Jews and Magic in Medici Florence
Lecture by Edward Goldberg
Given at the Library of Congress, on April 13, 2011
Between 1615 and 1620, Benedetto Blanis (c.1580-c.1647), a Jewish scholar and businessman in the Florentine ghetto, sent 196 letters to Don Giovanni dei Medici (1567-1621), an influential member of the ruling family. Blanis served Don Giovanni as palace librarian—organizing and cataloging the library’s contents, acquiring books from various sources and sharing his patron’s most esoteric interests. Together they ventured into dangerous and often forbidden territory—astrology, alchemy and the Kabbalah.
Discovered nearly four centuries later by art historian Edward Goldberg during his research in the Medici Granducal Archive, Blanis’ letters provide a portrait of a man struggling to survive in a strange no-man’s land between the Jewish ghetto and the Medici court. The letters also reveal the bond between two figures who strove to explain the world through the language of magical power.
Edward Goldberg discusses his book Jews and Magic in Medici Florence: The Secret World of Benedetto Blanis, which was published by University of Toronto Press in 2011.
Edward Goldberg received a Ph.D. in modern history from Oxford University in 1979 and taught in the Department of Fine Arts at Harvard University from 1981 through 1987. He has published widely in the course of his 30 years of archival research in Florence. In 1995, Goldberg founded the Medici Archive Project to provide worldwide public access to the historical data in the Medici Granducal Archive through a fully searchable database at www.medici.org. Established by Grand Duke Cosimo I in 1569, the archive of the Medici Grand Dukes offers the most complete record of any princely regime in Renaissance and Baroque Europe. The 3 million letters contained in more than 6,000 volumes richly document more than 200 years of human history (1537-1743).