Book Series Europa Sacra, vol. 17

Kings of the Street

Power, Community, and Ritual in Renaissance Florence

David Rosenthal

  • Pages: 278 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:20 b/w, 5 maps
  • Language(s):English, Italian
  • Publication Year:2015

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-54172-3
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55810-3
  • E-book
  • Available

The rise and fall of Florence's artisan festive kingdoms.


“This well-done and scholarly book will be of interest to students of festive culture; of the working classes; of Florence, especially ducal Florence; and of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy” (Ann Crabb, in Renaissance Quarterly, 69/2, 2016, p. 701)

“This is a superbly well-written book, which brings to light an often forgotten aspect of Florentine history and contributes to the ongoing interest in state-building, gender, and religious change in early modern Europe. It also reminds us that ‘history from below’ can and should be written, and this book is an excellent example of how it is done.” (Natalie Tomas, in Parergon, 33/1, 2016, p. 246)


For more than a century the artisans and labourers of Renaissance Florence turned the city into their own ‘empire’ during times of public festivity. From the republic of the late 1400s through to the grand duchy of the early seventeenth century, up to forty brigades of men called the potenze, or powers, elected kings, carved out territories, and entered into a dialogue with citizens and with their Medici patrons.

This study traces the rise and fall of this carnivalesque subculture for the first time. It describes how workers represented themselves, their neighbourhoods, and their trades on the public stage through rituals such as stone-fighting and jousting, and reveals how the politics of this festive world were closely linked to everyday patterns of social bargaining around the person of the prince. In the early 1600s the micro-states of the potenze were partially suppressed and they gradually disappeared from the Florentine urban stage. The account of this transformation presented here shows how Tridentine reform and economic crisis combined to undermine hypermasculine carnival ritual as a language of civic contract, confining the potenze to making pilgrimages to shrines and convents in the Florentine countryside. At the same time it is shown how economic and religious change empowered groups of artisan women to take up the model of the potenze in order to make their own collective pilgrimages outside the city walls.

Through the story of the potenze, this book provides fresh insights into the dynamics of class and gender relations, and the nature of agency, in early modern Italy.


Note on Transcriptions

Potenze and their Locations


Chapter 1. ‘Under My Potenza’: Networks, Communities, Kingdoms

1.1 Outlines: Kingdoms and Neighbourhoods

1.2 Inside the Kingdom: The Local Arena

1.3 Festive Lords, Spiritual Brothers: Confraternal Connections

1.4 Beyond the Neighbourhood: The Republics of Trade

1.5 Movers and Mediators

Chapter 2. ‘Peace and War, War and Peace’: Ritual, Identity, Contract

2.1 Politics and Class: Two Narratives

2.2 The Prince and the Potenze

2.3 Contract and Crisis: The Festivities of 1577

Chapter 3. The Armeggerie of the Spirit

3.1 Sacraments versus Jests

3.2 ‘Outside the Gates of Florence’: Survival and Transformation

3.3 ‘A potenza of women’: Gender, Work, and Piety

Chapter 4. Public Works and the Theatre of State

Epilogue. ‘The exhumed memories of magnificent Florence’