Saturday, April 7, 2018

Machiavelli's Oak


A frustrating yet fruitful exile

Florence seen from just outside the village of Sant'Andrea in Percussina where the Machiavelli family had their estate.
In 1513, when the historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, author and playwright Niccolo' Machiavelli (1469-1527) was banished from Florence to his family estate by the reinstated Medici, it must have been poignant, if not painful, to see the towers and cupolas of his native city, so near and yet so far.

The Machiavelli seat, essentially a grand farmhouse, on the road winding between Florence and San Casciano: on the opposite side of the road stands the Albergaccio inn which Machiavelli frequented. Note the height and security of the lowest windows: the road would have been a busy and at times dangerous thoroughfare.


the entrance to L'Albergaccio
In his famous letter to his friend Vettori, Machiavelli describes a typical day: 

I shall tell you about my life. I get up in the morning with the sun and go into one of my woods that I am having cut down; there I spend a couple of hours inspecting the work of the previous day and kill some time with the woodsmen who always have some dispute on their hands either among themselves or with their neighbors. I could tell you a thousand good stories about these woods and my experiences with them, and about Frosino da Panzano and other men who wanted some of this firewood.
Upon leaving the woods, I go to a spring; from there, to one of the places where I hang my birdnets. I have a book under my arm: Dante, Petrarch, or one of the minor poets like Tibullus, Ovid, or some such. I read about their amorous passions and their loves, remember my own, and these reflections make me happy for a while. Then I make my way along the road toward the inn, I chat with passersby, I ask news of their regions, I learn about various matters, I observe mankind: the variety of its tastes, the diversity of its fancies. 

Io mi lievo la mattina con el sole, e vòmmene in un mio bosco che io fo tagliare, dove sto dua ore a rivedere l'opere del giorno passato, e a passar tempo con quegli tagliatori, che hanno sempre qualche sciagura alle mani o fra loro o co' vicini. E circa questo bosco io vi harei a dire mille belle cose che mi sono intervenute, e con Frosino da Panzano e con altri che voleano di queste legne. Partitomi del bosco, io me ne vo ad una fonte, e di quivi in un mio uccellare. Ho un libro sotto, o Dante o Petrarca, o uno di questi poeti minori, come Tibullo, Ovidio e simili: leggo quelle loro amorose passioni, e quelli loro amori ricordomi de' mia: gòdomi un pezzo in questo pensiero. Transferiscomi poi in sulla strada, nell'hosteria; parlo con quelli che passono, dimando delle nuove de' paesi loro; intendo varie cose, e noto varii gusti e diverse fantasie d'huomini.

fireplace of the Albergaccio which warmed the cardplayers
By then it is time to eat; with my household I eat what food this poor farm and my minuscule patrimony yield. When I have finished eating, I return to the inn, where there usually are the innkeeper, a butcher, a miller, and a couple of kilnworkers. I slum around with them for the rest of the day playing cricca and backgammon: these games lead to thousands of squabbles and endless abuses and vituperations. More often than not we are wrangling over a penny; be that as it may, people can hear us yelling even in San Casciano. Thus, having been cooped up among these lice, I get the mould out of my brain and let out the malice of my fate, content to be ridden over roughshod in this fashion if only to discover whether or not my fate is ashamed of treating me so.

Viene in questo mentre l'hora del desinare, dove con la mia brigata mi mangio di quelli cibi che questa povera villa e paululo patrimonio comporta. Mangiato che ho, ritorno nell'hosteria: quivi è l'hoste, per l'ordinario, un beccaio, un mugnaio, dua fornaciai. Con questi io m'ingaglioffo per tutto dí giuocando a cricca, a trich-trach, e poi dove nascono mille contese e infiniti dispetti di parole iniuriose; e il più delle volte si combatte un quattrino, e siamo sentiti non di manco gridare da San Casciano. Cosí, rinvolto in tra questi pidocchi, traggo el cervello di muffa, e sfogo questa malignità di questa mia sorta, sendo contento mi calpesti per questa via, per vedere se la se ne vergognassi.

Letter to Francesco Vettori, December 10 1513, translation by J.B Atkinson and David Sices in Machiavelli and his friends: Their Personal Correspondence, Northern Illinois UP, 1996.


The buildings of Sant'Andrea in Percussina, in the Comune of San Casciano Val di Pesa, have changed little over the centuries. And behind the Albergaccio, the inn where Machiavelli famously played cards with the locals, grows a magnificent oak which may, with a little bit of imagination, have been sprouting when Machiavelli dedicated his evenings to writing Il Principe.

the entrance to villa, farmyard and threshing floor


Today the farmhouse-villa is a museum which centres on Machiavelli's two-year exile. Some furnishings are said to hail from his era, some are still older.

house of the fattore or farm manager on the left; farmhouse on the right: Machiavelli's study window is the second on the right
entrance hall to the farmhouse: the living quarters lead off to right and left but the righthand side was dedicated to the writer's study and library. Double wooden doors sheltered him from the demands of farm business and family. Married in 1501, Machiavelli had six children.

door panels
Machiavelli family nuptial or dowry chest dating to the 14th century



simple but beautiful coffered ceiling in the master's rooms
The kitchen bespeaks an economy of design and functionality which ought to be the envy of contemporary designers.
The kitchens of ancient homes are often the most authentic part, unchanged for centuries. This particular kitchen boasts several 'hobs' with individual fire-niches (two visible here on the right, more below)

the original in-wall kitchen cupboards
bread oven with leavening closet below
a corner of the house, almost a shrine to the thinker
At the back the farmhouse looks more like a villa and opens onto a formal garden, a more recent (possibly 17th century) addition. The huge cistern was used to catch rainwater.

the small formal 'green' garden, facing south
Beneath the house, road and inn lie extensive cellars, largely unused today because modern wine vats are made of steel, not wood or cement.


In addition to the cellars, a tunnel runs under the road between the Machiavelli property and the inn. It provided a safe route for our exile's nightly movements to and from the inn when, the day's farmwork and business done, and his cardplay and conviviality at an end, Machiavelli changed his clothes and sat at his desk to commune with the ancients.

the tunnel is beautifully restored but all the materials including the cobbles are original
When evening comes, I return home, and enter my study; on the threshold I take off my workday clothes, covered in mud and filth, and I put on the garments of court and palace. Appropriately dressed, I enter the ancient courts of the ancients where, lovingly received by them, I nourish myself on that food which is mine alone and for which I was born; where I am unashamed to speak with them and ask them about the reasons for their actions; and they, out of their humanity, answer me; and for four hours I feel no boredom; I forget my troubles; I do not fear poverty nor does death frighten me; I live entirely through them. And because Dante says that no one understands anything unless he retains what he has understood, I have jotted down what I have profited from in their conversation and composed a short study, De principatibus, in which I delve as deeply as I can into the ideas concerning this topic, discussing the definition of a princedom, the categories of princedoms, how they are acquired, how they are retained, and why they are lost.

Letter to Francesco Vettori, December 10 1513, liberally adapted from translation by J.B Atkinson and David Sices in Machiavelli and his friends: Their Personal Correspondence, Northern Illinois UP, 1996.

Venuta la sera, mi ritorno in casa ed entro nel mio scrittoio; e in su l'uscio mi spoglio quella veste cotidiana, piena di fango e di loto, e mi metto panni reali e curiali; e rivestito condecentemente, entro nelle antique corti delli antiqui uomini, dove, da loro ricevuto amorevolmente, mi pasco di quel cibo che solum è mio e che io nacqui per lui; dove io non mi vergogno parlare con loro e domandargli della ragione delle loro azioni; e quelli per loro umanità mi rispondono; e non sento per quattro ore di tempo alcuna noia; sdimentico ogni affanno, non temo la povertà, non mi sbigottisce la morte; tutto mi trasferisco in loro. E perché Dante dice che non fa scienza sanza lo ritenere lo havere inteso - io ho notato quello di che per la loro conversazione ho fatto capitale, e composto uno opuscolo De principatibus; dove io mi profondo quanto io posso nelle cogitazioni di questo subietto, disputando che cosa è principato, di quale spezie sono, come e' si acquistono, come e' si mantengono, perché e' si perdono.


possibly the desk at which Il Principe was written; the chair is a 'Savonarola' dating back to the late 15th century
the shadow of Machiavelli's oak on the Albergaccio
Analogies might be drawn between our conjectured acorn, grown into the magnificent oak presiding to this day over the Albergaccio, and the manuscript entitled De Principatibus which the impoverished, exiled Florentine composed in the hopes of ingratiating himself with the Medici family but which was eventually (it was only published posthumously in 1532) to become the celebrated, first text of modern political science.


The property was held for centuries by the Serristori family, Machiavelli's descendants, and was only recently acquired by Gruppo Italiano Vino which restored the villa-farmhouse, cultivates the vineyards and runs the restaurant.
Today the museum is open to anyone who dines at the restaurant, which we can recommend for genuine, tasty Tuscan fare with a difference. Reservations are required and after lunch a guide will take you through the museum, in English or Italian.

Via Scopeti, 64,
Sant'Andrea in Percussina,
San Casciano Val di Pesa
Tel. +39 055828471
email info@villamachiavelli.it
www.villamachiavelli.it






1 comment:

  1. "Machiavelli's Oak",a most interesting post,historically,geographically,politically,and photographically,by this most talented author.The description of Machiavelli's social and working life at his country farm estate during his exile from nearby Florence, together with really excellent descriptions,outside,inside,and underneath, his farmhouse and adjacent inn,make compelling reading.Whilst in exile here Machiavelli wrote his "De Principatibus" which remains of great importance as the first text of modern political science.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome but will be checked before publishing.