The Time of Lorenzo the Magnificent
Piero, the son of Cosimo de’Medici the Older (1464) was only his successor for five years. He was known as the “gottoso” because he was affected with gout, an illness that affected nearly all of the Medici. In 1469, at only twenty years of age, he was succeeded by his son Lorenzo who governed with great firmness and broad-mindedness; earning him the epitaph of “the Magnificent”. In the same year he celebrated his marriage to Clarice Orsini, a young lady of the Roman aristocracy, in the Church of San Lorenzo. The event was celebrated with many feasts of pomp and splendour. For the occasion many gifts were offered from the important Florentines and other cities of Tuscany. These events were narrated and enriched with particulars by Piero di Marco Parenti, one of the invited who described it to his maternal uncle Filippo Strozzi, exiled in Naples.
There arrived at the Palace in Via Larga (today Via Cavour) one hundred and fifty calves, four thousand chickens and ducks, fish, game and many barrels of wine «ours own and foreign» which Lorenzo generously distributed to the population even before the lavish preparations of the proper banquets that continued from the Sunday to the Tuesday.
These magnificent celebrations were required by the importance of the house of Orsini to which the bride, Clarice, belonged. She made her entrance into the Palace on horseback, accompanied by a procession of knights. The window to Lorenzo’s bedroom was decorated with olive branches, symbol of peace.
Five banquets were prepared in the portico, in the loggia and in the courtyard of the palace; the tables of the ladies and those of the knights - as was the custom at that time - were strictly separated. The table of the bride was in the loggia and with her were seated fifty young noblewomen, whereas the older ladies sat inside the palace, presided over by the groom’s mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni; in the entrance hall there were the young men with Lorenzo and Giuliano, and on another table were the elders of the city. But other tables were lavishly laid out with food and drink throughout other parts of the palace and the city in order that all people - also the population - could enjoy these celebrations. All the courses were preceded by a trumpet call; the bearers would stop with the food at the bottom of the staircase and only at an established sign from the steward were they directed, some to the upper floor and some to the loggias «so that (the food) at the same moment was put down in every place» wrote Parenti who also accurately describes «there were fifty large serving trays, each of which was as large as two cutting boards, and there was one cutting board with its own carver for each two plates. The food was set out in a way which was more similar to a wedding feast rather than to a splendid, formal feast; this I believe was done, to give an example to the others of that modesty and thriftiness which is more adapt to weddings, and this is why no more than one roast of meat was served. In the morning, first a nibblet, then boiled meat, then a roast, then wafers and marzipan and sugar covered almonds and pine-nuts: then the conserves with ‘pinocchiati’ (sweets made from pine-nuts and caramelised sugar) and sugar sweets. In the evening, gelatine, a roast, small fritters, wafers and almonds and sweets. The Tuesday morning instead of boiled meat, sugared vegetables were presented on the serving trays: and as for wines; Malvasie; trebbiano, and an excellent red wine».
He then continues, describing the carefully prepared table settings..
Surrounding the David, the famous bronze statue by Donatello, high tables covered with tablecloths, on the corners of which were placed enormous brass basins with glasses, and so also the settings of the grounds around the fountain. On the tables a large silver cup full of water to rinse the glasses and also to drink. Then «there were silver salt pots, forks and knives, jugs and nibblets and sugared almonds: confectionery dishes for the ‘pinocchiati’»
Every table was also cheered by dance, music and small shows. The abundance and the generosity of the celebrations for the wedding of Lorenzo de’Medici to Clarice Orsini somehow sanctioned the politics of the relationship between the city and the Signoria which governed it; this was based on splendour which, however, joined with a certain austerity, and permitted all to enjoy the resources owned by the Medici family, thanks to their predominance over much of the Tuscan territory. This enjoyment was also extended to the many hard-working inhabitants of the city.
Lorenzo surrounded himself with his own court of writers, poets, painters and artists that permitted Florence to become the most vibrant centre of Humanism, in the age in which man, the problems of earthly existence and human value prevailed above that of those more transcendental and which had been dominant throughout the Middle Ages.
“May he who wishes to be happy be so, of tomorrow there is no certainty …” states Lorenzo who, in accordance with this philosophy, was a great admirer of the table.
It seems that he himself was a good cook, in fact, in his “Canto de’Cialdonai” (‘Song of the wafer-makers’) he taught how to make ‘cialdoni’ (wafers).
“Put in a bowl flour and water, when you have mixed them, then add to it that which is sweet and white sugar: once the mixture is made, then taste it with a finger, if it seems good to you place the moulds on the fire, heat them well and when you put the mixture into the moulds and hear it sizzling, hold the irons tightly together. When you think it has been cooked enough, openup the moulds and take out the wafers and folding them is easy while they are still hot: and place them in a white cloth”.
The triumph of his table was the meat of veal, mutton, pork, kid, all roasted but also “allesso” (boiled); there was also abundance of game, black-eyed beans, vegetables and sweets (which are still today typical to Florence and most of Tuscany), all washed down with abundant wine, which was required also due to the many spices and hot pepper sauces of which a great use was made.
The end of Humanism coincided with the death of Lorenzo which took place in 1492, time of the discovery of America, a fundamental event for our cooking: from those far away lands, in fact, many products arrived that enriched our gastronomy.
Florence, artistic and commercial centre, was one of the first cities of Europe to taste: beans (until then the only known beans were the black-eyed beans), potatoes, tomatoes, maize, chocolate and the chickens of India, or rather, turkeys.