Imagining the City
Leave the city to the merchants, the lawyers, the brokers, the usurers, the bidders, the notaries, the doctors, the perfume makers, the butchers, the cooks, the pastry chefs, the sausage makers, the alchemists, the clothes washers, the builders, the weavers, the sculptors, the painters, the mimes, the dancers and acrobats, the musicians, the charlatans, the pimps, the robbers, the hosts, the frauds, the magicians, the adulterers, the parasites, and to the insatiable do-nothings always sniffing out the smell of the market…. They are different from us. Leave the rich to count their money…. There is not one reason to envy them.Petrarch, De vita solitaria (written 1346–1347)
The first Rinascimento was not the Age of the Spirit, as Joachim of Fiore had prophesized, but an age of much greater urban-based wealth and a new elite and social order that such wealth had empowered: a world where new wealth, new perceived needs, and new skills had undercut and confused the Great Social Divide between a hereditary nobility and the rest of society that had typified the medieval world. But the discomfort with that new wealth, in conjunction with a strong religious tradition that many shared with Saint Francis, meant that the spiritual side of life was not forgotten. Rather, it melded with new social values and ideals of status in deeply significant ways that made that urban civiltà very different from its medieval and ancient antecedents, even in the cities of Italy that flourished in the twelfth century, as well as in modern urban societies. Most simply, it was an urban world where Christ, Mary, and the martyrs and saints of Christianity were very close to merchants, bankers, lawyers, and artisans. To paraphrase the historian Edward Muir, there was a Virgin on virtually every corner – the urbanscape of the fourteenth century was marked out, lived in, and even used to think, not just as a material space, but also as a spiritual one punctuated with humble religious shrines and great churches, with relics and places of holy memory, with neighborhoods named for holy figures, one where even urban time was measured by church bells and the time it took to say a common prayer.