Cultural Clientelism and Brokerage Networks in Early Modern Florence and Rome: New Correspondence between the Barberini and Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger

By Cole, Janie | Renaissance Quarterly, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Cultural Clientelism and Brokerage Networks in Early Modern Florence and Rome: New Correspondence between the Barberini and Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger


Cole, Janie, Renaissance Quarterly


1. INTRODUCTION

Recent patronage studies by social historians and anthropologists have theorized the mechanics and the role of patronage in the politics and societies of early modern Europe. (1) The historiography of Renaissance Florence, in particular, uses patronage to analyze social interaction in public life, hierarchical organization, friendship and kinship bonds, sociocultural identities, and the culture, structure, and politics of early modern courts. (2) The discussion has focused in part on systems of clientelism and on brokerage networks and the broker-agent figure in a distribution system of information, power, services, and products. (3) Terms such as patron, clientele, clientage, patron-client relationship, broker, brokerage, and clientelism have long since entered into common scholarly usage. Their application to systems of patronage to explore the social context of art, literature, theater, music, and science can be equally revealing, even though the tendency has been to focus on the patron-client relation, thus bypassing the role of agents and brokers. (4) Patronage studies on music and theatrical spectacle in early modern Italy, for example, have tended to concentrate on specific patrons and their clienteles at different Italian courts and cities and on their musical production and consumption, but with little discussion of the role of brokerage and brokers in this complex. (5) Specifically, the concept of brokerage as applied to the cultural functions of musical and related patronage in early modern Italy requires much further investigation.

The discovery of a remarkable, hitherto-unpublished correspondence, comprising over 100 letters between a Florentine poet and the Barberini court in Rome, provides a case study for exploring the wider concepts of clientelism and brokerage and their application to cultural patronage in seventeenth-century Florence and Rome. Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger (1568-1647), a Florentine poet and grandnephew of the artist, developed a lifelong relationship with Maffeo Barberini (1568-1644), the future Pope Urban VIII, and with other powerful members of the Barberini family, including Maffeo's brothers Carlo and Giovan Donato, his nephews Francesco, Antonio, and Taddeo, and his nieces Camilla and Clarice. (6) Their correspondence reveals the complex workings of patrons, brokers, and clients amid an intricate web of social structures, economic systems, and the politics of power in early modern Italy. However, the patronage formulas for the early modern period need to be better identified, and the concepts they conveyed, the conventions they employed, and the situations in which they were used, require much further investigation beyond the purview of this examination. This study explores the nature of the Buonarroti-Barberini relationships, in which clientelism--that is, a system of patron-broker-client ties and networks (7)--is revealed as a central component, and demonstrates the fluidity of roles embedded in the patronage system. It reconsiders the definition and role of a seventeenth-century cultural broker, as epitomized by Michelangelo the Younger, who acted on behalf of the Barberini in lobbying significant figures such as Lodovico Cardi ("il Cigoli") and Galileo Galilei. Spanning nearly half a century and peppered with formal rhetorical courtesy phrases that reflect a Seicento world of clientelism, this new archival documentation offers fresh insights into the inner workings of Florentine families, who used the Roman context to redefine their social identities and to promote their Florentine connections; and into their strategies for family advancement, which allowed them to reinforce their status in the otherwise precarious world of Italian Seicento power brokerage.

2. THE BARBERINI AND THE BUONARROTI

Both the Barberini and the Buonarroti families provide the archetypes for a pattern evident in the early modern period: Florentine self-invented patricians who redefined themselves via Rome. …

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