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Reviewed by:
  • The Medici: Citizens and Masters eds. by Robert Black, and John E. Law
  • Luke Bancroft
Black, Robert, and John E. Law, eds, The Medici: Citizens and Masters, (Villa I Tatti, 32), Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2015; paperback; pp. xii, 432; 43 colour plates, 8 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. US $40, £29.95, €36.00; ISBN 9780674088443.

For historians of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence, the Medici are a persistent conundrum. Their ascent from bankers to grand dukes has fascinated scholars and this interest shows no sign of abating in the future. Above all else, their ability to manipulate and control the city's political system has remained a point of contention for as long as historians have considered the subject.

The primary flashpoint in this debate has been how Cosimo and his successors, chief amongst them Lorenzo 'il Magnifico', came to dominate a [End Page 184] city so protective of both its liberty and its republican mores. The collection that is the subject of this review emerged from a late-2011 conference jointly-held at Monash University's Prato Centre and Harvard University's Villa I Tatti, the thematic framework for which, and consequently for this collection, was inspired by the 1960s debate between Nicolai Rubinstein and Phillip Jones over exactly how the period of Medicean ascendancy should be characterized: were they the masters of their city, or merely its most influential citizens? Rubinstein, according to Robert Black's introduction, 'vigorously distinguished the Medici from contemporary Italian despots' (p. 3). For Black, 'the key word to describe early Medicean Florence was oligarchy' (p. 3). Jones, on the other hand, 'wrote about the Medici in terms unthinkable for Rubinstein [that they] were typical examples of despotism' (p. 5).

Citizens and Masters is divided into four sections. The first, 'Power and Legitimacy', contains eight essays. The second ('Economic Policy') and third ('Religion and the Church') are far shorter, comprised of just two and three chapters, respectively. The final section, 'The Medici and their Image', is the longest with nine.

Giorgio Chittolini begins by examining the concept of civitas and its impact on how the Florentines (amongst others) saw themselves. Gian Maria Varanini looks at the extension of Medicean power into those cities and towns that fell under Florentine control. Andrea Zorzi measures the extent to which we might indeed label Florence a signoria rather than a republic, whilst Melissa Meriam Bullard introduces us to her 'rhetorical republic' (p. 53), highlighting the multivalent nature of a polis that, depending on the perspective one adopts, never appeared quite the same. Riccardo Fubini's detailed essay points out the narrowing of the political process under Lorenzo 'il Magnifico'. Jane Black draws a comparison between the Medici and the Sforza, concluding that it was the Medici who 'reaped the benefit' (p. 98) of Florentine success by dominating its (relatively) stable political networks. Marco Gentile draws our attention to the 'real differences of social and political structures between Lombardy and Tuscany' (p. 110), whilst Alison Brown rounds off the first section with an examination of the fleeting period Lorenzo's son, Piero, spent as the 'de facto head of a republican regime' (p. 113).

The two essays in the second section, by Franco Franceschi and Lorenz Böninger, respectively, deal with the Medici and their role in the formulation of Florentine economic policy, as well as Lorenzo's influence over urban immigration. David Peterson, whose essay opens the third section, suggests that 'Medici patronage of the church aimed more narrowly at legitimizing their regime and, particularly, their position as its leaders' (p. 186). Paolo Orvieto's essay looks at the relationship between religious literature and political power in Medicean Florence, whilst David Chambers concludes that [End Page 185] the family's persistent manoeuvring to obtain a cardinal's hat does in fact 'seem to reflect the princely, if not necessarily despotic, pretensions of the family' (p. 217).

Dale Kent opens the final section with an examination of the authority of Cosimo, a subject on which she has long been an authority herself. Francesco Bausi follows up with a discussion of the literary representation of the family as defenders of Florentine libertas, whilst the...


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