Jews and Magic in Medici Florence

Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis

EDWARD GOLDBERG
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 366
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttzzq
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  • Book Info
    Jews and Magic in Medici Florence
    Book Description:

    Edward Goldberg reveals the dramas of daily life behind the scenes in the Pitti Palace and in the narrow byways of the Florentine Ghetto, using thousands of new documents from the Medici Granducal Archive.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9349-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Illustration Credits
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Notes on Sources
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. THE BLANIS FAMILY
    (pp. xvii-2)
  7. chapter one The Piazza
    (pp. 3-6)

    You are standing in the middle of downtown Florence in the vast and vacant Piazza della Repubblica, an echoing no man’s land bordered by oversized cafés, tourist shops, and five-star hotels. There is hustle and bustle of a kind, but not the hustle and bustle of locals doing real things in the course of a real day. Tour groups shuffle from museum to church to museum, with the aimless aggressiveness of their sort. Taxis come and go, horns blaring, as they plow through this supposedly pedestrianized zone.

    Over the rooftops, just offstage, loom the towers and cupolas of the city...

  8. chapter two The Palace
    (pp. 7-21)

    Florence and the Medici… The Medici and Florence… For five centuries their destinies were inextricably linked. Even today, they are still an inevitable presence in their former capital – in its streets and squares, its churches and palaces, and most of all, its incomparable museums.

    Originally farmers and small landowners, the Medici left the backwoods territory of the Mugello in the late thirteenth century to make their fortune in their adopted city. With Giovanni (1360–1429), his son Cosimo the Elder (1389–1464), and his grandson Piero the Gouty (1416–1469), they rose from shopkeepers and money changers to great international...

  9. chapter three The Ghetto
    (pp. 22-44)

    ‘My Most Illustrious and Excellent Lord and Patron,’ Benedetto Blanis wrote Don Giovanni dei Medici on 16 August 1615,

    As Your Excellency knows, having visited my room for that evening party, it receives light from two windows that overlook a small courtyard belonging to the landlord of the Tavern of the Piovano. As you also know, this room is where I do my preaching every Saturday. The courtyard in question is very small, measuring roughly 4 braccia [7.65 feet], and they set out tables there, so there is much insolence from drunken and impertinent people and much scandalous behaviour. In...

  10. chapter four The Synagogue
    (pp. 45-65)

    When the Ghetto opened its gates in 1571, there was already an officially mandated synagogue. From the very beginning, this was the essential focus of Florence’s tiny Jewish community – the institution that gave it order and meaning.

    The originalscuola(as it was usually called) did not survive into the age of photography, and there are no drawings, plans, or even descriptions of the place as it was in the days of Benedetto Blanis. The Corporation (Università), Assembly (Congrega), or Magistrature (Magistrato) – as the internal governing body of the Florentine Ghetto was variously known – regularly discarded the records in its...

  11. chapter five Memory and Survival
    (pp. 66-83)

    On Saturday, 2 April 1616, Benedetto Blanis explained a few essentials to his great Christian patron Don Giovanni dei Medici:

    Your Most Illustrious Excellency should not be surprised that this letter is in an unfamiliar handwriting. On Friday afternoon, I sat down to write and was overtaken by the Sabbath because the day was cloudy and I did not have a clock to rely on. Friday evening was also the beginning of Passover, and it was still Passover on Saturday evening [after the conclusion of the Sabbath]. I am thus unable to write with my own hand but I did...

  12. chapter six The Market
    (pp. 84-116)

    You could buy almost anything you wanted in late Renaissance Florence – clothing and food, furniture and household goods, exotic luxuries from around the world, and the common necessities of everyday life.¹ You could buy it new or you could buy it used. You could buy it from the man or woman who made it or after it had been resold countless times. You could buy it in a grand shop or on a market stall or from an itinerant vendor. You could even buy it stolen, with or without questions asked.

    If there had been a shoppers’ guide to Florence...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  14. chapter seven Knowledge and Power
    (pp. 117-138)

    By the summer of 1616 Don Giovanni dei Medici had been in Venice for a year, and he did not plan to return to Florence any time soon. He was therefore looking to rent his palace in Via del Parione, and he found a suitable tenant in Monsignor Pietro Valier, the new papal nuncio (ambassador) in the Tuscan capital. Benedetto Blanis had the tedious job of shifting Don Giovanni’s library to a less accessible part of the building – to free up space for the renter while removing unsuitable items from the sight of a high Church official. In mid-July Benedetto...

  15. chapter eight Games of Chance
    (pp. 139-152)

    The Ghetto had its own gates, two of them, which were locked at night after business hours – keeping Jews in and keeping other people out. It was, however, only a small enclosure within a much bigger one: the great City of Florence.

    In the time of Benedetto Blanis, the Tuscan capital was surrounded by five miles of defensive walls with fifteen gates, delimiting a thousand acres of inhabited space. Some parts of the city were densely crowded – particularly the Ghetto where Benedetto lived – while others were green and open, almost rural in effect, with gardens, orchards, and scattered houses. The...

  16. chapter nine The Mirror of Truth
    (pp. 153-168)

    Benedetto Blanis spent nine months in Venice with Don Giovanni dei Medici, from February to October 1618. This was the most intense phase of their long collaboration – when they could see each other every day,¹ exchanging confidences and venturing together into the farthest reaches of the arcane. Don Giovanni had moved to Venice in late June of 1615, and only a month later, Benedetto was already planning a clandestine visit to that city:

    After receiving your order, I considered how I might best serve Your Most Illustrious Excellency, and it came to mind that my brother David has some rental...

  17. chapter 10 The Magic Circle
    (pp. 169-180)

    The autumn of 1618 was a portentous time for devotees of the occult. In October, when Benedetto Blanis left Don Giovanni dei Medici in Venice, his patron had just survived a near brush with death and was more focused than ever on the secret world of the arcane. Back in Florence, local adepts were pondering the ultimate fate of the Medici dynasty as Grand Duke Cosimo II drifted from one medical emergency to the next. Meanwhile, three major comets were sighted in only two months, with the last and most dramatic on 31 November. Raffael Gualterotti, the doyen of Florentine...

  18. chapter eleven Curious and Forbidden Books
    (pp. 181-204)

    It was sundown on 15 Nissan 5379 – the evening of Friday, 29 March 1619, according to the Gregorian calendar.¹ Benedetto Blanis and his family were gathering for their annual Passover Seder in the Florentine Ghetto. Meanwhile, Jews in every community around the world marked their ancient deliverance from slavery in Egypt and their birth as a distinct nation.²

    Catholics – at this same moment – were concluding their observance of Good Friday, the anniversary of Christ’s death, and preparing for the long vigil that would welcome His rebirth on Easter Sunday. This signalled the end of nearly seven weeks of introspection and...

  19. chapter twelve Prison
    (pp. 205-231)

    ‘Today you find our families in the very depths of misery and woe,’ Benedetto’s younger brother Salamone lamented to Don Giovanni dei Medici on 2 July 1620:

    You should know that our Messer Benedetto has beenin segretafor three days now, presumably due to allegations regarding the supposed disappearance of a baptized Jew along with his three-year-old son. Since this baptized Jew is the brother-in-law of another brother of mine, the court is claiming that Messer Benedetto gave him shelter, aid, or counsel … We had heard this morning that Messer Benedetto was to be brought up for questioning,...

  20. chapter thirteen Habeas Corpus?
    (pp. 232-240)

    Benedetto Blanis testified before the court of the Archbishop of Florence on three occasions: 22 September 1621,³ 6 October 1621,⁴ and 19 January 1622.⁵ The authorities were committed to eradicating the last vestiges of Livia Vernazza’s long ascendency over the late Don Giovanni, and they already knew how the case needed to end – with the reinstatement of Livia’s first marriage to Battista Granara, the annulment of her second ‘bigamous’ marriage to Don Giovanni, the delegitimization of their son Giovanni Francesco Maria, and the return of all property to the Medici family.⁶

    Benedetto’s testimony fills more than fifty pages, and it...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 241-306)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 307-312)
  23. Index
    (pp. 313-331)