John Pico della Mirandola
24 February 1463 
- lay Dominican since 1493 -
17 November 1494

A brief biography.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Italian philosopher and Renaissance scholar, was born 24 February, 1463.  He belonged to a family that had long dwelt in the Castle of Mirandola (Duchy of Modena), which had become independent in the fourteenth century and had received in 1414 from the Emperor Sigismund the fief of Concordia. To devote himself wholly to study, he left his share of the ancestral principality to his two brothers, and in his fourteenth year went to Bologna to study canon law and fit himself for the ecclesiastical career.

Repelled, however, by the purely positive science of law, he devoted himself to the study of philosophy and theology, and spent seven years wandering through the chief universities of Italy and France, studying also Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic. An impostor sold him sixty Hebrew manuscripts, asserting positively that they were written by order of Esdras, and contained the secrets of nature and religion. For many years he believed in the Kabbala and interwove its fancies in his philosophical theories. His aim was to conciliate religion and philosophy. Like his teacher, Marsilius Ficinus, he based his views chiefly on Plato, in opposition to Aristotle the doctor of scholasticism at its decline.

But Pico was constitutionally an eclectic, and in some respects he represented a reaction against the exaggerations of pure humanism. According to him, we should study the Hebrew and Talmudic sources, while the best products of scholasticism should be retained.

His "Heptaplus", a mystico-allegorical exposition of the creation according to the seven Biblical senses, follows this idea (Firenze, about 1480); to the same period belongs the "De ente et uno", with its explanations of several passages in Moses, Plato and Aristotle; also an oration on the Dignity of Man (published among the "Commentationes").

Portrait of John Pico della Mirandola.
Painting by unknown artist in Uffizi, Firenze.

Italy 1963, Mi 1138, Sc 869.

With bewildering attainments due to his brilliant and tenacious memory, he returned to Rome in 1486 and undertook to maintain 900 theses on all possible subjects ("Conclusiones philosophicae, cabalasticae et theologicae", Rome, 1486, in fol.).
He offered to pay the expenses of those who came from a distance to engage with him in public discussion. Innocent VIII was made to believe that at least thirteen of these theses were heretical, though in reality they merely revealed the shallowness of the learning of that epoch. Even such a mind as Pico's showed too much credulity in nonsensical beliefs, and too great a liking for childish and unsolvable problems.

The proposed disputation was prohibited and the book containing the theses was interdicted, notwithstanding the author's defence in "Apologia J. Pici Mirandolani, Concordiae comitis" (1489). One of his detractors had maintained that Kabbala was the name of an impious writer against Jesus Christ. Despite all efforts Pico was condemned, and he decided to travel, visiting France first, but he afterwards returned to Firenze.

In Firenze he found a confused sphere. The Dominican Girolamo Savonarola (21.09.1452-23.05.1498), preached hell and damnation when the citizens not return to the Holy Church and would live after the Commands of the Lord in style of the first Christians, like described  in the Acta Apostolorum. Why not, than the prophecies of the Apocalypse of Saint John must come to fruition.

The magister of the Dominic an Order, Joachim Turriani (1487-1500), saw difficulties with the Medici by this manner of preaching and removed Savonarola in 1487 to the region of the Lombardy. In Brescia he preached about the Apocalypse with much success, and predicted terrible ordeals. In this city the government was in the hands of the lower middle class and this understood his message.

In 1490 Lorenzo de’Medici requested on the advice of his friend, the philosopher John Pico della Mirandola, the Master of the Order to sent Savonarola to Firenze, and so he returned to the priory of San Marco.
His preaching about the Apocalypse drew so many people, that the church of San Marco was shown too small. Therefore he preached in the Dom of Firenze.

In July 1491 Savonarola was elected or appointed as prior of the priory of San Marco. John Pico della Mirandola was influenced by Savonarola, who  brought him to join the Dominican Order as tertiary in 1493.

John Pico della Mirandola destroyed his poetical works, gave up profane science, and determined to devote his old age to a defence of Christianity against Jews, Mohammedans. and astrologers. A portion of this work was published after his death ("Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem", Bologna, 1495). Because of this book and his controversy against astrology, Pico marks an era and a decisive progressive movement in ideas.

During the General chapter of the Dominican Order in Ferrara in 1494, Pico participated in the ‘Disputatio’, with among others the Dominican Cajetanus (Thomas) de Vio (20.02.1469-9/10.08.1534).

Attack by King Charles VIII, 1494.

When the French King Charles VIII invaded Italy in 1494, some prophecies of Savonarola came true. Piero de’Medici, successor of his father Cosimo, was irresolute, Firenze indefensible, and capitulated. The enraged citizens drove Piero away with his retainers to Venice on 9 November 1494, and Firenze concluded the peace with Charles VIII, who leaved the city after thrice a warning of Savonarola.

Pico della Mirandola's works.

Besides the writings already mentioned, see his complete works (Bologna, 1496; Venezia, 1498; Strasburg, 1504; Basle, 1557; 1573, 1601). He wrote in Italian an imitation of Plato's "Banquet". His letters ("Aureae ad familiares epistolae", Paris, 1499) are important for the history of contemporary thought. The many editions of his entire works in the sixteenth century sufficiently prove his influence.

Mysterious circumstances of Mirandola's and Polizanio's death.

John Pico della Mirandola died under very mysterious circumstances on 17 November 1494, two months after his intimate friend the Poet Poliziano, on the day Charles VIII of France entered Firenze.
It was rumoured that his own secretary had poisoned him, because Pico had become too close to Savonarola. (Britannica, Oxford University Press. Savonarola delivered the funeral oration.

In 2007, the bodies of Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola were exhumed from St. Mark's Basilica in Florence. Scientists under the supervision of Giorgio Gruppioni, a professor of anthropology from Bologna, will use current testing techniques to study the men's lives and establish the causes of their deaths.
A TV documentary was made of this research, and it was recently announced that these forensic tests showed that both Poliziano and Pico likely died of arsenic poisoning, probably at the order of Lorenzo's successor, Piero de' Medici. The Daily Telegraph (London) 7 February 2008,

Source: Internet.
           : Catholic Encyclopedia     
           : Excerpted from Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed. Vol XXI.
             Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 585.


Convegno Internazionale di Studi
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola 1494-1994
Portrait of Mirandola.

Italy 1994. Postmark 41037 Mirandola (MO) 4.10.1994




Convegno Internazionale di Studi su Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
nel cinquecentesimo anniv. della morte 1494-1994. Mirandola 4-8 Ottobre 1994.
Portrait of John Pico della Mirandola .

Italy 1994. Postmark Mirandola 04.10.1994.

John Pico della Mirandola is depicted by Sandro Botticelli ion his painting 'Adoration of the Magi', for the chapel of Guasparre Lami, agent of the Bankers Guild, in the church of Santa Maria Novella, Firenze, 1475.  It is now preserved in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze.
On this painting Sandro Botticelli looks out at us from the right hand side. Guiliano de' Medici stands on the left and leaning against him the poet Poliziano. Beside them John Pico della Mirandola.
From: Botticelli - Renaissance Master Artist.


There are many stamps with the central part of Sandro Botticelli's painting 'Adoration of the Magi'(1475). I cannot find the whole painting (2009).
Among others: Paraguay 1969, Mi 1989, Sc1216.
Togo 1970, Mi 837, Sc 760. On order.
Central Africa 1986, Mi 1255, Sc C 324.  On order.


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