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Hello. My name is Maurizio Arfaioli. I am a historian and researcher from Empoli, Italy. I received my B. A. in History at the Università di Pisa, and completed my Ph. D. at the University of Warwick (UK). I have held research fellowships at Villa I Tatti (The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies) and at the Italian Academy at Columbia University. Since 2010 I have been working as Senior Research Fellow at the Medici Archive Project in Florence.

My research interests focus on the political, social and cultural history of early modern Italy, with an emphasis on military history. I am also a strong advocate of archival research and of the use and development of Digital Humanities tools. Please feel free to explore this website to find out more about my work and my projects, or follow my Blog.

“I touch my nose with the earth, I fall to my feet at your knees, I declare myself an august servant of your most humble majesty, order and I will obey myself!” – Italo Calvino, The Nonexistent Knight

Maurizio Arfaioli


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Margaret Atwood, The Loneliness of the Military Historian

This is a showcase of my current projects and activities. I hope you enjoy the tour.

‘The 100 Initiative’

ITAF – Italian Troops of the Army of Flanders

The Black Bands of Giovanni

The Medici Archive Project

La maniera at War

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


Marginalia on the History of the Pike-and-Shot Age

Piombino can wait. Carry on, messer Tiziano.

Figure 1 - Anthonis Mor, Fernando Alvarez de Toledo

Figure 1 – Anthonis Mor, Fernando Alvarez de Toledo

Augsburg, May 12, 1551. As Bartolomeo Concini (1507-1578) left the Imperial residence heading back to the residence of the Florentine ambassador Bernardo de’ Medici (?-1552), whom he was serving as secretary, he probably felt both relieved and frustrated. On the one hand, his meeting with Fernando de Toledo (1508-1582), 3rd duke of Alba (here as portrayed by Anthonis Mor in 1549 – Fig. 1) and mayordomo mayor to Emperor Charles V, had gone very well. Finally things were going the way his master Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (r. 1537-1574) wished to, as His Caesarean Majesty had decided to deprive the young Signore of Piombino Iacopo V Appiani (1539-1585) of his small but strategic fief on the Tuscan coast. On the other hand, what the emperor intended to do with Piombino was far from clear: was he going to keep the fief for himself, or was he going to invest his loyal servant Cosimo I with it? Concini had been unable to press the issue further, as Don Fernando was at that moment busy sitting for Titian. Therefore, in order not to become importunate the Florentine secretary had to take his leave.

Et perché il Duca era ingombrato nel farsi ritrarre da Titiano, il Concino assicuratosi che la risolutione era stata solamente di spogliarne il Signore, rimanendo qualche speranza all’Eccellenza Vostra nel resto, prese licentia, et mi rese conto del tutto. (1)

Now, while Titian’s presence in Fernando de Toledo’s quarters has no relevance whatsoever for my ongoing research on the relations between Florence and the Empire, it can nevertheless help to shed some light on the history of Vecellio’s artistic production.

Figure 2 - The Duke of Alba in Armor

Figure 2 – The Duke of Alba in Armor

The traditional scholarship included in the production of Titian two portraits of Fernando Alvarez de Toledo: the Duke of Alba in Armour (Fig. 2) and the Duke of Alba in Black (Fig. 3) – believed to have survived only in copies attributed to the hand of Rubens. Modern scholarship, however, tends to relegate these two portraits of the ‘iron duke’ (both part of the collection of the dukes of Alba in the Palacio de Liria) to the list of works whose connection to Titian – and thus to

Figure 3 - The Duke of Alba in Black

Figure 3 – The Duke of Alba in Black

Rubens – is considered doubtful. Both the style of the composition and the age of the sitter seem to indicate that the Duke of Alba in Armour is not a copy of the portrait made by Titian in 1549 (2), but rather of a work made either by Antonis Mor or Willem Key at a much later date. The situation is reversed for the Duke of Alba in Black: both the style of the composition and the age of the sitter are compatible with either of Titian’s stays in Augsburg (1548; 1550-51). Yet, up to now there is (was?) no convincing documentary nor pictorial evidence that Titian had ever executed a second portrait of the duke (3).

Whether the hand that painted the Duke of Alba in Black in the Palacio de Liria was Rubens’, or if the prototype was by Titian, it is not for me to say. All I can say is that in the course of his second and final stay in Augsburg in 1550-51 messer Tiziano was indeed working on a portrait of the duke – unfortunately for Concini, fortunately for us.


(1) ASF, Mediceo del Principato 4308, Bernardo de’ Medici to Cosimo I de’ Medici, Augsburg, 13 May 1551, NNF
(2) Harold. E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, vol. II (Phaidon 1971), pp. 151, 190; Pietro Aretino, Lettere, vol. V (Salerno Editrice 2001), pp. 161-3
(3) Wethey, p. 151.

Prince Philip of Spain – Painter

It is a well-known fact that in his youth, before ascending to the throne of Spain, King Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665) had studied painting and drawing under the guidance of an exceptional master: the Dominican Friar Juan Bautista Maíno (1578-1649).(1)

Diego Velàzquez - Philip IV (c. 1623-1628), Madrid, Museo del Prado

Diego Velàzquez – Philip IV (c. 1623-1628), Madrid, Museo del Prado

Direct but generic references to an artistic production of drawings and paintings by the then still infante Philip are frequent, but specific information on the artistic production of the young prince of Spain is in effect very scarce.(2) Direct reference is made by Francisco Pacheco to a drawing in which don Felipe had portrayed “San Juan Batista mancebo en el desierto, abrazado con el cordero de mui graciosa i diestra pluma”,(3) and that in 1619 the prince had presented as a gift to the man who would one day become his vàlido, and that at that time was still just his gentilhombre de cámara, the young Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel, Count of Olivares (1587-1645). While as far as paintings are concerned, Vicente Carducho explicitly mentions only a painting made by Philip which was kept in the Guarda Ropa of the Royal Palace, but does not give information with regards to its subject.(4)

This is not surprising, because in spite of its popularity, painting was not one of the canonic Liberal Arts, and given its philosophically ‘weak’ position it could be practiced by a good Catholic prince (and in particular by the heir to the Spanish crown) only provided that took place in a very private and discreet manner. The exalted status of the author ensured that the enjoyment and knowledge of the artistic endeavors of the future king’s production remained the prerogative of a restricted and discreet group of people. So restricted and so discreet that it did not take much time for the connection between the early works of the infante Felipe and the name of their author was first weakened and then broken.
Information can resurface only through indirect and occasional references, as it was the case with the letter that Bernardo Maschi (?-1626), ambassador of the duke of Urbino at the Spanish court, wrote to his master Francesco Maria II della Rovere (1549-1631) on March 29, 1620.

That of Bernardo Maschi is one of the most interesting figures of Italian diplomats active at the court of Madrid in that period. Not only Maschi worked as diplomatic representative of the small Duchy of Urbino at the court of the Austrias, but in the course of almost sixty years of active service (his correspondence goes from 1565 to his death in February 1626) messer Bernardo developed a vast network of personal contacts that included, among the others, Baltasar de Zúñiga y Velasco (1561-1622), at that stage ayo of the crown prince.

Baltasar de Zúñiga y Velasco, ayo and first vàlido of Philip IV

Baltasar de Zúñiga y Velasco, ayo and first vàlido of Philip IV

Thanks to his acquaintance with don Baltasar, Maschi was able to give to his master first-hand information with regards to a topic that the slowly declining health of King Philip III (r. 1578-1621) made particularly interesting: the personality and the attitude of the crown-prince don Felipe – at that time barely fifteen year-old.

The picture of the prince of Spain painted by the ambassador in the letter he wrote on March 29, 1620, to Duke Francesco Maria II della Rovere (1549-1631) is, to say the least, flattering: “Il Serenissimo Signor Principe va guadagnando ogni dì più nella prosperità del corpo et nelle virtù dell’animo: devoto, studioso, gioca d’armi […] et hora vogliono porlo ad altri essercizii cavalereschi, et già tornea la sua parte.” However, Maschi’s description goes beyond the constatazione of the moral and intellectual qualities of the infante, and his skill in the martial arts and other physical activities suited to a Christian prince, giving us a rare glimpse of the ‘artistic’ side of don Felipe’s education. Prince Philip, “danza, impara musica e nel disegno e pitura è tanto innanzi che il signor Don Baltasar m’ha mostrata una Santa Maria Maddalena dippinta et illuminata da Sua Altezza che m’ha fatto stupire”.

Juan Bautista Maino (attr.) - La Magdalena penitente (ca. 1615), Private Collection

Juan Bautista Maino (attr.) – La Magdalena penitente (ca. 1615), Private Collection

Unfortunately, apart from its subject, Maschi gives us very little information on the painting itself. The adjective “illuminato” [“highlighted”] may allude to some visual effect that characterized the painting. However, the fact that one of the prince’s first successful attempts in the field of painting was a Magdalena Penitente is entirely consistent with the production of a young artist taking inspiration (or copying) the works of his master. Like the St. John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene was one of Maino’s favorite subjects, and the friar painted a Magdalena Penitente in the period in which he was teaching his craft to the crown-prince.

Finally, albeit Maschi’s positive impression on the quality of the prince’s early work with caution, it is worth pointing out that for don Balthasar to show the work of the infante to a connoisseur like the Urbino ambassador, the painting had to be of good quality. And so, even though we still lack any evidence that Philip continued his artistic production after his ascent to the throne in 1621, this document may help give some depth on the relationship between the Philip IV and the art of panting.

(1) F. Marias, M. C. de Carlos Varona, ‘El arte de las “acciones que la figura mueven”: Maino, un pintor dominico entre Toledo y Madrid’, in L. Ruiz Gómez (ed.), Juan Bautista Maíno, Madrid 2009, pp. 57-75
(2) J. Gallego, ‘Felipe IV – Pintor’, in A. Gallego-Morell (ed.), Estudios en las Bellas Artes dedicados al Professor Emilio Orozco Diaz, Granada 1979, vol. I, pp. 533-540
(3) F. Pacheco, Arte de la Pintura, Sevilla 1649, p. 113
(4) V. Carducho, Dialogos de la Pintura, Madrid 1633, fol. 160r

The Hundred Germans

Even though the Loggia dei Lanzi is today one of the most widely known and visited touristic attractions of the entire planet, few of its visitors stop to ponder the origins of its name and the original function of the building attached to it. Tourist guides and, to be honest, most historians, will simply make vague reference to the fact that German mercenaries – lanzi being the Italianiziation of the German word Landsknechte – would be usually stationed there. However, that is only partially true. Only a very specific unit of German troops had ever there its headquarter: the German Guard of the Medici Dukes of Florence and, from 1569 onwards, Grand Dukes of Tuscany.

Loggia dei Lanzi

The German Guard was first established by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574) after 1541 to replace the Italian Guard that had been disbanded shortly after its commander, Pirro Colonna (?-1550) had lost both face and ducal favor after famously slapping in the face Duchess Eleonora’s favorite dwarf, who had made of him the butt of a joke. That was, of course, just a pretext. In fact, Cosimo I was intent on removing from their posts and from Florence a number of particularly overbearing and meddling Imperial agents while at the same time proving his devotion to Emperor Charles V of Habsburg – to whom the Medici owed their ducal crown.

To silence in part his numerous detractors at the Imperial court, the duke of Florence decided to entrust his own safety and that of his family into the hands of a body of guards raised in Imperial lands along the lines of the Guardia Tudesca of Charles V (est. 1519) and the cent suisses, the Hundred Swiss guards that served as bodyguards to the kings of France since 1480.

Jan van der Straet - The Triumph of the Siena War (detail)

This is the oldest representation of soldiers of the German Guard I was able to find. The German halberdiers are here portrayed escorting Prince Francesco de’ Medici as this latter exits Florence from Porta San Pier Gattolini to greet the Florentine army returning triumphantly from the Siena War. The scene itself is supposed to take place in 1555.

A hundred men strong (including their officers) wearing their masters’ livery over their outlandish (that is, by Florentine standards) ‘national’ costume – slashed breeches, emphatically prominent codpiece and all that – and with halberds as their main and iconic weapons, the Hundred Germans would watch over the Medici grand dukes and their families for almost two centuries. That is, until the Habsburg-Lorraine replaced the Medici as new ruling dynasty of Florence, replaced them with a brand-new Swiss Guard.

Ranks and Monthly Wages of the Hundred Germans (as in 1607)
Capitano – 36 ducats
Alfiere (standard bearer) – 12
Luogotenente (lieutenant) – 10
Sergente (sergeant) – 8
soldato (private) – 4
17 ducats of capisoldi (allowance funds), and each private was given an extra giulio (a silver coin worth approx. one tenth of a ducat) for every day of service outside Florence.

The Hundred German and their families lived as a small German enclave in Florence, with a series of articles regulating their duties, their lives and their interaction with the ‘locals’ – from drinking to gambling, to religion. From this link you can download a full transcription of the articles that were in vigor in 1582, when Franz von Trauttmansdorff, freiherr van Freienthurn en Castelalt, was appointed commander of the German Guard of Francesco I de’ Medici.

Portrait of Johann Fernberger von Aur

Portrait of Johann Fernberger von Aur, Captain of the German Guard from 1566 to at least 1574

Initially the commanders were recruited from noble families from Tyrol and Trentino. As time passed, however, the title of commander of the German Guard would be granted also to Italian soldiers. Be they German or Italian, their names say very little to most of us today. The only partial exception is Johann Fernberger von Aur (1511-1584), who in his time earned a place in the ‘Hall of Fame’ of military heroes created by Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol and has his own WikiPage. That’s glory for you.

Fieger, Balthasar (1542-1547)
Mager von Fuchsstadt, Martin (1551-?)
Mager von Fuchsstadt, Erasmus
Banale, Michele (from Trent) (1557-1564)
Fernberger von Aur, Johann (1566-?)
Trauttmansdorff, Franz (1582-1591)
Ursin, Severino (1598-?)
Malaspina, Fabrizio (1609-?)
Montecuccoli, Girolamo (1623-?)
Monte, Camillo del (1633-?)
Vitelli, Giulio (1637-?)
Piccolomini d’Aragona, Francesco (1639-?)
Vitelli, Pierfrancesco (1664-?)

This provisional list of captains is not by any means complete. It is just what I was able to put together from indirect sources while working with the Medici Archive Project. Unfortunately, the archive of the German Guard was scattered when the guard itself was disbanded and, owing to their protracted proximity to the Medici ruling family, the Hundred Germans were among the numerous victims of the damnatio memoriae that was inflicted upon the memory of ducal/granducal Florence by Risorgimento and Nationalist historians, intent on glorifying solely Quattrocento and Republican Florence.
It would be great if somebody could finally remedy to this historiographical injustice and narrate the history of a corps that spent almost two centuries close to the center of Florentine power.

The (Early Modern) Mentalist

“There is no such thing as a psychic” – Patrick Jane


Thanks to my hard-working web designer, my new website turned out to be ready before I finished defining my ‘blogging strategy’. Nevertheless, the vision of my empty Blog has become unbearable, so I decided start with what in journalistic jargon I believe is called an ‘odd’ or ‘bright’ – putting together some pieces of information I found along the years related to the prestidigitator, illusionist, mind-reader and self-styled ‘count’ Girolamo Scotti from Piacenza, considered to be the ‘founding father’ of mentalism. A term by which I mean here the ensemble of performing arts that allow their practitioners to simulate supernatural mental or intuitive abilities.Portrait of Girolamo Scotti

The ‘official’ date of birth of mentalism is generally placed in 1572, date of the first detailed description of a performance by Scotti at the court of Archduke Ferdinand I von Habsburg (1529-1595), regent of Tyrol. However, Scotti had been active long before that, and before turning his attention to Northern Europe (where he would spend most of his life) he had ‘toured’ the major Italian cities including, of course, Florence. There, in October 1568, the Florentine priest and diarist Agostino Lapini (1515-1592) mentioned the arrival of “a young gentleman of the house of Scotti”, barely twenty-four years old, with pale skin and just the hint of a beard (1). According to Lapini, Girolamo amazed his Florentine audience with his ability to draw specific combinations of cards apparently at will. But young Scotti was much more than a skilled card manipulator: he could make appear “as real things that weren’t” and – above all – he could ‘read’ other people’s minds:

he would say to a man, “imagine something in your heart, anything you want”. And having imagined something, he would say to him, “you have imagined such-and-such a thing”, and was right.

The source of Scotti’s powers was unknown – but devout Lapini was afraid it could be of diabolical nature. More information on Scotti’s magic comes from a failed attempt at taking advantage of the interest he had stirred up in Florence.

It is very likely that Prince Francesco de’ Medici (1541-1587), an amateur alchemist and natural scientist, was in attendance at Scotti’s show – if he was not granted a personal performance. In any case Scotti’s ‘magic’ powers had left quite an impression. In fact, several months after the gentleman of Piacenza had left Florence, a Jew named Ventura approached the Prince saying that Scotti was able to perform his tricks thanks to a folletto – an imp, or sprite (Map Doc ID 26614). Further, Ventura claimed that had he been present, he would have been able to neutralize Scotti’s powers, and that he could do what this latter had done and much more, thanks to the powers of the kabbalah.

Intrigued, Prince Francesco granted Ventura access to some rare ingredients [amber, musk and other stuff] this latter needed to put into practice his personal version of Scotti’s magic tricks. However, after months of Ventura asking for more ingredients and for more delays, Francesco started to believe that the would-be kabbalist was actually a “scoundrel” trying to take advantage of him. By December 1570, the prince had asked Ventura to stop his experiments.

Mention of Girolamo Scotti and his folletto reached again Florence in January 1574, when news came of the arrest in Rome by the order of the Inquisition of Tiberio Crispo – namesake and probably a relative of the late Cardinal Tiberio Crispo (1498-1566) – for his dealings with one “Sciotto” [probably Girolamo Scotti] held to be a “necromancer and finder of treasures” who possessed a “bound spirit” (MAP Doc ID 26773).

(1) E del mese di ottobre 1568 arrivò qui in Firenze uno giovane gentiluomo del casato degli Scotti, d’età d’anni 24, che cominciava a spuntar la prima barba, di color pallido, che faceva e fe’ cose stupende, e quasi che miracolose, o per arte diabolica, o in che virtù e’ se le facessi non si sa e non si seppe mai. Ma erono cose grandissime, e circa con le carte da giocare, faceva parere quello che in vero non era. E quello maggiore si è, che ei diceva a uno: ‘Immaginati nel cuor tuo, quel che tu vuoi’. Et immaginatoselo, lui gli diceva: ‘Tu ti sei immaginato la tal cosa’, e si apponeva. E con le carte faceva primiera e flussi a ogni sua posta, et altre infinite cose stupende.” – Diario Fiorentino di Agostino Lapini dal 252 al 1596, ed. by G. Corazzini, Florence 1900, p. 161

A Brief Foreword

Welcome to my Blog. Here I will post my non peer-reviewed reflections and ruminations (and occasional rants) on the history of the pike-and-shot era which – in spite of the rather belligerent title – won’t be limited to its more ‘operational’ features.

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“History has a habit of changing the people who think they are changing it. History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.” – Terry Pratchett, Mort


Thanks for visiting my website. If you would like to contact me, you can either use my home or work address.

Address: Via Val d’Orme 180 – 50053 Empoli, Italy
Mobile: +39 – 335 5419848
E-mail: m.arfaioli[at]gmail[dot]com

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