GELLI, Giambattista

Giambattista Gelli was a self-taught Florentine linguist, moralist, and scholar of Dante and Petrarch whose life and writings link Renaissance humanism and the Counter-Reformation in Italy. Gelli passed his life in his native Florence and its environs, taking only one trip possibly as far as Pisa. He made his living as a shoemaker, the craft in which his father, a vintner, had him trained. His participation in Florentine political life was restricted to minor administrative positions he held occasionally and that he owed to Medici patronage. It was rather in the realm of scholarship that Gelli figures as an important contributor to Florentine cultural life.
Gelli was formally trained only in the rudiments of Latin, but in his twenties he determined to study that language and classical and vernacular literature more seriously on his own. He frequented the meetings of the circle of the Orti Orecellari in his youth and in 1540 was among the first affiliates of the Accademia degli Umidi, which in the following year became the Accademia Fiorentina. There, from 1541 to 1551, he distinguished himself in a series of public lectures on Dante's Divine Comedy and on Petrarch and engaged in discussions about language, championing the use of the vernacular.
Gelli's principal creative works include the moral dialogues I capricci del bottaio, the first seven of which appeared in 1546 and the remainder in 1548, and La Circe (1549). The Capricci, a colloquy between Giusto Bottaio (the just cooper) and his soul, offers insights both into Gelli's own psychology and the culturally conscious mentality of Florence's literate, if not learned, artisan class; while it recognizes the necessity of the practical crafts, the soul ultimately per­suades the cooper that the higher aim of human perfection can be attained only through study and the knowledge of truth. Gelli believed that knowledge could and should be disseminated as widely as possible, and to this end, though he trained himself as a humanist in classical languages in order to read Greek and Roman philosophy and history in the original, he argued in favor of the trans­lation of works into the vernacular in Della lingua che si parla e scrive in Firenze (1551). In La Circe, composed in imitation of Plutarch and possibly Niccolo Machiavelli,* Gelli presents eleven men who have been turned into animals. Given the choice to accept their metamorphoses or return to human form, all but one posit the superiority of animal existence; only the eleventh, with arguments drawn from Pliny and Aristotle as well as ancient and Renais­sance Neoplatonic literature, sees the human condition as more felicitous be­cause man alone can reason and seek to understand divine truth. Gelli's defense of the vernacular and of clear reasoning, his opposition to Scholastic philosophy, his sympathy with the Lutheran emphasis on scriptural authority, and his ad­miration for the legacy of Girolamo Savonarola led him to be brought errone­ously under suspicion of heresy and resulted in I capricci being placed on the Index more than a decade after it first appeared.
Of minor importance are the comedies La sporta (1543) and Lo errore (1556), which offer psychological and stereotypical snapshots of a widow and two el­derly Florentine men. In Gelli's own view, these comedies serve as a mirror of private and civic customs of the daily life of Florence. Gelli also wrote a brief collection of lives of Florentine artists and historical treatise, Dell'origine di Firenze. He translated the biographies of ten famous men by Paolo Giovio and three works by Simone Porzio.
A. De Gaetano, Giambattista Gelli and the Florentine Academy: The Rebellion against Latin, 1976.
Luci Fortunato DeLisle

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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