Tuesday, February 23, 2010

delanceyplace.com 2/23/10 - tidbits on florence

In today's excerpt - tidbits on the city of
Florence at the flowering of the Renaissance,
the 1400s, the time of Cosimo de'Medici,
Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Leonardo da
Vinci and countless other guiding
lights - tidbits on homosexuals, prostitutes,
witches and public spectacle:

"[After the Florentines' military defeat at
Lucca] a familiar scapegoat was used to
explain the Florentines' ineptness in battle:
homosexuality. For years, clergymen such as
the Franciscan firebrand Bernardino
of Siena had been raging from the pulpit that
the crime of sodomy was
destroying the city. So famous was Florence
for homosexual activity that
during the fourteenth century the German
slang for 'sodomite' was
Florenzer. In 1432, the government
took steps to curtail this perceived root
of its troubles on the battlefield by
establishing an agency to identify and
prosecute homosexuals, the Ufficiali di
Notte, 'Office of the Night' (a
name made even more colorful by the fact that
notte was slang for
'bugger'). A less official method of
detecting homosexuals was for mothers to
rattle their sons' coin
bags: if the coins exclaimed, 'fire, fire,
fire,' the money was said to be the gift of a

"This vice squad worked in tandem with the
Orwellian-sounding Ufficiali dell'Onesta,
'Office of Decency,' which was charged
with licensing and administering the
municipal brothels that had been
created in the area around the Mercato
Vecchio. The specific aim of these
public brothels was to wean Florentine men
from the 'greater evil' of
sodomy. Prostitutes became a common sight in
Florence, not least because
the law required them to wear distinctive
garb: gloves, high-heeled shoes,
and a bell on the head. ...

"Held ... in Florence s communal prison, the
Stinche ... were more serious
Criminals - heretics, sorcerers, witches, and
murderers - for whom unpleasant fates
awaited: decapitation, amputation,
or burning at the stake. Executions took
place outside the walls, in the
Prato della Giustizia, 'Field of Justice.'
These were popular public
spectacles - so popular, in fact, that
criminals often had to be imported
from other cities to satisfy the public's
demand for macabre drama."

Ross King, Brunelleschi's Dome,
Penguin, Copyright 2000 by Ross King, pp.
126-127, 132-133.


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