Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Antonio Altoviti

Tomb of Antonio Altoviti
Dei Santi Apostoli Church, Florence
Of all the godparents to Antonio Neri's siblings, young Jacopo Neri's godfather was perhaps the most notable. Antonio Altoviti, the Archbishop of Florence, was a very controversial archbishop. It is an understatement to say that the relationship was tense between him and the first Grand Duke, Cosimo I de' Medici. The root source of the animosity, however, was not with Antonio Altoviti but with his father, Bindo. Bindo was a banker to four popes beginning with Paul III. He was heir to one of the largest fortunes in Italy, and an avowed enemy of the Medici. His friends included artists Raphael, Michelangelo, Cellini and Vasari. As an administrator at the Vatican, he managed the project to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica. While his wife and family continued to live in Florence, Bindo and his son spent most of their time in Rome, out of reach of the Medici. In 1555, Cosimo confiscated Bindo's Palazzo in Florence; he then made a gift of it to his youngest son, Don Giovanni Medici, who would add a laboratory and there conduct alchemy experiments. Although later reconfigured into a much larger palace, The Casino del Parione, now called the Palazzo Corsini al Parione still stands on the banks of the Arno River.

Bindo spent a fortune raising an army to oppose Cosimo in the war over Siena. Earlier, he was accused of complicity in the successful assassination plot against Cosimo's predecessor, Duke Alessandro de' Medici. He was an outspoken critic who wanted the Medici out of power permanently and he backed up his words with considerable resources. In 1548, as a poke in the eye to Cosimo, Pope Paul III appointed Bindo's son, Antonio Altoviti, as Archbishop of Florence. Cosimo retaliated by banning the new Archbishop from setting foot in the city, a prohibition that lasted for twenty years. Cosimo finally relented as part of papal negotiations that secured his new title of "Grand Duke." Antonio Altoviti was a devotee of the late great revolutionary cleric Girolamo Savonarola, decidedly not a Medici favorite. By some accounts, the high regard with which the people of Florence held the Archbishop only intensified Cosimo’s dislike. 

Nevertheless, he did ultimately gain the trust of Cosimo's inner circle; in 1567 Altoviti was involved in negotiations to bring Venetian glass workers to Tuscany. This effort would bear fruit within a couple of years. It is perhaps impossible to gain full appreciation of a man through a single anecdote, but we can get a flavor. In 1569, shortly after occupying his post for the first time, Altoviti introduced a new ritual to the Florentine Church. On Holy Thursday, the Bishop would wash the feet of twelve of the city's poor residents rather than of twelve canons (as done previously) and he would give them generous alms.  

What makes Archbishop Altoviti so interesting to Neri's story is that he had a close association with the Neri family. In fact, so close that on 13 December 1573, Altoviti became godparent to Jacopo, the first born son of Neri Neri and Dianora. It is an interesting choice for a man who would later become personal physician to Cosimo de' Medici's son, Grand Duke Ferdinando. However, Jacopo would never learn what it was like to have the Archbishop as his spiritual guide. Two weeks after his birth, on the 28th of that month, Altoviti convened a special post-Christmas meeting of regional bishops. It was during this synod that he suddenly and unexpectedly died at the age of fifty-two. Within a few years, young Jacopo would join him.

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