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  • Renaissance Florence: A Social History
  • Ann Crabb
Roger J. Crum and John T. Paoletti, eds. Renaissance Florence: A Social History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xviii + 674. index. illus. map. bibl. $150. ISBN: 0-521-84693-5.

The editors of this volume, art historians, have gathered together nineteen well-documented and well-written essays by art historians and historians and have organized them into seven sections. The unifying theme is the concept of space, considered as a frame for many kinds of human activity during the years 1300-1600. The book aims to go beyond the art historian's usual emphasis on carefully-ordered space in works of art. It suggests that there is no firm dividing line between artistic and other uses of space, and that it is illuminating to see art in this broader context.

The first section, after a useful introduction, is entitled "The Theater of Florence." In it, John Najemy gives an historical overview of changing governments and their effects on the use of space, and Sharon Strocchia discusses the physical features of Florence, which she portrays as providing adaptable stage settings, with the same sites having different meanings in different contexts. The second section contains essays on more detailed aspects of the public realm: Stephen Milner on the Piazza della Signoria's importance as a contested and symbolic communal space; Sarah Blake McHam on the Palazzo della Signoria's decoration, which maintained republican themes even as the Medici took over executive [End Page 1181] power; Philip Gavitt on the artistic and charitable activities of guilds, pointing out the increased concern with fertility and children after the Black Death; David Rosenthal on informal, ritual groups comprised of local workers that were ended by the Catholic Reformation; and Adrienne Atwell on the extensive itineraries arranged by the wool guild in the fourteenth century for non-Florentine purchasers of cloth.

In the next section, "Relatives, Friends and Neighbors," Nicholas Eckstein looks at neighborhoods, suggesting the complicated relationship between sociability and physical environment in everyday life; Michael Lingohr considers changes in palace and villa building over time, portraying building as a public act, done for the prestige of the builder and his family, but also adding to the prestige of Florence; and Crum and Paoletti consider factors influencing the palaces's internal and external features. The section on "Men and Women" includes Guido Ruggiero's treatment of the "Fat Woodcutter" story, investigating the disreputable side of masculine culture, which nonetheless emphasized honor, virtu, and patronage, and Natalie Tomas's essay on the few spaces laywomen had in which to act.

In "The Spaces of the Spirtual" Robert Gaston argues for the continuity of liturgical practices in Florentine churches, and Jonathan Katz Nelson writes about the great proliferation of family chapels starting in the fourteenth century, bought by Florentines who wanted, in addition to religious reasons, to commemorate personal and familial success, to the benefit of Florentine art and architecture. Peter F. Howard's essay on mendicant sermons indicates the way the popularity of sermons affected building, encouraging large churches and large piazze, but also encouraging spending on building by the wealthy. Nelson, Howard, and Ligohr all relate Florentine building to the theory of magnificence, which in the late fourteenth century replaced the ideal of poverty — the theory that extravagant displays of wealth contributed to the public good. Saundra Weddle's essay is a thorough investigation of convents' size, location, and spiritual role in society, but she also emphasizes that convents were part of patronage networks and had semi-political aspects. In the last section "Across Space and Time," Anabel Thomas deals with the organization and practice of artists' workshops and collaboration as well as competition between workshops. The final essay deals with the production of multiple copies of prints, medals, and terra cotta reliefs in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, leading to the increased geographical and social penetration of art.

In conclusion, this book's organizing principle, the use of space, is an interesting and original one and most of the essays are excellent, if diverse. However, because Florentine history and Florentine physical characteristics from 1300 to 1600 form the background to all the essays, there is...


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pp. 1181-1182
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Archived 2009
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