As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence embodied the virtues of the cultural movement. Throughout the Renaissance, the city remained at the center and became one of the largest and most economically successful cities in Europe. While few witch-trials occurred in Florence, there were multiple cases of love-magic during the late 14th century. Trial records of these cases reveal the prevalence and acceptance of magic during the Renaissance.
Most Western European areas during this time put massive amounts of effort into strictly defining all types of magic as heretical, fearing that an individual’s ability to bring about supernatural powers would undermine the power of God. However, Italian Renaissance philosophers believed in both bad and good types of magic, shown by Pico della Mirandola, statement that, “Magic has two forms, one of which depends entirely on the work and authority of demons, a thing to be abhorred. The other is nothing else than the utter perfection of natural philosophy.” (Bruke 190) Magic was even central to the lives of many Italian Church leaders and many Catholic priests depended on magic. Because the prevalence of magic extended from Church to one’s home, it was hard for Italians to associate magical acts with the Devil, and magic was pervasive and part of everyday life.
A large amount of cases of magic in Florence involved love magic, which included sexual themes and was used to gain the affection of reluctant lovers. In 1394, Nicolosa Vanzi was convicted of using magical arts to win the love of her neighbor by a charm that consisted of “a concoction of bread, charcoal, salt, and a coin bearing the representation of a cross, which was placed at the bed of the unsuspecting Andrea.” Similar charges were also brought against Jacopo di Franceso who used sorcery for his sexual interests, and he “anointed his genital organs with a special unguent before intercourse” to ensure that his mistress would not be attracted to other men. In both of these cases, the defendants receive relatively mild punishments. (Brucker 10)
However, in the case of Niccolo Consigli, who was tried in a court of the inquisitor, a different theme is seen. Unlike the other cases that are treated like innocent cases of magic, because Consigli’s acts are evil in nature and describe demonic intervention, the inquisitors are unforgiving and he is executed. The cases of Florence clearly illustrate that magic could be both good and bad, and was widely practiced in Renaissance society.
Brucker, Gene. “Sorcery in Early Renaissance Florence.” Studies in the Renaissance, 10 (1963): 7-24.
Bruke, Peter. The Italian Renaissance: Cultural and Society in Italy. Polity Press, Cambridge, 1986.