- Florentine Villas in the Fifteenth Century: An rchitectural and Social History.
Responding to a preexisting literature on Quattrocento Florentine villeggiatura predominantly fixated on early Medici villas and humanist panegyrics idealizing country life, Amanda Lillie's book documents in remarkable detail the complex and often mundane facts of land acquisition, farming, and property maintenance that denied villa ownership to all but the most rarefied realm of patrons in the fifteenth century. Despite the title, the book is not a survey of fifteenth-century villas but rather concentrates on the country properties of the Strozzi and Sassetti, two celebrated Florentine families on different social trajectories over the course of the century. The more traditional section of the book concerns the Sassetti family's most upwardly mobile representative, Francesco Sassetti (1420–90), who sought to utilize the form of the villa to broadcast his status gains and allegiance to the Medici. By contrast, the many branches of the large but declining Strozzi family tended to cling tightly to their inherited estates [End Page 511] and renovated them modestly for mostly agricultural purposes rather than turning them into classically inspired recreational homes. It is in the chapters of the book concerning the Strozzi that Lillie, armed with vast archival documentation, makes an essential contribution to understanding the form and function of the country estate. Looking beyond standard typological models concerning only the general layout of the casa da signore, Lillie defines the villa complex as a much more wide-ranging set of year-round structures that included dovecotes, granaries, workers' houses, and storage outbuildings, the design and use of which are all discussed here at length.
Such deglamorizing detail may be exhausting to the general reader, but Lillie has her facts in order. Making original use of the family records catalogued in the Carte Strozziane of the Archivio di Stato in Florence, Lillie in the first half of the book discusses more than thirty villas owned by disparate branches of the Strozzi. Her analysis of these villas does not proceed through them one at a time but rather discusses the wide range of Strozzi properties to define the villa's essential agricultural functions as well as the social meaning attached to owning land beyond the city walls. Once the wealthiest and possibly most politically influential family in Florence, the Strozzi refused to sell their long-held country land despite dwindling finances and their waning political fortunes with the rise of the Medici faction; even in times of financial hardship, such ancestral lands were critical not only for the extra income they provided the owners but also as markers of status. Yet Lillie convincingly argues that the Strozzi villas hardly fit the hegemonic model defined by Bentmann and Müller's influential 1970 study; rather, they were overwhelmingly unambitious structures whose primary functions were to provide food, steady profit, and a healthy retreat from the August heat. Most of the Strozzi branches lacked the capital to build grandly but they certainly kept close records of the workings of their farms, and Lillie in this section provides a terrific wealth of new information on the minutiae of country living for historians of early modern agriculture.
The second section of the book follows a considerably more familiar narrative, with the villa and its casa da signore standing in as symbolic expressions of the patron's ambitions. After an introductory chapter on Sassetti properties, all attention is focused on a single complex rebuilt for Francesco Sassetti. Here the author directly seeks to remind the reader that Warburg's 1907 study of Sassetti, which defined him entirely through his urban patronage (most notably his great chapel at Santa Trinità) and his humanist circle, excluded what he considered his most significant accomplishment, the construction of the magnificent Villa la Pietra one mile beyond the city walls. Because Sassetti had made his fortune only recently, this villa did not have deep ancestral ties to the family or an established agricultural function, and Lillie's reading of...