|Palazzo Ximenes Panciatichi da Sangallo, |
68 Borgo Pinti, Florence
A short distance from the family house on Pinti was the Palazzo Ximenes, occupied by the wealthy Portuguese trader, Sebastiano Ximenes d'Aragona, with his cousin, Niccolò, and their families. The Ximenes ran a powerful trading empire with branches throughout Europe. Antonio Neri's future friend Emmanuel Ximenes was the brother of the above-mentioned Niccolò. Sebastiano was patriarch of the Florentine branch of the family, which had its origins in Castile. In 1593, Grand Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici made Sebastiano the Marquis of Saturnia. Both Emmanuel and Sebastiano were Christian knights of the order of Saint Stephen. However, the family traced its roots to Jewish ancestry in the Kingdom of Aragon, a region covering what is now northeastern Spain.
The same year that Christopher Columbus sailed for the new world, Jews in Spain and Portugal made the choice of embracing Christianity or forfeiting their property and leaving the country. Amid the lynch mobs that roamed the streets of Iberian cities, some families, the Ximenes among them, moved to more tolerant regions such as Tuscany and Flanders. Some Jews made a public embrace of Christianity, while in secret continued to observe in the faith of their heritage. Others made a full conversion, joining confraternities like the Knights of Saint Stephen in an honest display of commitment. As an added benefit, membership in these groups staved criticism by those who might doubt them as true Christians.
The Ximenes' house on Pinti was earlier owned by the celebrated architect and sculptor Giuliano da Sangallo, who renovated the Cestello Church – attended by Neri's family – for the Cistercian monks between 1481 and 1526. Sangallo was also the favorite architect of Lorenzo de' Medici. Folklore tells that in the house opposite Sangallo's, on Borgo Pinti, lived the child who would be raised by the Medici and become Clement VII (pope from 1523 to his death in 1534). According to the story, in 1478, after the assassination of Giuliano de' Medici, surviving brother Lorenzo was informed by Sangallo that Giuliano had an illegitimate son by the young woman living across the street. Lorenzo adopted the boy, who was named Giulio. Later, he became a close confidant to Lorenzo's son, Giovanni, later Leo X (pope 1513-1521), the first of four Medici popes.
At the very end of the road on the left, just before the massive Pinti gate, was the residence of the city's archbishop, Alessandro Ottaviano de' Medici, the future Leo XI (pope from 1 to 27 April 1605). This property would become the grandest on the street, a sprawling formal garden overlooked by a massive palazzo, which is now called the Palazzo della Gherardesca. The estate was originally designed by neighbor Giuliano da Sangallo (for Bartolomeo della Scala) around 1480. The Archbishop bought and enlarged the property in 1585, annexing adjacent land purchased from the wool workers guild.
Appointed archbishop in 1573, Alessandro Ottaviano de' Medici was the direct successor to Alessandro Altoviti, the godfather of Antonio Neri's older brother Jacopo. As court physician, there is every reason to believe that Antonio's father, royal physician Neri Neri, was well acquainted with his neighbor, the new archbishop; both men were part of the Medici inner circle. In 1583, Alessandro was made Cardinal. Had Neri Neri managed to live a few years longer, he would have seen his neighbor elected Pope in April of 1605. It was unfortunate for Alessandro that he did not have the doctor at his coronation to advise him against spending the entire day in the cold rain. The Holy Father fell ill and within the month, the last of the Medici Popes would be dead.