Everyday Life in 15th Century Florence

Alessandra Torrigiani d'Arezzo

The central point of my life is my family. Widowed for the past two years, I now live in my birth family. We live in Florence, with a house in the city as well as a villa and estate out in the contado (rural countryside). With my father dead and my brother in France on business, I am temporarily in charge of the Torrigiani household.


The money used in this time and place is florins (fiorino). One gold fiorino is equivalent to 20 silver soldi, and a soldi equals 12 denari. The fiorino of Florence are marked one side with the image of St John the Baptist, the patron saint of the city, and a lily, the emblem of the city, on the other.[1]

The household pays tax to the Florentine Republic, as assessed in the catasto (tax survey). This is handled by my brother as head of the family, or by the steward in his absence. We invest in the Monte di Pieta, a state controlled bank that is highly secure, and returns 5% per year on invested money.[2]

The Torrigiani family are primarily silk merchants, members of the silk guild. The Arte della Seta. We co-ordinate supply of raw materials such as dye ingredients and raw silk, then organise the production of the finished fabrics in workshops round the city, before selling the fabric both in Florence and exported to other cities.

Each agent in the business uses two account books, one detailing each transaction, and one for cash. The steward matches these books against each other, and against the master books, which consists of one master cashbook and journals for each type of transaction. Most of our agents are kinsmen.[3] Normally my father or brother would oversee this process, but in their absence I attempt to fill their place.[4] This is not normal for a woman, but there are many examples in history of women who have carried out such tasks.[5]

The estate is mainly run through sharecroppers, but for major events like the harvest and the picking and pressing of grapes for the year's vintage I go out to supervise. When living in the country it is good practice to ride out regularly to keep an eye on the peasantry.[6]


It is said that 'A father delights in making his offspring well read.'[7] Having been educated with my brother, I can read and write Italian, Latin and Greek and read what I can.[8] Other pastimes that I take part in include hunting, playing games such as chess, backgammon, and naibi (a card game) and outdoors, croquet and archery.[9] These kinds of activities, as well as music and dancing, were things that I took part in more often as a married woman, when I would attend court functions.

I play the lute, a plucked string instrument with a vaulted body fronted by a flat soundboard with a hole in it, a neck and fingerboard, and a pegboard to which the strings are attached, at almost a right angle to the neck. The strings are made of gut, and my lute has six strings, tuned to g, c, f, a, d, and g (renaissance tuning). When played, the lute is held vertically on the lap, and the strings plucked, with the pitch able to be altered with fingering.[10]

The dances that I enjoy include the galliard, allemande, pavan, bransles, bassa dance and tourdion, and other court dances like Lo Spagnoletto.

Castigone suggests that women should share all the attributes of the male courtier, except for their frailty. Thus women were expected to be graceful, pretty, demure and pleasing to others, yet there was also space for them to be learned and witty.[11] In his book The Courtier, Castigone writes 'And in my time I have seen women play tennis, handle weapons, ride, hunt and take part in nearly all sports that a knight can enjoy.'[12]

Religious Observances

Our local church is Santa Maria d'Angioli, where I regularly attend mass. Throughout the day there are occasions for prayer, which I can observe using my Book of Hours, which contains prayer to be read out at these times[13]:

Midnight - Matins
3am - Lauds
6am - Prime
9am - Terce
Noon - Sext
3pm - Nones
6pm - Vespers
9pm - Compline

Household Duties

W omen were given a household allowance, with which to manage household expenses.[14] My duties in the household would include planning meals, and also keeping track of food supplies - ensuring that there were sufficient stores of all necessary ingredients. To maintain these supplies I would either bring things in from our country estate, or purchase them at market. The types of foods available and eaten in my household have been described elsewhere. The general upkeep of the house, and the supervision of the servants would also be my responsibility.

As needed, I would organise accommodations for visitors. Visitors could be lodged in the spare rooms of the second story. Visitors to the house would mainly be those connected through trade with the family. Having visitors would provide an occasion for more elaborate meals and entertainments. Masques and other elaborately themed events were popular at this time.

By this period spinning, weaving and tailoring had become professionalised. My duties to clothe the household would relate to the ordering of new clothes, maintenance of old clothes, and supervision of tasks such as washing clothes.

I would embroider, for while professional embroiderers were around, they were only used by the very upper classes. Embroidery was done with bright coloured silk threads, but often the fabrics used had elaborate designs woven into them. The measurement of cloth length was in braccio (in Florence, equivalent to 58cm, though the measurement varied around Italy), but the width of fabric would vary between different fabrics.[15] The basic structure of clothes for women was a chemise (camisa), underdress (gamurra or cotta) and overdress (cioppa or giornea). Around the house, and on informal occasions, just the underdress would be worn. For men, a chemise (camisa), hose (calze), and doublet (farsetto) was the basic attire, over which older men would wear long robes, and younger men short tunics (giornea or gonnella).

The wardrobe listing of Monna Bambo in Florence 1424[16] gives a picture of a standard wardrobe of the period. Because she was a widow, there is only a small range of colours and a large amount of kerchiefs. However, you can see the pattern of one good overdress, with older worn clothes saved to be worn at home.

1 cioppa (overdress) purple, with open sleeves
1 cioppa, worn out
4 cioppe, brown, used
2 cloaks with sleeves, brown, used
2 gamurra (underdresses), red wool, used
2 guarnelli (loose underdresses)
7 camisa (chemises), used
3 pairs of hose, used
4 kerchiefs (for covering the neck and shoulders)
8 large kerchiefs (for covering head, neck and shoulders)
1 belt with silver decoration
1 large cloak

While most of the shopping needed for the running of the household would be carried out by servants, occasionally I would go out shopping myself, or go out visiting friends. The Goodman of Paris suggest the appropriate demeanour for women out in public, 'When you go into town or church go suitably accompanied by honourable women according to your estate... And as you go bear your head upright and your eyelids low and without fluttering, and look straight in front of you about four rods ahead, without looking at any man or woman to the right or to the left, nor looking up, nor glancing from place to place, nor stopping to speak to anyone on the road.'[17]

An Average Day

An average day in my household would be something like this:

6am Rise and say a morning prayer 
Dress and breakfast
7.30amGive servants instructions for the day, for meals and other tasks
8am Whatever tasks need doing - supervising major jobs, shopping, visiting
Noon Lunch
2pm Visit steward, look over accounts
4pm Whatever tasks still need doing
6pm Dinner
8pm Study, reading and writing
10pm Bed

This routine would slightly differ when out on the estate, with the need to look over the running of the estate with the manager, riding out to ensure the work of the sharecroppers and the state of the crops, animals and land.



Alberti, Leon Batista The Family n Renaissance Florence 1443; trans Watkins, Renee Columbia, South Carlina: University of South Carolina, 1969

Castigone, Baldesar The Book of the Courtier 1528; trans Bull, George Melbourne: Penguin, 1967

Fedele, Cassandra Letter and Orations ed and trans Robin, Diane Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000

Pizan, Christine de The Book of the City of Ladies 1405; trans Richards, Earl Jeffrey London: Picador, 1982


Black, Jeremy ed Atlas of World History London: Dorling Kindersley, 1999

Bradley, Marion Zimmer 'What Does a Lady Really Do?' 1973; Tournaments Illuminated v. 132 (Autumn 1999) 14-16

Hassinger, Pauline 'The Evolution of Books of Hours' Tournaments Illuminated v. 136 (Autumn 1999) 10-14

Herald, Jacqueline Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500 London: Bell & Hyman, 1981

Herlihy, David Cities and Society in Medieval Italy London: Variorum, 1980

King, Margaret L Women of the Renaissance Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991

King, Margaret and Rabil, Albert eds Her Immaculate Hand, Selected Works By ad About Women Humanists of Quattrocento Italy Binghampton, New York: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1983

Leszner, Eva Maria Assissi Embroidery London: BT Batsford, 1988

Pierotti-Cei, Luisa Life in Italy During the Renaissance trans Tallon, Peter J Geneve: Liber, 1977

Power, Eileen Medieval People 1924; London: Folio Society, 1999

Sadie, Stanley ed The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music London: MacMillan, 1994

Whitechurch, Ian 'Low Finance: How Do I Pay For This Bread?' and 'Middle Finance: The Merchant's Art' Talks presented at Rowany Festival, 2002


1 Jacqueline Herald Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500 (London: Bell & Hyman, 1981) p11
2 Ian Whitechurch, 'Low Finance: How Do I Pay For This Bread?' and 'Middle Finance: The Merchant's Art' Talks presented at Rowany Festival, 2002
3 Leon Batista Alberti The Family in Renaissance Florence 1443; trans Renee Watkins (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 1969) p200
4 Whitechurch, also Alberti, p197
5 Christine de Pizan The Book of the City of Ladies 1405; trans Earl Jeffrey Richards (London: Picador, 1982). This book, written in defence of women against the general misogyny of the period is made up of stories of women who de Pizan sees as demonstrating skills of leadership and learning, as well as faith, fidelity and other virtues.
6 Alberti, p189
7 Alberti, p81
8 Maragret King and Alberti Rabil eds Her Immaculate Hand: selected Works By and About Women Humanists of Quattrocento Italy (Binghampton, New York: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1983) p23. An example of combining study and marriage is Laura Cereta (1469-99), who continued to write after marriage, working at night, and more so after being widowed.
9 Luisa Peirotti-Cei Life in Italy During the Renaissance trans Peter J Tallon (Geneve: Liber, 1977) pp85-86
10 Stanley Sadie ed The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music (London: MacMillan, 1994) pp478-479
11 Baldesar Castigone The Book of the Courtier 1528; trans George Bull (Melbourne: Penguin, 1967) pp209-212.
12 Castigone, p215
13 Hassinger, Pauline 'The Evolution of Books of Hours' Tournaments Illuminated v. 136 (Autumn 2000) 10-14, p11
14 Alberti, p207
15 Herald, p12
16 Herald, p242
17 Eileen Power Medieval People (1924; London: Folio Society, 1999) p23