In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Florence

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Medieval Studies Florence
George Dameron
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0168


The history of medieval Florence (c. 600–c. 1400) is full of paradoxes. In 1300 the city was one of the most populated and economically powerful city-states in Europe. Yet, only a century before, Florence had been a second-tier city that was far behind its Tuscan neighbors (Pisa and Lucca) in terms of its population and level of political development. Even with regard to the role of humanism in Florentine culture, the history of Florence was exceptional. From at least the late 12th century ancient authors were consistently well known to Florentine writers, but in the 13th century, the emergence of Florence as the center of vernacular literature impeded the further development of a humanist culture. By the early 15th century, however, Florence had become the center of oratorical humanism. Before the mid-13th century, Florence was one of the least-documented communes in northern Italy, but after the middle of the century, it developed one of the most active record-keeping cultures in Europe. The major building projects of the medieval city that greet the visitor today are not the results of centuries of construction and planning. Rather, the cathedral, the Palazzo Vecchio, the city walls, much of the urban road infrastructure and public squares (piazze), and the imposing mendicant friaries were all planned and largely built within half a century (c. 1280–c. 1330). Furthermore, before the late 13th century, the visual arts in Florence seemed no more distinguished or more influential than the painting, sculpture, and architecture of other north Italian city-states. Yet, from the early 14th century, the accomplishments and innovative artistic traditions initiated by Florentine artists shaped the direction of the visual arts in Europe for centuries to come. The major theme in medieval Florentine history is therefore its rapid rise to prominence, power, and influence in Italy in the second half of the 13th and early 14th century. To explain how and why this happened—why Florentine history was so exceptional throughout its history and its rise so rapid—has been a dominant preoccupation for scholars of medieval Florence for many generations. This entry surveys how many scholars have approached this challenge since the mid-20th century.

General Overviews

No recent survey of medieval Florence can match the chronological sweep and comprehensive scope of the late 19th- and early 20th-century historian, Robert Davidsohn. Nevertheless, a number of fine surveys do exist to introduce the reader to the history of medieval Florence, especially from the 13th century. The essay collections address specific topics and remain influential in contemporary Florentine scholarship.

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