Establishing Independence: Leonardo Bruni's History of the Florentine People and Ritual in Fifteenth-Century Florence

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Humanism and ritual combined to establish a new foundation for the Florentine Republic in the fifteenth century. Leonardo Bruni’s History of the Florentine People was at the center of this new foundation. In 1428 and again in 1439, Bruni formally presented portions of his History to the Florentine government in the midst of crucial events in Florentine foreign affairs. For example, Bruni’s book presentation in 1428 occurred in the midst of rituals celebrating peace between Florence and Milan. During the celebration, a procession behind the sacred icon of Our Lady of Santa Maria Impruneta paused at the government palace. At that moment, Leonardo Bruni formally announced the peace, gave an oration, and presented a volume of his History to the Florentine governors. Following the presentation, trumpets sounded and the procession began anew. In this ritual, Bruni’s History became a key ritual object. On the most basic level, Bruni’s book served as a tangible, physical reminder of the peace for future rulers of the Florentine Republic. Yet, Bruni’s History provided much more than a material memento of a monumental moment. The content of the work created a Florence that was founded free and, after several battles against tyrannical oppressors, had once again become free. By creating a new foundation and history of Florence, the Florentines could add new authority and legitimacy to its dealings with the world outside its walls. This article will examine the rituals surrounding the presentation of Bruni’s work combined with a close literary analysis of the History itself. Through this investigation, the article will examine how and why the Florentines sought to refound their city in an official Latin history by establishing its independence from outside powers, particularly the Roman and Holy Roman Emperors.