Renaissance and Reformation Alessandra Macinghi Strozzi
by
Judith Bryce
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0373

Introduction

Alessandra Strozzi (née Macinghi) (Florence, c. 1406–1471), the widow of a member of the Florentine mercantile patriciate, Matteo di Simone Strozzi (1397–1435), is known to posterity primarily as the author of seventy-three surviving letters dated between 1447 and 1470. All, with the exception of one to Iacopo Strozzi (1404–1461), a cousin of her late husband resident in Bruges, are written to her sons, Filippo (1428–1491, later known as Filippo il Vecchio or The Elder), Lorenzo (1432–1479), and Matteo (1436–1459). The family’s history was marked by the trauma of exile, initially in 1434 to Pesaro on the Adriatic coast at the instigation of the de facto ruler of Florence, Cosimo de’ Medici (1389–1464). The sentence ended prematurely in 1435 with the death from plague of Matteo, as well as of three of the children, whereupon a pregnant Alessandra, the two older boys previously mentioned, and two daughters, Caterina (1431–1481) and Alessandra (1434–1502), returned to Florence. Financial circumstances dictated that, at the age of twelve or thirteen, the boys again left home, this time to join the firms of Strozzi relatives operating abroad, for example in Barcelona, Valencia, Bruges, Rome, and Naples. In November 1458, however, history repeated itself, and they were formally exiled by Cosimo de’ Medici’s son and successor, Piero (1416–1469). Physical separation, occasioned first by financial, and, subsequently, by political circumstances, is the raison d’être of their mother’s letter writing, bridging the distance between them, nurturing emotional ties potentially weakened by absence and by time, and allowing her to continue to fulfil her duties of maternal care, for example in relation to their physical and spiritual well-being. In addition, she reported on a host of practical matters relating to family property and finance, conveyed news about the city’s complex and often fast-evolving political situation (the ultimate aim being to discover the ways and means by which pardon and repatriation might be obtained), and offered a detailed account of the efforts made on her sons’ behalf to engineer good marriages for them, thereby ensuring the continuation of the lineage. The final three extant letters of the correspondence, dating from 1469 and 1470, postdate the lifting of the ban of exile in September 1466. They reveal a satisfactory outcome as regards her sons’ marriages and the arrival of the first grandchildren. First published in 1877, her letters constitute both a precious human document and an invaluable scholarly resource.

General Overviews

Although Alessandra’s letters have long been well known and widely available (see Transmission History, Editions, and Translations), it is only recently with Crabb 2000 that she has been the subject of a book-length study. Brucker 1998 remains a very accessible illustrated introduction to Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries, while Najemy 2006 offers a dense political narrative over a wider period, and Black and Law 2015 narrows the focus to the 15th-century Medici. Hay and Law 1989 helps to set the city state in the wider context of the Italian peninsula. Two excellent books that rise to the challenge of providing an overview of the Renaissance are Cox 2016 and King 2017. Schaus 2006 is a useful reference work that covers the period up to 1500 with a specific focus on women and gender. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article The Renaissance. Lastly, Frick 2002 and the contributions in Ajmar-Wollheim and Dennis 2006 offer fascinating insights into aspects of the material culture of the period.

  • Ajmar-Wollheim, Marta, and Flora Dennis, eds. At Home in Renaissance Italy. London: V & A, 2006.

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    Based on the stunning Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition in London. Useful for a better understanding of aspects of the material world revealed in Alessandra’s letters. Articles range from housework to domestic devotional art and from tableware to textiles and clothing. Some brief references to Alessandra herself.

  • Black, Robert, and John E. Law, eds. The Medici: Citizens and Masters. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

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    The history of the Strozzi in the 15th century is inextricably linked with that of the Medici. This edited volume offers a wide range of essays by leading scholars on the notoriously ambiguous political status of the latter, as well as an excellent bibliography.

  • Brucker, Gene. Florence: The Golden Age, 1138–1737. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

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    Remains a good introductory guide to the city state with chapters on the great families, the economy, politics, and so on, combined with plentiful illustrations.

  • Cox, Virginia. A Short History of the Italian Renaissance. London: I. B. Tauris, 2016.

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    Covering a range of regional centers, individual figures, texts, and topics, Cox brings fresh insights to bear on a much-discussed subject. As one would expect from this scholar, particular attention is paid to Renaissance women.

  • Crabb, Ann. The Strozzi of Florence: Widowhood and Family Solidarity in the Renaissance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.15589E-mail Citation »

    The first port of call when approaching Alessandra and her family. Essential reading. Also cited under Biographical Studies and Critical Studies.

  • Frick, Carole C. Dressing Renaissance Florence: Families, Fortunes, and Fine Clothing. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

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    Ranges from craftspeople and customers (including Alessandra’s son-in-law, Marco Parenti) to the “fashion police” and clothing as represented in the art of the period. Includes useful appendices, for example on currency and measures and on categories of tradespeople and artisans working in the clothing industry.

  • Hay, Denys, and John Law. Italy in the Age of the Renaissance, 1380–1530. London: Longman, 1989.

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    Particularly useful for establishing a wider context for the letters are Part 2, “Society, the State and the Church,” and Part 3, “Political Histories.” Chapter 9 in the latter covers the complex history of Naples where Filippo Strozzi built his business empire.

  • King, Margaret L. A Short History of the Renaissance in Europe. 3d ed. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2017.

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    Third edition of The Renaissance in Europe, first published in 2003. Covering a swathe of time from the Romans to the 16th century, it focuses primarily on the Italian peninsula before opening out to other countries. Highly accessible discussion of topics ranging from politics, art, humanism, and public and private life, to the church, the voyages of discovery, and the birth of opera. Aspects of women’s lives feature under several headings.

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

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470754870E-mail Citation »

    Altogether a tour de force of historical exposition. Chapters 9, 10, and 12 on the Medici in the 15th century are clearly relevant but be aware of a notable anti-Medicean bias. Chapter 8 deftly summarizes the vast amount of research that has been conducted on the family, women, marriage, dowries, and inheritance, all of which are recurring topics in Alessandra’s letters.

  • Schaus, Margaret, ed. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    Contains entries on individuals (including Alessandra Strozzi and Lucrezia Tornabuoni by Ann Crabb and F. W. Kent, respectively) and on a wide variety of topics from sexuality and education to family and kinship, widows, and women authors. Articles have brief bibliographies and useful cross-references to related entries.

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