Leon Battista Alberti

Leon Battista Alberti
Famous church of San Andrea in Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti is the great Italian genius of science and art of the 15th century, the founder of new European architecture. In the history of world culture, Leon Battista Alberti will forever remain an outstanding artist, humanist and polymath of the Renaissance. His biography is a vivid example of serving humanity, and his work is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for posterity.

Leon Batista Alberti possessed extensive knowledge in various fields of intellectual activity.

He made a huge contribution to the development:

  • philosophy;
  • linguistics;
  • theory of architecture,
  • music and painting;
  • poetry;
  • drama;
  • mathematics;
  • cryptography.
Leon Battista Alberti. Santa Maria Novella (Chiesa di Santa Maria Novella) - church in Florence
Santa Maria Novella (Chiesa di Santa Maria Novella) – church in Florence

Biography of Leon Battista Alberti

Leon Battista Alberti was born in Genoa on February 14, 1404 in the family of a wealthy Florentine who was expelled from his hometown due to political differences in 1388. Leon’s father was not only an influential banker and merchant, but also a man of progressive views. He made a lot of efforts to give his son a decent education.

Until the age of 24, the future scientist and artist studied various sciences: first in an elementary school in Venice, then with the humanist Gasparino Barzizza in Padua and, finally, at the University of Bologna, where in 1428 he received a law degree.

Leon Battista Alberti. San Sebastiano in Mantua
San Sebastiano in Mantua

While still a student, Alberti showed remarkable talent for literature. At the age of 20, he wrote an autobiographical comedy in Latin, then a mythological novel and a whole series of philosophical dialogues.

But the sphere of interests of the young man was not limited exclusively to poetry. At the same time, he was engaged in serious mathematical and astronomical research.

Leon Battista Alberti. Medal depicting Leon Battista Alberti. 1446-1450
Medal depicting Leon Battista Alberti. 1446-1450

He also made friends with many famous intellectuals, including:

  • Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli;
  • Tommaso Parentucelli future Pope Nicholas V;
  • Niccolò Cusano.

In 1432, Alberti joined the office of Pope Eugene IV as an apostolic abbreviation, where his main responsibility was to draw up ceremonial official documents for the pontiff. In addition to his main work, Leon often performed additional assignments for the pope, in connection with which he constantly visited various cities in Italy.

Within the framework of this article, it is impossible to describe in detail all areas of activity of Leon Battista Alberti.

Alleged self-portrait of Leon Battista Alberti. 1435
Alleged self-portrait of Leon Battista Alberti. 1435

Despite his serious employment in the papal service, the genius of the Renaissance surprisingly found time for:

  1. writing scientific treatises on the theory of painting, sculpture and philosophy;
  2. the development of unique architectural projects and the construction of buildings in different parts of Italy;
  3. drawing up geographical and astronomical maps;
  4. study cryptography and create unique ciphers;
  5. playing the organ and other musical instruments;
  6. to create illustrations for books.
Church of San Francesco (Tempio Malatestiano). 1447-1503
Church of San Francesco (Tempio Malatestiano). 1447-1503

And yet, in the history of world art, Alberti, first of all, will forever remain a great architect. He was destined, along with Filippo Brunelleschi, to become the founder of the magnificent architecture of the High Renaissance.

Since about 1450, this field has consumed most of Leon Battista’s time. His customers were the most influential and wealthy people in Italy, and the masterpieces created by the master still adorn the streets and squares of many Italian cities.

But unlike most of his colleagues, Alberti, due to his enormous employment, could not fully direct the architectural work. He only developed original projects and carried out general management, while other people were already engaged in construction. Therefore, many of the master’s architectural masterpieces were completed after his death by assistants.

Interior of the Church of San Andrea, Mantua
Interior of the Church of San Andrea, Mantua
Leon Battista Alberti was never married and did not know the joy of fatherhood.

He was ordained in his youth and had no right to be legally married to any woman. According to the testimony of his contemporaries, the great architect was an open and polite person, he loved animals and led a healthy lifestyle.

In 1462, the 58-year-old master of science and art retired from service in the papal curia and settled in Rome, periodically traveling to other cities in Italy to solve architectural problems. 10 years later, on April 25, 1472, Leon Battista Alberti died in Rome. Unfortunately, his grave has not survived to this day, but numerous architectural, literary, philosophical and other masterpieces of the genius have remained.

Basilica of Sant Andrea (Mantua)
Basilica of Sant Andrea (Mantua)
The most famous works of Leon Battista Alberti

Many scientific treatises and literary works can rightfully be attributed to the most important creations of the great humanist of the Renaissance. But still, in our article, paying tribute to the merits of the master in the field of fine arts, the most famous architectural works of Leon Battista Alberti should be noted:

  1. Palazzo Rucellai (1446-1451) is one of the most famous examples of secular Renaissance architecture with rusticated walls and unique pilasters. The style of this building became the starting point for the construction of the palaces of the Italian nobility during the Renaissance.
  2. The Church of Santissima Annunziata (1444-1455) is a complex architectural composition with distinctly noticeable ancient and Byzantine architectural motifs.
  3. The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella (1456-1470) is the main Dominican temple in Florence, built using elements of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
  4. Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini (1447-1503) is an innovative tomb of the influential Malatesta family.
  5. The Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua (1472-1732) is a unique building. The construction of which began in the year of Alberti’s death, and was completed only 260 years later. When developing the project of the temple, the architect used many motives of ancient Roman buildings.


Leon Battista Alberti. The sculptor is Giovanni Lusini (Italian Giovanni Lusini). Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Leon Battista Alberti. The sculptor is Giovanni Lusini (Italian Giovanni Lusini). Uffizi Gallery, Florence
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