An Update from Florence
December 2, 2022
What Professor Bent has been up to lately!
Upcoming scans, never-before-seen views, and dealing with Italian weather- an inside look into what Professor Bent has been doing.
Ferdinando del Migliore was born in 1628 and spent his adult life researching and writing about the history of Florence. A gifted archivist, del Migliore scoured the registers and contracts of individuals and institutions in an effort to present to his readers accurate accounts of the city’s past.
In 1684 the noted historian published his most important book, Firenze città nobilissima illustrata da Ferdinando del Migliore, in which the author recreated the ancient city by examining its buildings, one by one. Using documents as the foundation of his argument, del Migliore refuted legends and hearsay that had been propagated over time and corrected them by publishing the writings he uncovered. His single volume account of Florence’s history was the model for later projects, most notably Giuseppe Richa’s multi-tome Notizie istoriche delle chiese fiorentine divise ne’ suoi quartieri, a vast eighteenth-century review of the city’s churches that depended heavily on del Migliore’s groundbreaking work.
Modern readers of del Migliore’s text value his contributions mostly for the way he employed documents in the examination of each specific building he considered, and his text is best consumed when one focuses on each chapter as a discrete unit, rather than on the entirety of the book as a holistic and complete account of the city. Indeed, his instincts as a student of the past caused him to compile information about major events and local characters, but because his book revolved around specific buildings he tended to discuss these people and actions piecemeal and only when they pertained to the institution under examination in that chapter. Readers rarely get a broad account of the city’s history or even an abbreviated timeline of the signature moments that influenced the lives and actions of its residents: this historian did not provide his readers with a chronologically oriented history of Florence. Instead, specific events and transactions pertinent to each edifice are served up as contextual explanations for that structure’s design and erection, independent of other events that transpired in the city at the same time. Del Migliore cut and pasted centuries’ worth of history into the individual studies of dozens of buildings, making it nearly impossible to understand the broad sweep of the city’s past. But it does present irrefutable evidence about the landmarks in the urban environment that shaped the way people moved, behaved, worshipped, loved, fought, and died for hundreds of years.
Reading and translating del Migliore’s prose poses problems for modern interpreters. Writing in the style of the day, the seventeenth-century historian’s lengthy sentence structure often weaves multiple subjects into single passages, causing readers to untangle a variety of issues that have been wrapped up into one giant textual skein. Del Migliore turns phrases no longer in use, employs “creative spelling,” and sometimes refers to people, places, and things for which we have no reference today. And his bias for the city’s status in the history of western Europe sometimes blinds him to the importance of other places. We don’t write the way he did in 1684, and they didn’t read the same way we do today.
Our team has worked to recast del Migliore’s text in a way that’s more palatable to contemporary readers. Lengthy sentences have been spliced into shorter ones, while unwieldy clauses have been truncated for the sake of clarity. Indeed, this translation is more of an attempt to reveal the sense of del Migliore’s approach than it is a strict and rigid replacement of English words for Italian ones. Still, we have worked hard to retain the spirit of his influential book and have been careful to include the archival information he provided in the original text as a basis for an understanding of each building that he discussed. All the facts remain; but the style of their presentation has been updated to a certain degree.