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Otium and Negotium in Alberti's I libri della famiglia.

As the mercantile economy continued to develop in fifteenth-century Florence, both humanists and merchants discussed notions of work and leisure with the intention of adapting classical ideals on the subject to their own economic and social reality. What careers brought citizens and their families the most prestige? What kind of work held the greatest importance for the homeland? What role did leisure play in those careers? One of the texts that addresses these questions is Leon Battista Alberti's dialogue on family and fatherhood, I libri della famiglia, written during the 1430s, which draws heavily from a tradition of treatises on the work of household management that grew out of Xenophon's Oeconomicus and the pseudo-Aristotelian Oeconomica, (1) Starting with Boethius in the sixth century, the science of household management, or "economics," was transformed into one of three divisions of practical or active philosophy: ethics, focused on the individual, politics, focused on public concerns, and "oeconomica," focused on the family (Danzi, "Leon Battista Alberti" 69-70). In late medieval religious treatises, such as Vincent Beauvais's thirteenth-century Speculum maius, household economics remained an important topic that linked discussions of individual ethics to political concerns (Danzi, "Leon Battista Alberti 71; Danzi, "Fra 'oikos' e 'polis'" 57). (1) Although the textual tradition focused on the labor of an agricultural householder, Alberti transforms the genre to address concerns of his own contemporaries about the future of important families in mercantile urban centers of Northern Italy during difficult times of economic, political, and social change. While celebrating the importance of the labor involved in household economics and how it affects both the individual and the community, Alberti's text participates in another debate with ancient roots: the relationship between negotium and otium. Like many classical and medieval works, Alberti's text expresses an ambivalent attitude towards otium, describing it as both an essential element in the education of young men who will ultimately run households themselves, yet also a threat to the necessary virility of a householder. While the text emphasizes the possible dangers of less physical labor for men, it also highlights the importance of humanist and mercantile skills that require otium, describing the relationship between leisure and work as more complementary than oppositional.

Like other civic humanists of the first half of the Quattrocento, any philosophical or social question that Alberti addressed in his writings was framed by the writings of classical authors, especially Cicero. (3) Yet he also makes clear in several texts, including I libri della famiglia, that books do not suffice (Cardini 34). (4) Experience also counts as well as knowledge gained in artisanal or mechanical professions that depend on the hands as well as the mind. In a noteworthy personification of humanity from the "Picture" of his Intercenales, Alberti illustrates beautifully the impossibility of separating intellectual and manual work in human endeavors:

In the first place, there is painted an extraordinary image of a woman, around whose neck are gathered various faces, young, old, happy, sad, joyful, serious, and so forth. Numerous hands extend from her shoulders, some holding pens, others lyres, some a polished gem, others a painted or carved emblem, some various mathematical instruments, and others books. Above her is written: Humanity, mother. (5)

(Marsh 56)

Like the earlier Coluccio Salutati and his own contemporary, Leonardo Bruni (to whom this section of the Intercenales is dedicated), Alberti praises the active life of a citizen who devotes his talents to the city, yet he does not dismiss the otium of the contemplative life, but rather views it as a necessary part of an education for future citizens. In 1470, towards the end of his life, in yet another vernacular dialogue about family and paternal figures, De iciarchia, Alberti emphasizes yet again the importance for all citizens to spend time reading (De iciarchia 241). By referring to activities such as literary studies as "operazioni private," Alberti not only emphasizes that reading is active work, but that it is also tied to "publiche operazioni" or more collective forms of labor (242). The abstract and the material, the intellectual and the manual, words and deeds all held importance for Alberti's concept of "operazioni," or work. What ultimately determined work's value was whether it was useful to others. As Alberti states in a passage on the professions in De iciarchia: "L'omo nacque per essere utile all'omo" (243).

An ambivalent attitude toward otium had a long and rich history in both Roman and Christian texts. In Roman thought, the word otium could have strong negative characteristics as a synonym of laziness, indolence, apathy, sensuality or positive connotations that emphasized notions of recreation, tranquility, rest, and even the political notion of peace (pax). One of the earliest uses of the word was linked to the military notion of a pause from combat, a cease-fire in which soldiers rest from their primary profession (Dosi 10). Thus, bellum served as one possible antonym for otium, and writers used the word in contrast to the most virile of activities--warfare. In addition, early uses of the word otium suggest the need to keep soldiers busy during their periods of repose from war with agricultural and family responsibilities (in otio negotioso), and the fear of what could happen if these young men truly had a long period of leisure without any physical labor (Dosi 15). In this military context, negotium is depicted as a cure for the possible threats created by true freedom from work, and discussions of otium included how to regulate soldiers' leisure time to make sure that it was not destructive for the community, but rather productive. As Brian Vickers describes the Roman concept of leisure, "otium is to be understood most frequently in opposition to the active life expected of a Roman citizen, when it connotes idleness, luxury, the 'easy life' [...] two classes of mankind are seen as particularly prone to these harmful states, lovers and soldiers" (5). An anxiety about soldiers' otium continues throughout Roman thought of different periods (Damico 16) and demonstrates the importance of this concept for debates on social order and for male professional identity.

Questions of virility and professional activity also framed the Oeconomicus, which Alberti explicitly mentions as a textual model in the prologue to the third book of his text (189). Although other interlocutors in the dialogue question the classical ideal of the land-owning patriarch, Alberti's dialogue, through the words of the traditional Giannozzo, reiterates a portrait of the citizen-farmer who devotes most of his time to the running of his own estates in order to provide himself, his family, and his city with long-term security. (6) Xenophon's dialogue clearly states that ideal citizens should be farmers because they provide the necessities for life, are physically strong, and thus able to defend their city. He contrasts the work of farmers to artisans and declares that craftsmen make weaker citizens because they are used to sitting and thus would probably not possess the necessary virility and courage to defend their cities:

[...] the farmers were to be separated from the craftsmen and asked whether they preferred to defend the land or to retreat from the open country to guard the city walls. We thought that in such a situation those who are occupied with the land would vote to defend it, but the craftsmen would vote not to fight but to remain sitting down, as they have been trained to do, and to avoid exertion and danger.


Paradoxically Alberti takes the classical tradition that is concerned with the importance of masculine physical labor, and uses it to suggest that skills such as reading and accounting, which were necessary for success in the new mercantile economy, but also required hours of "sitting," or otium, to develop, are still virile activities because they help patriarchs protect their household and their homeland.

Alberti, like other early modern writers, not only inherited an ambivalent attitude towards otium, or the vernacular "ozio," from both his favorite Roman writers such as Cicero, but also from more contemporary models such as Petrarch. Cicero used the term otium in very different contexts and with different meanings; however, his main concern focused on explaining that his otium was forced by adversity and that he strove to use the leisure time to the benefit of others through learning and writing. In works like Pro Sestio, Cicero describes how virtuous men must work to ensure the tranquility of the community rather than indulging in pleasures to enjoy their own leisure (Vickers 11). The contrast between the noble work of citizens and the decadent indulgence of the slothful is clear and casts a shadow over the notion of otium. In other texts Cicero emphasizes that his forced retirement from political responsibilities was an otium cum dignitate or an honestum otium because he dedicated his free time to disseminating his knowledge through speeches and texts, and, as the De officiis explains, fulfilled an obligation to use his abilities of reason and oratory for the benefit of others (Vickers 11; Damico 51).

Although Petrarch wrote a treatise in praise of otium, De vita solitaria, he inherited the classical ambivalence toward the concept, and, like Cicero, he wrote in part to justify the time that he devoted to reading and writing. He also wanted to distance his notion of leisure from the Christian sin of acedia, or sloth. There are over one hundred and twenty extant manuscripts of this work, which suggests that it served as an authoritative text on the subject among learned men like Alberti (Bondanella 1).

In the first book of his treatise, Petrarch depends largely on classical sources to emphasize that tranquil solitude away from the vulgar crowds of the city offers intellectual and spiritual benefits that the hectic life of an active citizen cannot provide. Although he recognizes that classical authors, such as Seneca, suggest that otium can lead to many vices such as impudence, lust, and anger, he goes on to specify that this is true only of the fools who let themselves be overtaken by passions (Petrarch 370). Instead, for men who devote themselves to the study of "letters and virtue," Petrarch argues that it is better for them to avoid the material concerns of the city, and instead devote themselves entirely to intellectual and spiritual pursuits with a few virtuous friends in a tranquil and natural environment (378-89). While Petrarch maintains a dichotomy between otium and negotium, much of the first book of his treatise on the subject serves as a condemnation of the vices connected to urban life and the material concerns of citizens. For Petrarch, the otium necessary for "honest studies" is easier to obtain if one renounces the city (296). He also describes mercantile affairs (vulgi commercio) and political affairs (vulgari negotio) as activities that seduce learned men to entangle themselves in the "vulgar" rather than focusing on true study and reflection; men should view culture as a source of illumination for their soul (animi lux) rather than as a means for making money (instrumenta divitiarum) (330). 7 Petrarch preserves, yet reverses, the negotium/otium dichotomy of many classical writers. Although Cicero codified the idealized space for otium litteratum as the "suburban villa" (Andre 115), he took pains to explain that he was forced to give up the noble duties of citizenship to devote himself to the otium of reading and writing. Petrarch also seeks the refuge of the countryside, yet completely dismisses political activities as part of the "terrestrial mud" that honest leisure allows men to escape (354).

Like Petrarch, Alberti, in discussing otium, challenges the classical opposition, but he does so from the perspective of men who were very involved in the everyday lives and material concerns of their families and communes. Alberti's interlocutors in the dialogue recognize the importance of teaching male children to become literate citizens so that they have the skills to achieve success in the mercantile economy and to exhibit clearly the knowledge of classical culture that provides them with the necessary cultural capital to gain social status. Unlike Petrarch, interlocutors in Alberti's text describe and praise both the spiritual and terrestrial rewards of otium, and regard "honest leisure" as yet another means for young men to eventually play an active and important role in their family and community. Alberti, then, at times represents otium as complementary to negotium rather than its opposite.

Many of the references to "ozio" are in the first book of Alberti's dialogue in which he focuses on the paternal labor or "fatica" of raising children. Alberti's Lionardo compares it to an art in which fathers must spend time with their sons, notice their natural inclinations and temperament, and then help them develop those natural gifts into a profession, which would be of benefit to the family and the community. He describes two possible trajectories: one for boys who are more physical and seem disposed to the "virile exercise" of warfare; the second for those who demonstrate an interest in song and verse and are prone to the "ozio" of letters and science:

Ramentami udire da' medici ch'e' parvuli, quando e' ti veggono grillare colle mani, allora se vi badano, se vi si destano, dimonstrano essere composti alli essercizii virili e all'arme. E se piu loro piace que' versi e canti co' quali si sogliono ninnare e acquietare, significa che sono nati all'ozio e riposo delle lettere e alle scienze. E un diligente padre di di in di compreendera e pensera per meglio iudicare ne' figliuoli ogni piccolo atto, ogni parola e cenno [...].


This passage suggests that intellectual work is just as appropriate an activity for boys as martial exercises, even if it might not be as "virile." Unlike the bellum/otium hierarchy in Roman culture, Lionardo does not elevate one profession over the other, but describes them both as possible career paths.

Later in book 3, when Giannozzo is teaching younger members of the family about the importance of "masserizia," the patriarch discusses his upbringing and evaluates the same two activities for boys that had been discussed earlier. (8) He first explains that his own parents did not allow him to participate in martial games, like jousts, because they could breed bad feelings among friends and also waste family resources, as well as his own and the other boys' youth:

[...] dicevano la giostra essere giuoco pericoloso, di niuno utile, di molta spesa, atta ad acquistarsi piu invidia che amista, piu biasimo che lodo, esservi troppe sciagure, nascervi questioni, avermi piu caro che io non pensava ne forse meritava. E io queto, accigliato. Poi appresso quelli pur numeravano molte storie di quanti erano usciti di quelle armi parte morti, parte in tutto il resto della vita inutili e guasti.


While Giannozzo describes his own parents' desire to guard their "masserizia" by not allowing him to participate in martial games, he later laments their negligence in not stressing the importance of letters: "Non mi detti alle lettere quando io ero giovane, e questo venne piu tosto da negligenza de' miei che da mio alcuno mancamento. E' miei missoro me ad altri essercizi, quanto a quelli tempi loro parse necessario" (206). Giannozzo's comments about his own youth imply changing standards for boys' education as well as evolving attitudes toward the necessary exercises and skills for success in a mercantile economy. (9) The physical labor of armed combat seems less essential for the preservation of "masserizia," while reading, and the leisure it requires, is defined as one of the praiseworthy activities that keeps boys away from wasteful "ozio." It is clear that Alberti's text participated in a larger debate about whether the chivalric or literary skills were more important in fifteenth-century culture. In his earlier autobiography, De commodis litterarum atque incommodis, Alberti engages directly in a popular political debate about whether knights or doctors should receive more honors from their homeland (Oppel 156). Alberti expresses dismay that men of letters who use the highest, most divine, faculty of reason, should receive fewer honors than the brutish knights (Regoliosi, "Gerarchie" 166). Although the text deals with caricatures of all the professions, (10) it highlights how the changing economy had put into question both the ideal masculine professions and the skills necessary to achieve a certain political status.

The interlocutors in I libri della famiglia also highlight the literary success of the Alberti family and how it has brought glory to the clan. For instance, Lionardo praises another family member, Antonio, for his reputation as an accomplished writer and author of Istoria illustrium virorum, noting that he achieved this success through the necessary "onestissimi ozii," copying Cicero's phrase as a justification of Antonio's profession (83). Lionardo then continues by emphasizing that the leisure time necessary for learning how to read and write well is important not only for the status of the family but also for the reputation of the homeland: "Non mi stendo, che troppo sarebbe lungo recitare quanto siano le lettere, non dico utili, ma necessarie a chi regge e governa le cose ne descrivo quanto elle siano ornamento alla republica" (85). Other humanists also focus on the necessity of learning Latin or "grammatica" for the young boys' success. Matteo Palmieri, for example, in his Vita civile, emphasizes the practical aspects of grammar:

Di grammatica e superfluo dire, perche ogni padre debbe essere certissimo che sanza il fondamento di quella / ogni doctrina che s'edifica rovina, sanza fare fructo. Questa reca seco molto magiore utilita et piu singulare frutto che non si dimonstra nel primo aspetto, pero che contiene in se ogni perfectione della lingua latina, della quale chi manca, male puo intendere cosa che legga.


Like Alberti, Palmieri highlights the value of grammar; learning Latin is both useful and fruitful for a boy and his family. It is the utility of the activity for future citizens that justifies the time spent in leisure reading.

Merchant writers such as Giovanni Morelli also encourage boys to learn to read and write Latin. In imitation of classical models, they wanted to narrate the great events of their city and reflect on how their own mercantile professions contributed to its magnificence (Branca, "Merchant" xxiv-xxv). Through their writings, mercantile skills, including reading and writing, gain a new status and also form part of a civic humanist's view of history that connected the Florentine Republic to ancient Rome. Morelli counsels that one of the most important skills that boys can obtain is to study "grammatica": "[...] e [il fanciullo] debba da se medesimo essere sollecito, mentre e fanciullo, apparare di leggere e scrivere e tanta grammatica ch'egli intenda secondo la lettera i dottori o carte di notaio o altro iscritto; e simile sappi parlare per lettera e scrivere una lettera in grammatica e bene composta" (Morelli 270). He makes clear that this is for both practical reasons--successful men need to be able to write and understand legal and mercantile documents (270)--but also for pleasure: "piacere" and "diletto" (271). He encourages boys to learn Latin so that they can have enjoyable conversations with great writers of the past such as Virgil, and makes clear that these are moments free from concerns about money and other problems: "[...] tu potrai istarti nel tuo istudio con Vergilio quel tempo che ti piacera, e non ti dira mai di no e ti rispondera di cio lo domanderai e ti consigliera e 'nsegnera sanza prezzo niuno di danari e d'altro e ti trarra maninconia e pensiero del capo e daratti piacere e consolazione" (272).

Although a merchant, Morelli imitated a humanist topos of the conversation between readers and classical authors, which started with Petrarch and continued throughout the early modern period; even Alberti used it in his Theogenius (Bec 238). Morelli probably imitated this theme from Petrarch's De vita solitaria (Bec 239); yet, he clearly ignored aspects of the poet's notion of reading and reflection that insisted on distance between the intellectual and the material world. Despite his active engagement in Florentine affairs, the merchant still decided to pursue Petrarch's ideal of otium through "conversations" with "Tulio." While Cicero felt compelled to justify his time devoted to reading and writing by highlighting his expulsion from politics and the public good that could derive from his studies, Morelli, a man involved in the economic and political activities of his city, does not express anxiety about seeking personal enjoyment as well as practical knowledge from his leisure time. The passage even suggests that the pleasure derived from such "onestissimi ozii" might be an end in itself.

Historians of Renaissance education such as Paul Grendler have described how the concept of grammar changed in the early modern period from the notion of an independent science, the first liberal art, which was learned as a separate discipline to analyze language, to a humanist conception of it as part of a larger curriculum, based less on medieval manuals and more on the reading of ancient texts. Thus, in Grendler's words, "Renaissance humanists and teachers viewed grammar as a tool for the study of ancient literature" (182). A Latin writing style that imitated the writers of the late Republic and early Empire elevated a boy's or man's cultural and social status. This phenomenon explains why "intellectual leaders" of fifteenth-century Italy, such as Guarino da Verona and Lorenzo Valla, dedicated time and effort to the creation of grammar texts (172). (11) Alberti himself refers to this shift in the notion of grammar in the first book of I libri della famiglia when Lionardo urges fathers to have their children learn to read from the great classical poets and orators of the Latin language, such as Virgil and Cicero, rather than from rough and unpolished medieval texts (86).

Along with this change in the pedagogy of grammar evolved a different representation of the first liberal art, which in the fifteenth century was also portrayed as the foundation of the studia humanitatis. Examining two different visual concepts of grammar, the first from the fourteenth century and the second from the fifteenth century, demonstrates the evolving importance of the first liberal art within the work hierarchy of the city. Grammar is depicted twice in two very different figures in the cycle of reliefs on Santa Maria del Fiore's campanile, which serves as a public illustration of how different forms of work, both abstract knowledge and manual labor, benefit the Christian community (Carlotti 15; Norman 239). The first portrayal of grammar is part of Andrea di Pisano's fourteenth-century relief cycle of the liberal arts on the campanile (Figure 1). We see grammar presented as the traditional female medieval allegorical figure with children at her knee because the personification represented the first liberal art to be learned. Like the famous example of Lady Grammar on the Royal Portals of the Cathedral of Chartres, the relief also depicts the female figure with an instrument of discipline, a flagellum, emphasizing the notion that physical punishment was considered "a key tool in educational learning" of young children (Cleaver 7). Luca della Robbia's fifteenth-century relief also served as a representation of the first liberal art on the Florentine campanile (Figure 2), but moves away from the abstract allegory, which focuses on discipline for unruly children, and instead portrays a more historical scene, in which a master of grammar is shown reading and commenting on a classical text with adolescent male students with distinct features and strong, healthy bodies. Rather than focusing on discipline, this scene depicts the kind of literary otium shared by intellectuals, which Petrarch described in De vita solitaria, although it is clearly portrayed within an urban school room rather than a pastoral setting. This portrayal emphasizes sedentary reading, Cicero's "honest otium," as an appropriate activity for virile young men.

In the third book of I libri della famiglia, Alberti uses "ozio" with yet another classical meaning of the term: serenity for the entire community. Here, the link between private and public tranquility is explained, as the author/characters suggest that the ultimate purpose of otium is the peacefulness of the homeland:

E affermovi che il buono cittadino amera la tranquillita, ma non tanto la sua propria, quanto ancora quella degli altri buoni, godera negli ozii privati, ma non manco amera quello degli altri cittadini suoi, desiderera l'unione, quiete, pace e tranquillita della casa sua propria, ma molto piu quella della patria sua e della republica [...].


Private leisure is thus justified for men as long as the ultimate goal remains the city's harmony and tranquility. Luca della Robbia's portrayal of grammar on the campanile in the religious center of Florence also suggests that, even though young men are participating in a form of otium by reading, they are contributing to the common good of the Christian community, transforming leisure into a "virile" activity worthy of future citizens.

Conversely, following Xenophon and the genre of advice for householders that he adopted, Alberti also expresses concern about too much sitting, or "ozio," for boys because it could render them soft and weak like women for whom otium was considered a natural condition. Thus, otium is regarded as positive when it leads boys, and eventually men, to have more success with negotium, but it is also described as a real danger to contemporary virility. In addition to the threat that too much leisure time would weaken boys, pedagogues also worried that the many temptations of the new consumerism of the mercantile economy also risked softening boys by enticing them with a variety of food, drink, clothes, and other luxury items (Vitullo 107). The anxiety about how to maintain the virile householder ideal in an age when family patriarchs no longer needed to depend on physical labor influences the ambivalent attitude toward otium in the texts of fifteenth-century pedagogues, especially Alberti.

While devoting numerous pages to the importance of teaching boys how to read and write, and noting the otium necessary to learn those skills, Alberti's dialogue stresses in numerous passages the dangers of sitting still and the importance of keeping boys involved in physical exercises. So Lionardo encourages the Alberti to distance their boys from both the kitchen and from otium (I libri della famiglia 72). In addition, the passage on reading is followed by a long description of the importance of recreation, which, however, needs to be active: "Gioco ove bisogni sedere quasi niuno mi pare degno di uomo virile. Forse a' vecchi se ne permette alcuno, scacchi e tali spassi da gottosi, ma giuoco niuno senza essercizio e fatica a me pare che a' robusti giovani mai sia licito.

Lascino e' giovani non desidiosi, lascino sedersi le femmine e impigrirsi [...]" (87). Later Lionardo again worries that boys who sit for too long on benches (like the ones depicted in della Robbia's relief) will become too passive and repeats the proverbial saying that otium is the wet nurse of all vices: "l'ozio si e balia de' vizii" (92). In book three, devoted to the household economy, Giannozzo connects otium with men who flee praiseworthy exercise and instead focus on "delicatezze" (198). Lionardo also reaffirms in the third book the traditional pairing of women with passive otium and men with active negotium:

Ed e l'animo dell'uomo assai piu che quello della femmina robusto e fermo a sostenere ogni impeto de' nimici, e sono piu forti alle fatiche, piu constanti negli affanni, e hanno gli uomini ancor piu onesta licenza uscire pe' paesi altrui acquistando e coadunando de' beni della fortuna. Contrario le femmine quasi tutte si veggono timide da natura, molle, tarde e per questo piu utili sedendo a custodire le cose, quasi come la natura cosi provedesse al vivere nostro, volendo che l'uomo rechi a casa, la donna lo serbi. Difendi la donna serrata in casa le cose e se stessi con ozio, timor e suspizione.

(265; my emph.)

Here, then, "ozio" is clearly marked as feminine and domestic, and at odds with the traditional masculine ideal of negotium and citizenship. I libri della famiglia examines the classical connection between otium and femininity, passivity, and lasciviousness, yet, like the Della Robbia depiction of grammar, it also represents certain forms of leisure as virile because they support the status of the family and the homeland. In his own earlier autobiography, De commodis, Alberti had played with the stereotype of the weak man of letters who is isolated among his books and whose work and voice gain little respect among other citizens (Oppel 158). The scholar must teach boys because he is not accepted in the world of men. As the earlier mentioned topos of the competition between the doctors and the knights makes clear, the notion of the pen replacing the sword created real anxieties. Even in the fourteenth century, Franco Sacchetti had satirized notaries who transformed themselves into knights: "Ecco bello esercizio cavalleresco! [...] che li notai si fanno cavalieri, e piu su; e 'l pennaiuolo si converte in aurea coltellesca" (Sacchetti 421). If the status of a patriarch was no longer determined principally by physical force and martial skills, but also by intellectual abilities that women could master as well as men, men needed to emphasize that certain skills learned while sitting, such as reading and writing, were unquestionably masculine and that men were still involved in physical activity.

While Xenophon's Oeconomicus focuses on the virility and stability that a farmer-citizen derives from the physical cultivation of his land, Alberti creates characters in his dialogue who suggest that the figure of the householder who grounds his authority and wealth only in land is no longer a successful model for fifteenth-century Florentines. Instead, another interlocutor in the dialogue, Adovardo, argues that contemporary householders need the mercantile skills that would allow them to gain and make use of money rather than property:

Il danaio niuno dubita quanto e' sia nervo di tutti e' mestieri, per modo che chi possiede copia del danaio facilmente puo fuggire ogni necessita e adempiere molta somma delle voglie sue. Puossi con danari avere e casa e villa; e tutti e' mestieri, e tutti gli artigiani quasi come servi s'afaticano per colui il quale abbia danari. A chi non ha danari manca quasi ogni cosa, e a tutte le cose bisogna danari; alla villa, alla casa, alla bottega sono necessarii i servi, fattori, strumenti, buoi, e simili altre, le quali cose non si posseggono e ottengono senza spendere danari.


The conservative Giannozzo also participates in the discussion and he questions the notion that money should be considered a more important form of "masserizia" than property; in addition, in the same part of the debate he refers to "litterati" who interrogate everything and make the clearest truths seem murky and uncertain: "Bene a me sogliono questi vostri litterati parere litigiosi. Niuna cosa si truova tanto certa, niuna si manifesta, niuna si chiara, la quale voi con vostri argomenti non facciate essere dubia, incerta e oscurissima" (300). This passage connects literary study with men who value successful money management because it is the "litterati" who question the traditional value of land in their mercantile economy and argue against the conventional views of the unlettered Giannozzo, suggesting yet again that otium and negotium were not always viewed in fifteenth-century Florence as a classical dichotomy, but rather as complementary activities that required a new skill set for fifteenth-century patriarchs. In yet another passage, the importance of choosing a career that complements a youth's abilities is highlighted for a second time. Once again, the two examples given are warfare and letters. This time, though, it is suggested that those who choose arms must be robust and strong while those who choose the study of books must have wealth because the poor cannot sustain the expenses of being an intellectual (164). Unlike Petrarch's notion of otium that should not be sullied by terrestrial concerns such as wealth, in several different passages Alberti creates a strong connection between literary study and money. (12)

Although early modern Florentine writers described otium and mercantile activities as essential duties of a householder, the classical models they inherited often portrayed these activities as conducive to lesser forms of masculinity, creating a tension that is clearly evident in Alberti's use of "ozio" and his description of money as "masserizia." In the discussion of possible careers for young men, Alberti has his interlocutors discuss the profession of the merchant. They acknowledge that it is a mercenary profession and thus it is not as noble as others, yet they praise merchants for their work and also for their contribution to Florence's wealth and reputation:

Imperoche mai ne' traffichi nostri di noi si trovo chi ammettesse bruttezza alcuna. Sempre in ogni contratto volsono i nostri osservare somma simplicita, somma verita, e in questo modo siamo in Italia e fuor d'Italia, in Ispagna, in Ponente, in Soria, in Grecia, e a tutti e' porti conosciuti grandissimi mercatanti. E sono e' nostri Alberti sempre a' bisogni della patria nostra stati non poco utilissimi. Trovasi che de' trenta e due danari, e' quali la patria nostra in que' tempi spendeva, sempre di quegli piu che uno era aggiunto dalla famiglia nostra.


Like otium, the negotium of the merchant had an ambivalent meaning and status in fifteenth-century Italian culture. Both types of activities seemed abstract and passive in comparison to the physicality that had defined the typical professions, which had been considered the most masculine in the classical world. Scholars needed time to sit and read, while merchants gained money by the "unnatural" process of producing money from money rather than from livestock or the land (Todeschini 194). Having inherited this conventional hierarchy of the professions, Alberti helped redefine the work of the scholar and of the merchant as meaningful for the community even if they did not seem as "virile" or as grounded in a seemingly natural order. One of the ways that Alberti's text tries to reconcile the ancient paradigm with contemporary realities is by suggesting that rather than being opposites, otium and negotium serve as complementary aspects of many forms of work that made his community thrive.

Works Cited

Alberti, Leon Battista. De commodis litterarum atque incommodis. Ed. Laura Goggi Carotti. Firenze: Olshki, 1976.

--. De iciarchia. Opere volgari 2: 187-286.

--. Intercenali inedite. Ed. Eugenio Garin. Firenze: Sansoni, 1965.

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Juliann Vitullo

Arizona State University

(1) For information about the composition and early circulation of the four books of the dialogue, see Boschetto 90-99.

(2) Danzi notes that the subjects of the four books of Alberti's dialogue (the relationship between a father and his offspring, marriage, household management [economics], and friendship) imitate closely the four-part structure of Vincent Beauvais's analysis of the "scientia oeconomica" ("Leon Battista Alberti" 71).

(3) "Puo mutare il contenuto o l'obbiettivo della ricerca, puo diversificarsi la funzione dell'intellettuale: non muta la sostanza. La riflessione e la produzione albertiane sono interamente mediate dalla parola degli antichi, da quel mondo eccellente in cui 'tutto e gia stato detto'" (Regoliosi, "'Libri'" 99).

(4) As Cardini says so succinctly about Alberti: "Ma i libri non gli bastarono mai" ("Alberti e i libri" 34).

(5) "Namque loco primo mira imago adest picte mulieris, cui plurimi variique unam in cervicem vultus conveniunt: seniles, iuveniles, tristes, iocosi, graves, faceti et eiusmodi. Complurimas item manus ex iisdem habet humeris fluentes, ex quibus quidem alie calamos, alie lyram, alie laboratam concinnamque gemmam, alie pictum excultumve insigne, alie mathematicorum varia instrumenta, alie libros tractant. Huic superadscriptum nomen: Humanitas mater" (Alberti, Intercenali 131).

(6) Here I follow the lead of Najemy, who emphasizes the dialogic aspect of the text, and the necessity of distinguishing the voices of the interlocutors from that of the author (53).

(7) "Et, si plane norim duo ista tam dulcia philosophorum diverticula, solitudinem atque otium, ut incipiens dixi, interdum literatis etiam hominibus permolesta, in promptu tamen est ratio. His enim hoc accidit, qui vel voluptate aliqua compediti carcerem suum amant, vel vulgi commercio et vulgari negotio victum querunt, vel ad lubricos honorum gradus populorum ventosis suffragiis aspirant, et quibus (que ingens his temporibus turba est) litere non animi lux atque oblectatio vite sunt, sed instrumenta divitiarum" (Petrarca, De vita solitaria 330).

(8) Alberti also compares knights to doctors in his earlier work De commodis, in which he laments that the two groups do not share the same social status (De commodis 97-100). See also Boschetto 86.

(9) Najemy reads the traditional mindset of Giannozzo's character as "the book's most powerful indictment of the patriarchal and civic pieties." Giannozzo is also the character who distances himself the most from the "honest otium" of reading (70).

(10) For an interesting interpretation of the De commodis in terms of professional caricatures, see Oppel's article on the treatise.

(11) Alberti, a great proponent of the nobility of the vernacular, wrote the first grammar of the Tuscan language (La prima grammatica della lingua volgare).

(12) The poverty of most intellectuals and their inability to enjoy material pleasures such as wealth is an important theme of Alberti's earlier work De commodis.
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