Fifteenth-Century Florentine Exceptionalism: Civic Humanism, the Medici, and Savonarola
McCorkle, Patrick D.
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The Italian city-state of Florence had a long-standing tradition of exceptionalist rhetoric during the Renaissance, though the focus of the city's distinction altered over time. This tradition, also referred to as the "Myth of Florence," is similar to the idea of "American exceptionalism." This paper aims to investigate the distinct change in Florentine exceptionalism over the course of the fifteenth century. The civic humanists of the early 1400s viewed Florence as a New Rome, spreader of political liberty, and, with its republican form of government, heir to the ancient Roman Republic. In the 1490s, Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola argued that Florence was a New Jerusalem, destined to become the new model of Christendom on earth. Medici hegemony explains the rhetorical shift from Rome to Jerusalem. Before 1434, Florence was a functioning republic. After that date, and until 1494, Florence was increasingly under the rule of one family. The transition to a quasi-principality made civic humanist rhetoric impossible and paved the way for Savonarola to craft his message of Florentine religious exceptionalism.