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Solo e’ libri e le scritture mie e de’ miei passati a me piacque […] sempre avere in modo rinchiuse che mai la donna le potesse non tanto leggere, ma né vedere. Sempre tenni le scritture […] serrate e in suo ordine allogate nel mio studio quasi come cosa sacrata e religiosa:
These are the words of Giannozzo Alberti, one of the main characters of Leon Battista Alberti’s third book of Libri della famiglia. The first area of this section introduces us into the private space of Alberti’s library, where all his surviving letters and important personal documents can be found. All of this chronologically ordered material enables us to review the most revealing phases of Alberti’s life.
Leon Battista Alberti, born in Genoa on 18th February 1404, natural child of Lorenzo di Benedetto Alberti, moved with his father to Padua when he was still a child: the first document shows a letter from one of the most important schoolmasters of the time, Gasparino Barzizza, who declares Battista to be a diligent and promising pupil. After the death of his father (1421) Battista and his brother Carlo were fostered to relatives. This information can be easily gleaned from Lorenzo’s will, which states his charge of the two illegitimate boys and their exclusion from inheriting all possessions and effects, which were bequeathed solely to the legitimate family heirs, thus marking the beginning of isolation and domestic unhappiness for the two fatherless brothers which was to pervade their whole lives.
Battista began studying Law at the University of Bologna. While there are no surviving records about his life during that period, Battista frequently recalls it in his autobiographical writings. Thanks to this education in Law, Battista gained access to the Roman Curia, shown by a very important document dated 1432: the papal bill which eliminated the impediment of being an illegitimate child, a prerequisite condition at that time to enter the ecclesiastical offices (no. 3). Together with this papal bill there is another important document: the letter of recommendation from the Florentine Signoria to the Cardinal Condulmer in 1433. Battista became an apostolic writer at the Curia and this place was to remain the main location for the rest of his life, even though he was called away frequently on account of prestigious cultural and business matters.
The original remaining letters, all sent from Rome after 1450, tell of an Alberti now a successful man in his own right, with close personal ties to powerful families and busy working on grand masterpieces. A letter of 1450 confirms his link with the Medici family and with Florence; in the well-known letter to Matteo de’ Pasti (1454) Battista discusses particular details of his most famous building: the Malatestian Temple of Rimini; four letters to Ludovico Gonzaga of Mantua speak of his notable and lasting dealings with the court of Mantua, a court for which he designed the church of Saint Andrea and other buildings (no. 7).
Unfortunately few traces of literary themes remain in the original letters and texts concerning Battista’s writings, apart from the dedication letters about the works themselves. Many documents (at least one of which from 1464 is on exhibition, no. 9) speak instead of Alberti’s properties, specifically of the ecclesiastical benefit of San Martino a Gangalandi. Battista’s will, written shortly before his death in 1472, records all his considerable effects and at the same time provides us with a final image of the humanist. The will, together with the list of goods, is treasured in a beautiful little codex composed by one of the executors (no. 12) and reveals the last wish of an academic: to leave part of his goods for the foundation of a college in Bologna to serve poor and worthy students.