Niccolò Tignosi was a physician and professor of medicine active in Tuscany (especially Florence) in the second and third quarters of the fifteenth century. More or less at the same time in which Johannes Argyropoulos began his famous activity of interpreting Aristotle there, Tignosi published a commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, which received a rather hostile response from his contemporaries, prompting him to defend himself in a very interesting opusculum. He also wrote on Aristotelian logic and psychology and penned a series of historical and political treatises, displaying a desire to remain close to the Medici family. His works point to the numerous intersections between humanism and scholasticism in Renaissance Florence.
KeywordsPosterior Analytics Artistic Theory Relative Defense Aristotelian Logic Hostile Response
Little is known about the education of Niccolò (the son of Iacobus, a doctor of law), who hailed from Foligno, but whose university studies may have taken place in Bologna, Siena, and/or Perugia (the following sketch is based mainly on Sensi 1971–1972; see also Thorndike 1927, 1929, pp. 161–170; Rotondò 1958; Barale Hennemann 1974, pp. 33–111; Field 1988, pp. 136–158). Rotondò maintains that he was taught by Ugo Benzi and Gaspare Sighicelli in Siena, but several times Tignosi describes himself as a student of Paul of Venice (who taught in Perugia from November 1424 and in Siena in 1427). For at least 1 year (1426–1427), Tignosi taught logic in Bologna. In 1428, he was engaged in military activities in Milan. We then find him studying and teaching medicine in Perugia (1428 to c. 1438). He also taught medicine (“theorica”) and philosophy in Florence from c. 1439 (an important time in Florence because of the presence of the Church Council there between January 1439 and September 1443). Probably early on, he lectured there on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, for which he requested a fresh translation from his humanist friend Giovanni Tortelli. Shortly afterward, Tignosi moved to Arezzo, where by 1442 he had married Angela, the daughter of Count Domenico de Marsuppini and had acquired Aretine citizenship. A new period of teaching in Florence started around 1450 and lasted until 1464. During this time, Tignosi authored the Expugnatio Constantinopolitana, published his commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (with relative defense treatise), and supposedly instructed Marsilio Ficino. (The evidence for the latter, uncomfortably slender, is summarized in Field 1988, p. 140, n. 43.) He was called to teach in Arezzo in 1464 (Vasoli 2006); we then find him in Todi (1468–1471) and in Narni (1472) before his teaching career resumes in Pisa (where the Florentine studio had just been transferred) in 1473–1474 (the year of his death). To this later period belong Tignosi’s remaining works, including De origine Fulginatum, De ideis, and the commentary on De anima, completed shortly before his death.
Although it is difficult to reconstruct Tignosi’s intellectual network outside of Florence (except for his ties to Paul of Venice), in Florence he had numerous friendly contacts (deserving further exploration) with the intellectual avant-garde, including Tortelli, Poggio Bracciolini, Benedetto Accolti, Carlo Marsuppini, as well as Donato Acciaiuoli and Ficino. It is unclear what Tignosi’s relationship was, if any, with Johannes Argyropoulos, who in February 1457 started lecturing publicly on Aristotle’s Ethics in Florence and whose interpretation Tignosi opposed in the dedication letter to his Ethics.
Impact and Legacy
Other than being (supposedly) Ficino’s teacher, Tignosi is best known for a controversy that erupted in Florence, probably between 1461 and 1464, after the publication of his Latin commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The commentary (studied in Rotondò 1958, pp. 228–233; Sensi 1971–1972, pp. 385–388; Field 1988, pp. 140–145, 148–150; Kraye 1995, pp. 101–102; Lines 1999a, b, 2001, 2002, pp. 192–206, 490–491) is based on Leonardo Bruni’s translation of the text (1416/1417), reflecting Tignosi’s interest in recent translations (used also for his commentaries on the Posterior Analytics and De anima). The presentation copy, dedicated to Piero de’ Medici, must date to 1461, when Piero was the gonfaloniere, but the work was probably written earlier. The Commenta is unusual in terms of its approach. While treating philosophical issues, the work is obviously directed to a mixed audience, a good portion of which has no formal training in philosophy. It therefore explains fairly elementary philosophical concepts while also offering elements that make the work less scholastic. Indeed, Tignosi eschews quaestiones, neglects the traditional practice of divisio textus (i.e., of breaking down the text into its constitutive elements), occasionally uses Greek, and provides abundant historical examples (from both classical and contemporary times) as well as quotations from poetry (Kraye 1995, pp. 101–102). It is thus quite different from many contemporary Florentine commentaries on the same work (e.g., Guglielmo Becchi, Donato Acciaiuoli). In terms of its main sources, it depends strongly on Averroes, Albertus Magnus, and St. Augustine (Lines 2002, p. 193).
Tignosi evidently misjudged the expectations of his commentary’s audience; reactions to it were strong. Tignosi was forced to defend himself against his detractors (which included both humanists and scholastics) in a treatise entitled Nicolai Fulginatis ad Cosmam Medicem in illos qui mea in Aristotelis commentaria criminantur opusculum (see Rotondò 1958, pp. 233–241; Sensi 1971–1972, pp. 388–395; Lines 2002, pp. 206–214). In this work, Tignosi had to answer both for his practice of providing strongly philosophical explanations of the text and for his use of historical examples and poetical quotations. The work, which is sophisticated and deeply interesting, offers a glimpse into the cultural climate of Florence in a period in which the tastes of some tended to be very much confined either to literature and history or to philosophy. Tignosi presents himself as wishing to bridge the two: his appeals to poetry and history are actually, he says, an imitation of what Aristotle himself had done. His example is not, however, one that is immediately embraced by his contemporaries, although it makes for interesting comparisons with the approach of the Frenchman Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples a few decades later (Kraye 1995; Lines 1999b, p. 266, 2007, p. 289) and with that of Bernardo Segni in 1550 (Lines 2013, pp. 845, 852, 856–858).
Other aspects of Tignosi’s work that have been examined but merit further attention include his exaltation of medicine over law and his “philosophy of ends” (Field 1988, pp. 142–158); his views of friendship, his relationship to the Medici family, and his political statements (Sère 2007, pp. 373–381); his theory of the soul and presumed Averroism (on the basis of his De anima commentary, published in 1551, it seems that Tignosi accepted some of Averroes’ views; see Hasse 2004); and his relationship to Florentine Platonism (his treatise De ideis suggests that Tignosi was opposed to the kind of reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle attempted by Donato Acciaiuoli; for comments and historiographical summary, see Sensi 1971–1972, pp. 414–422). Finally, interesting work has been done (but much more remains to be explored) on Tignosi’s work in relationship to artistic theory and practice in Quattrocento Florence (Pfisterer 1999, 2001), a subject that his writings (particularly the Ethics commentary) mention fairly often.
Tignosi’s status as a figure of some (if minor) prominence in Florence seems indicated by his appearance as a fictional character (“Niccolò”) in Bracciolini’s dialog on the relative merits of medicine and civil law in the second part of his Historia disceptativa convivialis (1450). He is possibly also the “Nicolaus medicus” of Lorenzo Pisano’s Dialogi quinque (late 1450s or early 1460s) (Mercati 1938, pp. 284–285). Field underlines his possible influence on Bracciolini’s legal humanism and on Ficino’s philosophical viewpoints but is doubtful of his broader significance after the 1450s (Field 1988, p. 155). Further studies will confirm the contours of his legacy.
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