A Florentine Family in the Fifteenth Century
DETAILS of personal traits and domestic life have an inexpressible charm for all readers of average human sympathies. We turn with more relief than we are willing to confess from the brilliant generalizations of the historian to the pages of the humble chronicler or diarist; and what the French modestly call “ mémoires pour servir ” are indeed often of more real use as well as entertainment to posterity than the works by which in their own time they were overshadowed.
In all that has been written of the public and social life of the Italians, we find few details of their family habits. One reason of this is, of course, that the social life of the Latin races does not centre in the home, as does that of those nations whom necessities of climate — quite as much, perhaps, as nobler reasons — have driven to domesticity. The Italian does not bring the stranger, to whom he wishes to be courteous, home with him; he takes his friend to the theatre, dines with him at the café, or strolls with him in the park. If he does introduce him, as a rare favor, within his domestic precincts, it is only after due preparation, and in such a manner that the spontaneousness of hospitality has had time to congeal into the solemnity of a public occasion. He does, indeed, invite the chance visitor at the hour of a repast, to “ favor him ” by remaining to partake of it; but he does so when the visitor is already at the door, and would be as much surprised at his assent as would the Spaniard by the acceptance of the possessions which he lays at your feet. We of the North smile at these gracious insincerities; but the Southerner wonders no less at the blunt, unsmiling positiveness which he calls rudeness; at the want of general sympathy which shuts up all our demonstrativeness within closed doors ; at the solemn faces with which we go about both our work and our recreation.
Those who are curious to know something of domestic life in Italy in the fifteenth century, especially the life of the female members of the household, will find much of interest in the Letters of Alessandra Macinghi, the widow of Matteo Strozzi, to her exiled sons, and it is to them that I am principally indebted for the materials used in the following sketch. These Letters were compiled and published by Cesare Guasti in 1877, but, so far as I know, they have never been translated. The writer was the mother of that Filippo Strozzi who founded the grand old palace, in the Via Tornabuoni, which is the admiration of every visitor to Florence. His bust, by Benedetto da Majano, adorns one of its dim, vast salons; but I have sought there in vain for any memorial of the mother to whom he owed so much, and for whom he always manifested a tender affection. She died long before he had thought of building a house for his posterity ; and her best record is in these simple letters to her sons. At the time when they begin, Alessandra Strozzi had been twelve years a widow. Her husband, who was a man of much culture and studious habits, had mixed somewhat extensively in politics, and shown more good faith than astuteness during the exile of Cosimo de’ Medici. When the latter was recalled, Matteo Strozzi, with many others of the principal families in Florence, suffered the penalty of exile. He went to Pesaro, and died there in less than a year.
It was a time of tribulation in many a Florentine household, from which the husband and father was torn away, while the wife was obliged to remain to guard her children’s inheritance. Most touching is the picture which the biographer of Alessandra de’ Bardi gives of her husband’s going forth into exile, to which his father and hers had previously been condemned. “ I am left,” cries out the desolate wife, “without a helper; and I must go to and fro wearily, beseeching this one and that one of the authorities for the preservation of our goods.” But these women were equal to the occasion. Vespasiano da Bisticci cannot praise Alessandra de’ Bardi enough for her courage, prudence, and fortitude in the most trying circumstances; and though Alessandra Strozzi had no biographer, the simple story of her life as shown in this correspondence gives evidence of what she endured and accomplished. She was only twentynine at the time of her husband’s death, and had borne him seven children. Alessandra had accompanied her husband to Pesaro, being more fortunate than many of her friends in that she was able to do so; but the comparative happiness which the exiled family might have thus enjoyed was of short duration. In the course of a few months her husband and three of her children died, — as it would appear, all of a pestilential disease then raging; and the afflicted widow hastened to return with her surviving children to Florence, where she soon gave birth to a son, who was, she says, the “ very image ” of her lost husband, and was called by his name. Her eldest remaining son, Filippo, had been sent, while quite young, to serve an apprenticeship in mercantile affairs with an old friend of his father’s at Palermo ; whence he went to a cousin of his father’s at Naples, who was doing a prosperous business, and who showed much interest in the welfare of the orphaned family. Lorenzo, the second son, was at Avignon : and Alessandra’s letters are addressed to these absent children. The first one, dated August 4, 1447, brings the family before us at an interesting moment. The eldest daughter, Caterina, is about to be married to “ a good and virtuous youth, twenty-five years old, a silk merchant,” and of honorable position. The mother congratulates herself that she is well disposed of, for “ she is sixteen years of age, and it is high time she was married ” ! Though by giving a larger dowry a more noble husband might have been procured, still, in the circumstances, it seemed to Alessandra better to marry her at once, with the thousand florins which were at her disposition, than to wait till she could accumulate four or five hundred more. Nor had she reason to regret her choice. Marco Parenti proved to be a loving husband and a man of consideration in the community. He arrived at the dignity of podesta, or mayor, of Colle, in the district of Florence, and his letters show him to have been a wise and kindly man.
Caterina was, in her mother’s opinion, “ the prettiest girl in Florence ; ” nevertheless, she had a girl’s desire to enhance her attractions ; and her mother begs, in her name, that if Filippo can send her a certain kind of soap, or a wash, “ or any other beautifier,” he will do it. She enlarges on the gifts of the bridegroom, who was indeed most liberal. He was a methodical man, and to this trait we owe a list of his gifts, which he noted down in a new memorandum book, dedicated in the following words : “ In the name of God, and his virgin mother, holy Mary ; and of St. Michael, angel and archangel; and St. John the Baptist, and St. John the Evangelist, and St. Paul, and St. Peter, and St. Mark, and St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Catherine, and all the apostles and evangelists and saints of God : and may the beginning and continuation and end of this book be to their glory ; and of their mercy may they give me grace that what I shall write in it may be for good to my soul, and body, and estate.”
Among the gifts we may notice only a few, as indicative of the fashions of the period: A dress of white damask, trimmed with marten fur ; a dress of light blue stuff, with sleeves of Alexandrian velvet; seventeen embroidered chemises; ten towels; thirty handkerchiefs ; one baccio of white damask ; a prayer-book; two strings of large coral; six silk caps ; three needle cases ; two ivory combs ; an embroidered handkerchief ; three pairs of red hose; a dress of crimson satin and velvet brocade, trimmed with white fur; an overdress of the same, with trimmings of gold and pearls; a garland of peacock tails, mounted in silver, with pearls, gilt leaves, and enameled flowers ; a girdle of crimson shot with gold, with clasps of silver gilt; a gold shoulder ornament, with two sapphires and three pearls; a collar of pearls.
Such gifts must have satisfied even the beautiful and beauty-loving Caterina. And doubtless the trousseau was proportionately elegant. Its value was counted as a part of the dowry, and it had been preparing under the diligent care of the mother ever since the bride was an infant. An Italian woman’s marriage portion of household linen, as well as of under-clothing, is usually sufficient to last her for life.
Luxury in dress, which had been severely repressed by sumptuary laws in 1330, was on the increase at this time, though it did not reach its highest point until the reign of Lorenzo de’ Medici. The costume of Florentine women at this period was a robe of silk or woolen stuff extending to the ground, and trimmed with fringe ; the waist long, and the sleeves usually of the same material as the dress. The hair was worn in curls, and over it a veil of white silk reaching to the shoulders ; the “ baccio of white damask,” in the above list, being for this purpose. The garland, or diadem, was of course for state occasions.
Marco Parenti and Caterina, as was the custom, had been formally betrothed in church, a few months before the time fixed for the marriage. When the arrangements for the latter were completed, the “giving of the ring,” as the marriage ceremony was called, took place, also in church, and on the following day the bride was conducted by her friends to the house of the bridegroom, where the wedding feast was eaten, which in Marco’s case was splendid and abundant. During this repast there was music of trumpets, harps, fifes, and flutes.
But the mother’s rejoicing at her daughter’s settlement in life was shadowed by the fear of an approaching separation from her youngest son, Matteo, who was peculiarly dear to her. Filippo and his employer had been urging her to send him to them at Naples, and she seems to have felt that it was an opening for him not to be neglected; but, she writes, “I cannot send him just yet;
though he is young, he is great company for me, and I do not know how to spare him. He has learned to read, and begins to write, and I shall put him to learning accounts this winter; then we will see what is to be done with him, and may God give him the wisdom he needs.” Filippo, as the head of the family, was already beginning to be ambitious for its advantage, and to have much influence with his mother. She yielded at last to his wishes, and prepared to send Matteo to him. She arranged with loving care his wardrobe, and enumerates with a mother’s fondness its items. He has a mantle of the Naples fashion, a robe and a waistcoat of violet color, fine slippers, shirts, silver-handled knives, etc. But when he is all ready to set out she is deterred by her fears and the advice of friends. “ I am continually told that I ought not to let him go now in this heat, and with the pestilence which is prevailing everywhere.... I am sure be would not get to Naples without being ill, for I know his constitution ; and if anything should happen to him you would be disappointed, and I should never be happy again.” But the next winter she had no longer an excuse for keeping him, and with much sorrow she let him depart. Such good accounts of him come to her from his employers that she is half consoled; but her maternal heart still yearns over him, and she begs Filippo, if he needs correction, “ on no account to strike him, but to reprove him with gentleness.” Was there a presentiment in Alessandra’s mind that the precocious and beloved boy would soon be taken from life ? If so, she seems to have forgotten it in his successes, and she playfully chides him for his forgetfulness to write her when he was already lying upon his death-bed. In July, 1459, he was seized with a fever which was epidemic in Naples, and died after a few weeks’ illness. A letter of Marco Parenti to Filippo shows us the heart-stricken mother in the midst of friends and relations who have gradually broken to her the sad news. There are “Francesco and Battista degli Strozzi, and Madonna Caterina, and Madonna Nannina de’ Neri, and other women, who have told her the sorrowful tidings in the gentlest way they could.” When the first bitterness of her grief was passed, Alessandra writes a most touching letter to Filippo. “ We are reduced to a small number,” she says, “ but I pacify myself, considering that God may do worse to me; and if, in his grace and mercy, he preserves to me you my remaining sons, I will not complain. All my anxiety is that you should profit by this affliction. I know well that it has grieved you, but do not let it make you ill; for we have nothing to reproach ourselves with in regard to the care taken of Matteo, and it was the will of God that he should escape from the troubles of this sorrowful world.” Then, again, her grief overcomes her, and she cries out, “ I would that I had not asked anybody’s counsel, but had done what I was inclined to do! For then I might have been in time to see and touch my sweet son while he was yet alive; and it would have been a comfort to me, and to you, and to him. I will believe that all was for the best.” She gives him advice how to take care of his health, and begs him not to overwork to gain worldly goods. “For, see! we must leave them all. Do you think I want to hear that you are laying up wealth, and wearing yourself out for it, by so much toil and anxiety ? ”
We have anticipated, in following to its end the story of Matteo’s short life. In 1451 Madonna Alessandra married her younger daughter, Alessandra, to Giovanni Bonsi; but this time, though the dowry was equal in value to Caterina’s, there is nothing said about the wedding or the gifts. Bonsi was twenty years older than his bride, and in family and fortune inferior to the husband of Caterina, but the mother calls him “ a virtuous and good man.” In the only letter of his which is given, he begs his brother-in-law not to address him in the third person, because he does not merit that mark of respect, but especially because it would make his wife think that Filippo considered him too old for her.
Lorenzo, the second son of Madonna Alessandra, was the black sheep of the family. He possessed neither the ambition and prudence of Filippo nor the sweet disposition of Matteo, and was a spendthrift and a gambler. In 1452 he is in his uncle’s bank in Bruges, and his mother is very much distressed at the accounts she receives of him, and writes to him with what is, for her, unusual severity. He was at this time twenty years old, and had been away from home seven years. “ From what I hear about you,” says Madonna Alessandra, “ I gather that you are more ready to throw away money than to save it, which is the contrary of what ought to be. And I see that you are bringing harm and shame both upon yourself and upon us ; that your habits are not good, and that you do not heed reproof, which is a bad sign, and makes me repent of all my confidence in you. I do not know how you can persist in your willful ways, knowing, first, that they displease God, and also me ; for it is a great trial to me to hear of your failures in duty, and the injury and shame which come of it I leave you to consider ; and you also give great offense to your uncle Jacob. If you had but just begun there would be some hope, but now for years you have been going on in ways that are not good, and you have been borne with for my sake. But I think, if you do not change your behavior, my entreaties for you will no longer avail. Let this warning suffice. Be wise, for it is your duty and for your advantage. . . . Remember, and do not cast my reproofs behind your back, for they are given with love and tears, and I pray God that he may incline you to do what I desire.”
Whether or not these admonitions had effect, we have no means of knowing, for there is an interval of five years between this and the next letter which has been preserved. We find that in 1458 Lorenzo had a severe illness at Bruges, and as soon as he was able he came to Florence for a brief visit. A few months after his return to Bruges, a law was passed which condemned the sons of exiles to twenty-five years’ banishment from Florence, forbidding them to approach within fifty miles of its territory, or to write letters on other than private affairs. This was a terrible blow to Madonna Alessandra, whose life was bound up in her sons; and also to Filippo, whose thoughts and hopes constantly reverted to the home of his fathers. He begs his mother to come and live with her sons (there being a plan to put Lorenzo under Filippo’s care), “ which would be a great comfort to all.” She was strongly tempted to consent; but after reflection, the consideration that she could further their advantage by remaining at Florence to care for their affairs, and the hope, which never left her, that sooner or later they would be permitted to return thither, decided her not to “ change her country,” as she phrases it, in the old Italian manner. “ Many things are brought about by time,”was her favorite maxim, proved by the changes she had already witnessed.
Whether she was a partisan of the Medici or not, she does not openly say; indeed, when all letters were likely to be inspected, it was not prudent to write of one’s political preferences, and for much of the correspondence, even about private affairs, she felt obliged to have recourse to cipher. Probably, as Professor Guasti observes, she would have preferred that government which would give her back her sons. She was farseeing enough to perceive that the Medici were likely to increase in power, and one of the few allusions to this is in these words to Lorenzo: “ Remember that the adherents of the Medici have uniformly prospered, and the contrary has happened to those of the Pazzi, who have always been undone. Be advised.” Her sons acquiesced in the wisdom of her decision, and kept up, by rare meetings outside the forbidden limits, and by constant letters and messages by friends, as much intercourse as was possible in those days, when the procaccia, or carrier, took two weeks for the journey from Florence to Naples.
Lorenzo, under the watchful care of his elder brother, seems to have laid aside his youthful follies and vices; at any rate, there are no more reproofs or regrets expressed in regard to him in his mother’s letters. Her great anxiety is to see Filippo well married, and she charges herself with finding a wife for him. As early as 1450 she had written to him about it: “ If God prolongs my life a few years, and your sister Alessandra is out of the way, I will furnish the house with linen, so that you will be well supplied; for, in truth, while there are daughters in the house, one can do nothing but for them; but when she is out of it, I shall be free to work for you, my sons. When I shall have got the household stuff in a little better order, I hope you will make up your mind to come home; for it is now so that you would not be ashamed of it, and could honorably entertain a friend who might happen to come to you; but in two or three years it will be much better furnished. And I do want to give you a wife ; for you are now of an age to know how to govern a family, and it will be a consolation to me ; I have no other from whom to hope for it but you children: therefore, may God of his mercy grant me the favor I long for.”
Filippo does not enter enthusiastically into his mother’s matrimonial plans for him. He makes an excuse of his being an exile, and again of being well enough off as he is; his mother returns to the subject again and again, sometimes with raillery, and sometimes with pleading. Her friends have suggested several damsels, but the exacting mother is not entirely satisfied with them. She thinks she can do better, and “ it is not an affair in which we should take the first thing that comes to hand.” In time Filippo gives his consent to her search, though still without any wish to hasten the matter, and he appears to have been quite willing to leave the choice of a wife altogether to Madonna Alessandra. She is much inclined to the daughter of Messer Francesco Tanagli, as “ it would be a good alliance, and of all that have been offered she seems to have the best qualities.” “ The one from Vernio pleased me, but she is awkward and countrified, they say.” “ I have heard that a daughter of the Alberti is very beautiful; and I will try to see her during these festival days, and find out whether her father would give her to us.” “ We will have a number of them on hand, so that when the time comes we can pick out the best one. May God show us the right one.”“I write to let you know that Sunday morning, when I went to Santa Reparata [the Duomo] for the early mass, as I have gone several mornings, to try and get a look at Adimari’s daughter, who is in the habit of attending that mass, by chance I found Tanagli’s daughter, there. Not knowing who she was, I placed myself near her, and considered her well. She seemed to me to be beautiful and well made; as large as Caterina, or larger ; of good complexion,— none of these pale ones, but as if she was in health. Her face is rather long, and her features are not particularly delicate, but not at all ordinary; and by her walk and her whole appearance one could see that she is not by any means dull [addormentata]. In fact, it seemed to me that if her other qualities are satisfactory she would not be a bad bargain, but an honorable one. I followed her out of church, and learned that she was a Tanagli. As to the Adimari girl, I never have been able to see her, . . . for she has not been out as usual; and while I was looking for her, behold, this one came along, who does not generally go to mass at this hour. I believe God brought her before me in order that I should look at her, since I had no expectation of seeing her there.” Afterwards, however, when she does get a look at the daughter of Messer Adimari, this indication of Providence seems to have been forgotten, as it was she who ultimately became Filippo’s bride. Still another young and lovely creature attracts attention, as she is saying her prayers ; but becoming aware of Madonna Alessandra’s scrutiny, and probably divining the reason of it, as soon as the service is over she " rushes out of church like the wind.”
One may see the same scenes enacted in the same place to-day; nor, in the families who preserve the old aristocratic traditions, do the young people have much more voice in their own marriage arrangements than they did in Madonna Alessandra’s day. If the alliance is desirable to both families, and the bride’s dowry is satisfactory, the thing is settled by the elders, and rarely opposed by the youth or the maiden. If they fall in love with each other, so much the better; if not, unless there is open repugnance on the part of one or the other, it is not of great consequence. This is not parental tyranny, but custom ; and nowhere is custom more honored than in Italy. The girl of sixteen comes home from her convent school, and is presented to her future husband ; dazzled by the new world opening before her, — the social life, the gifts, the trousseau,— she is a married woman before she has had time to accustom herself to the change from her former monotonous childhood. When her heart awakes, she is already in bonds. But better is even an unhappy marriage, in this traditional acceptation, than single life for a woman ; and indeed the conventionalities which forbid the unmarried woman, until she is forty or more, to go out alone, or to lead an independent existence in any way, make her case very different from that of her sisters in England and America, and drive her not unfrequently to a conventual life as preferable to that which she would lead at home.
It seems to have been in the times of which we are speaking as in those which Machiavelli depicts in his Belphegor, — “ there were many noble citizens who had plenty of daughters and but little money,” — and Madonna Alessandra complains that “ those who have other recommendations are not beautiful.” “ As for me,” she says, “ I don’t want to have these frights in my sight, for it is little pleasure one gets from having them in the house ! ” With all her wisdom, she had a keen appreciation of externals ; and she was anxious that Filippo, on his part, should do all possible honor to his future bride. She wants his corbeille to be worthy of his name and his means; and she inclines to what is costly and durable in the way of dress and ornaments. “ If the affair turns out well, as I trust it will, it will be necessary for us to do things proportionably well, for I should be proud to see your bride beautiful and beautifully adorned. And I would not have her poorer than others as to jewels. Jewels are things which you can afford to give her, and I know that you can be well supplied with them at Naples, so that you need not be parsimonious about them. If clothes are not trimmed with pearls, they must have some other trimming which costs just as much, and is money thrown away. So if you spend money for what is useful, I shall encourage you.”
Still Filippo delays to show any active interest in the matter, and at last his mother gets quite out of patience with him. “ It seems to me you are very much afraid to take a wife, and I must say that you show little steadfastness of purpose ; for since you resolved to marry, a hundred doubts appear to have come into your mind.” “ You will see that the thing is not so bad as it looks. You ask if I do not think you might wait a year or two longer. I tell you, frankly, no.”
It is much to be regretted that from 1465 to 1468 we have no letters, for these must have been three of the most important and joyful years of Madonna Alessandra’s life. In them her two chief desires were fulfilled, the return of her sons from exile, and the marriage of Filippo. The sentence of banishment was annulled after the downfall of Luca Pitti and his party. Filippo came to Florence in 1466, and almost immediately married the beautiful and good Fiammetta degli Adimark. She was of one of the best families in Florence, and brought her husband a large dowry. In the first letter that is extant after this interval, Filippo has returned to Naples for a time, and Fiammetta is with her mother-in-law. She has already two children, and the old house is enlivened, for the grandmother, by their presence. “ You say,” she writes to her son, “ that you need not recommend Fiammetta to my care, and you say truly ; for I do for her even more than I would for an own child. And I also take care of little Alfonso as much as I can. But he is a terrible child ; he is always falling into rages; and he is very thin, but nevertheless strong. Lucrezia [the infant] is a fine child, and resembles Fiammetta : she is fair, like her, and similarly made, and is bigger than Alfonso was at her age. May God give her a long life.” “ When Madonna Antonia comes back, we will try to have her stay with us, and pay her all the honors we can ; for Fiammetta will then be up again. It would be no trouble to me to do anything, if I were stronger; but I am no longer as I was last winter, when you told me I had taken a new lease of life. I was ill all Holy Week and over Easter ; then I took medicine, but it did not do me much good. I am old, and when I think I shall be better I grow worse ; and so it will go on to the end. If I have not written you as often as I wished, it has been because, first, I have not felt well, and then I have had a great deal to do. Fiammetta’s baby was born, people were always running in and out, and everything came upon me. If I had no other hindrance than Alfonso, that would be enough ; but it is a pleasant one. He is always running after me, like the chicken after the hen.”
The mother is growing old, but she still keeps the guidance of family affairs in her hands, even with her married children, after the Italian fashion unto this day. Fiammetta is invited to the marriage of Lorenzo de’ Medici with Clarice Orsini. She does not care to go, being still feeble, and having, like her modern sisters upon similar occasions, “ nothing to wear.” Madonna Alessandra thinks she is right, “ for if she went it would cost some hundreds of florins. They are going to wear dresses of brocade, and she would be obliged to have the same ; besides, she is ill supplied with jewels.” “ She asks me to tell you that she wants a new serge dress before the feast of San Giovanni, and begs you will get it of Lorenzo for her, for she is really in need of it.”
The seventy-second and last letter of Madonna Alessandra is dated the 14th of April, 1470. It is chiefly occupied with business details, which show that she was as actively employed as ever. She has bought a supply of grain, for which she has had to give a high price; “it always happens that we have to buy when things are dear.” She has had improvements made in the stables, and she hopes that Filippo will tell her exactly what day he may be expected, so that she can put everything in order. There is some public news, too, that is rather exciting : the Podesta has hanged fourteen men concerned in a tumult at Prato ; and there has been a great earthquake. “ Between one dreadful thing and another, I am half beside myself. I think the world is coming to an end; so that it is well to have our minds prepared for it, and to be ready.” The writer died eleven months later. In her last days she had the comfort of seeing her son Lorenzo married, but he continued to live at Naples. On the 11th of March, 1471, Filippo makes this entry in his diary: “ This morning, botween ten and eleven o’clock, Madonna Alessandra passed peacefully away from this life, with all the sacraments.” She was buried honorably in the church of Santa Maria Novella, and due masses were said for the repose of her soul. All her clothing, in accordance with her expressed wish, was given to the poor.
Eighteen years later Filippo Strozzi laid the foundations of the palace in the Via Tornabuoni. Of his father’s family, only his sister Alessandra was living to witness the height of prosperity which he had reached. Lorenzo had died in 1479, and Caterina, the wife of Marco Parenti, of whose bridal we have heard so much, passed away in 1481, deeply lamented by her husband, who had found his life with her “ most joyful and happy.” The beautiful Fiammetta, too, was gone. She lived only till 1476, and Filippo had married Selvaggia Gianfigliazzi, by whom he already had two sons.
Filippo’s son Lorenzo, in his biography of his father, gives the following account of the preparations for building the palace, which well accord with the prudent and shrewd disposition of the builder : “ Filippo, therefore, having a large family, and being more eager for fame than for riches, not knowing any surer way to leave a memorial of himself, and having a natural inclination for architecture and not a little knowledge of it, conceived the idea of building a habitation which should do honor to himself and all of his name in Italy and abroad. But this was attended with no little difficulty, it being possible that he who had the supreme power [Lorenzo de’ Medici] might imagine that such splendor was likely to obscure his own; and Filippo feared thus to awaken envy. Therefore he began to give out that, having a numerous offspring and so small a house, it was necessary that he who had brought children into the world should also provide a place for them to dwell; and that this could be done by him much better than by them after his death. Thus in a quiet way he consulted masons and architects, and sometimes would seem about to begin to build ; and then, again, he would appear irresolute, and loath to spend in a short time what it had taken him so many years of toil to accumulate, — cunningly dissimulating only in order to attain his end more easily; asserting always that all he wanted was a citizen’s house, commodious and convenient, but not ostentatious. But the masons and architects, as their manner is, exceeded all his plans, which really was agreeable to Filippo, however much he might pretend the contrary, saying that they forced him to what he would not and could not afford. Besides this, he who ruled over Florence was desirous that the city should be beautified in every possible way, . . . and began to interest himself in Filippo’s project, asking to see the designs ; and when he had examined them, besides many other expensive additions, he suggested a façade of unhewn stones. Filippo, in proportion as he was encouraged, appeared to draw back, declaring that he could not have such a façade, it being too expensive for the house of a plain citizen ; that he was building for use, and not for show ; that he intended to use the ground-floor for shops, which would bring in a good rent to his children. This was vehemently opposed, on account of ugliness and inconvenience, and the trouble it would cause the occupants of the house. Filippo still feigned to object, often complaining to his friends that he had begun an undertaking of which God only could tell whether the result would be satisfactory, and that, rather than to find himself so involved, he wished he had never thought of building.” Having thus appeased the vanity and neutralized the envy of Lorenzo, he went on vigorously with his preparations, and records that “ on the 16th of August, 1489, as the sun rose over the mountains,” he laid the first stone of his house, “ in the name of God, and as a good foundation for me and my descendants.” He also had masses sung at several churches and convents which had been endowed by him, and he gave alms and gifts, and invited the architect and master builder, with some of his friends, to dine with him that day. We get a curious picture of those times as we read the whole account in the pages of Lorenzo’s Life of Filippo. Besides his prayers to God, Filippo had been careful to consult a distinguished astrologer, to make sure that the influences of the stars were favorable. On the 16th of August, Cor Leonis, “ a most fortunate star,” was in the ascendant, and the sun was in the Lion, “ which signifies that the posterity of the founder shall continue to dwell in that house unto the end of their line.”
His posterity still dwell there, but he himself lived to see the massive walls rise but a little above their foundations. Only two courses of the ponderous blocks of stone had been laid when, in 1491, be was carried to sleep with his fathers in Santa Maria Novella.
We cannot follow the fortunes of the family further. At this point their history is taken up by T. A. Trollope, in his Life of Filippo Strozzi, the Younger, whose career was as different from his father’s as a drama is different from a quiet fireside story.
E. D. R. Bianciardi.