Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis (Toronto Italian Studies)

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9781442642256: Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis (Toronto Italian Studies)

In the seventeenth century, Florence was the splendid capital of the Medici Grand Dukedom of Tuscany. Meanwhile, the Jews in its tiny Ghetto 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—a businessman and aspiring scholar from a distinguished Ghetto dynasty—sought to parlay his alleged mastery of astrology, alchemy and Kabbalah into a grand position at the Medici Court. He won the patronage of Don Giovanni dei Medici, a scion of the ruling family, and for six tumultuous years their lives were inextricably linked.

Edward Goldberg reveals the dramas of daily life behind the scenes in the Pitti Palace and in the narrow byways of the Florentine Ghetto, using thousands of new documents from the Medici Granducal Archive. He shows that truth—especially historical truth—can be stranger than fiction, when viewed through the eyes of the people most immediately involved.

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About the Author:

Edward Goldberg is an art historian and a long-time resident of Florence. He has worked for more than thirty years in the Medici Granducal Archive.

Review:

'This dazzling, valuable biography combines Edward Goldberg's thorough archival expertise with his fresh, fluent writing style to create a vividly detailed portrait of Benedetto Blanis and seventeenth-century Florence. Goldberg compellingly shows how the episodes of Blanis' life reflected a complex, deeply moving response to the conditions of baroque Italian society. Since our knowledge concerning Jewish life in this period is considerably limited, Jews and Magic in Medici Florence must be welcomed as a superb achievement adding substantial components to this puzzle. Travellers can also use it as a muse as they stroll through the narrow lanes of the historical centre of Florence, wondering what it may have been like to walk there five hundred years ago.' (Robert Bonfil, Department of History of the Jewish People, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

'Suspenseful and compelling, Jews and Magic in Medici Florence plunges readers into the lives and destinies of two figures who strove to explain the world through the language of magical power—Benedetto Blanis, a learned Jew, and Don Giovanni dei Medici, the Duke of Tuscany's one-time unacknowledged son. Edward Goldberg's great narrative talent is revealed through his faithful, flowing translations of Blanis' letters and his vibrant reconstruction of everyday Florentine life.' (Lucia Frattarelli Fischer, Interdepartmental Centre of Jewish Studies, University of Pisa)

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