Renaissance Florence Social Life

Physical perspective – localised and inward looking rather than globalised
and outward looking
Religion – as major force shaping a Florentine’s understanding of the world
and their actions
Personal identity and position – membership and responsibility to such
communities as kin, friends, neighbourhood, parish, guild or city accepted as
more important in defining an individual than personal character or needs
Personal connections and networks more important for individuals given the
dangers and insecurities of the period and because our modern community
‘safety net’ only just developing
An incomplete and distorted window to the past – wealthy and male
residents have left records but many other voices unheard; records can have
particular perspectives and purposes that need to be evaluated
BUT a wonderful opportunity for people in the past to come alive and speak
to us ; to make connections across time
Key knowledge:
The social structures of Florence during the Renaissance
The social map of Florence and how it reflected social identity,
wealth, gender and class relationships
The importance of aspects of social life such as family, marriage,
dowries, charity, social legislation and festivals to the life of the
Key skills:
Investigation and reporting on the importance of social life
Analysis of visual and written evidence
Synthesis of evidence to draw conclusions
Examination and evaluation of relevant historiography
Residents on the
Biological - kin links but could also include links by marriage
Spatial – individual households, networks of households in
neighbourhoods or areas of the contado; collective identity
Language - large number of Italian terms describing blood and
marriage relationships – casa, nazione, progenia, famiglia
Across time and generations
Multiple dimensions - personal identity, social status, economic
wealth, political power
Met a range of needs – material, economic, social, political, personal
- but accompanied by expectations on members
Family relationships complex - economic and political as well as
social and emotional dimensions
Patriarchal and hierarchical
Marriage – to serve interests of family rather than meet needs of
‘The family forms an island of certainty in a treacherous sea who should live under the one roof ‘
‘Keep business in the family rather than bringing in external partners.’
‘Duty requires helping them not even so much with money, as with sweat and blood, and by any means
one can, even to giving your life for the honour of the house and its members.’
Leon Battista Alberti
‘Families and lineages ‘give and receive in legitimate marriages, [and] through their marriage alliances
and their love [toward each other] encompass a good part of the city, whence, being related by marriage,
they charitably assist each other, conferring upon each other advice, favours, and assistance, which, in
the course of life, results in benefits, advantage, and abundant fruits.’
‘I sent the marriage broker to him to tell him of my intentions, and I did so in order to acquire his good
will and a marriage alliance with him, so that he would be obligated to work on my behalf for a
reconciliation with the Corbizi.’
Buonaccorso Pitti
Relations between elders and
younger family members –
always cordial and with elders
wielding power?
Gender relations - a passive role
of women?
Emotional dimension to marriage
and family?
A guarantee of personal and
economic security?
Negative consequences of family
allegiance ?
‘Membership of the local parish church, of a guild, or a confraternity, even of a
state, was far less significant to individuals than their membership of a family.’
Family was ‘the centre of his life’, the ‘heart of his identity’
‘The household was the first focus of emotional and sentimental energies; it was also
a distinct group with its own economic basis and its own sphere of political and
social activity. Sometimes it was, or gave the appearance of being, a largely selfregarding group, immersed in its own concerns and those of its descendants.’
‘In an age when life was so tenuous and uncertain, the family bond was a source of
material and psychic comfort, a measure of security in a dangerous world.’
The 2 primary defining relationships for a Florentine were his family and his
‘In an age when life was so tenuous and uncertain, the family bond was a
source of material and psychic comfort, a measure of security in a dangerous
world.’ Brucker
To what extent did family provide security and support in
Renaissance Florence?
3-4 possible sections:
Identity, position, prestige, security – advantages and
disadvantages, reference to primary sources and historical
Political - advantages and disadvantages, reference to primary
sources and historical opinions
Economic - advantages and disadvantages, reference to primary
sources and historical opinions
Other factors also important – wealth, class, gender, locality,
friends, inclusion?
Political, economic, social and religious aspects
of life manifested in physical location
A physical manifestation of family and friends,
collective identity and solidarity
No sections of the city were reserved exclusively for the rich, no
ghettoes inhabited solely by the poor. Each district was a
mélange of palace and cottage, of cloth factory and retail shop, of
parish church and monastic foundation. Then, as now, the
ground floors of elegant palaces were rented out to shopkeepers
and artisans; rich bankers and industrialists lived on streets
inhabited by shoemakers, stonemasons, indigent cloth workers,
and prostitutes. This pattern was a result of the disorderly
character of Florence’s expansion, and also of social tradition…’
Gene Brucker Renaissance Florence
Neighbourhood and family connections not a
guarantee of support
The close proximity of neighbours could lead
to issues over property, tax etc
Personal enmities within a neighbourhood
could have negative financial and political
‘Keep your affairs secret from your neighbours.’
‘Florence did not divide itself up according to wealth and occupation.’
Neighbourhoods provided a ‘bastion of security and stability in this volatile urban milieu.’
‘Neighbourhoods…provided most goods and services required in daily life. To acquire basic necessities, emotional as
well as economic, one was rarely required to leave one’s parish, gonfalone, or quarter of the city.’
Parishes were ‘the departure and terminal point for most manifestations of public unity’
‘The Florentine’s sense of neighbourhood varied according to class, his status, and his sense of the utility of the local
bonds in the attainment of specific objectives.’
‘To acquire the basic necessities , emotional as well as economic, one was rarely required to leave one’s parish,
gonfalone, or quarter of the city… One’s working community, social neighbourhood, and ancestral district were likely
to occupy the same geographical space.’
Trexler minimises influence of neighbourhood, arguing that Florentines saw themselves as belonging to 2
key groups: family and the city. Eckstein, Murphy, Kent , Molho, Brucker, Cohn and Weissman
acknowledge the key importance of neighbourhood along side other factors
1. ‘A Florentine citizen’s neighbourhood provided security, prosperity and power.’ Discuss with
reference to primary and secondary sources.
3 possible sections:
Security – for and against, with primary examples and historical opinions
Prosperity – for and against, with primary examples and historical opinions
Power – for and against, with primary examples and historical opinions
2. In his Ricordi the Florentine merchant Giovanni Morelli advised his sons: to become familiar with
the men of substance in your neighbourhood …
Discuss how the social map of Florence reflected social identity. (2005)
Examiner’s comments: A number of students struggled with the term ‘social map’. The point of
reference here was the gonfalone. High-scoring responses discussed how the gonfalone gave
meaning to social identity, given that political eligibility and taxation were decided at this local
level. They also argued that social identity could be attained beyond the gonfalone through friends,
business associates and marriage connections.
The following introduction set the parameters for a high-scoring response:
The social map of Florence not only reflected but reaffirmed one’s social identity in Renaissance
Florence. The gonfalone, the social hub of political and economic life, not only offered a sense of
identity, of lineage, tradition and honour, but also social ties such as parenti, amici, vicini which
were equally important to one’s social identity
Possible 3 section structure?
A period of hazards and dangers with few
supportive public institutions and services
Both formal, overt , and informal networks
Some connections of equals, some hierarchical patron/client
Both horizontal and vertical connections
Friendships and patron/ client relationships had
political, economic, social, security, prestige and
emotional elements
A system of exchanges - mutual responsibilities,
obligations and benefits
‘Fortunate and affluent [rich] men are indeed extremely useful friends, not so much
because they will help you with their wealth and power directly, but because, as I have
found by experience… they can show you the way to acquaintance with all lesser and
ordinary persons. ‘
‘We find that there is really nothing more difficult in the world than distinguishing true
friends amid the obscurity of so many lies, the darkness of people’s motives and the
shadowy errors and vices that lie about us on all sides. ‘
Alberti, 1430s
‘Let me warn you again that in our city of Florence wealth is conserved only with the greatest
difficulty. This is due to the frequent and almost continual wars of the Commune, which have
required the expenditure of great sums, and the Commune’s imposition of many taxes and forced
loans. I have found no better remedy for defending myself than to take care not to gain enemies, for
a single enemy will harm you more than four friends will help…’
Giovanni Rucellai Zibaldone, 1460
Connect yourself by marriage with those who are in
power… and if you cannot arrange this, then make him
[the man of influence] your friend by speaking well of him,
by serving him in whatever way you can… Seek his
advice… Show him your trust and friendship. Invite him
to your house, and act in ways that you think will please
him and will dispose him benevolently toward you.
Always keep on good terms with those in power.
Test your friend a hundred times… before you trust him,
and do not trust him to such an extent that he can be the
cause of your undoing.
G. Morelli, Ricordi
Cosimo was ‘especially inclined towards sculpture and showed great
favour to all worthy craftsmen, being a good friend of Donatello and
all sculptors and painters; and because in his time the sculptors found
scanty employment, Cosimo in order that Donatello’s chisels might
not be idle, commissioned him to make the pulpits in bronze in S of his
4 assistants… He also befriended Marsiglio, son of Ficino, a man of
good talent and carriage and learned in Greek and Latin. His means
were small, and to keep him from poverty Cosimo bought him a house
in Florence and a farm at Careggi, Lorenzo and the doors of the
sacristy. He ordered the bank to pay every week enough money to
Donatello for his work and for that giving him thus income sufficient
to allow him to live with one or two companions, and generally to
serve his need.
Vespasiano da Bisticci (Life of Cosimo de Medici)
Better to be friends with the wealthy than the poor but be careful.
‘They treat your loans as gifts and regard your promises as obligations.’
‘One has to be far seeing … in the face of frauds, traps and betrayals.’
‘Test your friends a hundred times.’
Da Certaldo
‘Believe little and trust less.’
‘You have everything to gain from managing your affairs secretly. And you
will gain even more if you can do it without appearing secretive to your
Positive, co-operative, valuable:
On the case of Bartolemeo Cederini who lacked family or neighbourhood support
‘Friendship would have constituted the most significant social bond to Florentines
such as Cederini.’
FW Kent
Negative , competitive and detrimental:
‘Florence was a veritable cauldron of suspicion, mistrust, and envy, fuelled by the
struggles for wealth, status and reputation.’
G Brucker
‘The essential feature of the Florentine social bond was its agonistic character. By this
I mean that personal relations were perceived as being, at the one and the same time,
competitive encounters occurring between adversaries and supportive encounters
occurring between friends sharing numerous common interests, goals and bonds.’
1. Alberti commented that ‘nothing except virtue itself
is more important than friendship.’ To what extent was
friendship important to the individual Florentine?
Possible 3 section structure:
2. Weissman argued that ‘the essential feature of the
Florentine social bond was its agonistic [combative,
strained, competitive] character.’ To what extent do
you agree with this view of friendships in
Renaissance Florence?
Possible 3 section structure?
Exiled and disgraced family members –
usually men
Women – prostitutes, widows and nuns
Male youth
The poor
Servants and slaves
Identity, support, security, inclusion
Exclusion, alienation and marginalisation
By way of public justice and ritual; spectacles,
entertainments and processions; communal
regulation and legislation; confraternities;
‘Pilgrimages and processions, feasts and festivals, and moments of ritual inversion and collective
celebration offered ceremonial alternatives to the competitive and richly textured social worlds of
Florence, allowing Florentines opportunities to reconstruct, reshape, if only for a brief, precious
moment, their community.’
Weissman p. 41
‘Although both honour and religion sternly condemned the prostitute, commerce with her had little
stigma… prostitution [was] a necessary evil that served public hygiene, as did a sewer. … City fathers
allowed districts of toleration. The trade protected the established sexual order, as it distracted men
from seducing chaste women… Prostitutes’ customers did no harm as the women had no more shame
to lose.’
Kohen and Kohen p. 281
Male youth and social control:
‘…the ambiguous, fluid, nature that Renaissance culture ascribed to adolescence, whilst troublesome in
some ways, could also be put to use. The unsettled shifts from virtue to violence and back again helped
express and manage, if not resolve, some of the tensions entrenched in the society.’
Kohen and Kohen p. 197
‘Recent scholarship has focused less on class distinctions and more on the bonds
(patron-client relations; neighbourhood, parish and confraternal associations)
that linked together the members of this community.’
To what extent was Florence an inclusive society? (2012)
Possible 3 section structure?
How did the society of Renaissance Florence or Venice use social conventions
and relationships to encourage civic harmony?
Answer in relation to the social life of EITHER Florence OR Venice. (2011
HTAV sample exam)
Possible 3 section structure?
Inclusion vs
G Brucker (ed) (1967) Two Memoirs of Renaissance Florence: The Diaries of
Buonaccorso Pitti and Gregorio Dati
G Brucker (ed) (1971) The Society of Renaissance Florence: A Documentary
G Brucker (2005) Living on the Edge in Leonardo’s Florence
RE Chamberlin (1982) The World of the Italian Renaissance
N Eckstein (1995) The District of the Green Dragon: Neighbourhood life and
social change in Renaissance Florence
L Frieda (2012) The Deadly Sisterhood: A story of women, power and intrigue
in the Italian Renaissance
R Goldthwaite (1968) Private Wealth in Renaissance Florence: A study of 4
R Hole (2006) Renaissance Italy
FW Kent (1977) Household and Lineage in Renaissance Florence: the family life
of the Capponi, Ginori and Ruccellai
FW Kent (1990) Bartolemeo Cederini and His Friends: Letters to an obscure
E and T Kohen (2001) Daily Life in Renaissance Florence
M Murphy The Gonfalone of the Red Lion in 1427
J Najemy (2008) A History of Florence, 1200-1575
R Trexler(1991) Public Life in Renaissance Florence

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