The Other Florence

Tuscans and Their Families: A Study of the Florentine Catasto of 1427

by David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber
Yale University Press, 404 pp., $32.00

Giovanna and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence

by Gene Brucker
University of California Press, 138 pp., $13.95

Doctors and Medicine in Early Renaissance Florence

by Katharine Park
Princeton University Press, 298 pp., $40.00

Plague and the Poor in Renaissance Florence

by Ann G. Carmichael
Cambridge University Press, 180 pp., $29.95

Pictures and Punishment: Art and Criminal Prosecution during the Florentine Renaissance

by Samuel Y. Edgerton Jr.
Cornell University Press, 243 pp., $39.50

In the indexes of these books we cannot find the name of Pico della Mirandola; Marsilio Ficino’s name appears only twice, not as the translator of Plato, but as a medical expert. Thus we hear nothing about the intellectual passions of Medicean Florence—about the enthusiasm for the writings and the monuments of the ancients, about the impact of Platonic philosophy on art and literature. All these books announce themselves as books on Renaissance Florence, but one is tempted to say that they are books on Florence without the Renaissance.

This does not mean that they are not interesting, and there are good reasons why the discoveries and insights that seem to us the significant features of Renaissance Florence are hardly considered. Lorenzo Magnifico, in whose time Florence was the center of Renaissance culture, lived in the second part of the fifteenth century and these books on Florence deal with earlier times, the one-hundred years preceding the era of Lorenzo Magnifico. The period from the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the fifteenth century has been intensively studied in recent scholarship primarily because the work of Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and Their Families, originally published in French in 1978, opened up new possibilities for research.

The 404 pages of this book are an analysis of the Florentine catasto of 1427, a compilation of the tax declarations of the inhabitants of the city of Florence and of the areas of Tuscany under Florentine control that are preserved in the Florentine archives. The catasto of 1427 was an unusual undertaking. Traditionally the income of great city republics like Venice and Florence consisted of a real estate tax and of customs, and usually these revenues covered the daily needs of the governments. These sources of government income were never sufficient, however, in wartime, when condottieri and their armies had to be paid in cash. At the beginning of the fifteenth century Florence was involved in a bitter struggle with Milan for the economically important passes over the Apennine, and the war had brought about a financial crisis which the government wanted to overcome by a reorganization of the Florentine tax system. This was to be based on a survey of the financial resources of the area over which it ruled—reaching from Pisa to Cortona, from Pistoia to Volterra, with Florence in its center.

The catasto was this survey. Every head of a household had to register the number of people in his household, his real estate, his animals “worthy of value,” his merchandise, coins, and shares in the public debt. The result is that the economic resources of 60,000 households, of more than 260,000 people, are registered in more than 1000 volumes. These figures give some indication of the immensity of the task involved in the analysis of the catasto; it is no accident that a thorough scrutiny of these documents, although the existence was known to every historian working on Florentine history, has only now been undertaken. The computer has…

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