Friday, February 26, 2021

FLORENCE: the tolerant side of Renaissance

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Whenever you are able to travel again, after this long ‘staycation’ and decide to visit Italy, you will include Florence in your tour map. Of course, Florence is the cradle of Renaissance of flowering art and culture. We learn it in schools. Nevertheless, we probably do not know that one of the keys which opened Florence to the world was, and still is, its sense of tolerance.

In fifteenth-century Florence, as elsewhere in Italy, local authorities dedicated unprecedented efforts to controlling male homosexual behavior, condemned as the most heinous of crimes. The Florentine regime, however, perhaps compelled by the very diffusion of this sexual practice, pragmatically adopted a tacitly accomodating stance towards its regulation. This policy was embodied in a special lay magistracy created to prosecute sodomy, the «Officers of the Night» (1432-1502), and in the progressive lowering of penalties for sodomy until the Medici were expelled in 1494. In seventy years, the Ufficiali di Notte adjudicated cases implicating at least ten thousand men and boys in homosexual relations, of whom they convicted two thousand, impressive evidence of the social dimensions of homosexuality in Florence. A quantitative study of these cases indicates that homosexual activity, found at all levels of Florentine society, was concentrated especially among adolescents, youths and unmarried men. Florentines eventually came to consider the Officers of the Night an embarassing liability, and in 1502 the magistracy was abolished, in one chronicler’s words, «because of the shame of the city». (from ‘Quadrni storici – Gli Ufficiali della Notte’ https://www.jstor.org/stable/43778039?seq=1)

The Medici Family understood that great artists and genial works came often from a ‘diverse’ approach to life and to their sexual orientation, even though these were not still clearly conceptualized, at that time. Boccaccio, Botticelli, Leonardo, Caravaggio, Michelangelo were all protected by the Medici family and could create their masterworks, often homoerotic such as David by Michelangelo or the Decameron by Boccaccio. The Uffizi Gallery, the Bargello and the Academy are must to be seen, are the three venues you cannot forget when traveling to Florence.

Also, if you have some time left, you can investigate the wide range of dialectal expressions used in Florence to refer to homosexuals. Lots of them were them adopted in the rest of Italy, but they originated in that town, which was considered definitely too ‘open’ and transgressive. Florence was a true trailblazer in gay culture thanks to the disruptive government adopted by the Medicis.

Inspired to travel to Italy? Curious to know more? Have a look here!

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