Florentine documents and correspondence collection
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Age of the Medici
The centuries that preceded the ascendancy of the Medici were marked by a state of perpetual tension between the two opposing factions of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines for the control of Florence, as well as of other contiguous territories. The distinction between Guelphs and Ghibellines dates back to Frederick Barbarossa's reign in the 12th century. Guelphs were supporters of the papacy and tended to come from mercantile and banking families, whereas Ghibellines were the imperial party and came from rural aristocracy. Moreover, a city tended to be predominantly Ghibelline if its independence was threatened by the Papal States, or mainly Guelph if it was the Emperor that intimidated them. Small cities were often Ghibelline if in the area there was a large city that supported the Guelph party. It was rare, however, to find a city that, in spite of its professed support for either faction, presented no internal antagonism between individual families, neighborhoods, or districts that took opposite sides. Some small and more vulnerable cities often supported the enemy of any large and potentially dangerous city nearby, especially if it had previously attempted to extend its jurisdiction over them.
Florence, like many other Italian cities, was not immune to the perennial antagonism between the two factions. Over the years, both obtained temporary political success by overthrowing one another's supremacy. In addition to the conflict with the Ghibellines, the Guelphs split into Guelfi Bianchi (White Guelphs) and Guelfi Neri (Black Guelphs), the former representing the interests of the working class, and the latter those of the aristocracy. Although these internal differences were never resolved, on 11 June 1289 the Black and the White Guelphs had to join their forces to fight the Ghibellines in the battle of Campaldino, after a period of mounting tension. The Guelphs won, but the conflict between the Black and the White, culminating in the exile of the latter in 1301, prevented the party from retaining control of the city. During the last years of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th, the power shifted from the nobility to the mercantile class, resulting in decades of stability. The plague outbreak of 1348 decimated the Florentine population and had an extremely severe impact on all social and political dynamics. In 1378, the ciompi (wool carders), who were not represented by any guild, revolted against the oligarchic governing body, the Signoria. However, after a brief period during which the working class was granted unprecedented levels of power, the ciompi were defeated and the privileges revoked. After the revolt was suppressed, the aristocratic family of the Albizi held sway over Florence until the early 15th century.
The Medici family's rise to power began in 1434, when Cosimo de' Medici (later known as Il Vecchio, The Elder) overthrew the rival faction of the Albizi. Under Cosimo, who invested conspicuous amounts of the family fortune to promote the development of culture and the arts, Florence became the epitome of the Renaissance, as well as experiencing a rapid economic surge. Medieval fears and preoccupations were gradually replaced by a growing interest in banking and trade, and with an a more audacious attitude towards investing in a wide range of industries, both in Italy and abroad. The city also benefitted, materially and culturally, from having the Medici act as bankers to the pope. But the Medici bank was not the only credit institution of Florence and, although undoubtedly the most famous, it was probably not the most important. Many other commercial banks were either founded, or reached unprecedented levels of growth, sometimes with numerous branches in Florence and Italy. Two examples are the Strozzi and the Capponi banks, whose trading and commercial operations often surpassed that of the Medici.
Cosimo was succeeded by Piero in 1464, who was only in power for four years before being succeeded by his son Lorenzo, known as Il Magnifico (The Magnificent). Under Lorenzo, Florence reached its political, cultural, and economic apogee, and his death marked the end of the Golden Age for the Tuscan city. However, he ruled as a despot, often exacerbating the conflict between his family and their opponents. The tension between the Medici and their enemies culminated in the Pazzi Conspiracy (1478), in which Lorenzo was almost killed and his brother died. The Medici and their faction promptly repressed their enemies, and the Pazzi were exterminated, which resulted in Lorenzo's excommunication and in Florence being put under interdict by Sixtus IV. The years that followed were characterized by a precarious equilibrium between the opposing parties, and although successful in its maintenance, Lorenzo did not keep peace without effort. At his death in 1492, his son Piero was exiled, together with other members of his faction, and the first part of the Medici era ended with the restoration of the republic in Florence by the Dominican Girolamo Savonarola. The Medici bank was shut down in 1494, after many of its branches reported serious losses. Savonarola, however, enforced a regimen of widespread repression of the supposedly immoral lifestyle and pleasures of the Florentine citizens. His policies were not well received, and he rapidly lost support of the government and was burned in 1498.
The Medici did not return to power until 1512, when Giovanni de' Medici (later Pope Leo X) regained control over Florence. With the exception of the years between 1527 and 1530, when the republic was restored again, the Medici firmly governed Florence for almost two centuries. Shortly after the failed republican coup, the newly-reinstated Alessandro de' Medici was proclaimed duke of Florence by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1531. Alessandro's successor, Cosimo, was proclaimed grand-duke of Tuscany in 1537, after supporting Charles V in the Italian Wars. The Medici ruled as grand-dukes until the last member of the house, Gian Gastone, died in 1737 with no heirs. The Medici were succeeded by the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty. Although the years of Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo are often regarded as the highest point in the history of Florence, and the splendor of that period was never emulated, the grand-ducal era represented a crucial time for the growth and development of the city. The Tuscan grand-duchy established its presence in the Italian and European political scenario, created alliances in order to expand its territory and protect its growing power, and strengthened its economic structure both in terms of public and private finance. During those years, Florence made the transition from being a Renaissance republic, still highly relying on medieval values, to an early modern state, whose interests were projected into an international panorama. The Medici were the family who singlehandedly guided their city in this transition, being able to understand political and economical change and adapt to it. However, the transformation undergone by Florence can only be fully understood by looking at the context that made it possible, and a large component of it consists of the families who, some operating in the shadow of the Medici, some working with them as political officers, diplomats, and business counterparts, participated in the evolution.
Illustrious families of Florence
The Medici were not absolute rulers of Florence. Not only had their official title of grand-duke been granted by Pope Pius V in 1569, on the condition that Tuscany would be in vassalage under the Holy Roman Empire, but they would not have been able to establish and maintain their supremacy without the favor and support of the aristocracy and upper middle class. Many families of noble descent, as well as powerful entrepreneurs whose fortune and power matched those of the aristocracy, were crucial to the history of Florence. A partial list of those who played an active role in the political and economic evolution of Florence follows, highlighting some of dynamics that come into play between the 16th and the 18th century and that are reflected in the present collection.
Acciaiuoli family: Originally from Brescia, in northern Italy, they moved to Florence in 1160, where they joined the Arte del Cambio (guild of exchange brokers and bankers) and engaged in the trade of metals (the name Acciaiouli probably derives from acciaio, steel) and other commercial activities. They were extremely successful businessmen and lent money to some of the most important Italian rulers, including the King of Naples. In Florence, they held a number of important political and religious offices, such as priori, gonfalonieri di giustizia and consoli delle arti. They were related to the Medici and the Albizi after the marriage of Laudomia Acciaiuoli and Pierfrancesco de' Medici.
Altoviti family: The origin of the family is not clear, but it seems plausible that they originated from Fiesole, a town outside Florence. They moved to the city in the 12th century, and quickly established themselves in the political scene. Between the 13th and 18th century they were consuls, anziani al Comune, gonfalonieri di giustizia, priori di libertà alla Repubblica, members à of the XII Buonuomini and XVI di Compagnia. During the grand-ducal years, they were senatori del granducato. They were also very powerful members of various military religious orders, such as the Cavalieri Professi dell'Ordine di Malta, the Ordine di Sant'Iacopo, and the Cavalieri di Giustizia. One member of the Altoviti family was gran cancelliere and one bali Gran Croce di Devozione of the Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire. The Altoviti lost the favor of Cosimo I, who perceived them as having gained too much financial power and exiled them, but they were allowed to return when Cosimo II came to power in 1609.
Antinori family: After having their large country estates in Val di Sieve, northeast of Florence, repeatedly damaged during the prolonged conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, the Antinori moved to the city in the 13th century. They joined the Arte della Seta (guild of silk weavers) and, thanks to their large capital, were able to secure a leading position in the national and international silk trade. Moreover, they were pioneers who fully grasped the importance of the emerging markets of France and Belgium, and who established two branches of their corporation in Bruges and Lyon. They emerged unscathed from the financial crisis of the 14th century that affected most large banks and enterprises in Florence, and exploited the situation to their advantage. In fact, being one of the few families that had copious amounts of funds at their disposal, they began their rise in the political sphere, and many members of the family became priori and gonfalonieri. The Antinori often participated in business activities with the Medici, both in the silk trade and in the banking industry, and the two families enjoyed friendly relations with one another for many centuries. In the late 16th century, however, Bernardo Antinori engaged in a liaison with Leonora di Toledo, wife of Pietro de' Medici. When Pietro found out about the affair, he murdered Leonora and imprisoned Bernardo, and the ties between the two families were abruptly severed.
Corsi family: The family had lived in Florence since the Middle Ages, and had joined the Arte dei Fornaciari (guild of the bakers, one of the minor guilds of the city), gradually improving their financial situation, purchasing numerous estates, and taking an active role in the political life of Florence. The family counted 28 priori di libertà and 9 gonfalonieri during the republican years alone. A branch of the Corsi moved to Naples, which proved to be a very successful move that earned them great profits and the title of marquis. When they returned to Florence they consolidated their position in the textile trade as well as in the financial industry. They also were powerful patrons of the arts, and the first Italian melodrama, La favola di Dafne, was staged in the Palazzo Tornabuoni, property of the marquis Jacopo Corsi, who later converted the residence into the Accademia fiorentina. Various Corsi married into other aristocratic families, such as the Salviati and the Guicciardini. They were always close to the Medici and, during the grand-ducal years, they frequently served as senatori.
Corsini family: Neri Corsini moved to Florence from the rural town of Poggibonsi in the second half of the 12th century. Like many other families of merchants, their fortune began with the creation of textile and silk enterprises in the early 14th century, followed by the launching of credit institutions in Florence and abroad. In spite of the large losses reported by the Corsini bank in 1370, they were able to recover financially and save the business, which continued to operate for many centuries. They also pursued investment opportunities in England, where they founded a very successful branch. The Corsini held several offices both in the republic of Florence and in the grand-duchy of Tuscany, but their political ambition often caused friction with the Medici, who considered them potential threats to their hegemony. This concern was also exacerbated by the growing favor of the Pope for the Corsini, and their ascent in the religious scene of Florence: Pietro Corsini was bishop of the city and cardinal; Andrea became bishop of Fiesole in 1349, remained in office until his death in 1373, and in 1624 was sanctified by Pope Urban VIII as Saint Andrea Corsini; and Amerigo served as the first archbishop of Florence. The Corsini were also aggressive real estate investors, who owned many of the most prestigious properties of Florence. When the last Medici grand-duke died without heirs, the Corsini nominated themselves as potential successors, but could not compete against the Habsburg-Lorraine.
Guadagni family: They moved to Florence in the 11th century and joined the Guelph party shortly thereafter. The family enjoyed a period of relative prosperity until 1260, when they were exiled from the city by the rival faction of Ghibellines after the battle of Montaperti. They were allowed back in 1281, and promptly entered the commercial and financial network that Florence shared with northern Europe. They were also politically influential and held numerous offices, such as consoli, priori and gonfalonieri di giustizia. Bernardo Guadagni, instigated by Rinaldo degli Albizi, signed an edict in 1443 to exile the rival Cosimo the Elder, who temporarily left Florence. He returned in 1444, and the Guadagni, together with other political opponents, were expelled. They settled in France, where they accumulated substantial wealth working as bankers in Paris and Lyon. The family was very close to the French monarchy, and Guglielmo Guadagni repeatedly fought for Francis I. Ferdinando I de' Medici took an interest in Guglielmo and invited him to Florence to lead the fleet of the military religious order of Santo Stefano. The move by the Guadagni back to Italy in the 17th century marks the culmination of their political and economical rise, and numerous members of the family are appointed as diplomats to the grand-dukes.
Rucellai family: The Rucellai were a patrician family who had been heavily involved in the textile industry of Florence since the 12th century. According to tradition, the merchant Alamanno Rucellai fortuitously discovered how a very powerful red wool dye could be extracted from a small plant that abounded in the Mediterranean region. This resulted in considerable profits for the family business and allowed them to join the political scene of the Comune, which culminated in 85 Rucellai being appointed priori and 14 gonfalonieri di giustizia over the course of the years. In addition to their numerous public offices, they devoted themselves to cultivating their increasing interest in the arts. Sophisticated philanthropists, they were among the patrons of Leon Battista Alberti, who designed several buildings, the façade of Palazzo Rucellai and of Santa Maria Novella, the marble-clad shrine of the Holy Sepulcher, and perhaps also the Capella Rucellai. Annibale Rucellai was the private counselor of Caterina de' Medici, and followed her to the French court, as did Luigi Rucellai with Maria de' Medici. Bernardo Rucellai was, with Cosimo de' Medici, one of the founders of the Platonic Academy. He also married Nannina de' Medici, older sister of Lorenzo, further strengthening the already solid alliance between the two families.
Salviati family: The family moved to Florence from the countryside in the 13th century and rapidly entered the textile and banking industries, which helped them secure a key role in the economy of the Comune. Their commercial and financial supremacy lead to political advancement and, with 91 priori, 21 gonfalonieri di giustizia, and 6 other high officers, the Salviati contributed more statesmen to their city than any other family. Their appetite for power, however, collided with the interests of the Medici, who were not prepared to share their leadership with potential rivals. The hostilities reached their peak in 1478, when the archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati, was among the instigators of the Pazzi conspiracy. The plan failed and Francesco was hung from the Palazzo della Signoria with the other traitors. After this episode, however, the tension between the two factions partly dissolved, and the Salviati joined the large group of families who, at least publicly, supported the Medicean court. In 1486, Jacopo Salviati married Lucrezia de' Medici, daughter of Lorenzo il Magnifico and, in the beginning, the Medici and the Salviati both profited from the newly-established relationship. In particular, the Salviati bank benefitted from the election of the Cardinal Giulio de' Medici as Pope Clement VII, who became one of their largest patrons.
Strozzi family: The Strozzi were a Florentine aristocratic family of very ancient origin, who had resided in the Comune since the 14th century. Although they were involved in the political life of Florence, especially during the republican age with 93 priori and 16 gonfalonieri di giustizia, their main focus was the development of their banking enterprise, one of the most powerful and influential of the time, that counted monarchs and popes among their patrons, and had branches all over Italy, France, Spain, and Flanders. Until the 15th century, the Strozzi bank amply surpassed the Medici in wealth, capital, and level of operations. The rivalry between the two families lead to an open conflict which reached its apex when Palla Strozzi, a philologist, philosopher, and art collector, as well as banker, accused Cosimo the Elder of being a tyrant and despot, and of being a danger to the Florentine libertas. Together with Rinaldo Albizi, he succeeded in exiling Cosimo in 1433. The following year, however, Cosimo returned, and the Strozzi and the Albizi had to flee the city to avoid persecution. The relationship between the Strozzi and the Medici improved briefly when Filippo Strozzi married Clarice de' Medici in 1508, but the peace that ensued was short-lived, as Filippo was among the anti-Medicean conspirators in 1527. After the republic was overthrown and the hegemony of the Medici restored, the Strozzi were forced to acknowledge the supremacy of their adversaries, but never supported them, preferring to devote themselves to the banking industry.
The collection of Florentine documents and correspondence at the University of Pennsylvania contains numerous types of documents that were originally part of large bundles of miscellaneous manuscripts within Gondi-Medici Business Records. These documents have been arranged according to which Florentine family or organization they pertain to. This process has resulted in the creation of several single-family collections (e.g. the House of Medici papers, the Gondi family papers, and the Sangalletti family accounts) on one hand, and of the present collection on the other. Unlike the single-family collections, it incorporates miscellaneous documents and correspondence pertaining to numerous Florentine families and industries. Moreover, none of the families that have their own separate collections will appear in the Florentine Documents and Correspondence. Nonetheless, it offers a unique and multifaceted account of almost four centuries of the history of the Tuscan city-state through diversified types of manuscripts, making it an original source of information on financial, commercial, and political activities of the time.
The collection consists of over a thousand documents organized in 220 folders and two series. The first is the Family and Organization series, in which approximately 130 families are represented, consisting of 172 folders in alphabetical order. Within individual families, for large numbers of documents pertaining to various members, they are organized alphabetically and chronologically for each member. In case of numerous documents of the same type (e.g. receipts) pertaining to a single family, those are organized chronologically and located at the end of their respective family series. Items of ingoing and outgoing correspondence between various families are also included in the collection. Together with the roughly 130 families, there is a small number of documents that pertain to the Monte di Piet and to the hospital of Santa Maria Novella, the only two institutions that appear in the collection. The Monte was not family-run, but its creation was only possible thanks first to the donations, and then to the loans, of many Florentine families, and the relationship between them and the Monte was very significant for the entire economy of the city-state. Santa Maria Novella was a church which also offered medical help to pilgrims and those in need. There are also a few brief financial documents concerning three ships, filed by the name of the ship.
The Monte was an institutional pawnbroker, originally created to offer an acceptable alternative to the moneylending by the Jews that displeased the Church. Various Monti were created in many Italian cities starting in the mid-15th century. The Florentine Monte, however, was not set up until 1495, under the ruling of Savonarola. The Medici, in fact, had been quite supportive of the Jewish enterprises, having relied heavily on the profits derived from taxing them, and were not ready to encourage an institution that would limit their activity. The first Monte was structured as a charitable institution, that rejected public funding in favor of private donations and free loans from wealthy private benefactors. At first, no interest was offered for these payments, which were to be perceived as simple expressions of altruism. The role of interest in the money market had been underestimated, and donations fell significantly over the course of the first few years of life of the Monte. Around 1540, after Alessandro de' Medici allowed the Monte to include interest in its operations, the Florentine institution started attracting large volumes of deposits, and its business grew significantly. At the same time, it slowly transformed itself from a simple pawn bank to a savings-and-loan bank, offering loans to those who would have normally not been granted credit, but also funding various expenses of the government.
The Subject series, which incorporates financial, notarial, and other miscellaneous documents, is also organized alphabetically and comprises 48 folders. The financial documents, sorted by type, are the most numerous of the Subject series. Documents pertaining to rural life are also present in considerable number. Other topics include trade, Florentine guilds, and notarial and legal documents.
Institutions of medieval origin that operated between the 12th and the 16th century, the guilds organized most aspects of Florence's economic life by creating a network as strong as family ties between professionals who worked in the same industry. There were three kinds of guilds, the Arti Maggiori (major guilds), the Arti Mediane (intermediate guilds), and the Arti Minori (minor guilds), according to their power within Florence. The first major guild was the Arte di Calimala (cloth-merchants' guild), followed by the Arte della Lana (wool merchants), the Arte dei Giudici e Notai (judges, lawyers, and notaries), the Arte del Cambio (bankers), the Arte della Seta (silk weavers), the Arte dei Medici e Speziali (physicians and pharmacists), and the Arte dei Vaiai e Pellicciai (furriers). Entry to a guild was regulated by a complex set of rules and requirements, and each guild had its own statutes that governed the activities of its members. Guilds were not just corporations that promoted the welfare of their members and controlled the quality of the manufacturing process, but oftentimes the members themselves had prominent political roles (for example as priori) alongside the aristocracy. The power of the guilds experienced a great decline after 1534, when Alessandro de' Medici reformed their statutes, reducing them to professional associations with minimal political influence.
Purchased from Bernard M. Rosenthal, 1963
For a complete listing of correspondents, do the following title search in Franklin: Florentine Documents and Correspondence Collection, 1437-1804
- Acciaiuoli family
- Strozzi family
- Altoviti family
- Amadori family
- Antinori family
- Capponi family
- Cassi family
- Corsi family
- Corsini family
- Guadagni family
- Lapini family
- Ricciardi family
- Rucellai family
- Salviati family
- Iron industry and trade
- Italy -- Rural conditions
- Farm life
- Farm management -- Italy
- Woolen and worsted manufacture
- Dyes and dyeing
- Silk industry
- Law -- Italy
- Banks and banking
- Civil law
- Textile industry
- Inheritance and succession
- Real property
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Claudia Scala Schlessman
- Finding Aid Date
- Use Restrictions
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