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Ilaria Taddei's book is a fundamentally reworked version of the Habilitation presented at the Sorbonne university in 2014. It focuses on the political organization and the discourse enabling the Florentine commune to overcome the internal crisis provoked by the Ciompi revolt of 1378-1382, the local variant of the 'revolutionary' wave that struck many European countries and cities in these same years. The fundamental claim of the Ciompi turned around the question of political representation and participation. Hence the reaction in the period 1382-1434 on which Taddei's book focuses aimed at the reestablishment of civic unity under the lead of the faction of the Albizzi - in origin a 'popular' family of entrepreneurs in the still dominant cloth producing industry. This at first sight very specific study of a relatively short period of around fifty years in Florence's rich (and indeed abundantly studied) history, resulted in an in depth analysis of an oligarchic political organization, paving the way for the Medici domination in the following decades.
In the first part of the book attention is paid to the complex system of political representation and organization so characteristic of the city of Florence. This is much more than a study of institutions and even of the people active in the myriad of councils, as it pays specific attention to the discourses developed in the many 'consulte' (the consultations the governing Signoria time and again organized), based on a close reading of the many reports of the meetings and debates. These exceptional sources have permitted Taddei to delve deep into the political practices of Florence. Many of the debates at stake dealt with the three essential sectors of governance: diplomacy, justice and fiscality. A central notion is that of 'prudentia' - prudence: a mayor characteristic on a moral, professional and intellectual level requested not only on an individual basis from the political personnel, but to be expected to permeate all decisions. Hence, of course, also the title of the book.
The second part of the book (and probably the most innovative) asks the questions where this emphasis on 'prudence' came from, what were its inspirations and how it developed? These aspects are treated in a resolute comparative way, for which of course other Italian cities (and city-states) offer the most obvious points of comparison. Of course, the communal heritage proved to be fundamental, as were the texts written by the multiple authors of didactic literature (the so called 'dictatores') abundantly present since the late 12th and mostly 13th centuries. The input by the mendicant orders (Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians in the first place) was equally fundamental, and paved the way resolutely in a proto-humanist way. The interest in the Aristotelian-Thomist way of emphasizing the importance of 'virtus' in two dimensions: intellectual and moral, was the basis for the development of a specific discourse around the promotion of the common good as the ultimate touchstone for political agency. Rhetoric proved to be fundamental, resulting in the ideal of the 'vir bonus dicendi' (the good citizen, excellent in rhetoric).
But the analysis of how this legitimation of powers in full transformation operated also pays attention to other means of communication. This undoubtedly proves to be one of the many strongpoints of this book. The iconographic dossier containing the images of the virtues and of 'prudentia' in the public sphere was as equally important as the written and oral communication, for it allowed the more or less abstract notions of the virtues at stake in urban society to reach a large public. The use of architecture in order to promote specific political constructions was of course not new in late medieval Italian cities, but the specific way in which the architecture was adorned allowed the post Ciompi governments of Florence to spread its constitutive values. The urban environment was seen and used as a tool of communication and as a text written in stone.
In a third and last part, the focus is put again more exclusively on Florence and on how the humanist values and practices became characteristic for an urban way of dealing with the question of how to construct and to enhance the common good. The texts of how to instruct in the first place the diplomats who were supposed to represent and defend the Florentine interests are at the center of Taddei's attention. In her reading they become arguments to disclose the humanist values the regime in place put forward. All these elements point to a considerable intellectual effort to promote specific values and to build a bridge between the political city of antiquity (whose history proves to have been a constant source of inspiration) and the commercial culture of the medieval city. The city of the Albizzi is an important step into the elaboration of other more radical political experiments the following regime of the Medici would put forward. Building on this experience Macchiavelli nor Guicciardini are not so much a breach with the previous period as a new and utterly developed version of the prudential, put to the foreground during this first wave of humanist political practice.
The existing literature on the political history and organization of late medieval and early modern Florence is quite abundant, if not to say discouraging, in volume. However, one is inclined to believe that this book offers an original and important contribution. Its fine tuned analysis of rhetoric and discourse offers a form of close reading that is reminiscent of the well-established merits of traditional diplomatics. It comes with some additional source editions and, as is always the case with books in this series, with excellent indices.