Home in 15th Century Florence

Alessandra Torrigiani d'Arezzo


The city house of the Torrigiani family is located on the Via d'Alfani, near the church of S. Maria d'Angioli1[1]. In 1480 the average Florentine household contained 5 people, and women headed 15% of households[2]. This statistic seems to reflect a relative instability of city households, that due to death or other reasons would be headed by women. At its busiest, the Torrigiani house would have contained myself, my mother and father, and my brother and his wife. At present (1477) I am the sole family occupant, though the offices are still used by our agents to continue business. Lord John Dauncy of Winchester is staying in the house as a guest.

The house is built in a similar style to the other noble houses of Florence in this period. Three stories high, it is built as a square surrounding an interior courtyard. Drawing on classical styles, the courtyard is surrounded by columns, while the outside has a smooth stone facing[3]. Materials used in the construction are stone and brick.

Attached to the house is the garden. Due to the space restrictions of the city, it consists of simple raised rectangular beds in which herbs and kitchen crops are grown.

On the ground floor, arches open out to the street. This level contains offices and reception rooms for the family business, as well as the servant's quarters. Being a servant was often part of the life cycle of lower-class Tuscans, as young women attempted to earn money for a dowry, or young men attempted to establish their own house or land.

A staircase leads up to the first floor, where the kitchen, dining room, and the master of the house's apartments are located. Upstairs again, an open verandah runs around the inside of the second floor, giving space to dry clothes, and rooms for less important members of the family. My room is on this floor. This floor is also used as storage space, for things like supplies of oil, flour, wood, and straw that are brought into the city from the family estate[4].

The furniture in these rooms is wooden, and sparse. The tables used are trestle style, and can be folded away if needed, with benches, stools, and chairs for sitting. For storage, chests and coffers are used. In my room is my cassoni, a carved box that formed part of my dowry. The beds are also wooden and fairly large, with linen sheets and padded feather quilts[5].

Windows provide enough light to illuminate the house by day, while at night lamps and candles are use to provide light. The amount of fireplaces in a house reflected its status. In our house there are fireplaces in the kitchen, dining room, and master rooms, but not on the second floor[6]. The dining room and master rooms are decorated with frescos on the walls, while the other rooms are simply plastered. Gutters on the roof drain off into a tank that supplies water for the house. There is also a tank for sewerage to be emptied into, which we pay to have cleared daily[7].

The map shows the size Florence had reached by this period, with the outer wall built from 1284-1333. While the Duomo was the largest and most important church in the city, we would normally attend S. Maria d'Angioli, which is the closest church to the house. Other relevant places in the city would be the offices of other merchants and bankers, as well as the workshops that were involved in the different processes of silk production. Another important place is the markets, where household supplies could be purchased.

The city house forms the nexus of the Torrigiani business of silk trading. The silk is woven in workshops situated in the city, but the materials and finished products are obtained or distributed through trading routes outside of Florence. As an inland city, Florence was dependant on overland trade routes, or shipping down the Arno River, through Pisa, to the sea. The major overland routes connected Florence to France and Germany, from where products could branch out all over Western Europe[8].

The wool trade, one of Florence's major industries, connected it to England and Flanders for raw materials and processing[9]. In terms of the silk industry and my family's business, raw materials were both grown in the surrounding countryside and shipped in from Turkey and Syria[10]. Materials for dying would also be obtained through trade routes, such as alum from Tofla and the Papal States to the south, and kermes from Constantinople[11].

Florentine Domains

The ratio between urban and contado (country) areas for Florence was around 22-26% of the population in urban areas, with people sometimes moving back and forward between these areas depending on economic circumstances[12]. My family came originally from the city of Arezzo to Florence, a distance of approximately 80km. The family estate, purchased by my father, is located about halfway between the two cities. The journey between the city and the estate would have been made on horseback or with wagons when transporting supplies. There does not appear to be stables included in the city houses of this period, so I assume that the horses would be boarded out in separate stables. The climate of the area is Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and wetter winters.

The Estate

Our estate is located near the town of Loro Ciuffenna in the middle hills bordering on the Arno valley. Though the land here is not as rich as in the valley, it is less prone to flooding. No major waterways run through the land, but there are small streams, and two artificial ponds created near the villa to keep fish in. Having bought the estate from another family, the grounds and gardens are old and established.

The villa is constructed similarly to the city house, differing mainly in having a smoothly rendered exterior. Attached to the villa are larger and more elaborate gardens than those attached to the city house. Beside an extensive kitchen garden, there are rose arbours, and a grassed area surrounded by fruit trees with a fountain in the centre[13]. Beyond the formal gardens is an orchard, and wood lots are kept throughout the estate to provide timber and wood for fires.

There are also groves of olives, for olives and olive oil, and mulberry trees for silkworms to eat. The vegetables grown were garlic, onions, leeks, artichoke, asparagus, cabbages, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, parsnips, peas, rocket, shallots, spinach, and turnips. Fruit trees would supply apples, almonds, cherries (morello and sweet), figs, mulberries, peaches, plums, pears, and pomegranates[14].

The land of the estate would have been mainly contracted out under 'mezzadria', a sharecropping arrangement under which half of the crop is returned to the landowner. The sharecroppers, called 'laboratores', were highly mobile and had little capital, often dependent on the landlord for animals, seeds, and equipment[15]. Crops grown on the estate include wheat and vines for wine production. Alberti recommends plenty of paths around the estate for easier supervision of the peasantry[16]. As well as the crops, the estate also supports bees, flocks of chickens and pigeons, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs.


Everyman Guides: Florence London: David Cambell Publishers, 1993

Alberti, Leon Battista The Family in Renaissance Florence trans Watkins, Renee Columbia, South Carolina: South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 1969

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

Harvey, John Medieval Gardens London: BT Batsford, 1981

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

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

Macadam, Alta Blue Guide: Northern Italy: From the Alps to Rome London: Ernest Benn, 1984

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


1 Location extrapolated from the detailed map of Florence in Alta Macadam, Blue Guide: Northern Italy: From the Alps to Rome (London: Ernest Benn, 1984) pp446-447
2 David Herlihy, City and Society in Medieval Italy (London: Variorum, 1980) p6 & 12
3 House design based on pictures of contemporary houses in Everyman Guides: Florence (London: David Cambell Publishers, 1993) pp68-71
4 Everyman Guide: Florence p69, also Luisa Pierotti-Cei Life in Italy During the Renaissance trans Peter J Tallon (Geneve: Liber, 1977) p43
5 Pierotti-Cei, pp50 & 53
6 Pierotti-Cei, p45
7 Pierotti-Cei, p44
8 Jeremy Black Atlas of World History (London: Dorling Kindersley, 1999) pp190-191
9 Jacqueline Herald, Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500 (London: Bell & Hyman, 1981) p67
10 Herald, pp72-72
11 Herald, pp90-91
12 Herlihy, pp85 & 98
13 Garden design based around a description of a fourteenth century Italian garden in John Harvey Medieval Gardens (London: BT Batsford, 1981 p51
14 14 Plant lists from Crescentiis (1305) compiled in Harvey, pp168-180
15 Herlihy, p263
16 Leon Battista Alberti The Family in Renaissance Florence trans Renee Watkins (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 1969) p189