Social life in renaissance florence
This presentation is the property of its rightful owner.
Sponsored Links
1 / 34

Social Life in Renaissance Florence PowerPoint PPT Presentation

  • Uploaded on
  • Presentation posted in: General

Social Life in Renaissance Florence. Luke Cashman Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School. What we will be doing today…. Decipher key phrases from the Study Design Explore the city of Renaissance Florence Discuss the essence of social history Review the sources available for this AOS

Download Presentation

Social Life in Renaissance Florence

An Image/Link below is provided (as is) to download presentation

Download Policy: Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use and may not be sold / licensed / shared on other websites without getting consent from its author.While downloading, if for some reason you are not able to download a presentation, the publisher may have deleted the file from their server.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - E N D - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Presentation Transcript

Social life in renaissance florence

Social Life in Renaissance Florence

Luke Cashman

Penleigh and Essendon

Grammar School

What we will be doing today

What we will be doing today…

  • Decipher key phrases from the Study Design

  • Explore the city of Renaissance Florence

  • Discuss the essence of social history

  • Review the sources available for this AOS

  • Open up essay topics from the VCAA exams

  • Propose possible response structures

  • Examine primary and secondary source evidence

  • Consider the historiographical debates

The vcaa study design

The VCAA Study Design

  • Social structures shaped by economic and political bases

  • Social hierarchy reflected in dress, housing, food, entertainment and the social map

  • In my own crude definition, the “social map” is a combination of who you were, where you lived and who you knew

  • Historical debate over how important gonfalone (sixteen administrative districts) were to political, economic, social and religious aspects of life at the time

  • Range of relationships crucial to a Florentine’s ability to survive and thrive

  • Relationships described as competitive, pragmatic or co-operative, but rarely personal (but can this view be challenged?)

  • Functional views shaped by evidence such as strategic location of families within neighbourhoods, marriage contracts and dowries, and the institutionalisation of charity

  • Those outside of the networks established by the dominant elite and the ambitious: urban poor, foreigners, ‘deviants’

  • Various means, such as legislation, charity and festivals were used to incorporate these groups into the life of the city in the interests of civic harmony

  • Investigate the nature and roll of social conventions and relationships based on location, wealth, gender, class, or inclusion within or exclusion from the city’s mores

The challenge posed by unit 4 aos 1

The challenge posed by Unit 4, AOS 1

  • The most challenging section of this subject but, potentially, also the most rewarding

  • Not the standard “History”:

    • “History is past politics.” (Sir John Seely, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge in the late C19th)

    • “The point of History is to study people who mattered and the workers, the peasants, collectively, had hardly ever mattered, so a historian rarely had to take notice of them.” (John Brooke, University of Manchester, mid C20th)

    • Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881): “The History of the world is but the biography of great men.”

    • Reduces History to the study of kings, diplomats and generals

  • The emergence of social history in the 1950s (employing methodologies used in the social sciences [eg demography], economics, statistics and anthropology)

  • More than “history with the politics left out” (G.M. Trevelyan, English Social History, 1944)

  • An attempt “to adopt the perspective of ordinary men and women in the past, to write about their experiences and to look on the state, politics and society with their eyes” (Evans, p165) so that we can rescue them “from the condescension of posterity”. (E.P. Thompson, p12)

  • A broad focus: the body; medicine and disease; popular culture, festivals ad folk-lore; religious practices; crime and punishment; sexuality and madness; the family; neighbourhoods and friends; clubs and confraternities, work and leisure; the use of private and public spaces

Our sources for social life in renaissance florence

Our sources for Social Life in Renaissance Florence


  • The Catasto (Italian for ‘to pile’ or ‘stack up’)

  • “The first detailed tax assessment of every citizen of a city anywhere.” (Eckstein, The District of the Green Dragon, p44)

  • Demanded of all inhabitants a list of assets, debts, credits, financial obligations, family members and their ages, so it constitutes a census as well.

  • First instituted in 1427 and intermittently abolished and reinstated until 1480.

  • Brought in to raise funds after a disastrous war with Lucca in the 1420s and to replace the arbitrary prestanza, whereby the Commune determined how much money was needed and divided this evenly amongst the sixteen gonfalone. Officials in these districts then determined how the money was going to be collected, who was going to pay, and who would be deemed exempt. Therefore, the officials of your gonfalone were good men to know.


  • The memoirs (Ricordi) of Florentine merchants; guidebooks or survival manuals for their sons in the event of the father’s untimely death (a likely circumstance given the persistence of the plague in late C14th and C15th).

  • Giovanni Morelli: “without a guide or leader”


  • Contemporary images of the city, and the extant city itself!

The chain map attributed to francesco di lorenzo rosselli 1470

The Chain Map, attributed to Francesco di Lorenzo Rosselli (1470)

Nineteenth century copy of the chain map

Nineteenth-century copy of the chain map:

Explore a 3D map:

The bounsignori map of 1584 dedicated to grand duke francesco medici

The Bounsignori Map of 1584, dedicated to Grand Duke Francesco Medici

The five basic essay types

The five basic essay types

  • How important was the social system in the lives of Renaissance Florentines?

  • To what extent were social relationships motivated by the desire for honour/reputation/a good name?

  • What was the essence of a Florentine’s identity?

  • To what extent was Renaissance Florence a cooperative or competitive society?

  • To what extent did Florence include or exclude non-elite members of society from public/civic discourse?

  • Key bit of advice: ideas and evidence from your research and reading can be used in most, or all, of the essay topics. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel

1 the importance of the social system

1. The importance of the social system

  • An individual was entwined from birth to death in a network of overlapping circles of personal associates, beginning with kinsmen and extending outward to include relatives by marriage, neighbours, and friends, whom his honor bound him to assist and promte in all their endeavours. (Dale Kent, Friendship, Love, and Trust in Renaissance Florence, p2)

  • Networking in Renaissance Florence was fraught with danger and, potentially, ruinous:

    • Alberti: “Everything in the world is profoundly unsure.”

    • Morelli: “Test your friend a hundred times… before you trust him, and do not trust him to such as extent that he can be the cause of your undoing.”

  • Why was active participation in the social system so important? Three broad reasons:

    • The benefits it conferred (political & financial)

    • Self-preservation and protection

    • Spiritual fulfillment and psychological release

A the benefits of the social system

a. The benefits of the social system

  • Highly valued commodities (wealth, property, political office, honour) were finite, hence competition for a greater share of the spoils offered by the city on the Arno River was fierce. So, how did one make their way in this treacherous world?

  • “The more extended one’s network, the greater were one’s chances of worldly success.” (Weissman, p28)

  • Alberti: “Fortunate and affluent men are indeed extremely useful friends, not so much because they will help you with their wealth and power, but because… they can show you the way to acquaintance with all lesser and ordinary persons.”

  • What could the network provide for you?

    • Access to the networks of others

    • News of work and investment opportunities, properties available for purchase or rent, sources of credit, incoming goods, foreign exchange rates, market conditions

    • Prized commodities (Mazzei: “If any salted anchovies come to Pisa this year, I would enjoy having a small barrel.”)

    • Political nomination and support in the gonfaloni, particularly during periods of scrutiny

    • Membership in the various guilds through letters of recommendation

    • Through guilds and confraternities, means of patronising works of art and architecture

B self preservation and protection

b. Self-preservation and protection

  • To avoid a crippling tax burden:

    • The prestanza: a form of taxation which each gonfalone owed the city treasury a set amount

    • Tax officials in each gonfalone,called sgravatori, determined how much each individual would contribute

    • Tax assessments could be used as a weapon to destroy rival families and clients, and a shield to protect one’s own

    • In 1443, Francesco Soderini, and member of the anti-Medicean group, was crippled with an enormous tax debt

    • Francesco Datini described the gonfaloneof the Red Lion, where he has business interests, as a “rapacious beast”.

    • Giovanni Morelli was forced to move gonfalone: “And we did this because of the forced loans, that is, to get out of the Black Lion.”

    • Morelli advised his sons to live frugally. Lavish & extravagant spending will only cause you to “be defamed as a very rich man, and on the basis of such rumours they will hit you really heavily with taxes.”

    • Giovanni Rucellai: “I have always remained on good terms with my relatives and neighbours and the other residents of the district, so that whenever the taxes have been assessed, they have befriended me and taken pity on me.”

Social life in renaissance florence

  • A safety net : “Most social services were voluntary and private. In time of need one relied on the aid and charity of friends and kinsmen.” (Weissman, p28)

  • A Florentine explains to the tax collector: “I find myself living in the house of Francesco di PieroMarchi, and I do not pay any rent, because I am poor and [I am] his brother-in-law.”

  • LapoNiccolini: “His house was on several occasions saturated by an influx of close relatives who were widowed or in need owing to the plague. As head of casa, Niccolini, Lapo opened his doors wide to those relatives in difficulty… To belong to the same casa also meant to be able to take refuge or to gather under the same roof when danger threatened.” (Klapisch-Zuber, pp73 – 4)

  • LapoNiccolini took in sisters, aunts, granddaughters, nieces and cousins

C spiritual comfort and psychological release

c. Spiritual comfort and psychological release

  • Confraternities:

    • Voluntary associations of lay men and women; very low entrance fees so that “anyone in the city who could afford the very modest subscription fee… would have belonged to such a group.” (Eckstein, Saint Agnes, San Frediano and Friends, 1991)

    • Worship, organise charity, carry out penitential practices (such as self-flagellation), patronise artworks

    • Could ease guilt of usury

    • Vespasiano da Bisticci on Cosimo de Medici: “Although I can’t say where it came from, his conscience pricked him about some money which he had come by not quite cleanly.”

  • Family & friends:

    • The family palazzo or casa “provided some relaxation from the tensions of the piazza.” (Weissman, p32)

    • Friendships (like that between Datini & Mazzei) provided the opportunity to express emotions and sentiments too risky for the piazza

    • “[Friendship] was not primarily about personal feeling; its purpose was the pursuit of mutual honor and profit. The essential themes of patronage letters were the responsibilities, rights, and benefits inherent in the obligations of instrumental friendshps. However, once these were established, they constituted a framework of trust within which personal feeling might safely flourish.” (D. Kent, Friendship, Love and Trust, p59)

    • At night Mazzei placed Datini’s letters on his nightstand among his “dear things” (Trexler, p136); Mazzei felt that he and Datini were “two persons in a single soul.” (D. Kent, Friendship, Love and Trust, p65)

2 the importance of honour in mediating social relations

2. The importance of honour in mediating social relations

  • Synonyms for honour: a good name; reputation; status; esteem; regard

  • The concept of honour was composed of:

    • Wealth

    • Political office

    • An ancient lineage

    • A dense network of friends, patrons & clients

    • An ability and willingness to meet one’s obligations (helping clients and patrons)

    • Religious devotion (through patronage and charity)

    • Avoiding potentially ruinous gossip and “losing face” at all costs

  • Guicciardini: “You can see at every turn the benefits of having a good name, a good reputation… a good name is worth more than great riches.” (Weissman, p25)

Social life in renaissance florence

  • The desire for honour significantly mediated relationships between kin, friends and neighbours

  • All contacts would be used to increase one’s share of the commodities (physical & abstract) that constituted honour

  • Many relationships were, therefore, utilitarian or instrumental. To a significant extent, social relationships revolved around what you could get out of them for yourself (recall Mazzei’s request for anchovies to Datini)

  • Morelli: “Contrive to acquire one friend or more in your gonfalone and if there is anyone who will serve to thrust you forward, attach yourself to him.” (D & F Kent, Neighbours and Neighbourhood in Renaissance Florence, p52)

  • Honour could override deeply entrenched links of loyalty. Giovanni Rucellai: “It makes no sense to destroy one’s own fortune in order to save that of a relative.”

  • Personal honour versus family honour: the Lanfredini case (see Kuehn, Family, Law & Women).

  • The accumulation of honour was a self-perpetuating cycle: the more one attained (through the accumulation of wealth, political offices & contacts), the more he was likely to receive. The inverse, of course, was also true!

Social life in renaissance florence

  • However, honour was not always the primary motivating factor in relationships in Renaissance Florence:

    • While belonging to a confraternity allowed one to publically demonstrate the piety and generosity (and were also a great place to network) there was a spiritual need that these organisations fulfilled

    • Similarly, friendships, while being at least partly utilitarian, were an important place where one could, theoretically, lower one’s guard and trust another completely

    • The case of LapoNiccolini also demonstrates that family ties, which necessitated taking in members of the non-immediate family, could be stronger than the pursuit of profit

3 what was the essence of a florentine s identity

3. What was the essence of a Florentine’s identity?

In the corporate world of Renaissance Florence, individuals typically defined their identity in relation to collectives (parenti, vicini and amici)

Neri di Bicci described himself in the first page of his account book as ‘a painter, from the parish of San Friano, the district of Drago and the quarter of Santo Spirito’.

  • Class or geography

  • Neighbours (vicini)

  • Family (kinship – parenti)

  • Friends (amici)

  • Opportunity for historiographical debate of which element was the most important

Class or geography

Class or geography?

  • Historiographical debate: Was Renaissance Florence riven by class rivalries that turned rich and poor into mortal enemies that flared up periodically in episodes like the Ciompi Revolt of 1378?

  • In essence, was there a “class-consciousness” in trecento and quattrocento Florence?

  • Guildsmen (7 major and 14 minor) held both the economic and political reins of the city.

  • Economic status revealed by the Catasto of 1427:

    • 17% of Florentine households headed by major guildsmen

    • 45% headed by minor guildsmen

    • 38% sottoposti and ciompi (Weissman, p3)

    • In the district of the Green Dragon, about 33% of households (97 in total) were deemed miserabili, or too poor to pay taxes (Eckstein, The District of the Green Dragon, p46)

  • Weissman: “The spatial distribution of the popolominutodid change over the course of the fifteenth century, as they left the central city area, and came to be relatively segregated in the peripheral parishes of the city.” (p10)

Social life in renaissance florence

  • Nevertheless, the CiompiRevolt was a one-off (“The Quattrocento was remarkable… for the absence of Ciompi-like revolt”, F.W. Kent, Be Loved Rather than Feared, pp28 – 9)

  • Two possible reasons:

    • Harsh repression

    • Effective integration of the ciompiand sottoposti into the political, social and economic life of the city

  • Integration facilitated by the ‘social map’ of the city

  • “A remarkable feature of Renaissance Florence was the social and economic heterogeneity of each district and neighbourhood. No sections of the city were reserved exclusively for the rich, no ghettoes inhabited solely by the poor. Each district was a mélange of palace and cottage, of cloth factory and retail shop, of parish church and monastic foundation.” (Brucker, Renaissance Florence, p23)

  • “The lives of the citizens of the Red Lion, rich and poor, powerful and humble, intersected.” (F.W. Kent, Ties of Neighbourhood and Patronage in Quattrocento Florence, pp85)

  • The rich bought goods at local shops and paid for services from local artisans and labourers; the poor rented shop and home spaces from the rich.

Vicini neighbours in the parish gonfaloni quarter

Vicini (neighbours in the parish, gonfaloni, quarter)

  • After the expulsion of Walter of Brienne in 1343, the six districts (sesti) of Florence were abolished and replaced by four quarters. Each quarter was divided again into for gonfaloni (or banners). Based on the sixteen militia companies of the city – hence the name. The head of the gonfalone, elected for a two-month term, was the gonfaloniere (standard-bearer). Abolished by the Medici in 1531 (F.W. Kent, Ties of Neighbourhood and Patronage in Quattrocento Florence, p90)

  • These districts played a crucial role in the administrative life of the city:

    • Taxation determined in the gonfalone

    • The electoral process began in the gonfalone

    • News about business opportunities, cheap credit, property for sale, legal advice, suitable marraiges

    • Election to the Signoria was determined at the level of the quarter

  • “Neighbours remained immensely influential in a man’s life, and it was essential to win the approval—by marriage, business alliance or acts of friendship—of the more powerful figures in one’s gonfalone.” (F.W. Kent, Ties of Neighbourhood and Patronage in Quattrocento Florence, pp83 – 4)

  • Giovanni Morelli: “Do your best to forge a marriage alliance and to acquire a relative who will be a father to you… look first in your own gonfalone, and if you can make a marriage there, you should be readier to do so there than elsewhere.”

  • “The Florentine’s sense of neighbourhood varied according to his class, his status, and his sense of the utility of local bonds in the attainment of specific objectives.” (Weissman, p19)

  • Essentially, the higher up the social scale one was, the broader their social horizon:

    • The poor – the parish church and its piazza

    • Guildsmen – the gonfalone and the quarter (LapoNiccolinisought a marriage alliance from the quarter of the Spirito Santo)

    • The patricians/elite – the entire city and, possibly, beyond



  • Strong link between geography and family: “Family houses clustered together in the same parish, or in contiguous ones” and “In the 1480 Florentine Catasto reveals extensive clustering of households sharing the same name within the gonfalone. (Weissman, pp10 & 13)

  • “The family was the basic unit and the blood tie was the most powerful cohesive agent. The obligations of kinship invariably commanded a higher priority than did the rival claims of state or church.” (Brucker, The Society of Renaissance Florence, p28)

  • Trexler: A Florentine was “either a member of family… or nothing at all.”

  • Family members were also business partners; they could, theoretically, be trusted with information that, in the hands of a rival, could be financially ruinous.

  • Alberti: “There is more honour and value in helping your own family than outsiders… a stranger abides with you as an enemy, while a kinsman is always our friend” (Weissman, p27)

  • LapoNiccolini taking in his numerous relatives. Also turned to extended family (uncles, cousins etc) to deal with delicate family matters (inheritance disputes etc)

  • When families dissolved, as with the Lanfredini family, the results could be personally catastrophic (“the complete and violent estrangement between Remigio and Lanfredino”, Kuehn, Law, Family & Women, p129)



  • The obligations imposed by family could be suffocating, as LapoNiccolini discovered. Friendships, then were an outlet of some intimacy yet reduced obligation

  • Paolo da Certaldo: “A man without a friend is like a body without a soul” and “a man who loses his friends is worse than dead.”

  • Met the social, politicaland economic needs of Florentine citizens (access to the social network, political office, business opportunities and tax relief)

  • Also the psychological need (see for example the emotional sentiments in the letters of Datini and Mazzei)

4 cooperative or competitive

4. Cooperative or competitive?

  • Weismann: “The Florentine observed that society contained a limited quantity of honours and riches.” (p27)

  • With precious political offices and tax relief up for grabs, competition and conflict was practically inevitable. Weismann: “It was expected that strangers would employ their resources to ensure one’s downfall, if only given the chance.” (p27)

  • Florentines were competing for more than their fair share but, as we have seen, also needed each other in their quest for honour

  • Weissman uses the term “agonistic” to describe this paradoxical social circumstance; that is, competitive and supportive encounters between individuals seeking essentially the same goal and outcome

  • Can be explored through parenti, vicini and amici



  • “The Florentine’s home was an unsure refuge from constant scrutiny.” (Weissman, p34)

  • Suffocating, claustrophobic sense of obligation; shared responsibility for maintaining the family’s honour

  • LapoNiccolini:

    • Disappointment with his sons’ failure to marry and move out of the family casa

    • Lending money to relatives, only to not have it paid back

  • The Lanfredini family:

    • An example of a Florentine family in meltdown; clash between father and son over a matter of familial honour son leads to the son abandoning the family for Venice

    • Thomas Kuehn, Law, Family and Women, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Vicini and amici

Vicini and amici

  • Absolutely vital in securing business opportunities, political office and tax relief

  • SerLapoMazzei acted as Datini’s “contact” in Florence. As a notary, Mazzei was familiar with the business dealings of many wealthy and powerful men and was familiar with the inner workings of government. He was, as Trexler notes, “a good man to know.” (Trexler, The Friendship of Citizens, p134)

  • Advice from the Ricordi warning against false friends and opportunities for betrayal. For example, Giovanni Rucellai advised his sons that the best way to defend their fortunes was to avoid making enemies, since “one enemy can do more harm than four friends can do to help.” (D. Kent, Friendship, Love and Trust, p63)

  • Marco Parenti and his neighbour Bernardo Rinieri went to court in 1472 over Rinieri’s terrace that allowed rain water to gush into Parenti’s roof. In 1487 Parenti hit back by putting a window in his wall, thereby ruining Rinieri’s privacy. (F.W. Kent, Ties of Neighbourhood and Patronage in Quattrocento Florence, p88)

  • Tensions between Mazzei and Datini: “The fact remains that I’m a friend and not a friend.” (Trexler, pp152 – 3)

    • Clashed over Datini’s ingratitude and disregard for Mazzei’s assistance and advice

    • Mazzei’s preferential treatment of other friends and patrons

    • Mazzei feared being seen as merely a client of Datini rather than a friend (which implied notions of greater equality and intimacy)



  • Still a chance to enhance one’s esteem in the eyes of others through donations to charitable works and collective patronage of religious artworks

  • As membership was generally open to all, confraternities were also an opportunity to network with social ‘superiors’ (for example, Both Cosimo and Lorenzo were members of the confraternity of Sant’ Agnese in the gonfaloneof the Drago Verde).

  • Most drew their memberships from the whole city, so encouraged a Florentine consciousness

  • Engaged in work that the late-medieval state could not provide: bread distribution, dowry funds, affordable rent, burying the dead (particularly important in times of the plague)

  • Such important civic duties were also pleasing to God (Eckstein), so no distinction was made between being a good citizen and being a good Christian

5 insiders outsiders

5. Insiders & Outsiders

  • Limits on social inclusion: male; wealthy; guild member; Christian

  • Outsiders:

    • Urban workers

    • Women

    • Jewish people

    • Those engaged in homosexual acts

  • Nevertheless, these groups fulfilled important functions in the social and economic life of the city and could not be entirely excluded. Legislation, civic ritual and social custom regulated the degree, however limited, to which they could participate in the public life of the city along with their elite neighbours.

Urban workers

Urban workers

  • As non-guild members, excluded from active participation in the governance of the city

  • Two periods of expansion of suffrage (1340s and 1370s) quickly extinguished by guild-elite

  • “The dramatic events of the Ciompi years were long remembered precisely because their descendants remained a numerous and active force to be reckoned with.” (F.W. Kent, Be Rather Loved than Feared, p28)

  • Urban workers drawn into the patron-client system (goods, services, rental properties etc)

  • Charitable works (bread distributions, dowry funds & cheap rent) designed to satisfy the most urgent grievances and “encourage peaceful co-existence between [the patricians] and the popolominuto” (F.W. Kent, Be Rather Loved than Feared, p31)

  • Open membership of confraternities provided leadership opportunities for those not matriculated in one of the guilds (see Eckstein, Saint Agnes, San Frediano and Friends)

  • Witnessed spectacles such as festivals, pageants, feasts and tournaments(particularly the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the city, on 24 June)

  • “No city had more spectacular nor more numerous public entertainments.” (Hibbert, The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, p119) No more than 275 working days a year. Could be used to distract workers from their drudgery and give them something to look forward to.



  • Jakob Burckhardt: “women were on a footing of perfect equality with men” (in Natalie Thomas, A Positive Novelty: Women and Public Life in Renaissance Florence, p4)

  • Women were considered ‘legal minors’, so excluded from the business and political world of the city

  • Could join confraternities but not be appointed to positions of leadership within them

  • Generally passive onlookers during civic festivals and processions

  • In Della Famiglio, Alberti argued that women should be ‘locked up at home’. (Thomas, p8) A woman’s honour was a function of her obedience and chastity. (Weissman, p26)

  • Florentine families were patrilineal and patrilocal. Women who married into a family lived in their husband’s house. Never really part of the family, hence could not be trusted “as they were a potential source of gossip about family affairs.” (Weissman, p33)

  • Seen as temporary, if long-term, interlopers. LapoNiccolini counted the number of days that his mother stayed at the Niccolinicasa (67 years, 2 months, 26 days); (Klapisch-Zuber, p74)

  • Thomas argues that this potentially weak position (caught between two worlds) was also a potential advantage. Brought new connections to the family through marriage and brought with them a dowry to support their new family’s business endeavours (p8)

  • If their husband died, women could return to their blood-family with their dowry. However, any offspring from the marriage remained with the deceased husband’s family. (Klapisch-Zuber, p74)

  • A prostitute was forced to wear “gloves on her hands and a bell on her head.” (Brucker, The Society of Renaissance Florence, p191) Three communal brothels established by 1415 “in suitable places where the exercise of such scandalous activity can best be concealed.

Jewish people

Jewish people

  • As outsiders, Jews could not participate in the political and social life of the city. Tended to live in small enclaves in the city, inter-marry, seek Hebrew scholars to educate their children. (Banker, Lay Male Identity in a Tuscan Town, pp333 – 4 )

  • “Religious differences were the main obstacles to assimilation.” (Brucker, The Society of Renaissance Florence, p240) In a law of 1430, Jews were described this way: “Considering that Jews or Hebrews are enemies of cross, of our Lord Jesus Christ and of all Christians…” (Brucker, p240)

  • In 1434, GuglielmoDattali, and Florentine Jew, “had carnal relations with Masina, a Christian woman… to the shame and degradation of the Christian religion, in contempt of the Catholic faith.” [he was fined 500 florins in absentia] (Brucker, p244)

  • Nevertheless, as Brucker notes, for a late medieval city, “Florence was a remarkably tolerant community.” In a law of 1463, Jews were permitted “to perform and recite the ceremonies and offices in the synagogues and houses in which they live…” (Brucker, pp240 & 3)

  • Jews performed a vital economic function in this capitalist city-state. Communal legislation on Jews (1430) declared: “desiring to admit Jews into the city, the lord priors… may authorise any Jew to engage in usury in the city of Florence.” However, the rate of interest could not exceed 20% per year. (Brucker, p241)

  • Regulation of the Jewish community (1463): “To prevent any large concentration of Jews in Florence, or a greater number than is necessary, in future the Jews engaged in money lending in Florence may not number [count[ more than seventy persons in their houses and in their shops, working as factors or apprentices… And if this number be exceeded… the [Jewish] community will be fined 50 florins for each person and for each violation.” (Brucker, pp242 – 3)

  • “Every Jew, male or female above the age of twelve… shall be required to wear a sign of O in the city of Florence… A penalty of 25 lire shall be levied on every occasion that this sign is not worn.” (Brucker, pp241 – 2)

Homosexual activity

Homosexual activity

  • No ‘homosexuals’ in Renaissance Europe as we understand the term (those who sexually engage exclusively with people of their own gender and that this forms an important part of their identity)

  • Sodomy was generally taken to mean the act of sex between two men, but it could also be extended to sexual acts between men and women. Sodomy was seen as both contrary to nature, as it could produce no children, and also sinful.

    • Typically, older men took the ‘active role’ while adolescent boys were the ‘passive’ participant; cut across class distinctions. Those engaged in acts of sodomy came from every social level in the city

    • “For most, [sodomy was] an occasional or temporary transgression that did not preclude sex with women either concurrently or during other periods of their lives.” (Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, p15)

    • Could also be used as a political weapon: convictions peaked in 1435 (the year after Cosimo’s return from exile – those convicted tended to be from the Albizzi faction) and the first five years of Lorenzo’s ascendancy. (Najemy, A History of Florence, p249)

  • Florence had a Europe-wide reputation for sodomy. The prevalence of sodomy in Renaissance Florence: “During [the Office of the Night’s] seventy year tenure from 1432 to 1502… in this small city of around only 40,000 inhabitants… as many as 17,000 individuals or more were incriminated at least once for sodomy, with close to 3,000 convicted.” (Rocke, Forbidden Friendships, p4)

  • Possible reasons for prevalence:

    • The relatively late age of marriage for Florentine men (around 30 years old)

    • The lack of opportunities for casual sex with women (cloistering and nunneries)

    • Formed part of the network of alliances and friendships that strengthened bonds and fostered business contacts between patrons and clients

Social life in renaissance florence

  • Legislation (see Brucker, The Society of Renaissance Florence):

    • 1415: “Desiring to eliminate a worse evil [sodomy] by means of a lesser one [prostitution], the lord priors… authorise the establishment of two public brothels in the city of Florence, in addition to the one that already exists.”

    • 1418: Electoral officials were instructed by the priors to exclude anyone from eligibility for political office if they “been suspected of that crime [sodomy].”

    • 1432: The Office of the Night was established “to discover who commits the vice of sodomy”. As Rocke notes, this magistracy “was probably the first and certainly one of the few criminal institutions with this specific competency in the history of Europe.” (p4)

    • Seventeen reforms to penalties prescribed for sodomy between 1432 and 1542 (Rocke, p7)

  • The gap between rhetoric and reality:

    • In spite of the legislation (Intent of the Office of the Night was probably to keep the practice of sodomy within acceptable bounds (Rocke, p226)

    • The officials, all patricians, were often judging men of their own status, so were probably reluctant to proceed with harsh penalties

    • Fines were rarely paid in full or at all (Rocke, p80)

    • Harshest penalties, including execution, were typically reserved for non-consensual sex or sex with male children

Dramatis p ersonae

Dramatis Personae

  • Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472): Humanist, author, artist, architect and more

  • Paolo da Certaldo (c.1320 – c.1370): Florentine merchant and writer

  • Francesco Datini (1335 – 1410): wealthy merchant from Prato, outside of Florence

  • Francesco Guicciardini (1483 - 1540): Florentine historian and statesmen

  • LanfredinoLanfredini (late-C14th – mid-C15th): Son of RemigioLanfredini

  • SerLapoMazzei(late-C14th – mid-C15th): a notary in Florence

  • Giovanni Morelli (mid-C14th – early-C15th): Florentine merchant

  • LapoNiccolini (late-C14th – mid-C15th): a prominent silk merchant

  • Giovanni Rucellai (1403 - 1481): wealthy Florentine wool merchant

  • Login