Eric Cochrane shows that the Florentines maintained their creativity long after they had lost their position as the cultural leaders of Europe. When their political philosophy and historiography ran dry, they turned to the practical problems of civil administration. When their artists finally yielded to outside influence, they turned to music and the natural sciences. Even during the darkest days of the great economic depression of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, they succeeded in preserving—almost alone in Europe—the blessings of external peace and domestic tranquility.
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Florence in the Forgotten Centuries 1527â"1800
A History of Florence and the Florentines in the Age of the Grand Dukes
By Eric Cochrane
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1973 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Monday, January 8, 1537. Trebbio in the Mugello.
The Mugello has a beauty all its own in midwinter. The broad, carefully plowed fields that extend directly eastward amid rows of leafless poplars seem to wait in motionless silence for the first rays of the warm spring sun. Masses of damp, chilly fog rise slowly from the meandering River Sieve, hiding and then revealing the three main clusters of walls and tiled roofs—San Piero, Borgo San Lorenzo, and Vicchio—strung along its banks. Vine-covered hills roll upwards, first gradually and then abruptly, in the shape of a large bowl, toward blue-green chestnut forests and high bare hills on one side, and, on the other side and at either end, toward still higher mountains, which often, at this time of the year, are capped with snow. Occasionally the silent mists and the quiet, diffused light vanish before immense black clouds, which batter the valley with moving walls of rain and then envelop it in an opaque drizzle. The results can be disastrous, as they had been just a few years earlier, when
Since Noah's time there'd never been
a flood like this one ever seen....
The river did its duty well,
sweeping all inside the dell;
before it not a mill could stand,
no stack of grain in all the land.
The foe of wine soon won the day,
and left who watched him in dismay.
(Francesco Berni, Capitolo del diluvio)
At other times, however, a dry, cutting tramontana wind blows down out of the north, clearing the air of the last traces of humidity and redrawing all the blurred lines of the landscape with icy sharpness.
Like the other pockets carved out of the slopes of the Apennines—like the Garfagnana and the Casentino—the Mugello is set off geographically, meteorologically, and even psychologically from the rest of Tuscany. But unlike the others, it was only apparently isolated in the early sixteenth century. The main roads connecting Florence with northern Italy, and with most of northern Europe as well, came in from the southwest and then went out over the high passes toward Bologna, Faenza, and Forlì. The castle of Trebbio, remodeled as a residence a half-century earlier and now the property of the widow Maria Salviati and of her only son, Cosimo de' Medici, was particularly well located. The Via Bolognese was just minutes down the hill by horseback. And the provincial capital, Scarperia, lay strung out along a narrow hogback just five miles to the north.
Thus it was possible to gaze undisturbed at the peaceful natural spectacle spread out beneath the crenelated tower. It was possible to hunt birds and hares in the thick woods around the Quattrocento castle. And it was possible at the same time to keep fairly close track of what was going on in the world of merchants, diplomats, and assassins that seemed so far away. Indeed, Trebbio was an ideal place for a robust young man of seventeen to pass the winter—especially for one like Cosimo de' Medici, whose education had as yet elicited no noticeable vocation other than a passion for hunting, a young man whose placid, boyish face still showed no more sign of a definite character than what Rodolfo del Ghirlandaio had managed to paint into a portrait of him several years earlier, and whose life in town consisted of not much else than hanging around in the company of his licentious distant cousin, Duke Alessandro. And it was particularly convenient for Cosimo, who still had settled on no definite career, and for whom it was therefore especially important to be on call should a good prospect suddenly turn up.
Cosimo did not know it yet, but a good prospect had turned up just that morning. Sometime around noon on Sunday—the day before—he had received a rather surprising bit of news: Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, his short, agile, swarthy first cousin, usually called Lorenzaccio because of his morose disposition, had been seen galloping furiously into Scarperia early that morning with one hand jammed into a bloodstained glove, and galloping out again after a long session with a doctor.
Yet Cosimo was probably disposed to dismiss this latest report as just one more manifestation of his cousin's "restless, insatiable spirit ... scornful of all things human and divine," particularly since he had no further clarification during the course of the afternoon. Cosimo was well acquainted with Lorenzaccio. They were both descendants of Giovanni "Il Popolano" ("The Man of the People"), and hence members of a lateral branch of the Medici family, although Cosimo also descended, through his mother, directly from Lorenzo the Magnificent. They were thus only distantly related to the famous main line that went from Cosimo the Elder to the current master of the city, Duke Alessandro. They had both spent their childhood in the Mugello, Cosimo at Trebbio, Lorenzaccio just over the hill at Cafaggiolo. And they had both been brought up by widowed mothers whose ambitions for their sons were inversely proportional to the reduced circumstances their husbands had left them in. Recently, it is true, they had drifted apart. To some extent the fault was Cosimo's, for he could never understand why Lorenzaccio, though five years his elder, should prefer books to the out-of-doors and solitude to conversation. To some extent the fault was his mother's. Maria Salviati had finally given up trying to get her share of the common family property by negotiation and had begun pressing claims against her sister-in-law in court. Moreover, she had come to consider her nephew as the chief obstacle to her son's advancement; and she had taken to whispering remarks about Lorenzaccio's unstable character in confidential asides to Duke Alessandro.
Nevertheless, the two families still lived, when in Florence, on the first and second floors of the same house on the Via Larga. And the two cousins inevitably ran into each other next door at the Palazzo Medici, where Cosimo—Signor Cosimino, as Benvenuto Cellini called him—served as a page and Lorenzaccio was the habitual guide of Alessandro's nocturnal escapades. To be sure, Cosimo had no way of knowing that Lorenzaccio had recently come to despise the very person he appeared to be most attached to. Nor could he have known that for three years Lorenzaccio had been hatching a plot to get rid of Alessandro and claim the ducal title for himself. But Cosimo did know that his cousin had been thrown out of Rome in 1532 for no less a crime than having knocked the heads off the statues in the Arch of Constantine. And he knew that Lorenzaccio frequently roamed around Florence at night in the sole company of a pugnacious barbarian named Scoroncolo. It was not wholly incredible, then, that Lorenzaccio should suddenly find it advisable to leave the city, wounded and at night. And it was even probable that the explanation given on the exit permit for his departure was correct. After all, his mother was indeed spending the holidays at Cafaggiolo, and his brother really had been ill.
Then, early Monday morning, another report came up from Scarperia that suddenly undermined the plausibility of this explanation. The local militia was hastily being mustered in preparation for a march on Florence. If the two events were somehow related, then Cosimo had no time to lose, hunting or no hunting. Within moments he was off. Halfway down the Via Bolognese a courier from his mother reached him with an urgent message: The duke is dead; and Messers Francesco Guicciardini and Girolamo degli Albizi request that you return to Florence at once. By the time he reached the city that afternoon, he had learned most of the astonishing details.
* * *
On Saturday evening, the night (not the eve) of Epiphany 1537, Alessandro, Lorenzaccio, and the two faithful bodyguards, Giomo and "The Hungarian," had disappeared in the direction of Piazza San Marco. They had then sneaked back down Via Larga to the door of Lorenzaccio's house. There Lorenzaccio had persuaded Alessandro that the delicacy of the operation required that the guards remain, for once, outside. After all, the victim of this, the most skillfully arranged of all Lorenzaccio's amorous plots, was none other than his own first cousin, Caterina Soderini Ginori, whose dull, elderly husband Lorenzaccio knew to be momentarily out of town. He persuaded Alessandro to wait, for once without his usual breastplate, in his own bedroom, while he ostensibly went to fetch Caterina from the house that was joined to his own by a common garden. Instead, he quietly summoned Scoroncolo, slipped back into the bedroom, and then, after a struggle during which his finger was almost bitten off, sank his dagger six times into Alessandro's body. He was sure that neither the servants upstairs nor Maria Salviati in bed downstairs would think anything amiss. For he had carefully accustomed them to being kept awake half the night by brawling and scuffling in his apartment. He locked the door of the bedroom, put the key in his pocket, and shoved his mutilated hand into a glove. After a moment's hestitation about what to do next, a problem he had not thought about until then, he ran next door to the Palazzo Medici for an exit permit, mounted the first post-horse available, and headed out toward the Mugello. He did not stop, except for a bit of surgery in Scarperia, until he reached Bologna that evening.
No one gets up early on a Sunday following a holiday, not even Cardinal Innocenzo Cibo, the semiofficial representative of Emperor Charles V in Florence and actual ruler of the state in the name of the incompetent, irresponsible young duke. But Cibo was the first to become suspicious when word got around, shortly after dawn, about Lorenzaccio's precipitous departure during the night. Then, when Giomo and The Hungarian came in to ask how long they should keep up their weary vigil out on the Via Larga, he became seriously alarmed. With the emperor off in Castile, with the governor of Milan too far away to be of any help in an emergency, and, worse yet, with the commander of the armed forces, Alessandro Vitelli, off tending to family affairs in Città di Castello, Cibo's de facto power in Florence had become entirely dependent on the survival of the one who held power de jure. But Alessandro had not come home that night. He had last been seen, unprotected and unarmed, almost twelve hours before. And the person he had gone out with had since left town under very unusual circumstances.
Cibo immediately jumped to the correct conclusion—without, however, daring to verify it by actually looking for his missing ward. He went straight to the one man he trusted most, the loyal and able administrative secretary, Francesco Campana. Following Campana's advice, he swore the guards to secrecy, sealed up Lorenzaccio's house and Alessandro's own apartment, and issued a bulletin that said the duke had had an especially rough night. He then alerted the captains of the militia and sent an urgent letter asking Vitelli to return at once with all the troops he could round up. And finally, toward evening, he worked up the courage to force the bedroom door and to have the bloodstained body, which by now he was not at all surprised to find, carried secretly over to San Lorenzo for burial.
That was as much as the cardinal could do by himself. The next step would have to be an appeal to the only people who could save him from an uprising, the Florentine patriciate. And an appeal to the patriciate, as he realized after an abortive conference with a few of them that afternoon, meant restoring momentarily the de facto sovereignty of the constitutional body that held it de jure—namely, the Senate of the Forty-Eight. The initiative began slipping through his fingers. When, at the meeting the next morning, the Senate immediately rejected a motion he had planted on the floor, a motion that would have left him his power by recognizing Alessandro's infant bastard Giulio as successor, the initiative definitely escaped him; and, in a moment of weakness, he recoiled before an offer of interim authority in his own, rather than in someone else's, name. When the senators then failed to agree on any alternate solution, the initiative passed to the only group among them with some semblance of cohesion—namely, to the Palleschi, as the pro-Medici faction was called, headed by Francesco Guicciardini and Francesco Vettori.
It was now, about midmorning on Monday, that the name of Cosimo was first talked of seriously. Any change in regime, the Palleschi realized, could occur only at their own expense, and at the risk of provoking a direct intervention by the emperor. Some sort of prince, therefore, was indispensable—better yet, a prince with some hereditary claim to the place left vacant by Alessandro, rather than an elected president-for-life like the ones Florence had tried out before with dubious success; and rather than an extralegal strong man, or signore like those most other Italian states had known off and on for over three centuries. But the only surviving legitimate descendant of Cosimo the Elder was a woman, Catherine, future queen of France. And the only surviving illegitimate descendants were two infants, Giulio and Giulia, the children of Alessandro. To find a legitimate, adult male, it was necessary to climb back up the Medici family tree to the younger brother of Cosimo the Elder, a century earlier. But that branch ended up in Lorenzaccio; and everyone agreed that he had already eliminated both himself and his brother as possible successors. The only alternative was to return to Lorenzaccio's grandfather; and his only surviving and eligible grandson happened to be Cosimo, the carefree hunter in the Mugello.
The genealogical argument was convincing. But the practical arguments were even more so. No one had ever thought of Cosimo as a possible candidate, not even Cosimo himself. Hence he was uncontaminated by the more objectionable aspects of Alessandro's government. He was hardly more than a boy; and, as far as anyone knew, he was completely devoid of political experience. Hence, he could be expected to be all that more amenable to the wise counsels of Guicciardini and Vettori. Accordingly, the Palleschi set about assuring his succession as quickly as possible. They first made contact with his mother and got a pledge of her full cooperation. They then got in touch with the die-hard republicans at the house of Cosimo's maternal uncle, Alamanno Salviati, and frightened them into submission with the spectre of a dictatorship of Cibo and Vitelli backed by Spanish troops. Finally, they started a whispering campaign in favor of their candidate in the shops and marketplaces, where all the residents of the city were sure to show up some time during the day.
Excerpted from Florence in the Forgotten Centuries 1527â"1800 by Eric Cochrane. Copyright © 1973 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of ContentsList of illustrations
Preface: To the Benevolent Reader
Prologue: The siege
FLORENCE IN THE 1540s
How Cosimo de' Medici turned a worn-out republic into a well-run monarchy
FLORENCE IN THE 1590s
How Scipione Ammirato solved just about all the problems of his age
I. The countryside
2. The city
3. How Ammirato solved Machiavelli's dilemma by putting politics and religion together again
4. How Ammirato made historiography obsolete by writing a definitive history
5. The twilight of a perfect day
FLORENCE IN THE 1630s
How Galileo Galilei turned the universe inside out
Prologue: How Galileo came home after eighteen years abroad
Preface: Condemnation and abjuration
I. The campaign progresses
2. The campaign falters
3. Plague and depression
4. The campaign loses its auxiliaries
5. The campaign fails
6. The Galileans hold out
7. The Galileans win
FLORENCE IN THE I680s
How Lorenzo Magalotti looked in vain for a vocation and finally settled down to sniffing perfumes
1. How Magalotti started out being a scientist
2. How he then gave it up
3. How Magalotti went traveling and then came home
4. How Magalotti became an art connoisseur, a lexicographer, a poet, and a literary critic
5. How Magalotti became a theologian
6. How Magalotti stopped trying to become anything at all
FLORENCE IN THE I730s
How Giovanni Lami discovered the past and tried to alter the future
Prologue: The journalist
1. From Santa Croce to Florence
2. From librarian to historian
3. The end of the Medici
4. Lawyers in office
5. Bottoming out
6. The university and the church
7. The collaborators and the disciples
8. The battles
9. The retreat
FLORENCE IN THE I780s
How Francesco Maria Gianni spent twenty-five years building a model state only to see it torn down in a single morning
1. Peasants, plebeians, and proprietors
2. The riot
3. How Gianni became a professional bureaucrat
4. How Gianni tried to replace a controlled economic system with a free one
5. How Gianni tried to turn an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy
6. How Gianni tried to turn a hierarchical society into an egalitarian society
7. How Gianni tried to keep a civil society from turning into a theocracy
8. The invasion