Music, Power, and Control in Early Modern Prato

  • Caroline Gill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The early years of the Duchy and Principality in sixteenth-century Florence saw a resurgence of art and culture so dramatic that it is often called the “second” Florentine Renaissance. Yet at the same time, the cappella musicale of the collegiate church of Santo Stefano in Prato, a merchant town north-west of the city, was galvanising the spirits of its faithful with sacred music of proportions far grander than anything occurring in the new Florence. This small town had struggled so much to recover from the catastrophic sacking visited on it by the Medici as they forced their way back into post-exile power in 1512 that by the start of the Duchy it was described by one contemporary observer as “still nothing but a nest of foxes”. Moreover, the divisive teachings of the notorious Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola had nested in the cracks of this recovering culture, entrenching themselves in the dissident convent of San Vincenzo through its socially and spiritually invigorating practice of singing the lauda spirituale. However, when the Principality was finally ratified in 1569, the music of Santo Stefano was suddenly, and apparently disproportionately, elevated by the arrival of a highly-respected native Pratese
musician named Biagio Pesciolini as maestro di cappella, personally appointed by the new Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici.

This thesis argues that Pesciolini’s appointment to overhaul Santo Stefano’s cappella musicale is evidence that the Medici were determined to cut off Savonarola’s influence at what had by then become its source. Examining the disparity between Prato’s outwardly battered appearance and reputation for civil disobedience with the exceptionally complex music in its principal church reframes Prato—Florence relations in the final years of the cult of Savonarola and establishes Pesciolini’s importance in the development of Florentine Renaissance music. The thesis takes a multi-dimensional approach, using discrete primary sources to redraw contextual boundaries and create a transferrable roadmap to trace the importance of music in the pursuit of institutional and political dominance. By reappraising the balance of power between Prato and Florence
during this crucial period in Florentine history, new evidence is presented about both the shifts in anti-Savonarolan policy that took place after the accession of Cosimo I, and the related implications for music’s role in establishing Medicean authority in Prato. Consequently, this uncovers Pesciolini’s role in the establishment of Florentine authority in Prato through music and demonstrates why his contribution was crucial to the survival of the Principality.
Date of Award13 Jan 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLaurie Stras (Main Supervisor) & Catherine Haworth (Co-Supervisor)

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