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States of the imagination: kingship, class and ritual in early modern Florence

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posted on 25.01.2019, 02:09 authored by Rosenthal, David
This thesis is a history of artisan festive brigades in Florence known as the potenze (lit. 'the powers'), from the beginning of the ducal state in 1532 until their disappearance in the mid-17th century. It investigates male solidarities, spaces and networks, based on neighbourhood and occupational ties, and shows how these ties both informed, and were shaped by, the approximately 40 festive kingdoms the potenze mapped on to the city. The study examines how potenze brought these work and neighbourhood identities onto the public stage within a carnivalesque ritual genre, in which they played the lords of the 'poor' while the city's nobility briefly acted as their 'subjects'. A language of kingship and state was appropriated in order to articulate social grievances, but also to enter into a dialogue with the Medici princes of Florence, whom they expected to act as their patrons and mediate their everyday relationships. In important ways the politics of the festive stage was interwoven with a non-festive world of protest and negotiation. The second part of the study addresses the transformation of the potenze from the late 16th century. It shows how the religious reform movement in Tridentine Italy vigorously opposed carnivalesque ritual, and that this, in tandem with a declining economy, had the effect of delegitimising the festive life and expenditure of these men. These structural shifts underpinned the decision to strip the potenze of their processional banners in 1610. As the study tracks the transformation of these brigades into purely devotional groups, dedicated to making pilgrimages to shrines and convents in the Florentine countryside, it analyses the rise of new female potenze. Despite implicit resistance, female groups were able to form and seize upon this model of artisan association because, on one hand, the disintegration of the camivalesque genre made the potenze model less aggressively masculine, while, on the other, reformist ideas and initiatives effectively opened up a space in public life for the charitable and devotional activities of lay women.


Principal supervisor

Bill Kent

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Philosophical Historical and International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts