"THE JEW": Why 1613??? (2)

Who was Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger?

Let me warn you... This is a trick question. 

Cristofano Allori,  
Portrait of Michelangelo the Younger
Florence, Casa Buonarroti

And I don't mind confessing that I fell for the trick myself when I first tried to triangulate three essential points - hoping to connect Buonarroti's "Jewish Play" with his own life.

Michelangelo Buonarroti 
the Younger

     1613                                                        JEWS



SO, who was Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger? A few responses are almost too easy...

"He was the great-nephew, heir and namesake of the celebrated artist."

"He was the most prolific and successful playwright in Florence in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries."

"He was the chief proponent of the cult
 of the Divine Michelangelo and ideator
 of the Casa Buonarroti."

But what are we missing? The elusive obvious - in this case!

Michelangelo Buonarotti the Younger was all of the above - but he was also a typical Florentine of his time and his class. That is to say, an affluent patrician circa 1600.

Once I focused on this simple fact, the pieces began falling into place...

Buonarroti networked with other distinguished Florentines, frequented the Medici Court and collected his rightful share of inside favors - especially patronage jobs in the local administration.

The Palazzo degli Uffizi (or uffici = offices) in the heart of granducal Florence. 
Designed by Giorgio Vasari primarily to house the government administration
(and only incidentally for works of art).

These uffici (or offices, as they were called) were traded back and forth by Buonarroti and his peers. And on 1 March 1613, a major prize came his way. He was made Magistrato della Dogana  - Magistrate of the Florentine Customs Service - for one year, with limited duties and a comfortable stipend.

1 March 1613 (1612 in the old Florentine Calendar). 
The annual appoinment of new customs officers.  
 (ASFi, Dogana Antica 18, f.1r)

Mag.co et exc.te D. Michelangelo Leonardi Bonarroti de Bonarrotis Simoni =
The Most Magnificent and Excellent Michelangelo son of Leonardo Buonarroti 
of the family Buonarroti Simoni.

Twice a week, from March 1613 through February 1614, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger presided over a meeting of the customs officials - reading reports, hearing appeals, issuing findings and ultimately, regulating the flow of taxable goods in and out of the Medici State.

Adì 20 di detto (=  20 Marzo 1613)                                       
Fu tratto in proposto                                                                

Il Signor Michelangelo Buonarroti                                        
Gli prefati signori Maestri di dogana adunati et stati in Magistrato
et dato audienza non seguì partito e furno licenziati.
(ASFi, Dogana Antica 3, f.3v)
On the 20th day of March 1613, Signor Michelangelo Buonarroti was duly authorized. The Masters of the Customs Administration convened to hear all comers. There was no business, so they adjourned.

Sometimes Michelangelo and his colleagues were in and out of session in a matter of minutes. On other occasions, however, they had to settle in for long and complicated investigations of fraud, smuggling, misappropriation and outright theft. 

Sifting through the conflicting evidence of tax agents and police (often corrupt), impoverished pedlars and opulent merchants, travelers of every description. And - needless to say - many Jews.

In Florence, Jews were mostly involved in the second-hand trade - reconditioning and reselling used goods, especially clothing. Sending stuff from one tax zone to another - while squeezing a profit from the evasion of customs duties.

Case in point: 20 August 1613. While Michelangelo the Younger was presiding over the Florentine Dogana - and also, writing his comedy L'Ebreo / The Jew...

Addì 20 di agosto 1613
Molto Magnifici Signor e Maestri della dogana della Città di Firenze

Si referisce per me caporale Francesco et compagni famiglia di bargello di dogana come agosto dì 20 detto abiano trovato

Davitte di Beniamino ebreo che aveva cavata dalla città di Siena uno feraiolo di drappo a opere foderato di ermisino nero ascosto nuno feraiolo di panno fine e rivolto in detto feraiolo dinanzi alarcone di cavallo senza buletta ne manifesto alcuno e di dreto al cavallo aveva una valigia entrovi panni usati che oro da brucare conperi alla fiera di Siena e di dette robe che erano nella valigia naveva fatto la bulletta accetto che di detto feraiolo di drappo ch era fuora della valigia però pretendiano che sia nuovo e fatto di drappo forestiero et si li fa conto secondo la legge bandi di Sua Altezza Serenissima per haverlo messo in contado di Firenze contro gli’ordini detto drappo sia perso la bestia e condannato detto Davitte.
(ASFi, Dogana Antica 18, n.12, f.1r)

On the 2oth day of August 1613

Most Magnificent Gentlemen and Masters of the Customs Administration of the City of Florence

I, Corporal Francesco, report the following, on behalf of myself and my fellows in the customs police:

On the 20th of August, we discovered that the Jew David son of Benjamin had extracted from the city of Siena, on horseback in his baggage rack, a sleeveless overcoat of woolen cloth lined with black silk. Rolled up and hidden inside this garment, there was yet another overcoat of fine wool, variously ornamented -  without a tax seal or a customs declaration. Also, there was a suitcase on his horse containing used textile goods and gold embroidery thread - but for these items, he had a customs seal. We hold, however, that the other sleeveless overcoat is new, not used, and made from foreign cloth - so the animal and all it carries is subject to forfeiture, according to the proclamation of the Grand Duke, and the said David is thus held liable.

 Then a week later, the Jew himself testified in person...

A dì 29 di Agosto 1613
Comparse propriamente
Davitte di Beniamin di Buondì ebreo nel Ghetto di Firenze 
e con giuramento preso super calamo more Hebrario disse...
(ASFi, Dogana Antica 18, n.12, f.2r)

On the 29th day of August 1613, David son of Benjamin Buondì, Jew in the Florentine Ghetto, appeared on his own behalf. Taking his oath in the Jewish manner, he swore on an inkwell and then said...

Pitchmen handling snakes (Detail from J. Callot's Fair at Impruneta, etching.)

Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger enjoyed an unparalleled view of the seamy side of Florentine life from his seat on the bench of the Customs Administration. 

When we read through L'Ebreo / The Jew with this in mind, many of its details come into sharp focus.

For example, Act Two, Scene 1:  Federigo the Marriage Broker needs to track down Melchisedec the Levantine in order to formulate a daring scheme.

Fed.: ... Ma io andrò intorno a cacciar di Melchisedec.
m. Amb.: Ebene, ‘l troverai?
Fed.: Che so io. Mi darò alla cerca et è facil cosa che io lo trovi 
qua in continuo alla dogana dove capitano talvolta certi scapigliati
 e andranno tutti i’ quali, egli ha gran negozi.
(Archivio Buonarroti 81. f.25 verso)

Federigo:  ...  But now, I want to track down Melchisedec.

Ambrogio Bordoni:  Where do you start?

Federigo:  At the Customs House (dogana). That is where all those madcaps hang out. And Melchisedec always has a deal in the works.

L'ebreo comm[edi]a Bozza = The Jew Comedy Draft

So, the pieces all fit together... 

Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger+ Jews + 1613

But we shouldn't be surprised.

Stefano della Bella, First Scene Representing Florence, from 
Le Nozze degli Dei / The Wedding of the Gods, (performed in Palazzo Pitti in 1637)

Florence was a world capital in the early seventeenth century. But still, it functioned - in most ways - like a small town.

And whatever the pieces may be, they usually fit together.

If we know where to look.

More about L'Ebreo?

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