“NEVER was our city"— says Machiavelli, speaking of Florence as she was at the close of the thirteenth century — “ never was our city in a greater or happier condition than at this time, being full of men, of riches, and of renown. Her citizens capable of bearing arms numbered thirty thousand, and those of her territory seventy thousand. All Tuscany, partly as subject to her, partly as friendly to her, obeyed her.”1 Nowhere in Italy was trade more flourishing, or the arts more zealously cultivated. Her citizens, however divided by party discords, were united in a common pride in their city. The fame of her strength and her beauty was wide-spread; “ so that many,” says a chronicler of the time, “come to see her, not of necessity, or because of the excellence of her trades and arts, but because of her beauty and adornment.” Yet this beauty and adornment had been wrought out for her in spite of internal contention and division. Peace seldom dwelt within her walls. The eager and restless spirit of her citizens was quickly kindled into passionate outbreaks and tumultuous uproar, in which civil order was often imperiled, and the very life of the state seemed to be at stake.
The thirteenth century had been a long struggle between the feudal and civic nobility and the mass of the common people, in which the grandi had for the most part gained the upper hand. Through the confused record of a hundred years one may trace the baffled but persistent effort of the compact and industrious democracy to achieve such a combination of their forces as to enable them to get the better of their aristocratic oppressors. The rule of an unscrupulous, quarrelsome, and tyrannical privileged class was incompatible with the institutions requisite for the prosperity of the industrious community. Gradually a form of organization was worked out by the trades, resembling that of the guilds of northern cities, but more political in its character, which, in spite of various checks and numerous futile endeavors, at length, toward the end of the century, succeeded in mastering the old nobility, and in establishing itself as the chief element in the government of the city. This result was reached in 1292.
The opening clauses of the Ordinances of Justice, by which the new order of the state was regulated, indicate the spirit of those by whom this revolution had been accomplished: “ Whereas justice is a steady and constant will that gives to each man his rights, therefore the following ordinances, properly called the Ordinances of Justice, are ordained for the benefit of the republic,” to the end of establishing “ true and perpetual concord and unity, and of securing peace and tranquillity for the artificers and arts, and for all the people of Florence.” 2
The political administration was concentrated in the arti or organized trades of the city. These comprised twelve arti maggiori, or chief trades, and nine arti minori, or lesser trades; under the banner of one or the other of these trades the mass of the citizens was enrolled.3
Florence, like other Italian cities, was accustomed annually to call upon some personage from a remote but allied city to exercise the functions of podestà, or chief executive officer, within her limits; but all the other magistrates of the commonwealth were to be chosen from the members of the twelve chief Arts. The grandi, or nobles, were expressly excluded from office. Each of the Arts had its own officers, and each was required to maintain a military organization for the support of order and the defense of the city. Each of them had its written statute, by which its members were governed, while provision was made that the various statutes should be in harmony one with the other so far as the common interest required. It was the object of these statutes to secure at once the good order of the city and the prosperity of the trades. The provisions of these codes, so far as judgment may be formed from the only one of them which has come down to us,— the Statute of the Art of Calimala, or foreign cloth merchants,— indicate the sound political sense of the Florentine tradesmen, and their full understanding that permanent commercial prosperity depends upon moral conditions; first of all upon the uprightness and integrity of the individual tradesman. Every precaution is taken to secure fair dealing, and to maintain firm credit. Heavy penalties are enacted against fraud, perjury, misrepresentation, and unfair competition. It is required of the merchants “ to use pure, loyal, and simple truth ” in all their dealings. There is a stamp of piety and uprightness on the whole statute. The four consuls who were chosen to rule the Art, holding office for six months, were to be selected from “ the best and most useful merchants;” and they were to be " Guelfs and lovers of the Holy Roman Church, and in their choice no cavalier was to take part.” It was from these consuls of the trades that the priors of the city were chosen, and neither Ghibelline nor noble was to have part in the government of the state. The provisions in respect to the method in which accounts were to be kept, to the terms of credit, to bankruptcy and the recovery of debts, to usury and prices, are ample, careful, and minute. In the trade of Florence there was nothing of the looseness of modern competitive dealings; nothing of the spirit that seeks gain at any cost, even that of truth and honesty; nothing of the disposition to make undue profit, and to reckon every trick fair in trade. There was a standard of commercial morality as exact as that to which the weights and measures of the shops were made to conform. Florence was resolved that her credit should be good, and that neither rival nor enemy should have a right to reproach her with slackness in the fulfillment either of public or of private obligations.
The Arts thus combined and organized could control the most powerful and lawless of the great, and for some years Florence experienced the benefit of the new order of affairs in an unwonted sense of security and a rapid increase of prosperity. The strength that lies in union and concord inspired her with confidence in herself, and she made a splendid display of the great qualities and designs of her trading and industrious democracy. The citizens of a compact walled town, having no regular or general communication with the distant outside world; occupied with few interests but those of their households, their shops, and their city; engaged in pursuits that kept them close within the narrow circuit of their native streets, were naturally filled with a spirit of local attachment, little short of devotion, that was the source of great undertakings, in which their religion, their pride, and their patriotism might find expression. The Arts, each a little commonwealth in itself, served to quicken and intensify the public spirit ; to bring home to their members the sense of common interests and duties; and to maintain a standard of principle and of action to which each member was compelled to conform, by the strong pressure of a concentrated public opinion.
Seldom has a nobler activity or a more abundant productiveness been displayed than Florence exhibited at this period. The quick wit, the lively fancy, and the poetic imagination of her people were aroused. Her poets drew inspiration from her, and gave it back through their verses for the quickening of the hearts of her people. They were the most noted in Italy, even before Dante lifted Florence to the topmost peak of fame, and Dante was now already meditating his Divine poem. Her painters had broken the bonds of tradition which had long restrained their progress, and Cimabue held the field against all rivals. Her architects and builders were showing themselves masters in their art, and the number of great works of building, many of which are still among the chief ornaments of the city, begun in the ten years between 1200 and 1300, indicates alike the ability of the architects and the energy and abundant resources of the community. During these years the churches of Santa Maria Novella and of the Carmine, as well as the loggia of Or’ San Michele, were in process of construction; the foundations of the churches of Santo Spirito, of San Marco, of Santa Maria in Cafaggio (now known as the Annunziata), of Santa Croce, together with its vast convent, were all laid; and the building of the Palace of the Priors and of the Hospital of St. Bartholomew was begun. Nor does this complete the list. The thriving city was extending her limits, and building a new circuit of walls with towers for the common defense, erected in part out of materials obtained by the demolition of some of the tall and massive towers which had served as the dens and strongholds of those grandi whose lawless power she was engaged in repressing.4
But besides all these works, she set about what was to prove a much more important undertaking. The old church of Santa Reparata, that had long served as her Duomo, stood in need of repair, and on the 11th of September, 1294, an appropriation from the public treasury of four hundred lire was voted for this purpose. On the 2d of December of the same year a similar appropriation was made, with a slight but significant change in terms, for the church “ the repairing and renewal of which are now in progress.” 5
No more definite information than this remains concerning the beginning of the work of construction of that new cathedral which was destined to become the most characteristic and impressive edifice in Florence, and to employ her chief artists for the next two hundred years. But there is an apocryphal decree, the invention probably of the seventeenth century, in which its author expressed what he not unfitly conceived to have been the spirit and intent of the earlier time. As reported, the decree runs thus: “ Whereas it is the highest concern of a people of illustrious origin so to proceed in their affairs that men may perceive from their works that their designs are at once wise and magnanimous, it is therefore ordered that Arnolfo, architect of our commune, prepare the model or plan for the rebuilding of Santa Reparata with such supreme and lavish magnificence that neither the industry nor the capacity of man shall be able to devise anything more grand or more beautiful; inasmuch as the most judicious in this city have declared and advised in public and private conferences that no work of the commune should be undertaken, unless the design be to make it correspondent with a heart which is of the greatest nature, because composed of the spirit of many citizens concordant in one single will.” 6
Although the words of this decree cannot be trusted, there is evidence that the Florentines soon gave up the thought of repairing the old church, and resolved to reconstruct and enlarge it, so as to have a Duomo of size capable of accommodating the increasing crowds of worshipers, and in its design worthy of the wealth and spirit of the city. To such a work the Florentines were especially called as the head of the Guelf party, a party that claimed to be in a peculiar sense the support of the interests and authority of the church, while they were also stimulated to it by the spirit of rivalry in arts no less than in arms that burned deep in the hearts of citizens of neighboring states contending for preëminence. Florence could not easily brook that Pisa, Siena, and Orvieto, inferior to herself in numbers, wealth, and power, should each boast a cathedral far more spacious, more costly, and more beautiful than the old church that had long served her needs.
“ And so,” says the trustworthy Giovanni Villani, who was a youth in Florence when the work was begun, “ in the year 1294, the city of Florence being in a state of tranquillity, the citizens agreed to rebuild the chief church of Florence, which was very rude in form and small in proportion to such a city, and they ordered that it should be enlarged, and extended at the back, and that it should be all made of marble, and with carven figures. And the foundation was laid with great solemnity, by the Cardinal Legate of the Pope, on the day of St. Mary in September,7 and many bishops, and the Podestà and the Captain, and all the Priors, and all the ranks of the Signory of Florence were present, and it was consecrated to the honor of God and St. Mary, under the name of St. Mary of the Flower,8 although the original name of Santa Reparata was never changed by the common people. And for the building and work of the said church a tax was ordered by the commune of two denari upon every lira paid out of the public treasury, and a poll tax of two soldi. And the Legate and the bishops bestowed great indulgences and pardons, to be gained by every one who should contribute aid or alms to the work.” 9
The work was indeed the common interest of all Florentines, and the supply of means for it their common duty. The decree establishing the poll tax to which Villani refers was made in December, 1296, under the title of “ Super impositione pro opere ecclesiæ Sce. Reparatæ facienda.” It provides, not, as Villani states, for a uniform poll tax, but for a tax graduated according to the property and family of the citizen. It was still further ordered that every person making a written will should bequeath a certain sum to the work; the notary employed to draw the will was required to remind the testator of this obligation, and in case of non - compliance with it the heirs were bound to make good the omission. For the gathering in of these sums the bishop was empowered to employ two or more of the clergy, without salary, in each district of the Florentine territory. And, in order to quicken the liberality of testators, special indulgences were to attach to bequests for the building, over and above “ the graces already conceded to the benefactors of the work.” 10
The architect of the commune at this time was Arnolfo, the son of Cambio; a great artist of whose life little is recorded, but whose works at Florence are his sufficient memorial.11 He was busy with the construction of Santa Croce when he was called upon to take charge of the work on the Duomo. It has been generally believed that Arnolfo designed the cathedral in its general ground plan, in form and dimensions such as it exists to-day. But recent investigations have shown that this was by no means the case, and that the building as we have it is at least as different from Arnolfo’s design as his design was from that of the church which it was to replace. The old church of Santa Reparata had been constructed in that beautiful style of which the church of San Miniato was till lately an exquisite example. Though this was a thoroughly national and vigorous style, it was now giving way before the foreign and intrusive modes of Gothic art. Arnolfo inherited from Niccola Pisano the love of Gothic forms, and he had shown his preference for them in the design of Santa Croce. His work was doubtless approved by the popular taste. Such Gothic façades as those of Siena and Orvieto were indeed far more brilliant and striking, far more impressive to the uneducated taste, than the simple design and exquisite incrustation of San Miniato or Santa Reparata. The new style suited the new age, and Arnolfo undertook to rebuild Santa Reparata into a church in which the pointed should take the place of the round arch, the stone vaulted roof should be substituted for the flat timber ceiling, and the façade should form a splendid screen adorned with gable and pinnacle, rich with carving, glowing with mosaics, and shining with gold.
The deserts of Arnolfo were recognized by Florence, and in 1300, when the work on the Duomo was in active progress, a decree was passed which exhibits the mode taken by the commune for his recompense. “ Considering,” says the decree, “that Master Arnolphus is the chief master of the labor and work of the church of the Blessed Reparata, the principal church of Florence, and that he is a more famous master and more expert in the building of churches than any one else in neighboring parts, and that through his industry, skill, and wit the commune and people of Florence, judging from the magnificent and visible beginning of the said work of the aforesaid church, hope to have a more beautiful and honorable temple than any other in the region of Tuscany,” therefore “the priors of the Arts, and the standardbearer of Justice, wishing to do honor to the person of this master,” after deliberation and a vote by ballot, “ have resolved and established that the aforesaid Master Arnolphus, so long as he shall live, shall be totally exempt and free from every tax and cess of the commune of Florence.” 12
This decree is dated April 1, 1300. The most significant date in the history of Florence lies within a week of this day, the date of Dante’s journey through the three spiritual realms.13 A little more than two months afterward, on the 15th of June, Dante entered on his office as one of the priors of the city; and in that priorate, he himself declared, all the ills and calamities of his after years had their occasion and beginning.14
The year 1300 was in truth a disastrous year for Florence. The old party passions, quenched for a time, but not extinguished, blazed up with new fury, and wrapped the whole city in smoke and flame. The story of this wretched time has been often written. The city had never been so prosperous and so happy, says Villani, but this year was the beginning of its ruin. Bitter and destructive as had been the quarrels of former generations, they had brought less calamity to the city than those which now made of its people its own worst enemies. The people seemed to have gone mad. Year after year things went from bad to worse. Dino Compagni, who witnessed and had share in the events of the period, has described them in his brief chronicle with the moving eloquence of an upright, clear-minded man, saddened by the misery he had witnessed and been unable to prevent.15 “ In these deeds of ill,” he says, “ many became great who before had had no name,” many citizens were driven into exile, many houses ruined. No one was safe; neither relationship nor friendship availed aught. Friends became enemies, brothers deserted each other, the son fell away from the father; all love and humanity were extinguished; great riches were wasted; trust, pity, pardon were in no one to be found. Who cried loudest, Let the traitors die! he was the greatest. Many a palace was burned and sacked within the city; many a village burned and many a field wasted in the territory that lay round about. Falsehood, perjury, robbery, murder, and all crimes of violence and treachery made every man afraid. “ Rise up, ye evil citizens,” exclaims the chronicler, “ take fire and flame in your hands, and spread wide your wicked deeds. Go, bring to ruin the beauty of your city. Shed the blood of your brothers; strip yourselves bare of faith and love, refuse aid and service one to another. Scatter the seed of lies till they shall fill the granaries of your children. But do ye believe that the justice of God has failed? Even that of this world rendereth one for one. Delay not, ye wretches. One day of war consumeth more than many years of peace can gain, and there needs but a little spark to bring a great city to destruction.” 16
On the 4th of November, 1301, the feeble, cruel, and treacherous Charles of Valois, commissioned by Pope Boniface VIII. to restore peace to the city, entered Florence. His doings served but to make things worse and to gain for him there, says Dante, “ sin and shame.” 17 But in the stress of storm and confusion, the order of civil life was not wholly broken up. Though troubles come and endure, yet must men eat, drink, and labor. Morning and evening, summer and winter, recur in their order, with their appointed tasks and their familiar gifts. The nature and the desires of men undergo no sudden change; old interests remain alive to struggle with new passions. All parties in the strifes of those dark days, however otherwise they might be divided, were united at least in common faith in the doctrines of that religion of which the visible church was the minister; and thus, on the 24th of November, twenty days after the entry of Charles of Valois, — nicknamed Carlo Senzaterra, Charles Lackland, — when he was extorting money from the rich by treachery and threats, and amusing himself with the sight of palaces ablaze, and while the government of the city was powerless to prevent or redress the wrongs hourly committed, the Signory, still mindful of the work the commune had undertaken for its glory, voted the large subsidy for the fabric of the Duomo of eight thousand lire for two years.18
Two months later, on the 27th of January, 1302, Cante dei Gabrielli, podestà of Florence, a tool in the hands of the ruling faction, condemned Dante, on the ground of malversation during his term of office as one of the priors, to a fine of five thousand florins. Dante was absent from Florence, as one of her envoys to Boniface VIII. in Rome, but his sentence ran that unless the fine were paid within three days, all his possessions should be laid waste, and then be confiscated to the benefit of the commune: “omnia bona talis non solventis publicentur, vastentur, et destruantur, et vastate et destructa remaneant in communi.” Building with one hand, destroying with the other, was the rule. Should the fine be paid within the allotted time, still Dante was to remain for two years in banishment. On the 10th of March he was proclaimed as in contumacy to the state, and condemned, should he ever fall into the power of the commune, to be burned to death: “ igne comburatur sic quod moriatur.’ ’ 19
The answer of Dante to this sentence is in the words with which he begins one of the latest cantos of the Divine Comedy:—
To -which both Heaven and earth have set their
So that it many a year hath made me lean,
0‘ercoine the cruelty that bars me out
From the fair sheepfold, where a lamb I slum-
An enemy to the wolves that war upon it,
With other voice forthwith, with other fleece,
Poet will I return, and at my font
Baptismal will I take the laurel crown.”
But he was never again to pass the sacred threshold of his beautiful St. John, nor again to see the rising walls of the cathedral, to which popular tradition has attached the memory of his interest, still pointing out the spot whence he was wont to watch the laying of their deep foundations and the lifting of their massive stones.
The records of the work during the next few years are scanty. In 1310 Arnolfo died, and irreparable as was the loss of such genius as his, he had yet lived long enough to leave the building so far advanced that his successors in office would find little difficulty in continuing the main parts of the construction according to his design. During his many years of service as architect of the commune, Arnolfo had set his stamp ineffaceably upon the aspect of the city, giving to it many of the most striking features by which it is still adorned. The Palace of the Signory, — the old palace, as it is called, — the Palace of the Bargello, each with its aspiring belfry, now surmounting all other towers of the city, the vast pile of Santa Croce, the still vaster pile of the Duomo, of all of which the first design and in great part the construction were his, remain unsurpassed by later buildings with a single exception; and in the midst of more modern edifices preserving their ancient character, they give proof of the marvelous energy of the republic and the not less marvelous gifts of the artist by whom she was served. Arnolfo had also overseen the beginnings of the great new circuit of turreted and battlemented wall that was to inclose and defend the city, and which stood as a picturesque and impressive memorial of the conditions of mediæval life till but a few years ago it was swept away to give place to what are called modern improvements. Recent centuries have so relentlessly waged war against the picturesqueness of mediæval cities that it is difficult for the fancy to reproduce the full effect of the aspect of Florence at the beginning of the fourteenth century. In every street rose stronghold palaces, built for the needs of war as well as of peace, flanked by lofty towers, the shape of whose battlements gave sign to which of the great parties, Guelf or Ghibelline, their possessors owed allegiance. The number of the towers of Florence was to be reckoned by hundreds. The Florentine masons had inherited the old Roman art of solid building. They knew how to lay stones so that they should lie as firm in wall or buttress as they had lain in their native beds.20 Adjoining the palaces of the chief families was a loggia, or covered portico or arcade, where the rich and noble were wont to celebrate those ceremonies in which the common people — the popolo minuto — had a share of interest, or at which their presence as witnesses was desirable. Here marriage contracts were signed, here festivals for public honors were held, and here victories over domestic or foreign enemies were proclaimed with feasts and rejoicings. Tower and loggia were the signs of dignity, power, and wealth, and were objects of special pride and jealous care to the members and retainers of the house to whose greatness they bore testimony. The gates of the city, new built by Arnolfo, were so many fortresses, and the strong wall now extending its defense around it was furnished, “for beauty as well as for strength,’’ with towers, at a distance of less than four hundred feet one from another, no one of them less than twentyfive feet square or than seventy-five feet in height, and many much larger and higher. “ And in order,” says Giovanni Villani, “that the memory of the greatness of this city may last forever, and for the sake of those people who have not been at Florence and may see this chronicle, we will describe in order the construction of this wall, and the measures of it as they were diligently measured at our instance, we the writer being the officer of the commune to superintend the walls.”21 From the account he gives, it would seem that there must have been more than two hundred of these towers on the circuit of the walls. The walls themselves were nearly forty feet in height, and more than six feet in thickness, and their construction, begun in 1284 and completed, in spite of many periods of interruption in their progress, in 1327, is another of the many proofs of the vigor and wealth of the city at this time. For two hundred years the towers kept watch and ward around Florence, but in the days of her decline and misery, when Pope Clement VII. was her master, they were thrown down that the city might be put in order of defense against the artillery of the Emperor Charles V. “Within these walls,” says Villani, writing in 1324, “there are, what with cathedral and abbeys and monasteries, and other chapels, at least a hundred churches, and close by every door there is a church, a convent, or a hospital.” And now we will leave the description of the city of Florence, for we have said enough of it, and will return to our subject.
It is probable that even before Arnolfo’s death, in 1310, the means for the building of the Duomo had fallen off, owing to the confusions and disasters of the first years of the century. Besides the usual calamities and destructions of civic warfare, Florence had suffered in 1304 from a conflagration more terrible and wasteful than she had ever before experienced. In the heat of a most embittered fight between the factions that divided the state, one of the partisans, a priest, Neri Abati by name, a man of lewd and dissolute life, set fire to two houses near the Mercato Vecchio, the most crowded part of the city. A high wind was blowing from the north, the flames soon got beyond control, and, spreading fast, wrapped possessions and palaces of both parties in common destruction. “ In fine,” says Villani, with pathetic simplicity, “ the fire burned all the marrow and core and dear places of the city of Florence, and the number of them, between palaces, towers, and houses, was seventeen hundred. The loss of furniture, treasure, and merchandise was infinite, for in those places were almost all the merchandise and precious things of Florence; and that which was not burned was carried off by thieves, for the fighting was still going on through the city; so that many trading companies and many families were stripped and made poor by the burning and the robbery. This calamity happened to our city on the 10th of June.”
Though the fire had destroyed the core of the city, it had not killed the worm that had so long been gnawing at it. The flames were but the type of the more malignant fires of rancorous jealousy and hate, of party and personal passion, which wasted the energies and consumed the strength of great and small, of noble and workman alike. Civil anarchy was followed by war abroad, war abroad by new domestic discords. There was little spirit left for works that the needs of the time did not immediately require. Private fortunes demanded repair. A new generation had arisen since the cathedral was begun, a generation with less zeal for its construction than that by which it had been undertaken, and after the death of Arnolfo the work came almost to a stop. At length, in 1318, through the wise efforts of a stranger, Count Guido di Battifolle, vicar of King Robert the Good, of Naples, a new and better order was established both in public and in private affairs. Quiet was restored to the city, and prosperity began to return with peace. Old quarrels were made up, old enmities appeased. Works of improvement were taken in hand, and the cathedral was no longer neglected. A decree was passed assigning for the term of five years a fifth of all sums paid to the chamberlain of the commune, for the benefit of the fabric of the Duomo, which, in the words of the decree, “ had for some time past made slow progress, nay, had been almost given up, through want of money.” 22
This new supply of funds, or such other supplies as the piety of the people may have ministered, at once produced great activity. The superintendents of the works (offitiales presidentes) presented a petition to the Signory, stating that a large quantity of marble had been bought by them at Carrara, that they had increased the number of master workmen on the building (ut in eodem opere plus solito laborent), and praying that the commune would according to its wont (more solito) “ extend the helping hand,” and would assign one third of the revenues of the " office of the sin of heresy ” in aid of the work.23 The petition was approved.
After this sign of life and activity there is again a wide gap in the records of the Duomo. In the next year, 1320, began the most disastrous war in which Florence was ever engaged. Her enemy was Castruccio Castracani, lord of Lucca, who by his energy and extraordinary ability raised himself to the head of the Ghibelline party in Tuscany, and from this time till his death, in 1328, waged unremitting and relentless war against Florence and her Guelf allies. A soldier trained by years of service in France, England, and Lombardy, embittered against his enemies by experience of exile and wrong at their hands, a man of popular arts, of stern temper, full of resource, acquainted with men and knowing how to rule them, of large ambition and of steady mind, he succeeded in his long struggle with Florence, in spite of her superior resources of wealth and of men, in defeating her armies, in wasting her territory, and in subjecting her to the bitterest humiliations.
The war told with disastrous effect on the trade and the prosperity of the city. Her merchants became unable to fulfill their agreements, and in the summer of 1326 there were many commercial failures, the chief among them being that of the great banking house of the Scali and Amieri and the brothers Petri, which had been in existence for more than one hundred and twenty years, and which was indebted to domestic and foreign creditors for the enormous sum of more than four hundred thousand florins, an amount to be measured by the fact that it was not far from that of the ordinary revenue of the state for two years and a half. It was a terrible blow to Florence, for, says Villani, “ every man who had money lost with them, and many other good companies in Florence were held in suspicion, on account of this failure, to their great harm.”
One event that took place in the next year is too characteristic of the spirit of the times to be left unmentioned. This was the burning as a heretic of Master Cecco d’Ascoli, one of the most learned and enlightened men of his age, who in spite of his sharing in the widespread belief in the influence of the stars upon human fate and fortune, and his profession of the science of astrology, shows himself in the works still left to us as an original and serious investigator of nature, as a man of elevated sentiment and no mean poet. His poem entitled L’Acerba, or L’Acerba Vita, is an encyclopædia of the knowledge and the beliefs of the age. It was in direct opposition to the vain imaginings, as he esteemed them, of Dante, —
Che finge imaginando cose vane
Le favole mi son sempre nemiche.”
He was an old man, seventy years old, when he was burned, and there is hardly to be found a more striking record of passion and superstition than that which, beginning with the condemnation of Dante to the flames, ends with the death by fire of the most learned of his contemporaries. That Cecco met his death manfully may be believed from the testimony of his own verse, in which he says, “ I have had fear of three things: to be of a poor and mendicant spirit; to do harm and to give displeasure to others; and through my own fault to lose a friend.”24
The war went on with various fortune, but with little check of Castruccio’s rising power. In 1328 he was lord of Pisa, Lucca, and Pistoia, and of three hundred castles and fortified places; he was master of great part of the seaboard south of Genoa, and held rule over wide territory. He was planning new victories, when in the summer of this year he fell ill. On the 3d of September he died. Florence was safe, relieved from the most dangerous external foe that ever threatened her, for the fabric of Castruccio’s power was supported by his mighty hand alone, and, that support withdrawn, it fell with a crash to the ground. Throughout the whole period of her adversity, Florence had been sustained by the thought, which the historian Ammirato calls “ the general comfort of republics,” that she was in a certain way eternal, not depending on the life of any individual, and able to endure great shocks without ruin, while the power of a prince, depending on himself alone, was subject to the chance of evil fortune and of death.25 The reflection is a just one as drawn from the experience of Italy in this age, when tyrant after tyrant rose by force of personal qualities into sudden power, which was shattered as suddenly by his death.
Relieved from war, Florence set to work to reform her government. Reverting to her old democratic system, changes of great significance were introduced into its forms, with the intent to remedy some of the defects that experience had shown in it, and with especial aim to securing greater stability of administration, to excluding unfit persons from office, and to establishing the power of the Party, which was the title now arrogated by the Guelfs. The bitter irony of Dante’s reproach 26 of his fellow citizens on their frequent change of laws was indeed deserved, but their fickleness may be regarded in another light as an indication of their very intelligence and eager quest of good. They were at the beginning of the long series of experiments, not yet near its conclusion, to determine the limits and relations of law and liberty, the proper functions of government, the rights of the individual in society. The Florentines, forming the most civilized and intelligent popular community in existence, were trying to discover the modes by which they might secure the blessings of good order, prosperity, and strength. Many of their attempts were childish; they made many mistakes, they were impatient, and as in all republics so here were many who preferred their personal interests to those of the state. The conflict between private selfishness and the public good was sharp, constant, and often disastrous.
Though Castruccio had failed to become master of the city, he had wrought desolation around her, and the year after his death she, in common with the greater part of Tuscany, suffered from a distressing famine. The price of grain rose to triple and quadruple its usual level. There was great misery among the poor. Perugia, Siena, Lucca, Pistoia, pitilessly drove the destitute beggars from their gates. But Florence, with wise counsel and good foresight, “ in piety toward God ” kept her gates open to all, and, sending at public cost for shiploads of grain to Sicily, kept the market supplied with it at a low rate. But this did not suffice to relieve the suffering, and therefore at length the commune, withdrawing the grain from market, employed all the bakeries to bake for the public use, and sold the bread every day at a price much below its cost. “ The commune of Florence,” said Villani, “ lost in these two years,” for the famine, beginning in 1328, lasted into the year 1330, “more than sixty thousand florins of gold in the support of the people.” “ And though I, the writer, was not worthy of so great an office, I found myself officer of the commune, with others, in this bitter time, and by the grace of God we were inventors of this remedy and method whereby the people were kept quiet, and violence was prevented, and the poor folk made content without scandal or uproar. And with this witness to the truth that nowhere else were such alms ministered to the poor, by powerful and compassionate citizens, as during this unwonted famine were ministered by the good Florentines; wherefore I firmly reckon and believe that for the sake of the said alms and provision made for the poor God has guarded, and will guard, our city from great adversities.” 27
Even during the last ten years, strained as the public resources had been, private luxury seems to have met with no serious check, while the effeminate refinements of fashion, le morbidezze d’Egitto, of which Boccaccio complains, had increased to a degree which indicates a decline in the moral temper and ideals of the people. The worst calamity attending a long protracted stress of war in a narrow community is the breaking up of the orderly habits of society, while the influence of its keen excitements leads to the adoption of irregular and extravagant modes of life.
The war with Castruccio had so diminished the resources of the commonwealth that some years passed after its close before Florence felt able to go on with the long interrupted work upon her Duomo. At length, in 1331, a year of great abundance and prosperity, the commune resolved to take the building once more in hand; a portion of the taxes was assigned to the work, and the charge of it was committed to the Art of Wool,28 that is, to the corporation of the dealers in wool, the richest and most powerful of the Arts of Florence. It was no new thing to intrust the superintendence of a public work to one of the Arts. Not only the building, but the charge and maintenance of churches, hospitals, and prisons were committed to them.29 For the heads of the Arts — consuls, rectors, or captains, as they might be called — were men chosen by the body of the Art to conduct its affairs, chosen by those who knew them well, and they might be trusted as of approved capacity and integrity, trained to business, and accustomed to the conduct of large affairs. A natural spirit of emulation among the Arts led them to take pride in the honorable fulfillment of such trusts, and enlisted the personal interest of each member in the mode of their discharge. It was an admirable method for securing the best public servants, and for keeping them under the constant supervision of a vigorous, sensitive, and intelligent public opinion. Florence was the first city of modern times thus to take advantage of the power that resides in the free but organized opinion of a well-ordered community.
It was long since the most precious building in Florence, its ancient baptistery, — Dante’s “ my beautiful St. John,”—had been thus intrusted to the Art of Calimala, or foreign wool merchants.30 St. John Baptist was the special patron of Christian Florence; the city was his sheepfold (ovil di San Giovanni), and in his church all her children gained entrance to the kingdom of Christ. Cacciaguida tells the story of every Florentine when he says to Dante, —
Christian and Cacciaguida I was made.”31
The third book of the statute of the Art of Calimala begins with the following rubric: “In the name of God, amen. To the honor of the omnipotent God, and of his mother, and of the blessed messer St. John Baptist, and of messer St. Eusebius, and of messer Saint Miniatus (San Miniato), and the other saints of Paradise, here below are writ the rules that relate to the work32 of St. John, that of San Miniato aforesaid, and of the hospital or house of St. James at St. Eusebius’s, ruled and governed under the ancient and modern defense and firm guardianship of the praiseworthy Art and university of the consuls and merchants of the Art of Calimala in the city of Florence.” Following this rubric come the chapters of the statute concerning the charities to which the Art was held bound. Among others, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning the vice-operaio of St. John, who was to be “a good, discreet, and trustworthy layman, of sound body, of good report and condition, and of upright life,” was to distribute in the church twenty dozen loaves of bread. In addition, two good men, appointed for a six months’ term of service, were every week to give alms to the shamefaced poor (poveri vergognosi) in the shape of grain sufficient for thirty dozen loaves. This grain was to be supplied from the funds of the opera, and the two agents of the Art were required to give the said alms in company, after diligent inquisition into the condition of the poor and needy of the different sections of the city and district of Florence. (Lib. iii., cap. ii.)
Charles Eliot Norton.
- I storie Fiorentine, lib. ii. § xv.↩
- The Ordinamenti di Giustizia are to be found in the Archivio Storico Italiano, Ser. Sec. I. 1-93, Firenze, 1855: and also in Emiliani-Giudici, Storia dei Comuni Italiani, iii. 5-147, Firenze, 1866. They are remarkable for the display of the political sense and vigorous resolve of their framers↩
- There is much discrepancy in the lists of the Arti given by different annalists and historians. Their number and division varied at different times. The twelve chief arts in 1292 were those of lawyers and notaries, foreign cloth merchants, bankers, wool merchants, silk merchants, physicians and druggists, furriers, butchers, shoemakers, smiths, masons and carpenters, retail dealers ; the nine lesser arts were those of wine sellers, innkeepers, dealers in salt, oil, and cheese, leather dressers, cuirass and sword makers, locksmiths and dealers in old and new iron, buckler and shield makers, wood sellers, bakers. See Ordinamenti in Emiliani-Giudici, iii. 11, and compare Machiavelli, 1st. Fior., lib ii § viii An interesting account of the character and political influence of the Arts is given by Von Reumont, in his Lorenzo de’ Medici, i. 18, seqq., Leipzig, 1874 ; and a notice of the devices on their banners, and other particulars of interest concerming them, in the name author’s earlier and very useful work, Tavole Cronologiche e Sincrone della Storia Fiorentina, Firenze, 1841, Introduzione, p. 11, n. 3.↩
- See Moise, Santa Croce di Firenze, Firenze, 1845, pp. 51, 52, and Reumont, Tavole Cronologiche, for these years.↩
- Gaye, Carteggio d‘ Artisti, i. 425, 427. Every student of the history of Italian art finds himself under obligations to this invaluable collection of documents.↩
- This decree was first published by Del Migliore, in his Firenze, Città Nobilissima, 1684, p. 6. He does not say whence he derived it; and no such decree exists in the archives of the state. The style is too rhetorical for the thirteenth century.↩
- The 8th of September, the day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.↩
- The Blessed Virgin of the Flower, the lily, alike the flower of Mary and of Florence, named for its flowers. The lily of Florence is the fleur-de-lys, while the flower of the Virgin is the true white lily ; but the two were associated in their symbolic attributes in the fancy of the Florentines. When in their flourishing state they laid the foundations of their great church, they might read the words of Ecclesiasticus as if addressed to themselves: Floreto flores quasi lilium et date odorem, et frondete in gratiam, et collaudate canticum et benedicite Dominum in operibus suis.↩
- Giovanni Villani, Cronica, lib. viii., c. ix. Villani’s dates are not always to be trusted, even when he gives account of contemporary events. An old inscription in the wall of the church, itself of uncertain date, may be read in two ways, so as to give either 1296 or 1298 as the year of the consecration of the corner stone by the legate. The most trustworthy Florentine antiquaries conclude from various evidence that the ceremony took place in 1296.↩
- Gaye, Carteggio, i. 431.↩
- Vasari’s life of Arnolfo dil Lapo, as he miscalls him, is full of errors. He was born near the middle of the thirteenth century in the little town of Colie in the Val d' Elsa. It has been suggested, not without reason, that he was the Arnolfo, the pupil of Niccola Pisano, who was employed by his master on the pulpit for the Duomo of Siena. The impulse to the progress of the arts given by the genius of Niccola would thus have been transmitted through a genius hardly inferior to his own.↩
- Gaye, Carteggio, i. 445.↩
- Whether this journey began on the supposed actual day of the death of Christ, the25th of March, or on Good Friday of 1300, the 8th of April, or on the Jewish Passover, the 5th of April of the same year, is doubtful and unimportant. See the note of Phlalethos, Inferno, canto xxi., v. 114.↩
- “ Tutti li mali, e tutti gl’ inconvenienti miei dagl infausti comizii del mio priorato ebbero cagione e principio.” (Letter cited by Leonardo Bruni Aretino in his Vita di Dante, Firenze, 1672, p. 16.)↩
- Within late years the authenticity of the Chronicle of Dino Compagni has been vigorously impugned by both German and Italian critics. It is a work which if genuine is of such extraordinary interest, and which in style of narration and quality of character holds so exceptional a place, that to have to hold it as a forgery of the sixteenth century would be matter for serious regret. The question is not yet authoritatively settled. I am inclined to believe that the Chronicle as we now have it is in great part genuine, but that it was worked over, added to, and its integrity impaired by an anonymous writer of a comparatively late period.↩
- “ Più si consuma in uno di nella guerra, che molt' anni non si guadagni in pace.”(Cronica, lib. ii.)↩
- Purgatorio, xx. 76. “ Quindi non terra, ma peccato ed onta Guadagnerà.”↩
- Gaye, Carteggio, i. 447. Dino Compagni describes the events of this time with vigorous and picturesque strokes: “ Quando una casa ardea forte, messer Carlo domandava, ' Che fuoco è quello ? ' eragli risposto che era una capanna, quando era uno ricco palazzo.”↩
- The text of the decrees against Dante may be found in Fraticelli, Storia della Vita di Dante Alighieri, Firenze, 1861, pp. 147, seqq. The originals may still be seen in the Florentine archives.↩
- Palaces and towers were built with a double wall of cut stone, of blocks of uniform thickness, and the space between the sections of the wall was filled in with a concrete of lime and pebbles by which the whole was bound together in a solid mass. The towers were usually square, few were less than one hundred feet, many were more than two hundred feet in height. They were entered by a small door opening directly upon the narrow staircase which filled their whole interior space, with here and there a passage in the wall leading to a loop-hole, or to the door by which the defenders of the tower if assailed might pass out at a safe height on to a movable platform which was supported by brackets of stone, many of which may even now be seen in the still existing remains of these old monuments of the fights and feuds of those passionate days that were the discipline of Florentine character, and the training of her art. See Passerini’s note in Ademollo’s Marietta de' Ricci, Firenze, 1845, vol. ii. p. 735. The notes to this elaborate historical romance, in six volumes octavo, contain an immense amount of information concerning Florence, not easily found elsewhere.↩
- Cronica, lib, ix., capp. cclvi., cclvii.↩
- “ Quæ a tempore citra lente processit, immo quasi derelieta est propter defectum pecuniæ.” (Gaye, i. 452.)↩
- The revenues' of “ the office of the sin of heresy " were probably derived from fines and confiscations of the property of condemned heretics. The petition is in Gaye, i. 455.↩
- G. Villani, lib. x., o. 40. Libri, Histoire des Sciences Mathématiques en Italie, ii. pp. 191200.↩
- Scipione Ammirato, Istorie Fiorentine, Firenze, 1824, tom. iii., libro Vii., p. 8.↩
- “ Athens and Lacedæmon, they who made The ancient laws and were so civilized, Made towards living well a little sign Compared with thee, who makest such fine-spun Provisions that to middle of November Reaches not what thou in October spinnest. How oft within the time of thy remembrance, Laws, money, offices, and usages Hast thou remodeled, and renewed thy members ?" (Purgatory, vi. 139-147. Longfellow’s translation.)↩
- Cronica, lib. x., cap. 118.↩
- Villani, Cronica, lib. x., c. 192. In the decree making these provisions the church was spoken of as having been begun “ tam formosa et pulcre, sed remansit iam est longum tempus et est absque hediflatione aliqua.” See Cavalucci, Cenni Storici sulla Edificazione della Cattedrale Fiorentina, Firenze, 1871. An ancient inscription inserted in the wall of the Duomo records the entrusting of the work to the Art of Wool.↩
- Ammirato, Istorie Fiorentine, lib. iv., ann. 1293,1294 ; Paolini, Della legitima Liberta del Commercio, t. i., nota 64; Gaye, Carteggio, i. 532, 12 Jun. 1388.↩
- The origin and etymology of the name Calimala are uncertain. The members of this Art found their gain in purchasing the rough cloths of Flanders, France, and England, and sending them in bales to Florence, where they were sheared, dyed, and finished, and thence exported to all parts of Europe and to many parts of the East. The traffic was on a great scale, and for a long period was one of the chief sources of the commercial prosperity of the city.↩
- The statute of this Art, as revised in 1337, is to be found in the third volume of Emiliani-Giudici’s Storia def Comuni Italiani, Firenze, 1866 ; and from it may be gained exact knowledge of the modes of superintendence by the Arts of the public works entrusted to their charge.↩
- “ My whole history of Christian architecture and painting begins with this baptistery of Florence, and with its associated cathedral,” says Mr. Ruskin in his Ariadne Florentina, page 59.↩
- The “opera,” used to denote the official board of works. The chief officer was the operarius or operaio; he administered the funds of the opera, was responsible for contracts made in its name, and had the general oversight of the execution of the works undertaken by it.↩