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  • 1 Comments on the etymological meaning of this term: Leshem 2016.

1The studies collected here intend to offer different views and new research paths on the household economies of late medieval and early modern Italy. In our interpretation, the concept of “household” refers as much to a relational space ruled by social customs and legal norms as to the physical dimension of the house and landholdings. As for the term “economy”, we use it in its original meaning as a regulated management (nomos) of the household (oikos).1 We include, however, among the resources to be administered not only patrimonial and material wealth, but also symbolic assets, i.e., the family’s reputation, its social capital, or the knowledge and skills of its members. Hence, our choice to pluralize the term “economy”. Talking about “household economies” allows us to highlight both the plurality of geographical and chronological contexts covered by these studies and the manifold forms of management being addressed. Under this flexible concept, it has been possible to merge different paths of research, which have so far travelled on parallel tracks. More specifically, the studies collected here propose innovative angles on three historiographical variations on the subject. They take as their laboratory for analysis urban and rural contexts from the Italian peninsula, spanning a long period from the late 1300s to the early 1700s. This introduction aims to discuss and bring into play these different perspectives.

Household management and practical knowledge

  • 2 The historiography on this subject is less extensive for the medieval period, see in particular: Go (...)
  • 3 Zucca Micheletto 2020.
  • 4 Davidoff – Hall 1986.
  • 5 Vickery 1993; Sarti 2015.

2One of our objectives is to explore the concrete features of household administration. This reflection is part of a new strand of studies that has called into question a series of dichotomies through which we tend to think of the dwelling space:2 as a private dimension kept away from the public sphere; as the place of activities not recognized as “work”; as an engine of consumption separated from the productive space.3 These binary oppositions prove to be highly anachronistic in describing domestic realities in the preindustrial societies. The concept of the household economy as taking place in a private sphere in which women carried out their housewifery duties is a model much closer to our contemporary world. In the late 1980s, Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall placed the socio-economic historical process that led to the separation of public/private spheres in the 18th-century English middle class.4 However, since their seminal work, this assumption has been periodically revised. Not only is the historical emergence of this dichotomy still debated, but scholars have even questioned the validity of the paradigm itself. Among the many consequences of the gradual privatization of family life, the feminisation of the domestic space has been hotly disputed.5

  • 6 Early studies on this type of source have mostly been conducted on the English and French early mod (...)

3The studies of Laura Casella and Serena Galasso pursue the inquiry in the same historiographical vein, shifting the attention to north-central Italy. The Florentine merchant families (1400-1500), on the one hand, and those of the rural Friulian nobility (1500-1700), on the other hand, are both explored through the lens of women’s private accounts. This documentation is still little explored by the historiography on the Italian peninsula.6 Ordinary writings that women and other family members turned to ensure the day-to-day management of the household are rare and poorly preserved, especially for the period before 1600. These sources document otherwise invisible socio-economic processes. They allow us to understand how spouses divided tasks and spheres of action, and how they shared responsibilities during the household life cycle. Observed through such documentation, domestic spaces appear as actual enterprises. They are described as deposits in which agricultural goods are sorted and objects of different values are stored to be put back into circulation when needed, as productive spaces directed from family consumption needs, and open to the local markets. The most affluent of them are also depicted as places of work for large segments of the urban and rural population. Households provided employment opportunities not only for low-skilled individuals hired as servants or farmers, but also for artisans and suppliers with whom lasting working relationships were often established. As S. Galasso points out, the involvement of Florentine patricians in the whole production cycle of linen cloths sets in motion various workers: from the invisible peasant families gathering the raw material and the women of different social standing spinning at home to the specialized weavers working in the city.

  • 7 Frigo 1985; Doni Garfagnini 1996; Romano 1996.
  • 8 Ajmar-Wollheim 2004. For a more general overview of advice literature for women between the Middle (...)

4The account books commented by these studies are also interpreted as evidence of knowledge and skills: those needed to perform both accounting tasks, and production and consumption roles within the household economy. In this respect, L. Casella compares the administrative writings of noblewomen from early modern Friuli and the literature on female education produced in the same context. Through this new approach, she hypothesizes a mutual interaction between conduct models and everyday practices. An anonymous 18th-century pedagogic treatise, possibly written by a female author, is then interpreted as the result of a local tradition of female engagement in agriculture, medicine and commerce – a tradition of which ample evidence remains in the private archives of the Friulian nobility. This analysis reminds us of how the household economy has been a matter of pedagogical and moralistic discussion for centuries. It has inspired a genre embracing texts with different contents and destinations (advice literature for women, husbandry, moral treatises), but grafted in the same ideological framework. After the revival of the pseudo-Aristotelian tradition of the Economica promoted by humanists, generations of literary authors addressed the subject in the same vein. In the Italian princely courts of the 16th century, a new production of domestic treatises proliferated which considered the household government as a laboratory for political reflection on the nature of a prince’s domination over his subjects.7 In continuity with the ancient Greek tradition, the home was thought as a microcosm of civil society. It was considered as the fundamental unit on which the social order was founded. Hence, the paterfamilias was the main recipient of these texts. However, as research on this literature has shown, the later 16th-century treatises recognize more important leadership roles and responsibilities to women.8

Family, kinship ties and work

  • 9 Di Tullio – Lorenzini 2014, p. 14.
  • 10 For a historiographical overview, see in particular: Franceschi 2001; Ago 2018.
  • 11 Alfani 2006.
  • 12 Cavaciocchi 2009.

5In our perspective, the boundaries between the household economy and the market are thus blurred. This becomes even clearer if we shift our attention to the correlation between family and the organization of work as it was regulated by the guilds. Historical research has long emphasised the importance of family ties within the guilds, insisting mainly – and indeed exclusively – on those guild rules that facilitated the entry of sons of masters by reducing or cancelling the apprenticeship period altogether. However, it is also possible – within the context of the guilds – to observe how domestic space was a productive space that extended far beyond its own walls:9 a research path undertaken by those studies that have brought family history and labour history into dialogue.10 The relevant historiography is quite fragmentary and relatively new. It was during the 2000s, in France and in Italy, that researchers first became greatly interested in the economic role of the family. In 2006, the collective publication Il ruolo economico della famiglia in Italia began the study of kinship ties, particularly horizontal ties, and their influence on the economy through crafts and entrepreneurial careers.11 In contrast, the collective work The economic role of the family in the European economy from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries focused mainly on the traditional binomial: family and business, notably through the study of large international companies.12 Both books are major reference works on the role and weight of family members, family ties and family demographic structures within economic activities.

  • 13 Ogilvie 2014.
  • 14 This approach proved particularly fruitful in certain contexts of medieval and early modern Italy: (...)
  • 15 Research is more developed for Northern European cities: Howell 1986; Crowston 2008; Erickson 2008. (...)
  • 16 Bellavitis – Martini 2014.
  • 17 On child labour, see Franceschi 1996; Caracausi 2014; Maitte – Schapira 2019. For a broader interpr (...)
  • 18 Klapisch-Zuber 1990b; Klapisch-Zuber 1990c; Alfani – Gourdon 2012; Di Tullio – Lorenzini 2014.
  • 19 Recent studies in this direction: Cella 2014; Vidali 2022.

6As the backbone structures of the economy, guilds have been mostly studied for their economic and productive aspects. In fact, for a long time, studies of economic facts were socially decontextualized and family history ignored the functioning of economic mechanisms, except for what concerned the way in which property was passed on, and therefore in most cases limited to the study of the wealthy classes. When one speaks of guild and family, one immediately thinks of the study of social reproduction strategies, such as son-father relationships through education, or the privileges reserved for the sons of masters. Research conducted on Europe has shown how the family was a central element on which the conservative and closed strategy adopted by the guilds rested.13 More recently, research on family and guilds has been enriched by the contribution on women’s and gender history. Scholars directed their attention to the different roles of the actors,14 of women’s work in and outside of the guilds,15 focusing on unpaid work within the production unit,16 while inviting studies to be extended to the work of all the members of the household: employees, children, servants, apprentices.17 The interplay between intra-households social dynamics and the professional world are less studied. Indeed, broadening the view to include “spiritual” kinship (godfathering) or “horizontal” ties of another kind, such as witnesses at weddings, in relation not only to work but to careers within guilds, is something on which research on labour history has not so far focused adequately, whereas studies on family history have consistently drawn attention to the importance of such ties.18 In her essay, Emilie Fiorucci adresses the relationship between horizontal ties and the careers of mercers in 16th-century Venetian guilds. She attempts to reconstruct the network of the mercers’ elite, focusing on the people present at the time of the two sacraments over several generations. Spiritual kinship turns out to be the catalyst for social recognition in the guild of mercers, meant not only as individual recognition, but also as social and economic group recognition. These links go beyond the confines of the guild and branch out into the social fabric. New comparative perspectives in this sense are desirable given the almost total absence of studies on the subject for the Venetian area.19

Household economy at the crossroad of law and justice

  • 20 For a comparative discussion of this subject, see Calvi – Chabot 1998; Arru – Di Michele – Stella 2 (...)
  • 21 On Florence: Klapisch-Zuber 1990a; Kuehn 1991; Chabot 2011. On Venice: Chojnacki 2000; Bellavitis 2 (...)
  • 22 For an overview of this historiographical debate: Chabot 2005.

7An understanding of the household economy cannot be separated from an analysis of its legal infrastructure. In particular, the inheritance rights that regulated the transmission of assets, the rules that defined the patrimonial and legal capacities of men and women, or even the quality of assets (e.g., family assets, dotal property, testamentary bequests) are of crucial importance. There is already an abundance of historiography on patrimonial relations between spouses, succession systems and dowry regimes in north-central Italy.20 To date, thanks to collaborative and comparative research, the geography of these normative systems is increasingly detailed. The cities of Florence and Venice were the first contexts to be studied and undoubtedly the ones that have received the most attention.21 In previous literature, the two cities are often mentioned as opposing models, especially with regard to the rules defining a woman’s place in the inheritance hierarchy within the family as well as their legal and economic capacities.22 In the Florentine Republic, the interests of patrilineal lineages appear more vigorously put before the protection of female property rights. Over time, new research has mitigated the polarization between the two cities as the study of social practices has allowed to shorten the distance between them. Two of the leading exponents of this historiography, Anna Bellavitis and Isabelle Chabot, discuss these issues offering novel perspectives. They both deal with the circulation of goods (liquid assets and material objects) within the family and across generations through new evidence, and by cross-checking the study of legal frameworks, judicial procedures and practical uses.

  • 23 In the very extensive bibliography, we refer in particular to some studies that offer an overview o (...)
  • 24 Local legislations set various limits on a husband’s control over the dowry during marriage, but ne (...)
  • 25 Kirshner 2015.

8A well-known historiographical theme such as the dotal system can be read in the light of new questions when considered as the building block of the household economy.23 In fact, while the dotal system has been extensively studied, there are several questions left open, and others barely formulated: how were dotal goods spent or invested? The dowry was a female property in theory, but a family economic resource in practice, which could prove to be crucial for lower classes in times of economic fragility. From a woman’s point of view, a dowry was “high-risk capital” (I. Chabot), meaning wealth that, while secured on the assets of husbands and brothers, could be consumed during the life cycle of the family. These assets were the most difficult to track within the everyday life of the household as they were incorporated into the family patrimony and placed under the dominium of the husband.24 Certain documents enable historians to circumscribe the life cycle of these properties within the family holdings. The tax declarations of the famous Florentine catasto of 1427 become, in Isabelle Chabot’s innovative interpretation, a “public” space of expression within which women could certify the extent of their property, thus equipping themselves with written evidence of what they owned. The need to “define” these assets in writing was the result of the fact that dowries were a woman’s credit which could be redeemed at the death of the husband and in other few circumstances, such as exile of the spouse or mismanagement of the family estate.25 The dotal systems, as laid down in 13th-to-14th century communal Italy, established the manner and timing of dowry restitution. In 16th-century Venice, we know that in the absence of a dotal contract or other written guarantee, the widows could initiate an alternative civil procedure based on oral testimony (A. Bellavitis). An analysis of these written “voices” can shed light on individuals, ties and objects poorly represented in the documentation, but ever present in the domestic space. These seemingly anecdotal micro-stories capture instances, intrigues and conflicts that gravitate around the dowry’s return and the inheritance as a whole.

9Ultimately, dowry restitution was certainly one of the structural problems of the dowry system, but it was not exclusively about women’s economic survival. Shifting our attention to the direct testimonies of individuals, we realise how the balance of the household economy as a whole was played out around this right.

 

10The studies collected here explore both new historiographical avenues and new ways to interpreting widely discussed issues. Our aim was to challenge the definition of “household economy”. We have attempted this by studying various management practices in different chronological and geographical contexts. This approach has finally led us to reconsider the material space, the goods and the relationships that the term household itself refers to in the long period under scrutiny. The hope is that this contribution will fuel a comparative debate in this direction.

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Notes

1 Comments on the etymological meaning of this term: Leshem 2016.

2 The historiography on this subject is less extensive for the medieval period, see in particular: Goldberg – Kowaleski 2009. For an overview on the historiography concerning the early modern period, see Eibach – Lanzinger 2020.

3 Zucca Micheletto 2020.

4 Davidoff – Hall 1986.

5 Vickery 1993; Sarti 2015.

6 Early studies on this type of source have mostly been conducted on the English and French early modern contexts: Vickery 2006; Luciani 2012, p. 21-44; Whittle   Griffith 2013. In medieval Italy, some cases of women’s household accounts have been taken into account to investigate the question of female literacy: Nico Ottaviani 2006. More recently, these documents have been explored more systematically to address women’s economic activities, household management and the building of family memory: Casella 2013; Galasso 2019.

7 Frigo 1985; Doni Garfagnini 1996; Romano 1996.

8 Ajmar-Wollheim 2004. For a more general overview of advice literature for women between the Middle Ages and the early modern period: Zarri 1996; Sanson – Lucioli 2016.

9 Di Tullio – Lorenzini 2014, p. 14.

10 For a historiographical overview, see in particular: Franceschi 2001; Ago 2018.

11 Alfani 2006.

12 Cavaciocchi 2009.

13 Ogilvie 2014.

14 This approach proved particularly fruitful in certain contexts of medieval and early modern Italy: Lorandini 2006; Scherman 2013; Chabot 2016; Kikuchi 2018.

15 Research is more developed for Northern European cities: Howell 1986; Crowston 2008; Erickson 2008. For an overview of women’s work in medieval and early modern Italy: Zanoboni 2016; Bellavitis 2018.

16 Bellavitis – Martini 2014.

17 On child labour, see Franceschi 1996; Caracausi 2014; Maitte – Schapira 2019. For a broader interpretation of the concept of work, cf. Agren 2017. On apprenticeship: Bellavitis – Sapienza – Frank 2017; Prak – Wallis 2019.

18 Klapisch-Zuber 1990b; Klapisch-Zuber 1990c; Alfani – Gourdon 2012; Di Tullio – Lorenzini 2014.

19 Recent studies in this direction: Cella 2014; Vidali 2022.

20 For a comparative discussion of this subject, see Calvi – Chabot 1998; Arru – Di Michele – Stella 2002; Feci 2004; Lanaro – Varanini 2009.

21 On Florence: Klapisch-Zuber 1990a; Kuehn 1991; Chabot 2011. On Venice: Chojnacki 2000; Bellavitis 2008.

22 For an overview of this historiographical debate: Chabot 2005.

23 In the very extensive bibliography, we refer in particular to some studies that offer an overview of dotal systems in medieval and early modern Italy: Feci 2004; Lanaro – Varanini 2009.

24 Local legislations set various limits on a husband’s control over the dowry during marriage, but never denied it.

25 Kirshner 2015.

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Emilie Fiorucci et Serena Galasso, « Introduction »Mélanges de l’École française de Rome - Moyen Âge, 135-1 | 2023, 45-50.

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Emilie Fiorucci et Serena Galasso, « Introduction »Mélanges de l’École française de Rome - Moyen Âge [En ligne], 135-1 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2023, consulté le 28 février 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/mefrm/11683 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/mefrm.11683

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Auteurs

Emilie Fiorucci

European University Institute – emilie.fiorucci@alumni.eui.eu

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Serena Galasso

EHESS-University of Glasgow – serena.galasso@ehess.fr

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