Il mio buono compare: choosing godparents and the uses of baptismal kinship in renaissance Florence.
On 4 August 1411, as Gregorio Dati recorded in his ricordanze, the diary-like account books of the Florentine merchant-elite, his son Niccolo acquired thirteen godfathers. But Gregorio and Ginevra also acquired spiritual relatives that day; they acquired thirteen cofathers. In the late medieval and Renaissance European world, before Protestant reformers and the decrees of the Council of Trent limited the degrees of spiritual affinity created at baptism, godparents were related not only to their godchildren but also to their godchildren's parents. This baptismal kinship functioned on two levels, godparenthood and coparenthood, and both levels possessed elaborate rules regarding mutual taboos arising out of the spiritual bond formed during the act of baptism. These spiritual kin, for instance, were not to cross the boundary of sexual relations or marriage with one another. That would be spiritual incest. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, both levels possessed elaborate rules regarding mutual obligations and gift-giving. These mutual obligations and the gift-giving have developed into a complex social system in modern Latin America called compadrazgo, and the friendliness associated with this system is exemplified in the popular connotation of the titles "compadre" and "comadre." Anthropologists have had a field day examining this system in Latin America; and they and historians have just recently turned their attention to this system in late medieval and Renaissance Europe, which brings us to the Dati family of fifteenth-century Florence.(2)
Why did Gregorio specifically choose fellow political and military office holders as cofathers for himself and Ginevra and as godfathers for Niccolo? More generally, whom did members of the Florentine merchant-elite select as their coparents, and why did they choose so many of them? Did they choose them from within the family group or not? Did they choose them from within their social status level or not? What did members of the Florentine merchant-elite expect their coparents and godparents to do for them? What responsibilities did Florentine coparents and godparents have as baptismal kin? Overall, how did baptismal kinship function in Renaissance Florence for the merchant-elite?(3)
According to the anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers, the Renaissance elite thought it fashionable to have large numbers of coparents.(4) More significantly, the elite saw large numbers of coparents as socially useful. Nevertheless, the Provincial Synod of Florence (1517-18) prescribed only three godparents for children.(5) San Bernardino stated that "one should wish to have a single coparent when he baptized his son not a hundred;" and Giovanni Dominici condemned people who collected swarms of coparents around the font.(6)
The Church had a practical spiritual reason for limiting the number of baptismal kin. If people had too many, they might forget who they were, especially in the case of godchildren forgetting who their godparents' children were. People in modern Latin America sometimes lose track of who their baptismal kin are for much the same reason - an overload on their memories. And if Florentines forgot, they might unwittingly marry a baptismal kin, thus committing spiritual incest. To combat this possibility, the Provincial Synod of Florence ordered those churches within its jurisdiction that had fonts to begin recording godparents in a baptismal registry, which is why it is only after 1517 that the baptismal registry at San Giovanni (Florence's cathedral and the sole location for Florentine baptisms) lists godparents.(7) Florentines, however, rarely adhered to the three godparent limit. Matteo di Giovanni Corsini, for instance, chose eleven godfathers for his first child.(8) Some children even had a town as their godparent. Undoubtedly, a point of tension existed between the Church's desire to limit the number of godparents and the people's desire to expand their baptismal kinship network as widely as they wished.
That Florentines rarely adhered to a three godparent rule is apparent in Benvenuto Cellini's description of baptismal kinship practices in France. While in the employ of the King of France, Cellini hired a fifteen-year-old pauper girl as a model:
This young girl was untouched, and a virgin, and I got her pregnant. She bore me a daughter on the seventh of June, at the thirteenth hour of the day, 1544; and that was just the forty-fourth year of my own life. I gave her the name Costanza: she was held at her baptism by Guido Guidi, the King's physician and, as I have written before, a very good friend of mine. He was the only godfather, since that is the custom in France, to have one godfather and two godmothers. One of these latter was Signora Maddalena, the wife of Luigi Alamanni, a Florentine gentleman and a marvelous poet. The other godmother was the wife of Ricciardo del Bene, one of our Florentine citizens and a substantial merchant in Paris. She was a high-ranking French lady.(9)
As early as Gratian, canon law had decreed not only a maximum of three godparents but also the specific breakdown: one godfather and two godmothers for a girl, two godfathers and one godmother for a boy. In medieval and Renaissance France and England custom usually paralleled these canonical regulations.(10) Cellini apparently mistook the specific canonical baptismal arrangement for a girl as the particular French baptismal arrangement for all children. That he felt compelled to explain the arrangement in his autobiography indicates that Florentine custom did not parallel canonical regulations. This was something new and different for him, as it would be for his readers, hence he needed to explain it. In this instance Cellini ran into a religious and social restraint on his use of baptismal kinship. French custom, following canon law, allowed him only one cofather.
Cellini's account reveals something of baptismal kinship's utility. His cofather and one of his comothers were Florentines. His other comother's husband was Florentine too. For Florentines living abroad baptismal kinship would have been an excellent device for maintaining their immigrant community's solidarity. Immigrant Italians in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century used baptismal kinship in precisely that fashion, a phenomenon popularly immortalized in Mario Puzo's The Godfather.(11)
The acquisition and maintenance of friendship formed a common theme throughout Florentine history, especially considering Florence's turbulent urban politics. "Nothing is more precious than friends," observed Francesco Guicciardini; "therefore, lose no opportunity to make them. Men will always get together to talk: and friends can help, and enemies can harm you in times and places you would never have expected."(12) Giovanni Morelli suggested that if one could not buy friends with wealth, other means existed with which to acquire friendship, such as coparenthood.(13) At Rome, Cellini's first master was a goldsmith named Il Firenzuola. When Cellini switched masters, he and Il Firenzuola argued over money. Cellini, with his usual force of character, prevailed, but the two parted bitterly. "Later on," Cellini related, "Firenzuola and I became friends again; when he asked me, I stood as godfather to one of his children."(14) What better way did Renaissance European culture have for demonstrating the depth of a friendship than in a public and religious ceremony proclaiming that depth? Baptismal kinship, therefore, offered Florentines opportunities to gain or reward friends. Lapo Niccolini recorded twenty-seven coparents, Giovanni di Matteo Corsini recorded thirty, Buonaccorso Pitti recorded thirty-one, Matteo Corsini recorded thirty-four, Matteo di Giovanni Corsini recorded thirty-nine, and Gregorio Dati recorded fifty-two.(15)
Florentines rarely chose natural kin or affines as coparents, most likely because a bond already existed, and Florentines felt no need to reinforce that bond of blood or the ring. Buonaccorso chose no blood relatives, and he selected only one relative by marriage. Only one of Gregorio Dati's coparents was a blood relative, his brother. Of some 1760 Florentine godparents that Christiane Klapisch-Zuber has identified from the records, only 37, a mere 2.1% were natural kin of their coparents.(16) Special circumstances (such as the haste with which baptism sometimes occurred) or special needs prompted the choosing of blood relatives as coparents, which seems to be at such variance to accepted practices. Morelli's brother asked his mother, who had remarried after his father's death, to be a godmother for two of his children. Perhaps Morello Morelli used baptismal kinship to reaffirm familial bonds that had been weakened by his mother's remarriage.(17)
More often - in fact one can label it a cultural norm - Renaissance Florentines chose friends and neighbors with whom to exchange baptismal kinship ties. In modern Italian cities, "this arrangement seems to foster joint social activities and to emphasize friendship bonds between families."(18) Giovanni Morelli mentioned that all of his godparents were good friends of his father and came from the same quarter as he did.(19) About half of Lapo Niccolini's coparents came from the same quarter as he did; about a third from the same gonfalone (neighborhood).(20) Twenty-four of Matteo Corsini's twenty-six cofathers whose residence is known, came from the same quarter as did he; seventeen from the same gonfalone. Urban dwellers comprised some 90% of Matteo's cofathers.(21) Morello Morelli's comothers were his next door neighbors. This neighborhood connection may explain why most coparents only appeared once in the ricordanze, and that the day of baptism. For the most part baptismal kin were neighbors, not the typical business associates who appear more frequently in the commercially and financially oriented ricordanze.(22) Nevertheless, business associates also became godparents. Matteo Corsini's notary, Bartolomeo Signorini, who in the course of his lifetime drew up more than forty contracts for Matteo, became his cofather in 1380. Lapo Niccolini's banker, Francesco Cavalcanti, became his cofather in 1386. Buonaccorso Pitti's renter, a woman named Ginevra, became his comother, not once but twice.
Some coparents thus made return trips to the font. In modern Italian society, choosing an individual more than once to be a godparent can be a double-edged sword. Although the choice gives the godparent a double honor, it also implies that one no longer has enough friends.(23) Yet, the choice may reflect something more complex. Since the death of the godchild cut the ties binding coparents together, perhaps parents who wished to continue those ties would have their coparents repeat the performance.(24) This seems to be what Gregorio Dati attempted with his business partner Nando di Lippi. Thrice he made him a coparent and thrice the child died within the year. After the death of the last child, Dati did not ask him again. Maybe Dati thought Nando had brought bad luck to the coparenthood relationship as well as to the child. In 1405 Dati made Bartolo di Giovanni di Niccola, his banker, and Margherita, a blind woman, his coparents, but the child died. The next year he made the same individuals his coparents for his daughter Elisabetta.(25) Nevertheless, the high infant mortality rates at Florence - and elsewhere in the Renaissance world - must have been a serious restraint on the social utility of baptismal kinship.
Dati recorded that Margherita became his comother "for the love of God [per amor di dio]."(26) This phrase, meaning an unpaid service, appears frequently in the ricordanze. Dati chose fifteen of his fifty-two coparents, or 28.8%, "for the love of God." The coparents contributed no gifts here, but the parents were expected to give gifts to them. Simply put, choosing a coparent "for the love of God" was an act of charity by the parents of the godchild. Margherita, who was blind, needed aid. Matteo Corsini listed a pauper, Salvagia, as a comother "for the love of God." What else could a pauper give a Corsini in this exchange except an opportunity for an act of charity. Renaissance Florentines also chose priests and religious as coparents "for the love of God."(27)
Priests and religious aided their coparents beyond serving as excuses for charity. Since one of the duties of a godparent was the religious education of the godchild, priests and religious were logical choices.(28) In addition, celibacy meant that choosing priests as cofathers obviated future marital impediments arising from the cognatio spritualis, the spiritual tie that united all baptismal kin and their children. Choosing priests and religious as coparents could be a key device if elite Florentines wished to emphasize marital strategies with social peers over baptismal kinship strategies with social peers.(29) In this case, a priest represented the null set. Priests also formed the hub of a parish's wheel of gossip; they represented an excellent source for news.(30) Yet since Florentines feared that confession to their own parish priest meant that the local parish would hear about their sins, they saw advantage in establishing a relationship with a priest from a different parish. Moreover, using priests outside one's parish meant access to another parish's gossip network. Lastly, and more simply, having priests and religious become coparents may have just represented the repayment of a favor, or a reward. Abbot Benedetto Toschi of the monastery of San Pancrazio, the financial administrator of the district of the Red Lion at Florence during the latter half of the fifteenth century, became the cofather of the organist Antonio Squarcialupi because he "obliges us every year by playing gratis, and also for his generosity at certain feast days during the year."(31)
Rarely, however, did Florentines choose coparents whose social status was much above that of their own. Bartolomeo Masi, a fifteenth-century coppersmith, was frequently chosen by other artisans to be their cofather. A practical utility existed, of course, in having a fellow artisan as a coparent. Simone di Giovanni Ferrini, a blacksmith, made Domenico di Bernardo and Agniolo di Baccio d'Agniolo his cofathers. Both were woodcutters and thus logical choices, since Simone would have wanted to assure his supply of fuel. The ties of coparenthood thus could reinforce those of work and business or serve as openings for that purpose.(32)
More than half of Lapo Niccolini's coparents fell markedly below his economic status (only eight came from the same socio-economic status level as did he - that is, the upper 5% of the population in wealth). And most of the coparents for the other ricordanze writers likewise fell below their social and economic status. Klapisch-Zuber concluded that baptismal kinship served to connect the neighborhood; and in the case of the popolo grasso (the governing elite), this formed webs of patronage and clientage. In fact, she labels these lower status coparents "a local clientage."(33) In the countryside around Pistoia, landlords often asked their share-croppers to be their coparents. One of Morelli's coparents, for instance, was one of his sharecroppers. David Herlihy saw this practice as evidence of the close ties of friendship and association formed within the Italian share-cropping system, the mezzadria. More likely, however, these instances do not represent close friendship ties so much as the formation of bonds of patronage along the lines of Latin American compadrazgo, where landlords create baptismal kinship ties with their peasants to soften for themselves the tensions generated by an exploitive economic system as well as to further intensify the web of clientage.(34)
Florentines also chose coparents to ease certain political situations. In 1411, as we saw above, Gregorio Dati, who always felt himself to be the eternal new man on the social and political stage of Florence, made his fellow Standard-bearers of the Militia Companies, an advisory group to the Florentine executive body, his cofathers. Many of the men serving as officials of the Florentine territorial state made coparenthood ties with some of the people they governed, sometimes with the whole town. In 1425 Luca Pitti, Buonaccorso's son, was "commissioner for our commune in the land of Marquis Spinetto" at the town of Malespina. Luca's son, who was born during his father's tenure as commissioner, had residents from Malespina as his godparents, and they gave him the name Spinetto.(35) In 1436, while Matteo Corsini was Captain of Pistoia, he made various citizens of Pistoia his cofathers. While administrator of Monte Spertoli, Buonaccorso Pitti made the entire town his coparent. While Vicar of Alpe di Firenzuola, Giovanni di Matteo Corsini likewise made the entire town his coparent.(36) In these last two instances, proctors representing the town stood at the font and physically participated in the ceremony. This behavior seems odd in light of Brunetto Latini's advice that an administrator, and by implication any Florentine territorial official, should not have or make friends among those he governed. He specifically warned that officials should not accept gifts from people subject to Florence's governance. Thus participation in baptismal kinship, with its emphasis on ritual giftgiving, should have been taboo for any Florentine administrator.(37) Perhaps Florentine territorial officials, once they arrived in the field, found that baptismal kinship and its friendship network aided them in the administration of their territory.(38) On the other hand, perhaps they put their interests - toward establishing their own network of family, kin, and neighbors - ahead of the interests of Florence.(39)
Baptismal kinship aided Florence's foreign policy as well. Sometimes the overture to a formal alliance might occur when Florence, represented by proctors, agreed to become the godfather of the infant child of a prince or ruler. This act made the city of Florence itself and the particular individual cofathers. In 1390, for instance, Milan and Florence made a pact together but only after Maso degli Albizzi, representing the commune, had become the godfather to a child of the Visconti.(40)
While baptismal kinship wove the heads of state together, sometimes there were more political plans than children and opportunities to go around. Louis XI insisted on becoming the godfather of Lorenzo de'Medici's daughter, Lucrezia, in 1470. Lorenzo, however, had wanted Galeazzo Sforza to fill that role, since Lorenzo at the moment had need of a lesser but more immediate ally. Here, unfortunately, Lorenzo bumped up against the biological constraints on baptismal kinship. Lorenzo had two possible choices for his cofather yet only one child. He probably could not have both men as cofather, since that would have diminished the honor and significance of being chief cofather. Louis XI's desires prevailed, and 4 November 1470 his representative stood at the font of San Giovanni in Florence. Luckily for Lorenzo in 1472 Galeazzo asked him to be his cofather to reaffirm their previous commitments and friendship.(41)
Just as baptismal kinship functioned to unite international heads of state, so too did it allow the Florentine elite to acquire local political allies and to build political factions.(42) Those who joined received protection. Morelli recorded how his father acquired rich and powerful friends by toadying to them and offering to become their cofather. With these contacts Morelli's father had "friends not relatives," which to Morelli's mind were more valuable socially and politically since relatives, and by this he means those beyond the circle of the immediate family, would not feel as compelled to help if need arose as much as close friends would.(43) Morelli believed that friendship made for stronger and more significant ties and relationships than did distant blood or marital ties. He may have been biased in this opinion by his family's own recent past. His father, who was orphaned at an early age, suffered the unkind and impecunious ministrations of his uncles, who in theory were supposed to have protected him and his property.
But imagine the social drama and tensions involved when a Florentine asked someone to let him stand godfather to his child. The third story for the seventh day in Boccaccio's Decameron lets us know something of the social mechanism by which people became coparents. In this instance, the prospective godfather initiated the contact for the baptismal kinship relationship, not the father. He offered to stand sponsor, in the most honorable way possible as Boccaccio noted; he did not wait to be asked. The tensions would be that much thicker when that someone was richer or more powerful than the prospective coparent, as in the case of Morelli's father's advice to his son. A refusal could be socially disastrous; a direct request could be presumptuous. Francesco di Tommaso Giovanni, undoubtedly reflecting that tension, had his brother act as an intermediary when he offered to become the godfather of someone more significant than himself.(44) With baptismal kinship's utility for forging and reaffirming neighborhood connections and bonds of clientage, Florentines undoubtedly took great interest in the pregnancies of their neighbors as well as those of their own family members, especially if those neighbors were wealthy or influential. Gossip about who was pregnant and when they were due, therefore, formed part of the everyday discourse among Florentines.
Protection was one reason to seek out influential coparents. Coparents could and did protect each other from hostile tax assessments when district officials met to discuss taxes.(45) This parallels one of the functions of baptismal kinship in Montaillou, where Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie observed that the testimony of a coparent or godparent formed "a useful alibi before the inquisition."(46) In a trial before the Signoria, the Florentine executive body, Buonaccorso Pitti paraded forth a host of character witnesses, but the testimony of his cofather swayed the court to rule in his favor. He recorded that the testimony of "il mio buono compare Roberto Rosso" saved him.(47) Florentine judges recognized that coparents could and would help each other in court; so one of the questions they asked witnesses was whether they were bound to plaintiffs or defendants by baptismal kinship.(48)
Protection and reward may have been the reasons behind Florentines choosing specific comothers, though the function and significance of godmotherhood and comotherhood in Renaissance Florence are more obscure than those of godfatherhood and cofatherhood because the sources note fewer instances of godmotherhood and comotherhood and fewer godmothers and comothers. Klapisch-Zuber concluded from this that godmotherhood and comotherhood were less significant in Florence than godfatherhood and cofatherhood. She noted, for instance, that 73% of the children she has records on have only godfathers recorded for them, while only 9% of these children have only godmothers recorded for them. Women make up only 13% of the godparents recorded. More than half (59%) of the female children have two or fewer godparents listed; more than half (58%) of the male children have more than three godparents listed. Girls on the average have 2.6 godparents recorded; boys 3.2.(49)
Klapisch-Zuber may have misinterpreted the information from the ricordanze from which she drew her figures. Godmotherhood and comotherhood may have had a subordinate character relative to godfatherhood and cofatherhood only when men generated the sources. Simply put, the male-oriented and male-biased ricordanze do not give a clear and balanced view of godparenthood. And the ricordanze are not bureaucratic records, unlike the Catasto of 1427, from which we can expect a certain degree of statistical consistency. They are private records of men who only recorded (sometimes haphazardly) items for themselves and their male descendants, including data that are, at times, unsuitable for significant statistical description or analysis. Matteo Corsini recorded eight comothers in his ricordanze, identifying five of them in relation to their husbands and two of them in relation to their fathers. Only one had her own identity and that is as a pauper.(50) In fact, the ricordanze writers consistently identified their comothers in relation to some significant male, either husband, father, or brother.
In actuality, godmothers appeared at most if not all baptisms, since church law required their presence. Moreover, godmothers performed an absolutely crucial duty as the substitute for the mother during the ceremony. Mothers rarely if ever attended their children's baptisms because of the rigors of childbirth and the speed with which baptisms were accomplished in the late medieval and Renaissance world. And if that combination of factors were not enough to absent mothers from baptism, adherence to the Mosaic taboo forbidding entrance into the sacred arena for forty days after birth would have kept mothers from attending. Comothers were present, but writers of ricordanze simply underenumerated their comothers by a significant margin, a fact which reflects the patriarchal nature of Florentine society.
Perhaps one reason the writers of ricordanze failed so often to record comothers was that their wives chose the comothers, thus pursuing their own strategies and goals, and setting up their own baptismal kinship nexus. Le Roy Ladurie discovered one such female-oriented network in the village of Montaillou. Four women there, all great friends and heretics, reinforced their friendship and common interests through baptismal kinship.(51) Women at Florence also used baptismal kinship to create friendship ties or to reinforce them; they used baptismal kinship to maintain the solidarity of their brigate, the female-centered groups made up of kin, friends, and neighbors.(52)
Many of the comothers whom Morelli listed for his relatives had a particular characteristic in common. They had been present at the birth. Midwives, guardadonne (women hired to aid the mother in birth), and friends and relatives in attendance at the birth became comothers. Women who helped the mother during birth would have been logical choices for comothers. The comothers of Pagolo and Telda Morelli, Giovanni Morelli's parents, were Filippa, Telda's mother and Buona, "who looked after Telda during the birth." At the baptism of one of Morelli's nephews were Sandra, the wife of Iacopo Arnolfi, and "la guadadonna." One of Morelli's comothers was "Gemma, who looked after Caterina [Morelli's wife] during childbirth." In fact Caterina reinforced this bond by having Gemma become her comother at a baptism for a subsequent child. In another example Morelli mentioned his younger brother, who had died at the age of seven and a half months. Morelli recalled that he knew so much about him because the boy's maternal grandmother, Filippa, who had also been his godmother, told him so often about the baptism and the other godmother, "Bucra, who looked after Telda [the mother] during childbirth." Mothers and comothers were connected in other ways as well. Morelli's comother for his daughter Telda was his brother's wife. This represents more a female-oriented strategy rather than a male-oriented strategy, that is a bond being solidified between the wives of the Morelli, who as in-laws may have wanted to reinforce their kinship.(53) Wives utilized baptismal kinship for their own purposes with their own choices, who were not necessarily the choices or even the friends of their husbands. This explains why comothers appear in such few numbers in the male-oriented ricordanze. While these women were theoretically their baptismal kin, these men did not socially recognize that fact nor did they wish or need for the fact to be recorded for their male descendants. These were "her" friends, who probably could not help the writer of the ricordanze all that much anyway. So why record her existence?
On the other hand, Florentine parents could pursue other social strategies through the agency of a comother. Giovanni and Caterina Morelli arranged for their son Antonio's wetnurse to become godmother to another of their children and even to one of Giovanni's brother's children. Cellini had his son's wetnurse stand godmother as well.(54) Like choosing a midwife as a comother, choosing a wetnurse as a comother represented one way to reward people who had aided the family. Francesco di Tommaso di Giovanni observed that his most frequent choices for coparents were monks, midwives, and wetnurses, all "for the love of God."(55) Since wetnursing was perceived as a hazardous affair for the child, perhaps one way to ensure the safety of the child would have been to bind the nurse closer to the child and the family by baptismal kinship. In the case of Cellini's illegitimate son, this did Benvenuto no good, for the wetnurse - his comother and the child's godmother - accidentally smothered him.(56)
Florentines enmeshed in the baptismal kinship nexus had certain specific duties toward each other besides the close friendship implied in and the sexual taboos arising out of the cognatio spiritualis. San Bernardino preached that all people should honor their godfathers. In a sermon on 20 March 1424 he listed in order of their importance the seven fathers to whom one owed obligations. "The first father is eternal God. The second father is your natural father. The third father is your godfather." (The fourth was someone's confessor, the fifth was someone's benefactor, the sixth was any governmental official, the seventh was any elderly person.) Godfathers ranked high in San Bernardino's scheme. San Bernardino explained why godchildren should honor their godfathers and at the same time he indicated what a godfather did for a child. A Florentine godfather held his godchild at baptism, a symbol of society's acceptance of the child. A Florentine godfather responded before God for the child during the ceremony by promising that child's acceptance of Christianity, a religious obligation. A Florentine godfather befriended the godchild's father by becoming his compare. And a Florentine godfather acted as a grandfather to his godchild (a te nonni).(57) This last item, meaning the nurturing and kindly attitude of a godparent to his godchild and the honor godchildren were supposed to show their godfather implies that the ties in Florentine godparenthood were close. In another of his stories Boccaccio sketched a godfather's duty to his godchild: holding him publicly at baptism, giving him his name, and teaching him about Christianity.(58) Lapo Niccolini as well as other writers of ricordanze labelled godparents as those who made their children Christians, a phrase that not only reflects the ceremonial aspects of baptism but also its educational aspects.(59) San Bernardino emphasized this educational aspect by stressing that a godparent had the responsibility to force an erring and sinful godchild to return to confession and penitence and to lead a good life.(60)
Godparents gave godchildren their names. Unlike godparents in other parts of Europe, however, Florentine godparents did not give godchildren their own names, nor did they have any freedom in the choice of name given. Godparents simply transmitted the parents' wishes. Klapisch-Zuber has found that of some 266 Florentines on whom she has found information on naming patterns only 2.63% had the same name as a godparent. Florentine parents expected their coparents to follow explicitly their desire in naming patterns. Luca di Matteo di Panzano hastily corrected the godparents when they accidentally inverted his son's name at the font.(61)
In modern Italy the godparent is more a friend than a parent. Luca Landucci's relationship with his godfather implies that kind of friendship. In September 1474 Matteo Palmieri, the Captain of Volterra, received word of the birth of a monstrous child, who had a bull's head, hairy arms, lion's feet, and fiery rays coming out of its head. Landucci recorded in his diary that "this was shown to the said Matteo as a terrible thing. And the said Matteo, Captain of Volterra, wrote here to Florence with his own hand; and I copied the said letter, in the actual words, neither omitting nor adding anything. And because the said Matteo was my father's intimate friend and my godfather, the letter itself came into my hands, although it was directed to other citizens."(62) This monstrous birth was no trivial piece of gossip; it was a portent, and Renaissance society respected portents as harbingers of either ill or good will. Matteo Palmieri's letter most likely was some form of official communication to the Florentine government informing - or warning - them of that portent. Despite the official nature of this communication, Landucci nevertheless was privy to Palmieri's private correspondence because of the baptismal kinship ties he had with him. Landucci also had access to other official documents and communications from him.
Florentine godfathers also performed their popularly perceived duty, that of becoming the real parents of their orphaned godchildren. In 1458, for instance, Bartolomeo Masi's father, a coppersmith, died; and his godfather, Giusto di Antonio di Giusto, an ironworker, approached his mother and offered to take him into his house as a son.(63) A godfather in Renaissance Florentine society was a friend, a teacher, an informant, and a supporter.
Other duties existed between coparents. They were to treat each other with honor. This is exemplified in the special title they called each other. No longer was a friend or associate just that; he was "il mio buono compare," as Buonaccorso Pitti said. Others reiterated this same terminology. The humanist Francesco Filelfo referred to his cofather as "mio amatissimo compare." Coparents used this form of address in their written communication. Galeazzo Sforza addressed a letter to Lorenzo de'Medici, his cofather: "Spectabilis Compater noster carissime." Benvenuto Cellini, telling of a journey with his cofather, referred to the man as "mio compar Tribolo."(64) The concept of this honorific title was significant enough that people extended its usage into social arenas untouched by baptismal kinship. One evening Cellini snuck up on the house of a woman, whom he loathed, intending to surprise her and her current lover. Francesco Bachiacca, Cellini's friend, tried to dissuade him from performing any mischief. "In a loud voice," Cellini wrote," he called out to me, 'Cofather,' for so we used to call ourselves for fun."(65) This particular usage parallels that of the term compadre in present day Latin America, where it not only refers specifically to a godfather but to any special male friend. A special terminology existed for godchildren too. Complaining about past taxes, Lionardo di Antonio de'Nobili wrote Cosimo de'Medici: "You could say that I and my son, tuo figlioccio, have become complete peasants." At one point Francesco Castellani recorded in his ricordanze that he gave gifts to "mio figlioccio" and his mother.(66)
Giftgiving, then, was another highly developed duty among baptismal kin. Writers of ricordi and ricordanze frequently noted that cofathers gave presents to their comothers. Giovanni Rucellai, for instance, recorded how his cofathers presented his wife with gifts of food, sweets, and clothing on the occasion of the birth of one of his children. Bartolomeo Masi identified this as a uniquely Florentine custom.(67) He was, of course, mistaken, since gift giving and ritual giftgiving cycles are common to baptismal kinship the world and eons over. Nevertheless, in Italy today gift giving is a salient feature of baptismal kinship.(68)
Another highly developed duty amongst baptismal kin was the sense that they had to help one another. In 1478, for instance, when Lorenzo de'Medici went to war with the papacy in the aftermath of the Pazzi conspiracy, he wrote his cofathers, the King of France and the Duke of Milan, seeking aid. Richard Trexler has observed that "he did not, be it noted, do this by demanding his credits, but by protesting his humble servitude."(69) While he may not have demanded his credits, he certainly expected his due. He stressed his previous service and favors to them to remind them that they too, as cofathers, had a responsibility to him. Lapo Niccolini's cofather, Ser Antonio dall'Ancisa, a notary, helped Lapo settle a flawed business deal. Later Lapo loaned him money without interest, "for the love that I have for that family."(70) Giovanni di Michele del Buona, another of Lapo's cofathers, a wool merchant, aided Lapo by giving his son - who was not his godson - much advice about the business world.(71) Palla Rucellai was asked by his comother if he could arrange to have Lorenza Rucellai, Palla's cousin's wife, help her in childbirth.(72) Names, gifts, aid, friendship, honor, and information, all travelled freely back and forth along the web of baptismal kinship.
According to Lauro Martines: "Life in the Italian walled-in city of about 1300 went on in a tight world of personal relations and public setting. Gossip and rumor rippled back and forth across the warp and woof of close family ties, inherited family relationships and animosities, numerous street acquaintances, and peripheral contacts that were endlessly being renewed. These relations were especially dense for the rich citizens in politics, because such bonds were multiplied and vitalized by property and influence."(73) And baptismal kinship was one of the social threads Florentine merchants used to weave a successful political and economic urban life. Baptismal kinship structured a network of special friends for the godchild, the parents, and the coparents. The dictates of the sexual taboo, the religious requirements, and the mutual responsibilities set the boundaries of how baptismal kin should act. Despite the strictures, Florentines found utility in baptismal kinship. Baptismal kinship was a tool for friendship, remuneration, protection, honor, patronage, and clientage. In general, the Florentine merchant-elite used baptismal kinship to extend their social network, choosing coparents from outside the family group, and they based the baptismal kinship ties on previous bonds of friendship or association. The elite pursued a horizontal or downwardly vertical social strategy, choosing coparents who came from the same social status level as they did or lower. This practice, according to Klapisch-Zuber, gave baptismal kinship "a much greater social heterogeneity than that of affinity." It also made baptismal kinship the preeminent social tool for establishing and maintaining neighborhood connections.(74) Baptismal kinship, therefore, eased social life in urban Florence, helping to bind individuals together and helping to protect these individuals from the vicissitudes of urban Florentine life. Godparents and coparents formed part of a Florentine's social safety net of parenti, amici, vicini - relatives, friends, neighbors. Baptismal kinship was more than useful; it was essential. If not, what then did Bartolomeo Masi's forty-three trips to the font signify?
Now this conclusion creates a problem. According to most anthropologists, both urbanism and capitalism diminished the significance of baptismal kinship in early modern and modern Europe.(75) Yet late medieval and Renaissance Florence, though experiencing the effects of the commercial and urban revolutions, maintained a vibrant and vital baptismal kinship system. Clearly the anthropologists' theory must be reevaluated. In fact, I believe that the sixteenth-century Catholic and Protestant reformers, who restricted the scope of the cognatio spiritualis or eliminated it altogether, played a much greater role in diminishing the significance of baptismal kinship than did the rising tides of urbanism and capitalism.
Department of History Pittsburgh PA 15282
I would like to thank Mark Angelos, William Connell, James Everett, Amy Livingstone, Joseph Lynch, Thomas Madden, Linda Mitchell, and especially Donald Queller for help with many of the ideas and conclusions expressed here. I would also like to thank Richard Trexler and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments, which made this a better article. Lastly, I am indebted to Duquesne University for a Hunkele Starter Grant and an NEH Challenge Grant that gave me time in Florence to complete the first draft of this article.
1. Two Memoirs of Renaissance Florence: The Diaries of Buonaccorso Pitti and Gregorio Daft, trans. Julia Martines, ed. Gene Brucker (New York, 1967), 127.
2. Hugo G. Nutini and Betty Bell, Ritual Kinship: The Structure and Development of the Compadrazgo System in Rural Tlaxcala (Princeton, 1980) and Hugo C. Nutini, Ritual Kinship: Ideological and Structural Integration of the Compadrazgo System in Rural Tlaxcala (Princeton, 1984); Joseph H. Lynch, Godparents and Kinship in Early Medieval Europe (Princeton, 1986).
3. Since my sources, for the most part, only reflect the activity and beliefs of the upper levels of Florentine society, my conclusions here can only be applied to that group with any degree of assurance. For a recent definition of this Florentine elite as well as an examination of some of their social practices, see Anthony Molho, Marriage Alliance in Late Medieval Florence (Cambridge, MA, 1994), especially pages 193-214.
4. Pitt-Rivers, "Ritual Kinship in Spain," Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences 20 (1957-58): 425.
5. Giovanni Domenico Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio 35 (Paris, 1902), 268. For information regarding this synod as well as the spiritual cognition inherent to baptismal kinship see, Richard C. Trexler, Synodal Law in Florence and Fiesole, 1306-1518 (The Vatican, 1971).
6. San Bernardino, Le Prediche Volgari, edited by C. Canarozzi, Florentine Sermons, 1424 (Milan, 1936), 1:200; G. Bistort, Il magistrato alle pompe nella Repubblica di Venezia (Venice, 1912), 205.
7. Mansi, 251; Marco Lastri, Ricerche sull' antica e moderna popolazione della citta di Firenze per mezzo dei registri del battistero di San Giovanni dal 1451 al 1774 (Florence, 1775).
8. Armando Petrucci, ed., Il libro di ricordanze dei Corsini (1362-1457) (Rome, 1965), 143-44.
9. Benvenuto Cellini, Autobiography, trans. George Bull (New York, 1977), 292.
10. Michael Bennet, "Spiritual Kinship and the Baptismal Name in Traditional Society," in Principalities and Powers and Estates: Studies in Medieval and Modern Government and Society, ed. L. O. Frappell (Adelaide, 1979), 1-14; Louis Haas, "Social Connections between Parents and Godparents in Late Medieval Yorkshire," Medieval Prosopography 10 (1989): 1-21.
11. Gallatin Anderson, "Il Comparragio: The Italian Godparenthood Complex," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 13 (1957): 32-53.
12. Francesco Guicciardini, Maxims and Reflections (Ricordi), translated by Mario Domandi (Philadelphia, 1965), 44. For a brief sketch on the importance of friendship in Renaissance Florence, see Gene Brucker, Renaissance Florence (New York, 1969), 91-99. Modern Italian baptismal kinship provides its members with strong ties of affection, intimacy, and security. Anderson, 49.
13. Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli, Ricordi, ed. Vittore Branca (Florence, 1969), 253.
14. Cellini, 35.
15. Christian Bec, ed., Il libro degli affari proprii di casa di Lapo di Giovanni Niccolini de' Sirigatti (Paris, 1969), 44; Armando Petrucci, 89-93, 137-9, 143-7; Alberto Bacchi della Lega, ed., Cronica di Buonaccorso Pitti (Bologna, 1905), 25-30; Carlo Gargiolli, ed., Il libro segreto di G. Dati (Bologna, 1865), 40.
16. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, "Parrains et filleuls. Un Approche comparee de la France, l'Angleterre et l'Italie Medievales," Medieval Prosopography 6 (1985): 54-55.
17. Leonida Pandimiglio, "Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli e le strutture familiari," Archivio Storico Italiano 136 (1978): 7.
18. Anderson, 38.
19. Morelli, 194.
20. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy (Chicago, 1985), 91; Bec, 47-48.
21. Ronald Weissman, Ritual Brotherhood in Renaissance Florence (New York, 1982), 16-20.
22. Dale and Francis William Kent stumbled across the close relationships and associations among members of the Gonfalone Lion Rosso. From the account book of Cambio di Tano Petrucci (d. 1430), a goldsmith, they discovered that his children "were held at the font by such familiar neighbourhood characters as Ser Tommaso di Ser Luca Franceschi, Ser Tommaso Carondini (the busy notary often used by Petrucci) by Carondini's wife Mea, and even by his mother! The cobbler Antonio di Ciecho, from whom Petrucci bought his shoes, also took part in the baptism of most of his children, and a daughter born in 1409 was 'given to God' by the doublet maker Manno di Bonuccio di Manno, who was the gonfalonier of Lion Rosso in 1427." D. V. and F. W. Kent, Neighbours and Neighbourhood in Renaissance Florence: The District of the Red Lion in the Fifteenth Century (New Haven, 1982), 89.
23. Anderson, 49-50.
24. Matteo Corsini recorded no godparents for his son Bartolomeo, born in 1389, because he "died returning from baptism at San Giovanni." Petrucci, 93. Since his son died so quickly, Matteo probably saw no reason to record a relationship that had already ended.
25. Gargiolli, 43 and 75.
27. Petrucci, 91 and 93.
28. San Bernardino, 199-200. For the same practice in the High Middle Ages, see Joseph H. Lynch, "Hugh I of Cluny's Sponsorship of Henry IV: Its Context and Consequences," Speculum 60 (1985): 802-3, 813.
29. On the extremely high rate of intermarriage within Florence's elite see Molho, 1415, 24, 237-38, 243, 248-49, 251, 272, 274, 280, 285, 288-89, 291-94, 296-97, 323-24, 326-27, 332, 334-35, 338-89.
30. Weissman, 18; Lauro Martines, Power and Persuasion: City-States in Renaissance Italy (New York, 1979), 76; Brucker, 180; Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error (New York, 1978), 312; Thomas Tentler, Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation (Princeton, 1977), 85, 94-96.
31. Kent and Kent, 160.
32. G. O. Corrazini, ed., Ricordanze di B. Masi calderaio fiorentino dal 1478 al 1526 (Florence, 1906), xviii, 6, 7, 11, 33, 42, 62.
33. Klapisch-Zuber, "Parenti, amici, vicini: Il Territorio urbano d'una famiglia mercantile nel XV secolo," Quaderni Storici 33 (1976): 972.
34. David Herlihy, Medieval and Renaissance Pistoia: The Social History of an Italian Town (New Haven, 1967), 196; Pandimiglio, 43; George Foster, "Godparents and Social Networks in Tzin Tzun Tzan," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 25 (1969): 261-78.
35. della Lega, 82.
36. Klapisch-Zuber, "Parrains et filleuls," 56-57; Petrucci, 138, 144; della Lega, 82.
37. Martines, 121.
38. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American administrators found the same advantage in becoming compadres to the Filipino elite. N. Owen, Compadre Colonialism: Studies in the Philippines under American Rule (Ermita, 1973); Stuart Creighton Miller, "Compadre Colonialism," The Wilson Quarterly 10 (1986): 92-105. Douglas MacArthur enjoyed close ties with Manuel Quezon, the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, his compadre. William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 (Boston, 1978), 178, 199, 264.
39. On corruption amongst officials in the Florentine territorial state see, Andrea Zorzi, "The Florentines and their Public Offices in the Early Fifteenth Century: Competition, Abuses of Power, and Unlawful Acts," in History from Crime: Selections from Quaderni Storici, ed. Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero (Baltimore, 1994), 110-34.
40. Richard Trexler, Public Life in Renaissance Florence (New York, 1980), 285.
41. A. Rochon, La jeunesse de Laurent de Medicis 1449-1476 (Paris, 1963), 203; Angelo Fabronio, Adnotiones et Monumenta Laurentii Medicis Magnifici vitam pertinentia (Pisa, 1784) 2: 57.
42. Trexler, Public Life, 18.
43. Morelli, 149-50. Pandimiglio concluded, and rightly so, that baptismal kinship's utility for creating political alliances was less than that of marriage. Pandimiglio, 41-2.
44. Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual, 90.
45. Trexler, Public Life, 13; Kent and Kent, 24-47.
46. Le Roy Ladurie, 128.
47. della Lega, 176.
48. Gene Brucker, Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence (Berkeley, 1986), 55.
49. Klapisch-Zuber, "Parrains et filleuls": 57. For a further elaboration of this argument see her "Au peril des commeres. L'alliance spirituelle par les femmes a Florence," in Femmes: Mariages - Lignages, XIIe-XIVe siecles: Melanges offert a Georges Duby, Bibliotheque du Moyen Age, vol. 1, ed. Jean Dufournet, Andre Joris and Pierre Toubert (Brussels, 1992), 215-32.
50. Petrucci, 90.
51. Le Roy Ladurie, 251.
52. On the so-called brigate see, Charles de la Ronciere, "Tuscan Notables on the Eve of the Renaissance," in Revelations of the Medieval World, ed. Georges Duby, vol. 2 of A History of Private Life, ed. Philippe Aries and Georges Duby (Cambridge: MA, 1988), 166.
53. Morelli, 199, 337, 380, 451-52.
54. Ibid., 359; Benvenuto Cellini, La vita, ed. Bruno Maier (Novara, 1962), 456.
55. Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual, 90.
56. Cellini, La vita, 458.
57. San Bernardino, 198-201.
58. Decameron, 1:2.
59. "[C]he llo feciano cristiano." Bec, 93.
60. San Bernardino, 198-201.
61. Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual, 289 and 292.
62. Luca Landucci, A Florentine Diary from 1450 to 1516 Continued by an Anonymous Writer till 1542, trans. Alice de Rosen Jervis (New York, 1927), 12.
63. Corrazini, iv-v.
64. Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual, 88; Fabronio, 75; Cellini, La vita, 197.
65. Cellini, La vita, 101.
66. Kent and Kent, 29-30; Klapisch-Zuber, "Parrains et filleuls": 73.
67. della Lega, 29; Alessandro Perosa, ed., Il zibaldone quaresimale, vol. 1 of Giovanni Rucellai ed il suo zibaldone (London, 1960), 35; Corrazini, 240
68. Anderson, 39.
69. Trexler, Public Life, 443.
70. "Sanza niuno mio utile, ma per amore ch'i' o a quella familglia." Bec, 68, citied in Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family and Ritual, 88-89.
71. Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family and Ritual, 90.
72. F. W. Kent, Household and Lineage in Renaissance Florence (Princeton, 1977), 238.
73. Martines, 76.
74. Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual, 91.
75. Foster, "Cofradia and Compadrazgo," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 9 (1953): 23.
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1995|
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