Cristoforo Buondelmonti

Cristoforo Buondelmonti was born in Florence in 1385/6 into a prominent Florentine family. Not much is known of his early life or his basic studies in the grammatica, but it seems probable that he studied Greek under Guarino da Verona and received an excellent humanist education. By 1414 he was already a priest, rector of an unknown Florentine church and a member of the humanist circle around Niccolò Niccoli.

Buondelmonti left Florence for Rhodes 1414. A branch of the Buondelmonti family held a signory in Gianina, and his family had marriage ties both to the Acciaiuoli dukes of Athens and lords of Corinth and to Leonardo Tocco, marquis of Cephalonia and duke of Lefkade.

He had also left home on a mission — to find Greek manuscripts for the humanist scholars in Florentine circles, among them Niccolò Niccoli. Using Rhodes as his base, he began his research. He bought two manuscripts on Crete, but he also found himself captivated by the picturesque and historic islands of the Aegean world and undertook a lengthy tour of Crete, first sailing around it, and then crossing it from east to west on horseback.

He marveled and mourned at the ruins of antiquity, got briefly captured by bandits and listened to bitter complaints against Venetian rule. He wrote up his adventures and observations and sent them to Niccolò. The result was of this collaboration was the Descriptio insulae Cretae (1417).

But this was not to be the end of his travels. Over the next dozen years, he traversed the Greek seas, going from island to island, writing up a descriptive text about each and drawing a map. The first version of the manuscript of his Descriptio Archipelagi et Cicladum aliarumque Insularum (Description of the Archipelago, the Cyclades, and the Other Islands) was completed in 1420. Cristoforo dedicated it to the wealthy bibliophile, Cardinal Giordano Orsini, who was also interested in maps and had an early copy of Ptolemy made for his library.

Buondelmonti also composed a Nomina virorum illustrium at the request of King Janus of Cyprus, which he completed at Rhodes in 1423. While the lives of illustrious men and women was a venerable Renaissance genre going back to Petrarch and Boccaccio and before them to classical sources, Buondelmonti’s existing version was little more than a preliminary list that probably indicated his intent for a far longer work.

Buondelmonti’s later life is not documented. He died c.1430, probably in Florence.

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