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Unit 4 – Outcome 1: Social Life in Renaissance Italy. Social Life – Renaissance Florence. HTAV Student Lectures 20 July 2008 Presenter: Nick Frigo. Studying ‘social life’.

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Unit 4 – Outcome 1: Social Life in Renaissance Italy

Social Life – Renaissance Florence

HTAV Student Lectures

20 July 2008

Presenter: Nick Frigo

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Studying ‘social life’

  • To use a metaphor used by may historians of social history – such work requires you to “adopt the perspective of a truffle-hunter . . . And also that of the parachutist” (David Cannadine)

  • The section I would enjoy teaching the most (both Venice and Florence).

  • For today, there is a need to be selective.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Studying ‘social life’

  • The Outcome students would enjoy the most but in some ways also find the most frustrating.

  • Dealing with ‘real’ people over a lengthy period of time change took place and over arching general comments can prove problematic or misleading so . . .

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Florence

  • Remember . . . This is the most dynamic and complex area of study in many ways but also the most rewarding and enjoyable!


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Study Design Preamble – Social Life

  • Italian city-states such as Florence and Venice possessed distinct social structures shaped by their economic and political bases. These social hierarchies were reflected in many aspects of everyday life such as dress, housing, food, entertainment and the social map of the city based on neighbourhoods. There is historical debate over just how important neighbourhoods, gonfalone in Florence and sestieri in Venice, were to political, economic, social and religious aspects of life at this time. While it is agreed that a range of social relationships were crucial to a Florentine or Venetian citizen’s existence, historians have variously described them as competitive, pragmatic or co-operative typified by economic and political networks, but rarely as personal ties like love or friendship. The functional view has been shaped by evidence of conventions such as the strategic location of families within neighbourhoods, marriage contracts and dowries, and the institutionalisation of charity. Within each city, many people, such as the urban poor, foreigners and ‘deviants’, fell outside the networks created by the dominant elite. Historians have suggested that various means, such as legislation (e.g. controlling foreigners, prostitutes and homosexuality), institutionalised charity and festivals were used to incorporate these groups into, or exclude them from, city life in the interests of civic harmony. Students will investigate the nature and role of social conventions and relationships based on location, wealth, gender, class, or inclusion within or exclusion from the cities mores.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Key Knowledge

Outcome 1

  • On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse the nature and importance of social life in one urban centre during the Renaissance.

  • To achieve this outcome the student will draw on knowledge and related skills outlined in area of study 1.

    Key knowledge

    This knowledge includes

  • The social structures of either Florence or Venice during the Renaissance;

  • The social map of either Florence or Venice and how it reflected social identity, wealth, gender and class relationships;

  • The importance of aspects of social life such as family, marriage, dowries, charity, social legislation and festivals to the life of the city.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Studying ‘social life’

  • You are now aware of some of key notions underpinning most ‘social relationships’ in Florence: Parenti, Amici, Vicini. (broadly networks of family, friends and neighbours) In many ways the phrase ‘social life’ needs to be considered more broadly than we might consider it today.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Living Closely

“The influence of Florence as a walled city is evident in the physical layout of many of the neighbourhoods. Many neighbourhoods were characterised by congestion and houses were packed together, streets “twisted and meandered through the district, following no rational pattern“ Brucker

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – the city’s MORES

Ideas, actions, laws and architecture for INCLUSION and EXCLUSION

From Gene Brucker, The Society of renaissance Florence.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Historical debate – social life

  • Historical debate surrounding the important of these:

  • While individual Florentines obviously saw much of their identity emerge from their ‘social relationships’ these were quite complex and as such have become a source of debate and varying representation by historians. Kent explains:

  • Florence was fragmented ‘into multiple communities’, where the significant social relationships of ‘friendship’, amicizia and vicinaza, were so ‘dense’, ‘multifaceted’ and often ‘ambiguous’ . . . that men [sometimes] sought release from them. They did so in lay religious confraternities, whose ‘confraternal ritual provided a temporary suspension of class and neighbourhood loyalties’ because their membership was usually city-wide. For Richard Trexler, on the other hand, sectional or neighbourhood loyalties have little importance in the ritual life of the class commune. Before Lorenzo de Medici’s time, a person was ‘either a member of a family and a Florentine, or nothing at all’.”

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life and Neighbourhood

  • The strength of some ‘social relationships’ (those based around neighbourhood and providing perhaps a local identitity) and the potential that they had to rally popular support or opposition was obviously a point of concern for the Medici. Kent explains how “the gonfalone were to participate actively in the turbulent politics of the period after 1494, and it is hardly surprising that the Medici finally abolished them, and other components of the republican constitution, in 1531. ‘Everything was done’ wrote the pro-Medicean Filippo de’ Nerli, ‘to take away from the people the opportunity of being able any longer to meet together under those ancient and popular insignia.”

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Relationships

  • Political Networks

  • “The gonfalone, however, in as much as it was a division of the commune, only half belonged to the neighbourhood: an elite political institution, it was open only to full members of the guild community, and was dominated by Florence’s great citizens.” (p. vxii) – an administrative ward or form of ‘local council’.

  • Ecktein asserts that “from about the middle of the fifteenth century a more aristocratic set of values, of which the Medici were the principle proponents, had begun decisively to undermine the traditional reliance of Florentine politics upon relations of patronage forged within the city’s neighbourhoods.” (p. xxiv).

  • It was Drago which “played a decisive role in the Ciompi revolt, and contemporary sources confirm that the regime itself identified the threat from Florence’s lower orders with the district.” (p. 12)

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Neighbourhood – Social Life

  • Economic Networks

  • In this neighbourhood, and one could assume every other, the historian Richard Goldthwaite emphasised the way in which men were “woven into a web of credit relations in which payment was, according to the informality which flows from regular personal contact, loose and familiar.” (p. xix)

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Neighbourhood - Social Relationships

  • Rarely ‘as personal ties like love or friendship’.

  • “A large part of Florence’s collective identity was created and transformed in public ritual . . . there was little distinction between Drago’s parish life and that of its community, and parish was most assuredly a community – as much as an ecclesiastical - affair.” (p. xxiii)

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Neighbourhood - Social Relationships

  • The importance of social relationships such as dowries and marriage contracts is attested in the Drago by the actions of a pious but generous “local barrel maker named Michele di Simone, who had lived opposite the campanile of the parish church in Borgo . . . leaving his prosperous estate to the parish confraternity in order that his confratelli might save the gonfalone’s poor girls from dishonour by paying for their dowries.” (p. 35)

  • In Drago one expression of social relationships was a ‘youth brigade’ from San Frediano who presented street festivals and celebrations for the community – one of which ended in tragedy when some of the onlookers perished because the bridge they were standing on collapsed!


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Social Life – Neighbourhood

  • While each neighbourhood was felt to possess its own identity, this did not develop easily, it was largely the result of “the disorderly character of Florence’s expansion, and also social tradition. Each prominent family was closely identified with a particular neighbourhood, where the first urban generation had settled – its members banding together for protection – in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. By 1400, the danger of physical attack from a rival house or faction was less real, but the pressures to remain in the ancestral neighbourhood was very strong. For in its own district, a family could muster the support among relatives, dependents, and friends which enhanced its political role in the commune.” – Brucker.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Neighbourhood: a case study Drago Verde

  • For Nick Eckstein, the notions of parenti, amici e vicini refer to “the myriad forms of social contact that structured and conditioned life within Florence’s neighbourhoods.”

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – The Spiritual

  • “The district’s confraternities provided a forum where these aims, which included an obliteration of social distinctions and an elevation of the common good above that of the individual, could be achieved.” (Eckstein)

  • It was in Drago that the fornai (the bakers) were an example of one group who were heavily involved in charitable works. They baked special bread (often marked with a symbol of the gonfalone which were “distributed to Drago’s poor at Christmas and Easter by the confraternity of Sant’ Agnese.” (Eckstein)

  • In Drago one family is worth highlighting for their spiritual and social activities. The Bartolommeo family had involvement with the Carmelite Friars which was reflected in their “tax return by an obligation to pay the church six florins a year for a ritual meal in honour of their father’s memory.” (Eckstein)


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Social Life – The Spiritual

  • Within Drago the “bells of the Carmine and San Frediano that sounded day and night on the piazza could often, therefore, be heard as voices of the district’s dead, announcing their presence to the living. The latter cared for the soul’s of departed neighbours with the masses that they celebrated in their memory; by funding dowries and bread for the poor, the dead participated in the life of the community from beyond the grave.” (Eckstein)

  • As a result of their involvement in Drago’s two major confraternities (San Frediana – Brucciata and the one which met in the Carmelite basilica of Santa Maria del Carmine, the Company of Saint Mary and Saint Agnes called Sant’ Agnese) inhabitants of the neighbourhood were drawn into “a number of interpenetrating social networks.” (Eckstein)


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Social Life – Neighbourhood

  • Within the fabric of social relationships in Florence, the neighbourhood is represented by many historians as the ultimate expression and structure for the maintenance and encouragement of a variety of social relationships. In Renaissance Florence, the neighbourhood could touch a person’s life in a variety of ways: socially, economically, spiritually, politically, through contests and also by meeting the individual’s physical and material needs.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Neighbourhood: a case study Drago Verde

  • For Nick Eckstein, the notions of parenti, amici e vicini refer to “the myriad forms of social contact that structured and conditioned life within Florence’s neighbourhoods.”

  • It was traditionally felt in Florence that it was in the ‘older’ part of the city that ‘honourable civic life’ should take place and be celebrated. Located in the Oltrarno – the colloquial Florentine name for Santo Spirito - Drago was an area that was overall a ‘relatively poor community’. At the same time, Drago was ‘home’ for a range of venerable families and some of Florence’s ‘greatest lineages’.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Neighbourhood: a case study Drago Verde

  • Within the neighbourhood there were very few distinct physical boundaries between different groups, however “Drago’s classes and occupations were not uniformly distributed, and one may speak of pockets of poverty and prosperity which . . . constituted the greater district.” (Eckstein)

Nicholas A. Eckstein, The District of the Green Dragon.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Neighbourhood: a case study Drago Verde

  • “Drago, in fact, was not one, but several overlapping areas which as a whole may be envisioned as a series of semi-permeable sub-sets. Because these micro-communities were created by internal relationships and not by static institutional or geographic divisions, they were dynamic, their unofficial boundaries fluid.”

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Neighbourhood: a case study Drago Verde

  • It should always be remembered that many Florentines did in fact have wider concerns outside that of their neighbourhood as well.

  • Another way of thinking about ‘social relationships’ might be in terms of ‘affiliations’ or ‘loyalties’.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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The Importance of Neighbourhood

  • Given that all of these multi-faceted ‘social relationships’ required dealing with people it is little wonder that these human relationships were a source of support, strength but also conflict or tension:

  • ‘I say that it is a greater rule to love one’s neighbour than to love God’, the Friulian miller Domenico Scandella told his inquisitor in the next [15th] century, ‘ . . . and I believe that he who does no harm to his neighbour does not commit sin . . . “


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Social Life – Dowries and Marriage contracts

To make a match, both families expected not only to receive but also to pay out. To make a match, both families expected not only to receive but also to pay out. To make a match, both families had to commit material resources, so that the new couple had a base for supporting themselves and their soon anticipated children. In supplying the dowry, however, the bride’s family made the larger outlay . . . Daughters were therefore seen as a financial burden, since they carried away were hefty and went to benefit another lineage. (Elizabeth S. Cohen).

Document – Gene Brucker, The Society of renaissance Florence – pp 32-33

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Institutionalisation of Charity

  • Used to ‘incorporate these groups into the city’.

  • Confraternities and their connection to guilds and role in parishes.

  • Viewed by some historians as social equalisers.

  • In the Green Dragon – the Confraternity of Saint Agnes.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – Institutionalisation of Charity

  • “A large part of Florence’s collective identity was created and transformed in public ritual . . . there was little distinction between Drago’s parish life and that of its community, and parish was most assuredly a community – as much as an ecclesiastical - affair.” (p. xxiii)

  • The importance of social relationships such as dowries and marriage contracts is attested in the Drago by the actions of a pious but generous “local barrel maker named Michele di Simone, who had lived opposite the campanile of the parish church in Borgo . . . leaving his prosperous estate to the parish confraternity in order that his confratelli might save the gonfalone’s poor girls from dishonour by paying for their dowries.” (p. 35)

  • In Drago one expression of social relationships was a ‘youth brigade’ from San Frediano who presented street festivals and celebrations for the community – one of which ended in tragedy when some of the onlookers perished because the bridge they were standing on collapsed!

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life - Legislation

  • Legislation used as a mode of social control and also for the purposes of INCLUSION in society and the EXCLUSION of groups and individuals in society, for example:

  • [June 10, 1378] We prosecute Niolosa, daughter of Niccolo Soderini, of the parish of S. Frediano, aged ten years. Nicolosa was discovered wearing a dress made of two pieces of silk, with tassels and bound with various pieces of black leather, in violation of the Communal Statutes.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – ‘Exclusion’ of groups

  • In the ‘interests of civic harmony’ – even this notion of exclusion needs to be considered carefully, as many of these groups and individuals were in fact still accommodated in society because they ‘served’ a specific purpose for the city-state.

  • Foreigners

  • Prostitutes

  • Homosexuals

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life – ‘Inclusion’ of groups

  • In the ‘interests of civic harmony’

  • In festivals – the notion of ‘bread and circuses’ under the Medici.

  • The feast of St John the Baptist – 24 June.

  • The work of confraternities where many social and class boundaries were dissolved.

  • In times of crisis.

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life - Gender

  • The experience for women’s social life in Florence depended very much on the class from which they came

  • Women:

  • Natalie Thomas argues that “women did have a ‘space’ – indeed, more than one – in Florentine society and culture” – but necessarily equal to men’s.

  • “Women who exercised some power and influence did so by carefully negotiating and sometimes manipulating existing gender ideologies so as to be able to achieve a degree of autonomy and, indeed, a space of their own.”

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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Social Life - Gender

  • Writing in the early years of the fifteenth cetury, Giovanni Cavalcanti observed: ‘Whoever holds the Piazza [della Signoria] is master of the city.” (Thomas)

  • “But for one brief, rare moment in April 1497 during a period of great famine, three thousand poor women gathered in he Piazza della Signoria and were effectively ‘masters of the city’. For several days and weeks prior, women, men and children had fainted while awaiting the distribution of bread . . . According to a contemporary several women began to shout ‘Pane! Pane! . . . Which quickly became ‘Palle! Palle!’


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Social Life - Gender

  • “This incident illustrates the variety of spaces that women could occupy in Renaissance Florence, depending on their circumstances. The rioting women, who as wives and mothers were concerned to provide food for their starving families, acted effectively within traditional female, domestic space. However, that very domestic responsibility and duty also enabled them to move physically beyond the conventional circumscribed space of the home in a time of crisis . . . To speak and to act, sometimes violently, in the quintessential ‘male’ space of the Piazza della Signoria.” (Thomas)


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Gender - Women

  • According to Natalie Thomas: “Contemporary paintings of Florentine street life suggests that women often appeared at their windows and doorways and sometimes even in the streets. The exigencies of everyday life, particularly for working-class women, would have required it.”

  • “The honour of a Florentine upper-class family depended, in large part, on the chastity of its female members in order to produce legitimate children.” (Thomas)


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Social Life - Women

  • “A ‘good’, honourable wife’s activities, as exemplified by Vespasiano da Bisticci’s model wife, Alessandra Bardi Strozzi, not only properly concerned looking after the household and family; they also pointedly did not involve her spending time engaged in frivolous, wasteful, and sexually dangerous activity of gazing out the window.” (Thomas)


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Social Life - Gender

  • Natalie Thomas does emphasise that “The boundaries of female domestic space wee also more porous than is generally recognized.”

  • Working class women, “generally moved about far more freely than upper class ones. Female chastity – although still important – was less stringently enforced for them than upper-class women.”

  • Prostitition was yet another type of occupation available to working class-women. Prostitutes were, in effect, ‘public women’, women of the street, by definition immodest . . . and dishonourable.” (Thomas)


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Social Life - Historiography

  • In his description of social change in the Renaissance, Jacob Burkhardt argued that the individual had become emancipated from the corporate bonds of the medieval world, that he had become a free man in a free social order. The Florentine experience does not corroborate these conclusions of the Swiss historian. It is true that collective restraints upon the individual had weakened, although they never entirely disappeared. In particular, the vitality of family bonds and commitments remained much greater than Burckhardt suggested. But contradicting the vision of Renaissance man joyfully breaking his traditional bonds and exulting in his liberty is the picture of the Florentine who desperately sought new sources of security and identity to replace those which had disappeared. He forged bonds of friendship and obligation with protectors and benefactors, who would defend him against his enemies, and also against the burgeoning power of the state. Nor was the powerful citizen, the patron, really free. He was too enmeshed in a network of obligations and commitments, which limited and controlled his freedom of action. He could not release himself from these obligations without incurring loss of social prestige and political influence. The social freedom of the Renaissance man postulated by Burckhardt and elaborated by his followers is, in fifteenth century Florence at least, a myth.”

Social Life - Renaissance Florence


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