Society and Individual in Renaissance Florence.
Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002. xii + 454 pp. + 2 col. pls. index. illus. tbls. map. $65. ISBN: 0-520-23254-2.
This festschrift volume dedicated to Gene Brucker is intelligently conceived and well-executed--a tribute worthy of the honoree and indeed a model for all such enterprises. Its wide range of scholarship underscores the debt that all archival historians of Florence owe to Brucker's prodigious and judicious research and publication. The collection's stated theme of society and individual is not merely Burckhardtian in inspiration, but also implicitly acknowledges Brucker's own modesty and rigorous intellectual honesty. Readers of the revised edition of Brucker's Renaissance Florence (first ed. 1969; rev. ed. 1983) will remember well his willingness to appreciate and absorb what were very recent shifts in the historical treatment of the society of Renaissance Florence from an emphasis on individual and nuclear family structures to one on class, corporate ties, and extended kinship obligations.
After decades of anti-Marxist historiography, class is back, if only in the form of two-tiered models of elites and popolo rather than Marxist three-tiered models. Brucker's pioneering Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence (1986) certainly constituted an important and influential step in this direction, so it is appropriate to have the volume begin with F. W. Kent's examination of class relations in Quattrocento Florence. Kent's observations make clear, however, that any new understanding of class relations will be less schematic than might be convenient. Detailed studies of class relations based on Florentine ricordanze, as well as recent studies of the Florentine wool industry, suggest that class divides could be quite porous. Cosimo and Lorenzo de' Medici both exploited and depended upon ritual and patronage ties that cut across class barriers, and encouraged charity that took into account the concerns of the working poor. Kent suggests that the Ciompi revolt of 1378 shaped, over the course of the following century, a patrician response that gradually emphasized a relationship of peaceful, if wary, class coexistence between patricians and popolo.
John Najemy's essay on Leon Battista Alberti's Della famiglia as a parody and a critique of Florentine obsessions with patrilineal succession drives a stake into the heart of the argument that Alberti shared the blatant misogyny of his least lovable interlocutors. Najemy argues that this obsession with patrilineality was a development of the political generations after the Ciompi revolt, an obsession that was taking root just as Alberti was writing the dialogues. Alberti, the author argues, was attempting to show the darker side of the convergence of what Marvin Becker called "the stern paideia" and the revival of neo-Aristotelian notions of families as "ministates." Najemy traces the importance of Alberti's distinction between mere biological paternity and actual fatherhood through the Uxoria and De iciarchia as well. Najemy argues his case beautifully and persuasively, although in the end I am inclined to give more weight than he does to Leon Battista Alberti's illegitimacy and to his father's indifference to his son's legitimation as sources of Alberti's discomfort with the patriline.
Alberti's discussion is no feminist tract, however, as Najemy points out. In the Uxoria wifely wantonness is a given, and the issue at hand is only how to respond. In Julius Kirshner's essay on dressing Renaissance brides, wifely wantonness constituted an important part of the eroticized rituals of the consummation of marriage, rituals situated within a larger context of social competition and conspicuous consumption. Far from the "overbearing capi di famiglia" (109) portrayed in some accounts, Florentine husbands often struggled with the expenses of maintaining households while awaiting full payment of the dowry.
Dale Kent's contribution explores an altogether different kind of intimacy, one of mind as memory and fantasy in popular literature of the fifteenth century. From an account of Michele del Giogante's memory palace, Kent weaves a rich and persuasive tapestry of objects and symbols that populated the imaginations of middling Florentines. Kent's chapter also explores the cultural systems that ordinary literate Florentines shared, accessible not through traditional narrative history, but only through a more inclusive vocabulary and methodology borrowed from art history and anthropology.
Personal and social identities formed part of these cultural systems, at least for elite groups, whose inheritances Thomas Kuehn explores in a chapter on legitimation and guardianship. For those who could afford the costs of litigation, lawsuits could be a valuable instrument for asserting and defining one's self in the larger social order. If lawsuits redefined and reshaped kinship networks and family obligations, conspiracies and insults, Margery Ganz's chapter shows, framed relationships among patrons and clients in the public forum. Ganz documents how the perceived slights of Agnolo Acciaiuoli and Dietisalvi Neroni by Cosimo de' Medici contributed to the willingness of these two ottimati to take advantage of Piero di Cosimo de' Medici's relative weakness by attempting to reinstitute a purer, pre-Medicean form of republican government.
In perhaps the most groundbreaking chapter of a collection already full of startlingly innovative scholarship, David Peterson opens the collection's section on religious issues by exploring the virtual oblivion from Quattrocento historical memory of the War of the Eight Saints (1375-78). Peterson argues that much of the emphasis in early Florentine humanism on the relationship among charity, civic salvation, artistic patronage of monumental buildings, and republican liberty can be traced to acute discomfort with the massive expropriation of ecclesiastical property undertaken during that conflict. Florence's chancellor and champion of the anti-papal cause, Coluccio Salutati, was forced to "articulate a fuller and more complex vision of Italian liberty," (188-89), a vision to which Leonardo Bruni in the early fifteenth century could remain faithful even as he deliberately excised from his History of the Florentine People important expressions of anti-papal sentiment.
Sharon Strocchia traces changes by time and by convent in the naming of nuns. In the mid-Quattrocento some worldly and even entrepreneurial nuns used both their birth names and their new convent names. Within convents and orders, naming of nuns honored women of the classical past and, increasingly after 1500, medieval saints and heroines of the convents' own orders. The popularity of names within a particular convent thus reflected not only conventual tradition, but also deliberate and conscious attempts to carve out individual and institutional identities. Donald Weinstein's chapter on Savonarolan confessors' manuals explores the disjunction between the Dominican's fiery millenarian preaching and the kinder, gentler path of admonition expected of confessors. Lauro Martines, in a chapter that might have been more logically paired with Peterson's essay, chronicles anti-clericalism in the poetic literature of the Italian Renaissance. William Bowsky offers an illuminating introduction to the difficulties that social historians face in using liturgical manuscripts to document the history of medieval spirituality.
The third and final section returns to a number of themes raised in F. W. Kent's initial article, but refracted through the lens of more sociological categories of marginalization and identity. John Brackett addresses the issue raised by Bronislaw Geremek concerning whether poverty and criminality combined to create a criminal underclass in sixteenth-century Florence. Brackett argues that there was no organized criminal underworld but that an underclass existed both in perception and reality, an underclass all too ready to be exploited by rebellious elites. James Banker explores the issues of community and cultural identity in the Tuscan provincial town of San Sepolcro, issues incompatible with modern notions of self-fashioning and Burckhardtian individualism.
Alison Brown's superbly documented article on political exiles examines variations by time and place in the practice of exile, suggesting that by the time of Lorenzo de' Medici in the third quarter of the fifteenth century, loss of family holdings, and, consequently, loss of familial status and influence turned out to be a far more powerful disincentive to rebellion than geographic dislocation. Paula Clarke's meticulous study of Florentine expatriates in Venice argues that social standing and economic success played crucial roles in determining whether Florentine families in Venice clung to their Florentine identity or assumed a Venetian identity and severed all connections with their native city. Finally, Paul Flemer's contribution, hardly lacking in psychological subtlety, shows how Pope Clement VII, ever anxious to recoup his reputation after the Sack of Rome, drew on heroic but glaringly inexact historical precedents from the classical past.
In his introduction to the collection, William Connell invites readers to compare this volume with a collection of essays edited thirty-five years ago by Nicolai Rubinstein. Connell notes that the Rubinstein collection did not focus so prominently on religion, family life, marriage, women, household, economy, and patronage, and can therefore be used as a kind of measure of the ways in which Florentine studies have changed since 1968. The present collection by no means successfully addresses all of these developments. In particular, intensified emphasis on elites remains characteristic of Anglo-American historiography, a trend not fully explicable by reference to the biases of the primary sources. If in the 1968 volume Philip Jones felt forced to apologize for the "base intrusion" of agrarian history, no such intrusion muddies the boots of the quintessentially urban characters and corporations that define the 2002 collection; this despite the recent work of Samuel Cohn on peasant rebellions and Duccio Balestracci's The Renaissance in the Fields (original Italian edition 1984; English edition 1999), both of which document the economic and political vitality of rural Tuscany and the close ties of rural folk to urban Florence and Siena. This consideration in no way diminishes the stature of this impressive collection of essays, but instead should inspire us, as Gene Brucker and his students and collaborators have done so well, to understand the constant exchange among the political, social, economic, and cultural forces that shaped the destinies of individuals in the Renaissance city.
Saint Louis University
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
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