A Renaissance Murder Mystery

The tragedy of the philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s death, as well as the memory of his brief, incandescent life, has been revived in recent years.CREDITIMAGE BY DEAGOSTINI / GETTY

The most glamorous philosopher of the Italian Renaissance, and in many respects the most contemporary, died in the autumn of 1494. He was just thirty-one. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola came from aristocratic stock: the Pico dynasty ruled Mirandola, a tiny northern Italian principality, from a fortified castle that still bears the family name. At the time of his death, Count Giovanni Pico had mastered a Babel of ancient languages, nettled the Pope, done jail time in France, developed an unhealthy fixation with the Dominican friar and religious fundamentalist Girolamo Savonarola, dabbled in magic, and written a sunny treatise, “Oration On the Dignity of Man,” which became the anthem of the Renaissance.

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