I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History

Being a Jesuit in Renaissance Italy: Biographical Writing in the Early Global Age

A new history illuminates the Society of Jesus in its first century from the perspective of those who knew it best: the early Jesuits themselves.

The Society of Jesus was established in 1540. In the century that followed, thousands sought to become Jesuits and pursue vocations in religious service, teaching, and missions. Drawing on scores of unpublished biographical documents housed at the Roman Jesuit Archive, Camilla Russell illuminates the lives of those who joined the Society, building together a religious and cultural presence that remains influential the world over.

Tracing Jesuit life from the Italian provinces to distant missions, Russell sheds new light on the impact and inner workings of the Society. The documentary record reveals a textual network among individual members, inspired by Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. The early Jesuits took stock of both quotidian and spiritual experiences in their own records, which reflect a community where the worldly and divine overlapped. Echoing the Society’s foundational writings, members believed that each Jesuit’s personal strengths and inclinations offered a unique contribution to the whole—an attitude that helps explain the Society’s widespread appeal from its first days.

Focusing on the Jesuits’ own words, Being a Jesuit in Renaissance Italy offers a new lens on the history of spirituality, identity, and global exchange in the Renaissance. What emerges is a kind of genetic code—a thread connecting the key Jesuit works to the first generations of Jesuits and the Society of Jesus as it exists today.

Tuscany in the Age of Empire
Brege, Brian. 2021. Tuscany in the Age of Empire. Harvard University Press. Publisher's Version Abstract

A new history explores how one of Renaissance Italy’s leading cities maintained its influence in an era of global exploration, trade, and empire.

The Grand Duchy of Tuscany was not an imperial power, but it did harbor global ambitions. After abortive attempts at overseas colonization and direct commercial expansion, as Brian Brege shows, Tuscany followed a different path, one that allowed it to participate in Europe’s new age of empire without establishing an empire of its own. The first history of its kind, Tuscany in the Age of Empire offers a fresh appraisal of one of the foremost cities of the Italian Renaissance, as it sought knowledge, fortune, and power throughout Asia, the Americas, and beyond.

How did Tuscany, which could not compete directly with the growing empires of other European states, establish a global presence? First, Brege shows, Tuscany partnered with larger European powers. The duchy sought to obtain trade rights within their empires and even manage portions of other states’ overseas territories. Second, Tuscans invested in cultural, intellectual, and commercial institutions at home, which attracted the knowledge and wealth generated by Europe’s imperial expansions. Finally, Tuscans built effective coalitions with other regional powers in the Mediterranean and the Islamic world, which secured the duchy’s access to global products and empowered the Tuscan monarchy in foreign affairs.

These strategies allowed Tuscany to punch well above its weight in a world where power was equated with the sort of imperial possessions it lacked. By finding areas of common interest with stronger neighbors and forming alliances with other marginal polities, a small state was able to protect its own security while carving out a space as a diplomatic and intellectual hub in a globalizing Europe.

Love and Sex in the Time of Plague: A Decameron Renaissance

For Florentines, the world seemed to be coming to an end. In 1348 the first wave of the Black Death swept across the Italian city, reducing its population from more than 100,000 to less than 40,000. The disease would eventually kill at least half of the population of Europe. Amid the devastation, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron was born. One of the masterpieces of world literature, the Decameron has captivated centuries of readers with its vivid tales of love, loyalty, betrayal, and sex. Despite the death that overwhelmed Florence, Boccaccio’s collection of novelle was, in Guido Ruggiero’s words, a “symphony of life.”

Love and Sex in the Time of Plague guides twenty-first-century readers back to Boccaccio’s world to recapture how his work sounded to fourteenth-century ears. Through insightful discussions of the Decameron’s cherished stories and deep portraits of Florentine culture, Ruggiero explores love and sexual relations in a society undergoing convulsive change. In the century before the plague arrived, Florence had become one of the richest and most powerful cities in Europe. With the medieval nobility in decline, a new polity was emerging, driven by Il Popolo—the people, fractious and enterprising. Boccaccio’s stories had a special resonance in this age of upheaval, as Florentines sought new notions of truth and virtue to meet both the despair and the possibility of the moment.

Niccolò di Lorenzo della Magna and the Social World of Florentine Printing, ca. 1470–1493

Lorenz Böninger offers a fresh history of the birth of print in Italy through the story of one of its most important figures, Niccolò di Lorenzo della Magna. After having worked for several years for a judicial court in Florence, Niccolò established his business there and published a number of influential books. Among these were Marsilio Ficino’s De christiana religione, Leon Battista Alberti’s De re aedificatoria, Cristoforo Landino’s commentaries on Dante’s Commedia, and Francesco Berlinghieri’s Septe giornate della geographia. Many of these books were printed in vernacular Italian.

Despite his prominence, Niccolò has remained an enigma. A meticulous historical detective, Böninger pieces together the thorough portrait that scholars have been missing. In doing so, he illuminates not only Niccolò’s life but also the Italian printing revolution generally. Combining Renaissance studies’ traditional attention to bibliographic and textual concerns with a broader social and economic history of printing in Renaissance Italy, Böninger provides an unparalleled view of the business of printing in its earliest years. The story of Niccolò di Lorenzo furnishes a host of new insights into the legal issues that printers confronted, the working conditions in printshops, and the political forces that both encouraged and constrained the publication and dissemination of texts.

Abortion in Early Modern Italy
Christopoulos, John. 2021. Abortion in Early Modern Italy . Harvard University Press. Publisher's Version Abstract

In this authoritative history, John Christopoulos provides a provocative and far-reaching account of abortion in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy. His poignant portraits of women who terminated or were forced to terminate pregnancies offer a corrective to longstanding views: he finds that Italians maintained a fundamental ambivalence about abortion. Italians from all levels of society sought, had, and participated in abortions. Early modern Italy was not an absolute anti-abortion culture, an exemplary Catholic society centered on the “traditional family.” Rather, Christopoulos shows, Italians held many views on abortion, and their responses to its practice varied.

Bringing together medical, religious, and legal perspectives alongside a social and cultural history of sexuality, reproduction, and the family, Christopoulos offers a nuanced and convincing account of the meanings Italians ascribed to abortion and shows how prevailing ideas about the practice were spread, modified, and challenged. Christopoulos begins by introducing readers to prevailing ideas about abortion and women’s bodies, describing the widely available purgative medicines and surgeries that various healers and women themselves employed to terminate pregnancies. He then explores how these ideas and practices ran up against and shaped theology, medicine, and law. Catholic understanding of abortion was changing amid religious, legal, and scientific debates concerning the nature of human life, women’s bodies, and sexual politics. Christopoulos examines how ecclesiastical, secular, and medical authorities sought to regulate abortion, and how tribunals investigated and punished its procurers—or did not, even when they could have. Abortion in Early Modern Italy offers a compelling and sensitive study of abortion in a time of dramatic religious, scientific, and social change.

Milan Undone: Contested Sovereignties in the Italian Wars

In 1499, the duchy of Milan had known independence for one hundred years. But the turn of the sixteenth century saw the city battered by the Italian Wars. As the major powers of Europe battled for supremacy, Milan, viewed by contemporaries as the “key to Italy,” found itself wracked by a tug-of-war between French claimants and its ruling Sforza family. In just thirty years, the city endured nine changes of government before falling under three centuries of Habsburg dominion.

Milan Undone is a rich and detailed story of harrowing events, but it is more than that. Gagné asks us to rethink the political legacy of the Renaissance: the cradle of the modern nation-state was also the deathbed of one of its most sophisticated precursors. In its wake came a kind of reversion—not self-rule but chaos and empire.

Forgotten Healers: Women and the Pursuit of Health in Late Renaissance Italy
In Renaissance Italy women played a more central role in providing health care than historians have thus far acknowledged. Women from all walks of life—from household caregivers and nurses to nuns working as apothecaries—drove the Italian medical economy. In convent pharmacies, pox hospitals, girls’ shelters, and homes, women were practitioners and purveyors of knowledge about health and healing, making significant contributions to early modern medicine.
A Convert’s Tale: Art, Crime, and Jewish Apostasy in Renaissance Italy
In 1491 the renowned goldsmith Salomone da Sesso converted to Catholicism. Born in the mid-fifteenth century to a Jewish family in Florence, Salomone later settled in Ferrara, where he was regarded as a virtuoso artist whose exquisite jewelry and lavishly engraved swords were prized by Italy’s ruling elite. But rumors circulated about Salomone’s behavior, scandalizing the Jewish community, who turned him over to the civil authorities. Charged with sodomy, Salomone was sentenced to die but agreed to renounce Judaism to save his life. He was baptized, taking the name Ercole “de’ Fedeli” (“One of the Faithful”). With the help of powerful patrons like Duchess Eleonora of Aragon and Duke Ercole d’Este, his namesake, Ercole lived as a practicing Catholic for three more decades. Drawing on newly discovered archival sources, Tamar Herzig traces the dramatic story of his life, half a century before ecclesiastical authorities made Jewish conversion a priority of the Catholic Church.
Giannozzo Manetti: The Life of a Florentine Humanist
A celebrated orator, historian, philosopher, and statesman, Giannozzo Manetti (1396–1459) was one of the most remarkable figures of the Italian Renaissance. The son of a wealthy Florentine merchant, he was active in the public life of the Florentine republic and embraced the new humanist scholarship of the Quattrocento.
Clerical Households in Late Medieval Italy
Cossar, Roisin. 2017. Clerical Households in Late Medieval Italy. Harvard University Press. Publisher's Version Abstract

Roisin Cossar brings a new perspective to the history of the Christian church in fourteenth century Italy by examining how clerics managed efforts to reform their domestic lives in the decades after the arrival of the Black Death.

Priests at the end of the Middle Ages resembled their lay contemporaries as they entered into domestic relationships with women, fathered children, and took responsibility for managing households, or familiae. Cossar limns a complex portrait of daily life in the medieval clerical familia that traces the phases of its development. Many priests began their vocation as apprentices in the households of older clerics. In middle age, priests fully embraced the traditional role of paterfamilias—patriarchs with authority over their households, including servants and, especially in Venice, slaves. As fathers they endeavored to establish their illegitimate sons in a clerical family trade. They also used their legal knowledge to protect their female companions and children against a church that frowned on such domestic arrangements and actively sought to stamp them out.

Clerical Households in Late Medieval Italy refutes the longstanding charge that the late medieval clergy were corrupt, living licentious lives that failed to uphold priestly obligations. In fashioning a domestic culture that responded flexibly to their own needs, priests tempered the often unrealistic expectations of their superiors. Their response to the rigid demands of church reform allowed the church to maintain itself during a period of crisis and transition in European history.

The Avignon Papacy Contested: An Intellectual History from Dante to Catherine of Siena
The Avignon papacy (1309–1377) represented the zenith of papal power in Europe. The Roman curia’s move to southern France enlarged its bureaucracy, centralized its authority, and initiated closer contact with secular institutions. The pope’s presence also attracted leading minds to Avignon, transforming a modest city into a cosmopolitan center of learning. But a crisis of legitimacy was brewing among leading thinkers of the day. The Avignon Papacy Contested considers the work of six fourteenth-century writers who waged literary war against the Catholic Church’s increasing claims of supremacy over secular rulers—a conflict that engaged contemporary critics from every corner of Europe.
Success and Suppression: Arabic Sciences and Philosophy in the Renaissance

The Renaissance marked a turning point in Europe’s relationship to Arabic thought. On the one hand, Dag Nikolaus Hasse argues, it was the period in which important Arabic traditions reached the peak of their influence in Europe. On the other hand, it is the time when the West began to forget, and even actively suppress, its debt to Arabic culture. Success and Suppressiontraces the complex story of Arabic influence on Renaissance thought.

It is often assumed that the Renaissance had little interest in Arabic sciences and philosophy, because humanist polemics from the period attacked Arabic learning and championed Greek civilization. Yet Hasse shows that Renaissance denials of Arabic influence emerged not because scholars of the time rejected that intellectual tradition altogether but because a small group of anti-Arab hard-liners strove to suppress its powerful and persuasive influence. The period witnessed a boom in new translations and multivolume editions of Arabic authors, and European philosophers and scientists incorporated—and often celebrated—Arabic thought in their work, especially in medicine, philosophy, and astrology. But the famous Arabic authorities were a prominent obstacle to the Renaissance project of renewing European academic culture through Greece and Rome, and radical reformers accused Arabic science of linguistic corruption, plagiarism, or irreligion. Hasse shows how a mixture of ideological and scientific motives led to the decline of some Arabic traditions in important areas of European culture, while others continued to flourish.

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