From a Civic World to a Court Society: Culture, Class, and Politics in Renaissance Florence, 1480-1550

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This dissertation examines the transformation of the city-state of Florence from a republic to a principality during the first half of the sixteenth century. It explores how this fundamental change in political organization altered the culture and society of the Florentine office-holding class. The dissertation describes the course of socio-cultural change as a shift from a civic world to a courtly one - from a social imagination in which the men of the city's elite conceived of themselves as an egalitarian commonwealth of civilian magistrates into one in which they became courtiers in the personal service of a prince and subject to his grace and favor. The dissertation argues that, contrary to the Machiavellian paradigm that still predominates in studies of early-modern political thought, these social worlds and the political systems of republicanism and monarchy did not exist in binary opposition in Renaissance Italy. Rather they co-existed as two points on a continuum of political experience. The change from republic to monarchy in Florence occurred not via a revolutionary break but by a process of re-conceptualization. Many of the images and ideals of the republican system survived under the principality - but with new meanings and understandings attached. The dissertation examines these cultural and intellectual shifts in relation to political events and social changes - arguing that in Renaissance Italy the cultural, the social, and the political must always be considered and understood as interdependent. This study combines the prosopographical techniques of collective biography with the close reading and interpretative methods of cultural history. To understand the course of socio-cultural change in sixteenth-century Florence it focuses on the experiences of members of the office-holding class born between 1480 and 1500. It traces the meanings that these individuals, as representative of the broader elite, attached to their experiences through analysis of a wide variety of materials, both printed and archival - taxation and electoral records, letters and private diaries, paintings and sculpture, political treatises and contemporary histories. Through analysis of these sources the dissertation traces how the office-holding class of Florence transformed themselves from a commonwealth of citizen magistrates into a society of courtiers under a prince.

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  • 06/27/2018
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