Jews and Magic in Medici Florence


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  • Host Department: History of Art
  • Date: 11/21/2011
  • Time: 5:00PM

  • Location: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery, #100

  • Edward_Goldberg
  • Description:

    For nearly forty years Edward Goldberg has explored the vast archive of the Medici Grand Dukes and published many books and articles out of his research, culminating in the discovery of a lifetime: 200 letters written by Benedetto Blanis, a Jewish businessman and aspiring scholar from the Florentine ghetto, to his great patron Giovanni dei Medici, the illegitimate son of Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany. This is the largest body of surviving correspondence from any Jew in early modern Europe.

    In the seventeenth century the Jews in the tiny ghetto of Florence struggled to earn a living by any possible means, especially loan-sharking, rag-picking and second-hand dealing. They were viewed as an uncanny people with rare supernatural powers, and Benedetto Blanis sought to parlay his alleged mastery of astrology, alchemy, and Kabbalah into a grand position at the Medici Court.  Blanis won the admiration and esteem of Don Giovanni dei Medici, a scion of the ruling family, and for six tumultuous years their lives were inextricably linked. Week by week, Benedetto recorded his daring intrigues at the Medici Court, his illicit business deals, his commerce in banned books, his skirmishes with the Inquisition, and his adventures in the occult. His letters survived against all possible odds.

    A longtime resident of Italy, Edward Goldberg (D.Phil. Oxford, 1979) is an art historian whose archival research focuses on Renaissance art patronage and collecting, the culture of the Medici Court and Jewish cultural studies. After completing his doctorate in art history at Oxford,  Goldberg taught in the art history department at Harvard (1981-87), and during this time published Patterns in Late Medici Art Patronage (Princeton, 1983). As a fellow of the Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies at Villa i Tatti (1983-84), he completed research for his second book, After Vasari: History, Art and Patronage in Late Medici Florence (Princeton, 1988). With fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (1991-92) the National Endowment for the Humanities (1993-95) and other organizations, Goldberg continued to publish prolifically while developing a digital humanities project to database the archival records contained within the Medici Granducal Archive of Florence.

    From 1995 to 2005, Goldberg served as the founding director of the Medici Archive Project, formally launched in the Archivio di Stato di Firenze For more information about Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis and the forthcoming companion volume, A Jew at the Medici Court: The Letters of Benedetto Blanis Hebreo (1615-1621) (Toronto, 2011), please see