Magnificence was not just an aesthetic judgement – it was a moral virtue. We have long assumed that it was the pursuit of this virtue and of individual fame that led Florence’s cultural patrons to commission the key artworks of the fifteenth century that thrust the city into the front ranks of artistic innovation. According to this view, Aristotle gave the concept its theoretical form and Timoteo Maffei its local voice in a spirited 1450 defence of Cosimo de’ Medici that set his ‘magnificence’ on an individual and largely secular foundation. Peter Howard, however, overturns this concept and argues persuasively not only that Florentines were discussing the virtue of ‘magnificence’ decades earlier, but also that it was mendicant preachers working with medieval texts who took the lead. He points out that Antonino Pierozzi (a Dominican friar who became Florentine archbishop and was eventually canonized) in his sermons of the 1420s articulated concepts of ‘magnificence’ that he later developed in his influential Summa. To do so, Howard carefully reconstructs the concept of ‘magnificence’ by tracing its development through Antoninus’s texts and his mendicant career. As a result, the origins of Florentine public discourse on magnificence are decisively relocated from the 1450s to the 1420s, and from a largely secular to a distinctly religious context.
“A well researched, closely argued, and carefully constructed study of the influence of preaching on the attitudes of leading Florentines regarding their use of their wealthy for magnificent building projects in Florence in the first half of the Quattrocento.”
- John O’Malley, Georgetown University
“A superb and deeply learned study that overturns conventional readings of the key Renaissance concept of ‘magnificence.’”
- Nicholas Terpstra, University of Toronto
Essays and Studies 29
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