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Giovan Francesco Pico. Biographic overview

Giovan Francesco Pico was born at Mirandola  in 1469  from Galeotto I  Pico, brother of Giovanni, the philosopher and of Bianca Maria d’Este, illegitimate daughter of Nicolò III  d’Este.
Little is known of his first years of life, but is is possible to assume that he has received at least a part of his education at the court of Ferrara. In March 1491, he married Giovanna Carafa from Neaples.

In the next years, Giovan Francesco managed to start correspondence with different scholar of intellectual and political importance. But, it was certainly the uncle Giovanni, of only six years older, to mainly infuence Giovan Francesco. This one, in 1496 pubblished the Opera Omnia of Giovanni, dead in 1494, by affixing a biography of the uncle as an introduction and writing also the “Defensio de ente et uno”, by taking up a philosophical debate against Antonio Cittadini of Faenza, which was left unfinished by Giovanni.

Another remarkable figure, which was instrumental in the education and in the interest of Giovan Francesco  was certainly Girolamo Savonarola, to whom he dedicated his “De morte Christi et propria cogitanda libri tres”. In 1497, Pico wrote two works addressed to the ecclesiastical authorities in defence of Girolamo Savonarola, who was excommunicated that year. Pico also wrote a letter aimed at raising the public opinion in support of the monk, who, however, was sentenced and burned on 23rd May 1498 in Florence. The close and intense relationship of Pico with Savonarola is then witnessed by the “Life” of the Dominican monk Giovan Francesco wrote and submitted to different revisions during his whole existence.
In 1499, after the death of hs father Galeotto, Giovan Francesco became Lord of Mirandola and came into possession of the imperial investiture. But soon his younger brothers, Ludovic and Frederick, supported by their mother, began to claim rights and demanded part of the inheritance and convinced themselves of the necessity of storming Mirandola. So, on 6th August 1502, the two Picos, by relying on the powerful Milanese leader Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, father of Ludovic Pico’s wife conquered Mirandola and caught Giovan Francesco, by forcing him to the exile. In those years, he wrote his treaty “De Immaginatione”, which was published in Venice in 1501.
During his exile, he tried to come into possession of his city again by relying on the friendship of Albert Pio and also on the support of the Gonzaga. He went to Germany twice to claim his own rights by the Emperor Maximilian and, at the same time, to get in contact and acquainted with German scholars and humanists.
In the meanwhile, between 1506 and1509, the mother of Giovan Francesco, Bianca Maria and his brothers Frederick and Ludovic passed away; therefore, the wife of the latter became the ruler of Mirandola, in quality of regent on behalf of the heir to the principality, the son Galeotto.
On 6th June 1510, Giovan Francesco obtained the protection of the emperor and, at the same time, he looked for the support of the pontiff Julius II, who was committed in chasing away the French from Italy. So the Pope, during his armed campaign , decided to besiege Mirandola, allied, at that time, through the Trivulzio, to the French. The city fell on 20th January 1511 and Julius II restablished Giovan Francesco as legitimate ruler.
During the years, in which Pico was forced to be far from Mirandola, Pico published some important works, among them are to be highlighted the “De Rerum praenotione”, “Theoremata de fide”, “De providentia  Dei”.

However, the reconquest of Mirandola by Giovan Francesco lasted very little. In fact, Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, at the head of the French army, entered Mirandola on 4th June 1511 and forced Giovan Francesco to run off. This one, in the next two years, probably stayed between Modena and Rome and also struggled in the army of the Holy League, until, in 1514, upon the imperial intercession, an agreement was reached between Francesca Trivulzio and Giovan Francesco. The small state of Mirandola was split into two parts. Pico chose Mirandola with the obligation of paying an amount of golden ducats to Francesca, who had the other part of the principality, which included Concordia.
Back to Mirandola, Giovan Francesco had again the possibility of dedicating himself to the studies and to his intellectual activity. In 1516, Pico  published in Rome the “De amore divino”. In 1519, the “De imitatione”, which collect the letters with Pietro Bembo on the imitation of the ancient authors, and “Physici libri duo”.
In 1519, Pope Lion X, allowed Giovan Francesco to open a printing office at Mirandola, where was published, in the same year, the “De veris calamitatum causis nostrorum temporum”. The publication of a fundamental work in the Pico bibliograph, “Examen vanitatis doctrinae gentium” (dedicated to the Pontiff) dates back to 1520..
In that period, there was an intense correspondence between Giovan Francesco and different scholars and men of letters, such as Johann Reuchlin, Johann Pirckheimer, and Lilio Gregorio from Ferrara, of whom he was close friend.

Pico was always very careful to religious incitements and to spiritual calls. In 1519, he met the mystic from Piedmont, Caterina da Racconigi, a Dominican sister,who was then beatified. Gianfrancesco protected her and hosted her at Mirandola. He also wrote her biography in 1532, “Compendium of the admirable things of the venerable servant of God, Catterina da Racconisio”.
However in those years, Pico never laid down arms, on account of the steady skirmishes with the neighbouring enemies and of the wars raging in the Italian territory.
In 1523, was released the work, which became the most famous of Giovan Francesco, “Strix sive de ludificatione daemonium”, against the demonic nature of witchcraft as evidence of a very strong inquisitory action of represssion, to which Mirandola was subject in that historical period.
In the last years of his life, Gianfranesco was still committed in an intense epistolary activity, especially with the humanist cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto.
The death of Giovan Francesco took place in a dramatic and violent way in the night of 15th October 1533. A reporter of that time wrote: “as the nephew Galeotto, son of Francesca, was fearing of losing the County of Concordia, at the approaching of the dawn, he went with some very trustworthy soldiers of his to Mirandola. After crossing the ditch with two boats, the soldiers, by means of a rope, climbed the boundary wall and rushed into the library of Giovan Francesco, where they found him kneeling in front of the Cross and commending his soul to God. And then, they sabered him with two hands”.


  • Ioannis Pici Mirandulae Vita, 1496
  • De morte Christi et propria cigitanda. libri tres, 1496
  • De studio divinae et humanae philosophiae. libri duo, 1496
  • Opusculum de sententia ex comunicationis iniusta pro h.s. prophetae innocentia, 1497
  • Defensio hieronymi savonarolae adversus samuelem cassinensem
  • Letter of the Count Gianfrancesco of Mirandola in favour of the monk Hieronymo from Ferrara afet his capture
  • Defensio de ente et uno
  • De imaginatione seu phantasia
  • Operecta in defensione di pietro bernardo di firenze servo di Iesu Cristo, 1501
  • Physici libri duo, prior de appetitu primae materiae, posterior de elementis, 1513
  • De imitatione ad Petrum Bembum, eiusdem ad d.Ioannem franciscum Picum responsum
  • Strix sive de ludificatione 1523 
  • Theoremata numero XXV de fide et ordine credendi
  • Iustini philosophi et martyris admonitorium gentium liber a greco in latinum sermonem ab eo traslatum
  • Heroicum carmen de mysteriis domenicae crucis iam dudum in germaniam delapsis
  • De rerum praenotione libri  IX, 1506-1507
  • De veris calamitatum causis, 1519
  • Examen vanitatis doctrinae gentium, 1520
  • Epistolarum variorum generum. libri IV
  • De reformandis moribus, oratio ad Leonem X et concilium lateranense, 1517
  • Letter to the Doctor Giacomo Essler, 1508
  • De providentia dei contra philosophastros liber, 1508
  • De anima rationali (commentari contro aristotele)
  • De animorum immortalitate
  • Regulae adevrsus scrupolos
  • Adnotationes in sacra eloquia
  • Nostrorum gesta temporum
  • Leges civiles et pontificias
  • Inni erotici
  • De adorazione, 1524
  • Description of the garden-island, 1524
  • Ioannis Francisci Pici mirandulae domini comitis depulsoria calumniae romaniensis-oratio, 1524
  • De auro. libri tres, 1529
  • Compendium of the admiravle things of thevenerable servant of God Catterina da Racconisio, 1532
  • De amore divino
  • Vita Hieronymi Savonarolae
  • Logical Institution
  • Anathema, due books
  • About the human perfection
  • About banishing Venus
  • Resolution of the ecclesiatical power
  • About the arcanes fallen down the sky in Germany
  • Annotations to the sacred thoughts of the Old and New Testament
  • De animorum immortalitate