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Guardians of RepublicanismThe Valori Family in the Florentine Renaissance$

Mark Jurdjevic

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199204489

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199204489.001.0001

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The Valori Family in the Florentine Renaissance

The Valori Family in the Florentine Renaissance

(p.1) Introduction: The Valori Family in the Florentine Renaissance
Guardians of Republicanism

Mark Jurdjevic (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The introduction provides a narrative overview and survey of the five generations of the Valori analysed in the book. It explains the principal actions, conflicts, and outcomes of the family's political careers between the late fifteenth century through the late seventeenth century. Additionally, the introduction provides an overview and survey of the family's primary intellectual patronage patterns, particularly their alliances with Girolamo Savonarola, a radical Dominican reformer and prophet, Marsilio Ficino, the city's leading Neoplatonic philosopher, and Niccolò Machiavelli, the most influential political philosopher of the Italian Renaissance.

Keywords:   Valori Family, Medici, Hybrid Republicanism, Florentine Renaissance, Civic Humanism, Machiavelli, Savonarola, Marsilio Ficino

On 1 August 1537, the army of the new ruler of Florence, Duke Cosimo I, routed the forces of Florentine exiles intent on toppling the fledgling Medici regime. The future of Medici power in Florence hung in the balance that day. No one, Cosimo included, expected him to assume the ducal throne—the assassination of his cousin Alessandro in January 1537 had thrust him rather unexpectedly to the forefront of Florentine politics. He had been elected by the Florentine senate, led by old, aristocratic houses who hoped to establish an oligarchy in Florence with Cosimo as little more than a symbolic figurehead. In addition to weak internal support and the enmity of an increasing gathering of Florentine exiles in Bologna, Cosimo could count only on obstacles to his rule from abroad. The recent republican uprising of 1527–30 and yet more recent assassination of Alessandro had raised significant doubts about the willingness of Florentines to accept the Medici as princely rulers. Neither the French, nor the papacy, nor even Cosimo's ostensible ally, the Holy Roman Emperor, were inclined to provide any kind of support until Medici power in Florence appeared secure.1

In devastatingly unambiguous terms, Cosimo's victory at Montemurlo answered all questions about the permanence of Medici power in Florence. Throughout the previous century, the constitution and political culture of Florence had oscillated between a traditional republicanism, whether popular or oligarchic, and a more recent princely culture, whether hidden or overt, centred around the Medici family. The fundamentally unresolved tension between the republican and princely visions for Florentine government was the beating heart of the city's political history from 1434 through 1537. Although the Medici family (p.2) had dominated Florentine politics for much of that period, republicanism remained a powerful and influential political ideology for the Florentine elite, capable at times of coalescing into outright political opposition, as the republican uprisings of 1494 and 1527 demonstrated. But after 1537 and his victory over the exile army, Cosimo built a dynastic state more powerful and secure than that of any of his predecessors. The house of Medici never again faced an open republican challenge to their hegemony, though, as this book hopes to show, republican ideology persisted nonetheless in ducal Florence.

A gifted and capable dynast, Cosimo immediately set to work laying the foundations for his new ducal state, commissioning a series of portraits, sculptures, and frescoes depicting him as the natural and rightful ruler of an autonomous territorial state.2 Particularly conscious of early doubts surrounding his competence as a military leader, he commissioned a number of martial works that connected him to famous generals from antiquity and that evoked his father, the condottiere Giovanni delle Bande Nere.3 Cosimo's chief architect for the visual style of the newly triumphant Medici was Giorgio Vasari, who among many other works commemorated Cosimo's victory over the exiles in a fresco at the palazzo della Signoria, freshly renamed the palazzo ducale. Based on a Roman military victory, Vasari's fresco depicts a martial Cosimo, triumphant on the field of battle, gazing down on the bound and prostrate vanquished republican leaders, Bartolomeo Valori, Filippo Strozzi, and Anton Francesco degli Albizzi.4 Vasari classicizes and naturalizes Medici rule, showing Cosimo engaged in two defining (p.3) acts of monarchical rule—the pursuit of war and administration of justice—that in this case merge into a single act of condemning the exiles. Vasari's Il trionfo di Cosimo a Montemurlo attempted to put an aesthetically harmonious, classical, and fundamentally serene face on Cosimo's triumph.

This book deals centrally with the themes invoked by Vasari's fresco, particularly its stark contrast between ascendant monarchism and vanquished republicanism, and with the tensions and complexities of that moment that Vasari attempted to mask and obscure. In effect, it provides an against‐the‐grain, republican reading of Vasari's Montemurlo fresco and an examination of the political tensions—both before and well after 1537—that it implied the battle had thoroughly resolved. To sixteenth‐century Florentines, the image of Bartolomeo Valori, one of the principal defeated republicans in the foreground of Vasari's fresco, would have instantly invoked the complex and conflicted question of the Florentine elite's relationship with the Medici and sparked memories of earlier, successful republican challenges to Medici rule. Bartolomeo had formerly been a key ally of the Medici, the leader of their military forces during the siege of the republic of 1527–30, and one of the chief architects of restored Medici power. His defection from the Medici camp to Filippo Strozzi and the exiles was a major blow to Cosimo's prospects, recalling to Florentine contemporaries the larger historical question of the degree of elite support for Medici rule. Bartolomeo's family history was inextricably connected to the history of Medici power in Florence: his ancestors had played significant roles in the first establishment of Medici power a hundred years earlier, were close supporters of the illustrious fifteenth‐century Medici, Cosimo il vecchio and Lorenzo il magnifico, but had been among the handful of families that ousted the Medici from Florence in 1494, establishing the republic famously associated with Savonarola and Machiavelli. Hence, Bartolomeo's defection in 1537 echoed the pattern of his ancestors' early allegiance to the Medici followed by open challenges to Medici rule.

This book examines the history of that key family, the Valori, their long and complex relationship to the Medici, their intellectual patronage, and the various meanings in their private papers that they attributed to the oscillations of their family's loyalties. By doing so it reveals a hitherto hidden chapter in the history of Florentine republicanism. Vasari was as brilliant a propagandist as he was an artist and writer, fusing seamlessly an historical narrative of Tuscan artistic genius that was both (p.4) perfected and displayed to the world by the enlightened patronage of the Medici. Through Vasari's carefully crafted iconography and through his celebrated biographies of Tuscan artists, the Medici of the late Renaissance appropriated the rinascita of the arts as ‘dynastic property’, to use Edward Goldberg's term, a way of indirectly mythologizing Medici rule by celebrating Florentine cultural accomplishments.5

Of course, republicans also knew how to buttress political ideology with high culture, and by 1537 the Valori family had established a similarly Vasarian project of crafting a republican ideology that incorporated as defining features major dimensions of the culture of the Florentine Renaissance. Their patronage grew out of a conviction and instinct that Cosimo shared, that politics was in crucial ways legitimated by culture, though the Valori employed intellectual patronage to legitimate their republicanism whereas Cosimo deployed artistic patronage to legitimate his ducal identity. Cosimo's patronage, triumphant and triumphantly public, left a direct imprint on Florence that persists to this day. In contrast, the Valori family's republicanism is less easy to discern and requires closer scrutiny. They expressed it discreetly and indirectly, a political style and conviction that persisted through family papers, diaries, and public patronage of intellectual projects that had political implications but that were not in themselves inherently political. Nevertheless, they espoused their distinctive brand of republicanism with remarkable consistency and continued to promote it long after the battle of Montemurlo, in a court culture of uncontested Medici power. For this reason, I argue that the patronage patterns of the Valori family reveal a lost republican language of Renaissance Florence.

By the standards of the big Florentine aristocratic clans, the Valori were a small family—dangerously so from their perspective, since at several critical moments the lineage was in danger of dying out altogether.6 In spite of their size, however, they were key contributors to Florentine history. Indeed, if one considers all the ways in which they affected the development of Florentine history during the Renaissance, they were second only to the Medici in their impact on the city's cultural and political life. The family entered the ranks of the political elite in (p.5) the communal period of the late Middle Ages, where they comfortably remained for most of the fourteenth century. They were early allies of the Medici family, and as that family rose to dominate Florentine political life during the fifteenth century, the status and authority of the Valori family in Florence rose commensurately. Two Valori were members of Cosimo il vecchio de’ Medici's inner circle during the 1430s and 1440s; two Valori were members of Lorenzo il Magnifico’s inner circle during the 1470s and 1480s.

The family was also a central participant, however, in the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1494 and the republican revival that followed. The family split along political lines during the Florentine republic of 1494–1512. Most remained committed, active, and influential republican officials, while a junior member of the family joined the Medici exiles and ultimately played as central a role in restoring the Medici to the city as the earlier republicans had had in ousting the ruling family eighteen years earlier. Owing to the intervention of the young pro‐Medicean Valori, most of the Valori returned to political life relatively unscathed following the Medici restoration.

In the wake of the 1527 sack of Rome that suspended the Medici pope Clement VII's temporal sway in Italy, the Medici were yet again ousted from Florence in the city's last republican uprising of the Renaissance. The senior member of the Valori family on this occasion was committed to the fortunes of the Medici rather than the republic, and was entrusted by Clement VII to lead the combined papal‐imperial army that besieged the republic until its downfall three years later in 1530. This Valori's alliance with the Medici began to break down in the mid‐1530s, culminating in his defection from the Medici camp to a growing army of political exiles in Bologna intent on ending Medicean rule in Florence. When the exiles finally marched on Florence, the forces of Duke Cosimo de’ Medici annihilated their army at the battle of Montemurlo in 1537.

The Valori were nearly destroyed as a result: senior members of the family were executed, younger members were imprisoned, and the most junior member, although permitted by the Medici to remain free and in Florence, was a political outsider viewed by the Medici with considerable suspicion for many years. Eventually, however, he managed to regain the trust and confidence of the Medici and by adulthood had become one of the most energetic cultural patrons of late Renaissance Florence, a hub of the city's intellectual activity. The family died out, of natural causes, shortly after his death in the early seventeenth century.

(p.6) The recurring structural question of Florentine political history during the Renaissance—should the city be governed by some variety of princely rule under the Medici or by some variety of republicanism, whether oligarchic, popular, or somewhere in between—was clearly inscribed on the Valori family's history and was inseparable from it. The Valori participated, almost always as primary actors, in every major conflict and expression of republican and Medicean power, and on several occasions paid with their lives for having allied with the losing faction.

The significance of the family for and their impact on Florentine history, however, transcends questions of politics and constitutional structure. In the late fifteenth century, just prior to the expulsion of the Medici in 1494 and the stubborn contest between Medici power and more traditional forms of Florentine oligarchic republicanism, the family became close friends and political allies of three of the most original, influential, and dynamic thinkers of the Italian Renaissance: the neo‐Platonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino, the prophetic and charismatic Dominican reformer Girolamo Savonarola, and the pioneering political philosopher, playwright, poet, and historian Niccolò Machiavelli. Ficino was committed to a lifelong project of translating all of Plato's works into Latin and convincing the patrician elite of the Florentine republic that Platonic philosophy offered them something real, immediate, and invaluable for their public and political lives.7 Savonarola believed himself—as did many Florentines—a true prophet and used his influence to urge moral reforms of a traditional, ascetic Christian variety, establishing laws against gambling, prostitution, and blasphemy, in addition to calling for a broad‐based popular style of republican government.8 During the formative years of their friendship, Machiavelli had not yet written any of his political and historical works. He was a chancery secretary, informal ambassador to the republic, and regular working collaborator with the Valori on matters of republican politics and diplomacy.9

The Valori were major supporters of all three thinkers, publicly and vocally defending them when the controversy, complexity, and the (p.7) politically charged nature of their ideas generated powerful enemies in Florence and Rome. And the memory of friendship with Ficino, Savonarola, and Machiavelli powerfully informed the development of the family's collective identity, pervading the family's private papers, diaries, and correspondence. By the mid‐sixteenth century, the family's Savonarolan and Ficinian tradition had evolved into the central interpretive device through and by which they understood and made sense of their own actions, struggles, and relationship to their city. The city's intellectual and religious history was thus in critical ways intertwined with the history of the Valori family, and as inseparable from it as was the city's political narrative during the Renaissance.

More interesting still is the simple fact of their friendship to such a diverse and apparently contradictory trio of thinkers. Ficino, Savonarola, and Machiavelli were all republicans, but they differed substantially on the purpose of politics and the relationship between individuals and government. Savonarola articulated an ascetic, redemptive, theologically‐informed vision of a republic whose foundations were civic religion, and he was a vocal critic of the fifteenth‐century humanist movement because it sought a guide to conduct and outlook in pre‐Christian pagan authors like Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero.10 Ficino, who was also an ordained priest and a canon of the Florentine cathedral, agreed with Savonarola that the strength of the Florentine republic depended on a proper understanding of Christianity. Unlike Savonarola, however, Ficino argued that a particularly useful guide for that understanding was Plato, who Ficino believed was a divinely inspired philosopher. Ficino's recurring concern was the unification of religion and philosophical wisdom, the fusion of Christianity with the classical tradition of political thinking.11 Machiavelli rejected the fundamental premises of the neo‐Platonic philosopher and the Dominican prophet. For Machiavelli, classical authors were useful to a point for building a dynamic republic, but unlike his humanist predecessors he understood that times had changed and one could not expect classical writers to have real answers to sixteenth‐century problems. On this topic, the Christian tradition was not only useless, but was actually damaging because its morality ran counter to the needs of a strong state. The strength of Machiavelli's republic lay in laws, political institutions, and military strength, and was based—unlike Ficino's and Savonarola's visions of politics—on a frank acceptance of the inevitability of evil in human (p.8) affairs.12 Each of these thinkers advanced a brand of republicanism that afforded little conceptual space for the assumptions of their rivals, and much Renaissance intellectual history is an examination of the tensions between their ways of understanding the purpose and pursuit of political life.

The Valori family consistently maintained a republican tradition in their family papers that borrowed equally from all three styles of republicanism. Several members of the family particularly stressed the importance—for the family and for Florence—of the family's simultaneous patronage of and friendship with Savonarola and Ficino, particularly striking considering that during the early years of the post‐1494 republic the two were rivals who denounced the impact of each other's intellectual traditions on the city. Savonarola condemned the neo‐Platonism of the Florentine humanists and the paganism he perceived to be corrupting Florentine society, and in 1498 Ficino fiercely renounced his own earlier sympathies for Savonarola. He continued to insist, as Augustine and Ambrose had done, on the harmony between Christianity and neo‐Platonism.13

In intellectual and ideological terms, the tension and rivalry between Ficino and Savonarola were hardly new—merely a personal embodiment of the inherent tension between the city's Christian, civic, and classicizing traditions. Florentine religion and faith had always had a strong civic dimension—Florentines assumed that communal politics, conducted correctly, would assist its citizenry in attaining salvation, in addition to its more immediate secular benefits. From the late thirteenth throughout the fifteenth centuries, Florentines were accustomed to viewing their city as endowed by God with a special divine destiny. Donald Weinstein has shown the process by which that earlier Florentine Christian vision of politics was superseded by the secular vision of politics championed by the humanists. The two narratives followed the same structure: in the former, politics informed by Christian virtue would lead to salvation; in the other, politics informed by classical virtue would lead to the secular version of salvation—that is, the birth, rise, and growth of liberty and freedom.14 Seen from this perspective, Ficino's philosophy was a late variation on the humanist vision of politics, while (p.9) Savonarola's moral message from the pulpit was merely the restoration of the Florentine political narrative back to its Christian and millennial origins, and both were variations on a long‐standing assumption that Florentine politics, secular or religious, had a special destiny.

But even in the midst of the most heated moments of mutual distrust, rivalry, and intellectual hostility, the Valori maintained a hybrid form of republicanism that insisted upon the compatibility of Savonarola and Ficino's reforming convictions. The family's style of republicanism thus also implicitly insisted upon the legitimacy and compatibility of those two long‐standing languages of politics: the original and recently resurgent Christian language and the classical variation that had been superimposed over it in the fifteenth century. By insisting on the mutually reinforcing political implications of Ficino's neo‐Platonism and Savonarola's millennial Christian vision, they were advocating a style of republican thinking that neither Ficino nor Savonarola had articulated nor would have accepted, but that point seems to have mattered little to the Valori themselves.

Their ability to maintain a foot firmly planted in the humanist and Ficinian camp and the Christian and Savonarolan camp was rare but not unique. Intellectuals from the Ficinian circle such as Domenico Benivieni and Giovanni Nesi also regarded favourably Savonarola's rise in Florence without renouncing their earlier loyalties to Ficino and Platonic philosophy.15 The Valori were unique, however, in the scale and durability of their hybrid republicanism. No one in Florence maintained that double allegiance with the energy, consistency, and longevity of the Valori family. They cultivated that tradition from its emergence in the late fifteenth century until the family died out in the seventeenth century—indeed, the last Valori to make substantial contributions to the family's diaries and papers was more committed to the preservation of the family's hybrid republicanism than any member before him, and the family's double allegiance became an organizing principle in his cultural patronage under the Medici dukes.

And no other family during the Florentine Renaissance so carefully created, perpetuated, and deployed their collective memory and tradition for social and political purposes. Almost all of the family's substantial artistic and intellectual patronage for over a century was guided by a desire to celebrate and preserve their hybrid republicanism. The web of patronage they cast was substantial: it included in the first instance (p.10) Savonarola, Ficino, and Machiavelli, but over the next century it included Francesco Patrizi, Francesco de’ Vieri, Luca Pinelli, Luca della Robbia, Silvano and Serafino Razzi, Vincenzo Borghini, and Benedetto Varchi. Perhaps the smallness and fragility of the family accounts for the intensity of their commitment to creating, fostering, and promoting a unified family memory. At any given moment, there was rarely more than one patriline of the family in existence, the result of a tendency towards female births, one murder, and two executions. As a result, there was a very real awareness of vulnerability for this family, an understanding that extinction could easily be the consequence for poor political decisions.

This study of the Valori family is thus as much about the social and political uses of family memory in a Renaissance city‐state, how collective memory served as a guide to present action and future strategy, as it is a study of specific and historically discrete family.


The chapters that follow examine the Valori family's politics and patronage between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, and are loosely organized around major themes, introduced chronologically. Since there is relatively little written on the Valori in Florentine historiography, a synopsis and overview of the five generations in question is a necessary point of departure.

Despite the dramatic political changes in late fifteenth and early sixteenth‐century Florence—from the veiled lordship of the Medici supposedly justified by Ficino's neo‐Platonism, to the millenarian republic of Savonarola, to the restored republic that Machiavelli served as a diplomat and theorist, to a renewed Medici lordship that eventually became a Grand Duchy—the Valori were a continuous presence, revealing continuities and consistencies otherwise dimly perceived because of the external drama of political instability.

Renaissance Florentine families tended to mark the political arrival of families by the date one of their members first served a term as a prior, one of nine rotating elected officials who formed the highest executive authority in the republic. The first Valori to gain the priorate was Maso, elected seven times between 1318–1334;16 his brother Taldo (p.11) was elected to the priorate four times. The family's public prominence increased sharply in the early fifteenth century. Niccolò had three sons, Filippo, Alamanno, and Bartolomeo, the last of whom was elected to the priorate in 1402 and was initially a prominent member of the Albizzi oligarchy.17 By the 1420s and 1430s, Bartolomeo became a leading member of the nascent Medici faction and helped arrange the return of Cosimo de’ Medici from exile, forcing the factional showdown that led to the first Medici hegemony. The Valori were rewarded shortly after the Medici victory of 1434.18 Bartolomeo's son Niccolò was elected gonfaloniere di giustizia, the highest executive office of the republic, the following year and he remained a lifelong inner circle member of the Medici faction.19 Niccolò’s younger brother Filippo's public affirmation of loyalty to Lorenzo de’ Medici during the Pazzi conspiracy of 1478 against the Medici affirmed publicly their position as dependable Medici allies.20

This book begins to pick up in detail the narrative of the family's history with Filippo's two sons, Bartolomeo and Francesco.21 Both were loyal members of Lorenzo's inner circle until his death in 1492. Francesco's relationship with the ruling family soured, as it had done for several leading families, after power passed to the hands of Lorenzo's son Piero. Francesco was one of the principal collaborators in the first expulsion of the Medici in November 1494 and the dismantling of the Medicean system of shadow government, and hence one of the founding architects of the subsequent republic. Then and now, Francesco was the most famous and controversial member of the family, owing to his prominence in the Savonarolan movement. Shortly after the establishment of the republic, Francesco allied the family with Savonarola, with whom he collaborated closely, and was widely recognized and often resented as the political capo of the friar's following. Until his murder in 1498, Francesco was one of the most influential and dominant politicians of the (p.12) early republic, benefiting from his direct participation in the expulsion of the Medici as well as from the support of the Savonarolan faction.

His fame crossed over into notoriety after an aristocratic plot was uncovered in 1497 to smuggle Piero de’ Medici back into the city and restore him to power.22 The five primary conspirators were sentenced to death, but were entitled to appeal their sentence to the Great Council according to a law established in 1494 that had been strongly and publicly supported by Savonarola. In the end, the Great Council never heard their appeal and they were beheaded in the main square of the city government. Opinions were and remained divided about Francesco's precise role in that outcome, but he was perceived by many as having used all his formal and informal influence to cajole the government into denying the conspirators their right to appeal their sentence. The families of the conspirators blamed Francesco above all for the executions, and consequently saw him as a demagogic figure who proved the tyrannical ambitions of Savonarola and his followers. When Savonarola fell from public grace following the failed trial by fire in 1498, the city government sent soldiers to arrest Savonarola and Valori, who was assassinated by relatives of the conspirators en route to the Palazzo Vecchio. In spite of the fact that the family narrowly avoided extinction—after killing Francesco, the mob then slew his wife and young nephew and sacked and burned the Valori palazzo—the family interpreted Francesco's murder as his martyrdom for the Savonarolan cause and they remained even more firmly committed to Savonarolism during the following century.

In spite of Francesco's notoriety and considerable impact on Florentine events and the future course of his family, there is no reliable consensus regarding his various motives. Many people wrote about Francesco, but he rarely wrote about himself—at least nothing he wrote about himself has survived. The family kept a collective diary, a ricordanze, but Francesco was one of a very small number of Valori men who contributed nothing.23 He seems also to have recorded nothing in (p.13) the family account books, equally rich sources for the family's history.24 We have no statements of his own regarding that year, but his nephew, who regarded Francesco as a father, described Francesco's actions in distinctly Savonarolan and idealistic terms: that he was a passionate lover of liberty and that he turned against the Medici the moment the family tended towards tyranny.25

The nature of Valori's conversion to the Savonarolan cause is a matter of debate.26 I agree with Lauro Martines that he was animated by both moral and political concerns.27 He believed in and worked for Savonarolan moral reform, but retained an independent sense of the political order that would best serve the republic. For Savonarola, the future of the republic depended on its adoption of a broadly‐based and inclusive political base.28 Francesco represented the more conservative and traditional view of the Florentine elite, articulated most persuasively and famously by Francesco Guicciardini: that the republic's fortunes waxed greatest when the regime was led by an old, elite, and narrow oligarchy of aristocrats.29 In any case, Francesco's emergence as a major figure in the Savonarolan movement brought the rest of his family into contact with the reforming friar and there is no controversy about the commitment of Francesco's nephew, Niccolò, and subsequent members of the family.

Francesco's actions caused a seismic shift in the family's political allegiances and patronage orbit. Francesco ended the family's sixty year tradition of alliance with the Medici; he established them as leading figures in the new republic; and his dramatic emergence as one of the leading captains—and martyrs—of the Savonarolan movement left an indelible mark on subsequent generations of the family.

(p.14) In the years immediately following the 1494 coup against the Medici, the only dimension of the family's tradition and former commitments that survived the political transition to the republic was their friendship with and support of Marsilio Ficino. Prior to 1494, the Valori were second only to the Medici in their patronage of Ficino; after 1494 they became his principal patrons and became by far his most important political allies.

The family's friendship with Marsilio Ficino had begun with the two brothers, Francesco and Bartolomeo, both gifted students of Ficino and subsequent patrons and supporters, for which Ficino praised them on several occasions. Bartolomeo's son Filippo funded, among other works, Ficino's edition of the collected works of Plato, on at least one occasion spurred Ficino on and ensured he met his deadline with his publishers, as Ficino revealed in a letter to Lorenzo de’ Medici, and occasionally directly assisted Ficino by copying Platonic texts for him. Filippo also came to Ficino's aid during Innocent VIII's investigation of Ficino on charges of magic and necromancy in 1489 and in 1493.30

The relationship between Ficino and the Valori became closer after 1494. Filippo's brother Niccolò not only continued to provide financial support—publishing Ficino's letters and Platonic Commentaries in 1496, among other works—but also brought Ficino more formally into the Valori family network. In 1496, Ficino became a godfather to Niccolò’s son; three years later, Ficino acted as an agent for Niccolò Valori in his establishment of a perpetual lease of property in the Val di Marina that belonged to the church of San Lorenzo. Ficino prepared and sent the petition to Alexander VI, received the Pope's response, and was a witness to the transaction, which took place in Ficino's house.

After his uncle Francesco's assassination in 1498, Niccolò became the family's most influential republican politician and guardian of the previous generation's alliances. In addition to bringing Ficino into the family's immediate patronage circle, he remained a lifelong Savonarolan and wrote with reverence about all of his and Francesco's dealings with the friar whose name and memory after 1498 were more than a little compromising in the new republican environment in which Savonarola's enemies dominated. Niccolò nevertheless became a vocal champion of the republic. He was a prior in the Signoria that created (p.15) the position of gonfaloniere a vita for Piero Soderini, and hence was subsequently a key member of Soderini's inner circle.

Niccolò was also a good friend of Machiavelli and the godfather to Machiavelli's son. He and Machiavelli frequently collaborated professionally; they were sent together as an ambassadorial team to the court of Louis XII and Niccolò served on the Nove delle milizie, the committee to create and train a Florentine citizen‐militia that Machiavelli had persuaded Soderini to entrust to him. Niccolò frequently defended Machiavelli against his critics: when Machiavelli's blunt and excessively frank dispatches from the field alienated and irritated the Florentine elite in the Signoria, Niccolò Valori soothed the bruised egos of the Florentine elite and tempered disapproval of the upstart chancellor.31 In the eyes of the Medici, restored to the city after 1512, the two Niccolòs were ideologically committed to the republic and were therefore kept at a distance for many years.32

Niccolò’s nephew, Bartolomeo, was one of a trio of young disaffected aristocrats who brought down Soderini's republican government and who helped to restore the Medici to the city. Niccolò and Bartolomeo remained divided about the future course of the city. Bartolomeo quickly rose to prominence in the new Medici regime, rewarded for his commitment to the long‐term memory of friendship with the Medici, while Niccolò became a marked man. The Medici viewed him with considerable suspicion because of his prominence in the republican regime and because of his friendship with Piero Soderini. Shortly after the return of the family in 1512, Niccolò Valori and Machiavelli were both rounded up, imprisoned, and tortured for presumed complicity in a recently exposed conspiracy to assassinate several members of the Medici family.33 The evidence suggests that Machiavelli's only guilt lay in association with the wrong people. There is no hard evidence for Niccolò, but its likely that he at least was aware of the plot and may have been an active supporter. In any case, it was only owing to his nephew's intervention with the ruling family that Niccolò’s life was spared.34

The next generation, led by Niccolò’s sons Francesco and Filippo and his nephew Bartolomeo, remained committed Mediceans until (p.16) the mid‐1530s. Until that time, Bartolomeo was one of the leading Medicean statesmen, commissary‐general of the Medici pope Clement VII's army during the siege of Florence that toppled the third republic of 1527–30, and a constitutional theorist of the yet again newly restored Medici regime, along with Francesco Guicciardini, whose position in the regime was augmented by his friendship with Bartolomeo Valori.35 As commissary general of the victorious army, Bartolomeo was essentially prince of the city in the months following the siege. As with Francesco Valori and the Medici in 1494, relations soured between Bartolomeo and the Medici, the result of differing views on the constitutional ordering of Florence as well as the reluctance of the Medici to honour earlier promises to Bartolomeo of political appointment outside Tuscany.36 In their private papers, the family articulated the conflict in terms of opposition to tyranny and respect for the republican roots of the city's political culture. Their espousal of republicanism was no rhetorical posture: in the mid‐1530s the entire family followed Bartolomeo's lead and defected from Medici ranks, joining Filippo Strozzi and a growing army of Florentine exiles in Bologna.37

The exile army that the Valori joined was surprised, drawn into combat before it was ready, and destroyed by the forces of the new duke of Florence, Cosimo de’ Medici, at the Battle of Montemurlo in 1537. Bartolomeo and his son Filippo were both captured and beheaded by Duke Cosimo, but not before being dragged on display through the city and tortured.38 Bartolomeo's other son, Paolantonio, was imprisoned in Volterra for several years, until Duke Cosimo felt secure enough to declare a general amnesty; Filippo di Niccoló’s son, Baccio, was allowed to remain free, though like Niccolò before him, he too remained a marked man and a political outsider. Over time, however, he won back the confidence of the Medici rulers and became a central figure in the Florentine political and cultural world of the later sixteenth (p.17) century.39 Publicly and privately, he prized the family's Savonarolan and Ficinian traditions as much as his grandfather Niccolò had done and became an energetic patron of works that commemorated and celebrated both reformers. The family remained prominent members of grand ducal Florence until their extinction not many years later.


Chapter 1 considers the career of Francesco Valori and his alliance with Savonarola. It provides a narrative of the main political events surrounding the expulsion of the Medici and the establishment of the Second Republic and argues that Francesco maintained a distinction between Savonarola's vision of moral reform and his vision of governo largo political reform. The former he followed faithfully and actively; the latter he rejected in favour of his own vision of governo stretto.

Chapter 2 turns to Francesco's nephews, Francesco and Niccolò. The focus of the chapter is the family's relationship to Marsilio Ficino, their Platonic patronage, and the tensions it created for the family's relationship with Savonarola. En route, it provides an explanation of when and why the ‘myth’ of the Platonic Academy emerged in the early sixteenth century.

Chapters 3 and 4 turn to the literature that surrounded the Valori family. Chapter 3 considers the family's friendship with and political connections to Niccolò Machiavelli, their common fortunes following the restoration of the Medici and how those connections became reflected in Machiavelli's historical writings. It looks at a discrepancy between passages in the Discorsi and a small work entitled Nature di huomini fiorentini, in which Machiavelli arrives at contrasting conclusions about Francesco Valori's political career.

Chapter 4 considers Niccolò Valori's friendship with the humanist and biographer Luca Della Robbia, and shows how that friendship affected Della Robbia's biography of Bartolomeo Valori, who wove into his Vita a sustained defense of Savonarolism's impact on Florentine political life.

(p.18) The fifth chapter returns to the private papers of the Valori, examining a collection of documents gathered by Baccio that consider the relationship of the family to the Medici and the larger role of the family in Florentine history.

The sixth and final chapter contrasts two seventeenth‐century histories of the Valori, the first a markedly Savonarolan and republican interpretation by the Dominican friar Silvano Razzi and the second a skilful reinterpretation of the family's traditions as essentially pro‐Medicean by the court historian Scipione Ammirato.

The conclusion situates my analysis and arguments more generally in the historiography of the Italian Renaissance.


(1) On the assassination of Alessandro, Cosimo, and Montemurlo, see Cochrane (1973), 3–53; Coppi (2000), 1–13; Van Veen (2006), 8–31.

(2) For the literary dimension of this patronage, see Menchini (2005).

(3) Van Veen (2006), 10.

(4) I am grateful for help identifying the prisoners to Dana Katz, Ryan Gregg, Stephen Campbell, Amy Bloch, John Najemy, and Henk Van Veen. It is difficult to identify the prisoners with precision. In his Ragionamenti, Vasari lists Baccio Valori, Filippo Strozzi, and Anton Francesco degli Albizzi as the principal prisoners—see Vasari (1588). Allegri and Cecchi (1980) identify Cosimo's soldiers, but not the prisoners. T. S. R. Boase (1979), 24, identifies the prisoners from left to right as Baccio Valori and his son, Filippo Strozzi, and Anton Francesco degli Albizzi. Though he does not provide a source for this identification, I am inclined to agree. These were the three crucial figures mentioned by Vasari himself, and the age discrepancy between the two figures on the left with the two figures on the right suggests that the Valori are the left‐most two figures. Filippo Strozzi was the eldest of the exiles, and it would make sense that Cosimo is pointing to Filippo Strozzi. He does not identify Bartolomeo Valori's son, but I would guess that it is Filippo, rather than Paolantonio, since Filippo was beheaded along with his father in Florence, whereas Paolantonio, considered less guilty and less threatening by the Medici, was imprisoned in Volterra. On the battle and its aftermath, see Coppi (2000), 4–12; and on Cosimo's self‐image in other works, see Van Veen (2006).

(5) Goldberg (1988), 5, and larger discussion in 3–10.

(6) On the genealogy of the Valori family, see BNCF, Passerini, 175, insert 3; see also Litta (1819), Disp. 17: Valori di Firenze, tavv. I, II; Ammirato (1615), 97–108; Ildefonso di San Luigi (1783), 261–73.

(7) See Hankins (1994).

(8) See Weinstein (1970); Martines (2006); and the forthcoming study by Polizzotto.

(9) On Machiavelli's professional career see Rubinstein (1972); Black (1990); Najemy (1990).

(10) Weinstein (1970).

(11) Hankins (1994).

(12) Jurdjevic (2007a) and (2006).

(13) On Savonarola, Ficino, and Plato, see Ridolfi (1952), 146–50; Garin (1961), 201–12; Walker (1972), 50–5; Verde (1973), 1270–3.

(14) Weinstein (1968).

(15) Celenza (2001).

(16) Najemy (1982), 100–1; Litta (1819), Disp. 17: Valori di Firenze, tavv. I.

(17) His political service and contributions to government pratiche are discussed in the chapter on Luca Della Robbia's biography of Bartolomeo.

(18) See Kent (1978).

(19) See his extensive correspondence with the Medici family in ASF, MAP.

(20) See Niccolò Valori's account of the Pazzi conspiracy in his Vita di Lorenzo in Niccolini (1991); Martines (2003).

(21) Francesco's relationship to the Medici is discussed in Chapter 1. On Bartolomeo's friendship with and political service for the Medici, see his correspondence with Piero di Cosimo and Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici. ASF, MAP, filza 17, 357r; filza 20, 610, 649; filza 24, 55; filza 28, 660; filza 29, 137; filza 73, 399; filza 140, 10.

(22) Discussed in detail in Chapter 3.

(23) Although he did not contribute to the family diary, he does appear to have had his own diary, now lost, at least according to his nephew Niccolò. ‘Memoria sia come havendomi qualche volta decto Cappone di Bartolomeo Capponi per conti vecchi havere da noi qualche R. [ducati], truovo per uno libro di Francesco Valori decto ricordanze . . . ’ BNCF, Panciat. 134, fol. 14r.

(24) The account books are preserved in the Archivio di Stato di Firenze. For Bartolomeo di Filippo, 1500–06, see ASF, Panciatichi (Patrimonio Valori), 1; for Niccolò di Bartolomeo di Filippo, 1498–1526, see ASF, Panciatichi, 2–4; for Filippo di Niccolò di Bartolomeo di Filippo, 1521–33 see ASF, Panciatichi, 8; Francesco di Niccolò di Bartolomeo di Filippo, 1514–27 see ASF, Panciatichi, 5–7; for Baccio di Filippo di Niccolò di Bartolomeo di Filippo: 1567–1606, see ASF, Panciatichi, 9–12; for Francesco di Pagoloantonio, 1587–1607 see ASF, Riccardi, 504, 522. Thanks to Richard Goldthwaite for providing me with these references. On libri di famiglia in general, see Connell (1990), 279–92.

(25) BNCF, Panciat. 134, fol. 17r.

(26) Polizzotto (1994), 16; Cordero (1987), III: 500–3.

(27) Martines (2006), 151–4.

(28) See Chapter 1.

(29) For just one example of this position, see Guicciardini's statements (made through the interlocutor Bernardo del Nero) regarding the ottimati elite, taxation, and the stability of the republic in Guicciardini (1994), 48–50.

(30) For these details and more, see Chapter 2.

(31) See the correspondence between Machiavelli and Niccolò Valori in Machiavelli (1971), 1033, 1039, 1041, 1042. John M. Najemy discusses the Valori‐Machiavelli correspondence in Najemy (1990), 104.

(32) For details see Chapter 3.

(33) BNCF, Panciat. 134, fols. 19r–v.

(34) The details of this conspiracy and Niccolò’s possible sympathies for the conspirators are discussed in the chapter on Della Robbia's Vita di Bartolomeo.

(35) There are two copies in Florence of Bartolomeo's appointment as Commissary‐General of the papal army: BNCF, Palatino 1157, insert 8; and ASF, Strozziane, 1.12; see also Bartolomeo's expenditure account in Passerini (1847), 106–62. For his influence in the restored regime, see the correspondence between Bartolomeo, his son Paolantonio, Filippo Strozzi, and the captains of the Medici party in ASF, Strozziane, 1.157, 1.336, 1.369; 2.94, 2.143, 2.167, 2.185. The alliance between the Strozzi and the Valori began in 1498, with the marriage of Bartolomeo's sister Caterina to Federigo di Lorenzo Strozzi. ASF, Strozziane, 2.121, 2.51.

(36) See his correspondence with the Medici in ASF, MAP, filza 69, 257r; filza 140, 10r; filza 111, 185r–v, 186r, 188r, 189r; filza 123, 60r.

(37) On Strozzi, see Bullard (1980).

(38) Cochrane (1973), 34.

(39) Baccio provided an account of his fortunes in Florence and relationship to the ruling family in the family diary. BNCF, Panciat. 134, fols. 26–8, discussed in the final chapter. The fortunes of the Valori picked up when they established parentado with the influential Senator Francesco Riccardi, who married Gostanza Valori in 1603. ASF, Mannelli‐Galilei‐Riccardi, 420, 7.