within the same work, played in his program of self-fashioning and repatriation from exile. In fact, Leon Battista was the illegitimate offspring of the Florentine Alberti family which had been banished from Florence following the revolt of Ciompi in 1378.

Born in exile in Genoa, Leon Battista was exceptional among Italian humanists of his time for his enlightened and spirited promotion of the Florentine language, which also represented a vehicle for his own social integration and repatriation from exile. Leon Battista Alberti famously authored a vast variety of prose and poetical works, which ranged from scientific treatises to satirical novels, both in Latin and in Tuscan vernacular.

This dissertation examines Leon Battista Alberti’s language choices as cognate to the concern showed by his predecessors (Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio), but in light of the unicity of his endeavor to bring Florentine back to Florence, as evidenced by the Tuscan regional identity that he chose for his language, and thus the civic nature of his linguistic commitment. His prose and poetical works, both in Latin and in the Florentine vernacular, are ripe for reinterpretation because modern scholars consider them in a reductionist lens of either Latin Humanism or Vernacular Humanism, rather than view him in terms of a complex mix of the two codes.

My dissertation employs classic categories of codicological and linguistic analysis as well as newly acquired critical categories, such as codeswitching, to address this centuries-old blind-spot. Alberti’s strong belief in the value of vernacular as on the same level with Latin, was parallel to his support of the equal worth of literary and visual artistic endeavors. The dialogue on Latin spoken language in 1435 worked as the the stage on which to develop his own authoritative persona.

The present work argues that Alberti’s use of languages sensu lato, meaning his engagement with visual and written arts, and with Latin, Greek, and vernacular languages was the primary tool he used to fashion a public persona and to influence the culture around him. In particular, the present work aims to demonstrate that Alberti, between the years 1428 and 1443, employed different languages as a means of self-promotion among Florentine humanists, so as to reacquire the position of prominence that his family had lost due to its exile in 1401.


Date Modified


Defense Date


CIP Code

  • 16.0902

Research Director(s)

Theodore J. Cachey

Committee Members

Denis Robichaud Martin Mclaughlin


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • Latin
  • Italian
  • Tuscan

Alternate Identifier


Library Record


OCLC Number


Additional Groups

  • Romance Languages and Literatures
  • Italian

Program Name

  • Italian

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