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Living on the Edge in Leonardo’s Florence

Living on the Edge in Leonardo’s Florence: Selected Essays

Gene Brucker
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 237
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  • Book Info
    Living on the Edge in Leonardo’s Florence
    Book Description:

    InLiving on the Edge in Leonardo's Florence,an internationally renowned master of the historian's craft provides a splendid overview of Italian history from the Black Death to the rise of the Medici in 1434 and beyond into the early modern period. Gene Brucker explores those pivotal years in Florence and ranges over northern Italy, with forays into the histories of Genoa, Milan, and Venice. The ten essays, three of which have never before been published, exhibit Brucker's graceful intelligence, his command of the archival sources, and his ability to make history accessible to anyone interested in this place and period. Whether he is writing about a case in the criminal archives, about a citation from Machiavelli, or the concept of modernity, the result is the same: Brucker brings the pulse of the period alive. Five of these essays explore themes in the premodern period and delve into Italy's political, social, economic, religious, and cultural development. Among these pieces is a lucid, synoptic view of the Italian Renaissance. The last five essays focus more narrowly on Florentine topics, including a fascinating look at the dangers and anxieties that threatened Florence in the fifteenth century during Leonardo's time and a mini-biography of Alessandra Strozzi, whose letters to her exiled sons contain the evidence for her eventful life.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93099-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    In a lecture on the history of Berkeley’s History Department which I gave on the campus in February 1995, I said:

    Looking back over my own experience, I see the role of fortune looming very large and at some key moments decisively, in determining the course of my life. It was fortune that sent me to southern France during World War II and allowed me a glimpse of that Mediterranean world so vastly different from the Germanic agrarian society in which I was reared. It was fortune that inspired an enlightened federal government to enact the GI Bill and the...

  8. CHAPTER ONE The Italian Renaissance
    (pp. 1-21)

    In the vast panorama of European historiography, one book stands out for its success in defining a major epoch.The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italywas published in 1860 by an obscure Swiss historian, Jacob Burckhardt. For years, the book attracted little attention from scholars and lay readers; not until the early 1900s did it achieve the reputation that it has sustained for a century. Rare is the book or article on any aspect of the Italian Renaissance that does not cite Burckhardt’s “essay.” The English translation continues to sell thousands of copies annually; it is required reading for...

  9. CHAPTER TWO Civic Traditions in Premodern Italy
    (pp. 22-41)

    In the fifth chapter ofMaking Democracy Work,Robert Putnam argues that the origins of civic society in modern Italy can be traced back to the age of the communes (twelfth to fifteenth centuries) in its northern and central regions. The distinctive features of those republican regimes were a high degree of cooperation and collaboration among their members, an atmosphere of mutual trust essential for their survival and the achievement of common goals, and an egalitarian ethos based upon horizontal social bonds. The associative impulse that led to the establishment of the communes also inspired the creation of other civic...

  10. CHAPTER THREE From Campanilismo to Nationhood: Forging an Italian Identity
    (pp. 42-61)

    “Nations are strange, capricious historical formations. Out of the myriads of tribes and peoples mentioned in chronicles, only a few have survived into the modern world, with its urban culture, its mass education and its diversified social structure. Most have fallen victims to larger or more determined peoples, and seen their languages wither, their costumes reduced to museum exhibits, their folklore cherished only by antiquarians and ethnographers.”¹ This quotation, from a recent review of a book on European nationalism, stresses the problematic nature of this process, which involved as many failures as successes, and which was in no sense inevitable...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR “The Horseshoe Nail”: Structure and Contingency in Medieval and Renaissance Italy
    (pp. 62-82)

    The reference in the title of this chapter to “the horseshoe nail” is from a poem by George Herbert:

    For want of a nail the shoe is lost

    For want of a shoe the horse is lost

    For want of a horse the rider is lost

    For want of a rider the battle is lost

    For want of a battle the kingdom is lost

    And all for the loss of a horseshoe nail.¹

    This passage emphasizes the crucial importance of contingency in human history: the view that chance and accident play as important a role as does structure. Those lines...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE Fede and Fiducia: The Problem of Trust in Italian History, 1300–1500
    (pp. 83-103)

    In a well-known passage of his chronicle, the Florentine merchant and civic official Matteo Villani wrote: “In providing for the needs of the republic, faith(fede)is more useful than anything else.”¹ Villani was referring specifically to Florence’s large municipal debt, which, in 1345, had been consolidated into a funded debt, ormonte,with regular payments of interest to the debt’s shareholders. Villani believed that Florentines were willing to subsidize the commune through forced loans because they trusted the government’s promise to repay its obligations. This notion of the crucial importance of honoring civic commitments was not limited to the...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Florence Redux
    (pp. 104-113)

    When, in November 1952, I made my first tremulous entrance into the reading room of the Florentine Archivio di Stato, I joined a small coterie of researchers that, on any given day, numbered no more than a dozen.¹ That group included two distinguished historians from the United States, Felix Gilbert and Raymond De Roover, and Nicolai Rubinstein from London. The only Italian scholar in daily attendance in the archives was Elio Conti, then in the early stages of his research on fifteenth-century Florentine society. The older generation of Florentine historians had either died (Davidsohn, Caggese, Barbadoro) or were no longer...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Living on the Edge in Leonardo’s Florence
    (pp. 114-127)

    Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, the product of a liaison between a provincial notary, ser Piero d’Antonio da Vinci, and a peasant girl who is known only by her Christian name, Caterina. At some point in his early childhood, Leonardo’s mother was married and the boy was taken into his father’s household, where he lived with his legitimate siblings. These scraps of biographical information are found in ser Piero’s tax reports. Leonardo himself did not write about his childhood in his voluminous notebooks, save for that one notorious reference to a dream involving a bird, around...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT Florentine Cathedral Chaplains in the Fifteenth Century
    (pp. 128-142)

    This essay focuses on a little studied group within the ranks of the Florentine clergy: the corps of chaplains who serviced the chapels in the cathedral and who also participated in the liturgical functions of the metropolitan church. The sources consulted for this study are primarily documents found in the Archivio di Stato, and particularly notarial protocols and tax records. I have not had the opportunity to consult the archives of the Opera del Duomo, although Margaret Haines has provided me with valuable information, for which I thank her warmly. This is a preliminary study, based on incomplete documentation, which...

  16. CHAPTER NINE The Pope, the Pandolfini, and the Parrochiani of S. Martino a Gangalandi (1465)
    (pp. 143-150)

    In the middle decades of the fifteenth century, Messer Carlo Pandolfini was one of Florence’s most prominent citizens. He belonged to the inner circle of Medici partisans who, in the words of the chronicler Benedetto Dei, was one of the “major figures in the state and the regime.”¹ Carlo’s father, Agnolo, had been prominent in Florentine politics in the early decades of the century, and one of the city’s richest men.² Carlo’s knighthood entitled him to wear golden spurs and a sword, and to be escorted by servants in public “and to maintain a lifestyle and dress as befits a...

  17. CHAPTER TEN Alessandra Strozzi (1408–1471): The Eventful Life of a Florentine Matron
    (pp. 151-168)

    In the spring of the year 1422, a marriage was celebrated in Florence between Matteo Strozzi, a member of one of the city’s most distinguished lineages, and Alessandra Macinghi, the daughter of a less prominent family, but a girl (she was only fourteen) whose wealthy father could afford a very substantial dowry of 1,600 florins. Matteo was twenty-five, eleven years older than his child bride, who did not conceive until four years after the marriage. But from 1426, when her first child, Andreuola, was born, until 1436, she gave birth to eight children. All of these babies were fed by...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 169-194)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 195-211)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 212-212)