Renaissance and Reformation Lucrezia Tornabuoni
by
Gerry Milligan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0174

Introduction

In Florence, a city where there was no princely court to provide titles of authority to women and at a time when women were frequently kept from the public sphere of men, Lucrezia Tornabuoni (b. 1425–d. 1482) exercised an impressive influence over the politics and culture around her. Her parents were members of two of the oldest and most powerful Florentine families, the Tornabuoni and Guicciardini, and with her marriage to the eldest son of Cosimo de’ Medici, she was destined to become the prima donna of the city. Her family network would, in fact, serve as her source of influence: she was sister to the banker Giovanni Tornabuoni, wife of Piero de’ Medici, the de facto head of the Republic, mother of Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” and grandmother of future popes Leo X and Clement VII. Lucrezia would act as close advisor to her brother, husband, and children as well as overseeing the education of many of her grandchildren. Her influence extended beyond expected roles of domestic management, and in Tornabuoni’s case specifically, her activities would include that of landowner, business woman, patron, political emissary, and poet. She collected rents on properties owned in Pisa, remodeled and managed thermal baths at Bagno a Morbo, traveled to Rome to interview her son’s prospective bride, managed a dowry charity for poor girls, and ran the daily affairs of the Medici household while her husband was often ill. These experiences, all of which demonstrate remarkable intelligence and character, inform her poetic works. Her writings are almost exclusively religious in nature. She versified books of both the Old and New Testaments as well as composed several lauds that were set to music. In her more narrative works, she frequently tackles the difficult question of how to be a Christian woman in a world of commerce and war, not surprising for a woman who succeeded in performing piety as well as demonstrating sharp business acumen. Furthermore, she was beloved by her people, even in a time when Medici relations were often tense. When Lucrezia Tornabuoni died, her eulogist praised her for advising magistrates as well as the humble. He also praised that her political decisions had been more “prudent” than those of her son, the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and perhaps it is the words of her son Lorenzo that are most telling: after his mother’s death, he wrote the duchess of Ferrara to say that he had lost not just a mother but his only refuge and relief.

General Overviews

All aspects of Florence in the Renaissance have enjoyed scholarly attention, resulting in one of the richest bibliographies available on any one moment in history. Brucker 1969 is a seminal and reliable history of the period. Najemy 2006 provides an updated revision of some of Brucker’s work and extends his research over a longer timespan, while Goldthwaite 2009 provides an economic history of the city, an approach that has been extremely influential over the past several decades. In the general field of the circulation of Bibles and biblical translations in the Italian Renaissance, the large compendium of Barbieri 1992 and the collected essays in Leonardi 1998 are still the most important works.

  • Barbieri, Edoardo. Le Bibbie italiane del quattrocento e del cinquecento: Storia e bibliografia ragionata delle edizioni in lingua italiana dal 1471 al 1600. 2 vols. Milan: Editrice Bibliografica, 1992.

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    A massive work; the first volume examines Bibles translated in the Italian language but published throughout Europe from 1471 to 1600, while the second volume is devoted to illustrations.

  • Brucker, Gene A. Renaissance Florence. New York: Wiley, 1969.

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    Still one of the most widely used English-language introductions to Renaissance Florence. It broadly covers all aspects of culture, politics, and history of the city. Available in reprint editions, it is an excellent source for undergraduates.

  • Goldthwaite, Richard A. The Economy of Renaissance Florence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

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    An extraordinary book that studies both the economy of Renaissance Florence and the larger European context. The book provides a fascinating discussion of the textile and banking industries as well as offering a history of the foundations of early capitalism.

  • Leonardi, Lino, ed. La Bibbia in italiano tra medioevo e rinascimento. Florence: SISMEL, 1998.

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    A collection of fourteen fascinating essays that reflect research done on the nearly 350 early manuscripts of Italian translations of the Bible. Of particular interest is the first essay, which provides a general introduction to the production and circulation of Italian translations in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

  • Najemy, John M. A History of Florence, 1200–1575. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470754870E-mail Citation »

    A view of medieval and Renaissance Florence seen through the lens of power struggles. It begins with 13th-century feuds between great families and moves to explore triangular struggles between merchants, the guild-based popolo, and the working classes of later centuries. The book devotes much attention to the rise of the Medici, their subsequent exile, and final return.

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