Lorenzo Valla

1407-1457. Italian philologist and rhetorician, perhaps the most brilliant mind of the Renaissance. He was born in Rome, and after studying under Vittorino da Feltre he became teacher of Greek and Latin, wandering to Pavia, Milan, Genoa, Ferrara, Mantua, and Naples. The last decade of his life was spent at Rome working for Pope Nicholas V* in a position that gave him time for his literary activities. Valla's best-known book, Elegances of the Latin Language (1441), became a standard guide for humanists interested in precise expression and graceful style. Always a critical and independent thinker, he was led by his work into many controversies. His most famous book was the Declamation Concerning the False Donation of Constantine (1440) in which he demonstrated the spurious character of the document that allegedly proved that Constantine* had given central Italy over to papal control when he moved the Roman capital to the East. Valla demonstrated that the Donation* was an eighth-century forgery and thus could not be used to support papal claims to temporal power. Although his work aroused the ire of some churchmen, it had little practical importance, since the Renaissance popes did not base this claim to political power on the document. Valla's works, however, exerted a strong influence on Erasmus* and the Protestant Reformers.