Fabrizio Nevola considers the form, function, and significance of shops and the other commercial spaces contained in the ground floors of the Renaissance palaces of Siena, Florence, and Rome. Home Shopping: Urbanism, Commerce, and Palace Design in Renaissance Italy also investigates the social interaction between the private environment of the home and the public space of the street. Contrary to much that has been written about the palaces of the fifteenth century, their designers did not abandon botteghe (shops), nor more broadly construed commercial functions. The resulting buildings are hybrid structures in which the proud individual façades of private patrons' palaces were configured to serve the needs of trade. Today, urban space is largely experienced as a succession of shop fronts, and commercial activities overwhelm all other functions. Early modern Italy was not much different.
In matters architectural, Lorenzo de’ Medici is widely accepted as having been an arbiter of style among his peer group, shaping the choices of the Florentine elite and forging a “Laurentian style,” although he commissioned fairly little himself.1 In a number of instances, this proxy-patronage had political and economic implications. Thus, by encouraging Filippo di Matteo Strozzi to build his new residence in central Florence on such a grandiose scale in the late 1480s, Lorenzo pushed his rival to invest disproportionate amounts of capital in a showy palace that never could have been considered a sound economic proposition.2 The Strozzi palace sucked up money in construction, prominently declaring Strozzi status at the heart of their neighborhood, while undercutting the financial solidity of the family business (Figure 1).
In his biography of his father, Lorenzo di Filippo Strozzi reported that his father “had decided to make a number of shops under the house as an income for his sons; the which plan was strenuously opposed [by Lorenzo de’ Medici], who demonstrated how ugly and inconvenient, and what an imposition they would be upon the residents [of the palace].”3 In following Lorenzo's advice to exclude shops in an area of prime commercial value, Strozzi was indeed making a generous statement, forgoing considerable rental income in favor of a magnificent and exclusively private residential building. It has been widely suggested that this Strozzi-Medici exchange should be viewed as sociopolitical jockeying for position, but more prosaically it can be understood in the light of Lorenzo's other injunction to Strozzi—that he build “bigger and better”; the shop-free design choice worsened the already unprofitable decision to use a high-value commercial site for residential architecture.4
If the choice to omit shops from the Strozzi palace may be seen in part as the reinstated family's commitment to their clan and their city's political hierarchies, it did not reflect citywide attitudes toward the mixed use of palace property. Florence and other Italian cities in the fifty or so years before and after 1500 provide a contradictory context for interpreting Strozzi's decision not to integrate shops with the design of his huge residential monolith on via Tornabuoni, a stone's throw from the commercial center of the Mercato Vecchio. In fact, most Italian palace design in this period considered commercial opportunities, and siting was the determining factor.
Consideration of the incidence of the shop space in the ground floors of residential palaces illuminates the complex relationship between the domestic, regulated, and enclosed space of the residential palace and the public realm of the street. Shops (like porticoes and the benches that line the façades of many Renaissance palaces) are architectural articulations of the continual give and take between individual patrons and the urban polity, and they manifest the changing nature of that relationship at different times and in different areas.5
Rents and Palaces
Rental income was a vital constitutive element of Renaissance urban architecture. Pope Pius II Piccolomini is well known as the patron of the innovative development of the small south Tuscan town of Corsignano, which he transformed into the architectural self-eulogy that is Pienza.6 It has been overlooked, however, that during the 1460s, Pius II provided his new cathedral and bishopric with an income that was to a large extent derived from an endowment created by acquiring numerous rent-producing shops in Siena. Large payments were made through the papal Tesoreria Segreta to Pius's procurator in Siena, Giovanni Saracini, between 1462 and 1463, enabling the acquisition of properties that were expected to produce an annual rent of at least 20 florins.7 Some years later, the pope's nephew Andrea di Nanni Piccolomini specified in his will of 1507 that 150 florins were to be spent to purchase botteghe and thereby endow the cathedral church of Santa Maria di Pienza.8 Not willing to leave the choice of properties to his executors, Andrea ordered that: “the shops should be located from the Piazza Tolomei, along the Strada toward Piazza Piccolomini, turning from that piazza [Piccolomini] toward San Martino, and entering into [via del] Porrione, and along it toward the piazza del Campo, and anywhere on the Campo, so rising to Porta Salaria and following the Strada to the Croce del Travaglio.”9 Andrea Piccolomini's testamentary requirements helpfully define the “golden triangle” of Siena's prime real estate, between the Piazza Tolomei, the Loggia Piccolomini, and the lower end of via di Città (Figure 2).10
It is, of course, precisely in this area that the new Palazzo Todeschini-Piccolomini was erected on land acquired by Pius, beginning in 1469 (Figures 3, 4). The palace is usually described within a framework of Florentine references: Rossellino's Pienza and Rucellai commissions and the later, variously attributed Palazzo Strozzi.11 Such an interpretation of the visual evidence ignores many of the building's distinctive features and fails to accommodate the two-faced nature of the design, with one façade addressing the Campo and via del Porrione, and the other the Strada Romana.12 These features are neglected largely because the economic and political context of the building is not adequately considered.
The Palazzo Todeschini-Piccolomini and the Pienza cathedral endowment have much in common, for the palace design was heavily conditioned by the same factors that motivated Andrea Piccolomini, a resident of the palace, to make the specifications regarding commercial real estate in his will: the desire to produce income from shops. A complex site acquisition campaign, as well as funding problems in the aftermath of Pius II's death, meant that the palace was only begun in 1469; in 1480 the two brothers—Andrea and Giacomo—who had become owners of the ongoing project, split the site in two parts; each completed his section of the palace in the second decade of the sixteenth century. A magnificent travertine all’antica façade toward Siena's principal commercial street and pilgrimage route was constructed by the papal nephew Giacomo di Nanni Piccolomini, while the other half of the building—which adopted the somewhat more severe style favored by Siena's elite patrons around 1500—was commissioned by Giacomo's brother, Andrea. There is one feature that both of the otherwise incongruent halves of the palace have in common: the inclusion of numerous ground-floor botteghe.
Giacomo's part of the palace, the “palazzo nuovo,” was begun in September 1469 with a classically inspired medal-casting ceremony officiated by another brother of the patron, Cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, and the foundations were completed in 1471.13 By 1481 Giacomo declared partial income from ten shops “beneath the said palace” which indicates that the slow construction campaign had proceeded upward, floor by floor, rather than laterally, in blocks. It can only be assumed that this was done in order to capitalize on rental income as soon as possible.14 That rentable shop space was viewed as an integral part of the Piccolomini projects adjacent to the Campo is confirmed by the fact that Andrea also created shops below his part of the palace (and bought a number of others), and that the shared maintenance costs of the Loggia Piccolomini were generated by rents from the two botteghe set into its base, at street level.15 There appears to have been no distinction between the placement of shops in the palaces and the loggia, as they faced onto the main street (the Strada Romana), as well as the Campo and secondary streets (via del Porrione and chiasso dei Pollaiuoli).
In designing the Palazzo Todeschini-Piccolomini a high priority was thus assigned to income-generating shops, which filled the majority of the ground floor, where each bay comprised a shop front and a mezzanine window, located below the first-floor string course (Figure 5). The shops remained separate from the interior of the palace, as each mezzanine was served—as today—by its own stair; Piccolomini coats of arms in the architectural details and in a centrally placed boss in the mezzanine vaults reminded lessees of their landlord's identity and ownership.
The Palazzo Todeschini-Piccolomini shop arrangements were not unusual in Sienese palaces. In Siena, as in many Italian cities, there was a developed commercial rental market; design solutions for residential architecture acknowledge this. As David Friedman has shown, the earliest residential arrangements in central Italian towns accommodated warehouse or retail activity on the ground floor, with domestic space reserved to the upper levels.16 The typology can still be traced back to numerous surviving eleventh- and twelfth-century masonry shells that once supported extensive wooden structures. Examples abound in Siena's medieval fabric, and it seems clear that they formed the prototype for later palace designs. For example, the well-known written contract and drawing for the fourteenth-century Palazzo Sansedoni shows a ground floor facing the Strada Romana, with shop openings on either side of a central portal, surmounted by mezzanine windows (Figure 6).17 Tax records confirm that these shops were leased throughout the fifteenth century, with a preponderance rented by the cloth merchants who clustered in this area.18 While the tall, narrow, early palace type united home and bottega in one building, it has been widely argued that this double function had been abandoned by the fifteenth century.19 This generalization is largely based upon Florentine evidence, but it is undercut by comparative evidence from other Italian cities.
At the Palazzo Todeschini-Piccolomini, four factors seem to have contributed to the patron's decision to include shops: (1) the palace was located in a prime retail district, where civic policies encouraged luxury shops; (2) the district included residential and commercial functions, with a prevalence of the shop-with-mezzanine arrangement; (3) the design generated income with high-rent shops and construction was sequenced for early completion of the shops; (4) no social stigma was attached to the ownership of shops. In light of these considerations, the inclusion of shops in the Palazzo Todeschini-Piccolomini was not surprising, shaped as it was by socioeconomic and urbanistic considerations. The determinative factors coalesce around location and a collective understanding of the architectural and urban design of the street.20
Shops and Palaces in Rome
Urbanistic and economic considerations also influenced the development of the palace type elsewhere on the peninsula, and growing attention to consumption in the early modern period has led to increasing research on the practices and location of shopping in Italy.21 Although little attention has been devoted to the question of how the design of shops interacted with the more exclusive typology of the palazzo, which evolved during the fifteenth century along all’antica stylistic lines, the work of Francesca Bocchi and Donatella Calabi shows that the ground floors of palaces lining the principal arteries in Venice and Bologna frequently contained shops or warehouses.22
The key factor that determined whether a palace would include shops on the ground floor was its location. Palace design thus intersects with the processes of social and professional stratification, sometimes enforced by zoning policies, which increasingly altered the makeup of urban centers starting in the mid-fifteenth century. Municipalities’ growing encouragement of trade was heavily conditioned by urban morphology, so legislation tended to segregate trades on sensory (aesthetic, acoustic, olfactory), rather than purely functional grounds. On the principal urban arteries, where patrons and shop owners competed for visibility, the requirement that the palazzo accommodate rent-generating shops at the ground floor resulted in original, hybrid design solutions.
San Gimignano provides a useful guide to understanding the hierarchy of retail streets developed in relation to location and numbers of users.23 San Gimignano, like Siena, was a “daughter of the road,” a town whose flourishing medieval trade owed everything to its location on the via Francigena trade and pilgrim route linking northern Europe and Rome (Figure 7).24 Thus, as Enrico Fiumi has shown, during the peak of the city's merchant fortunes (from the twelfth into the fourteenth centuries), the ground floor of almost all properties lining the main street were occupied by shops and warehouses.25 The town's location on the most important north-south pilgrimage artery to Rome was instrumental in its medieval economic fortunes, but it is no more surprising to find that shops lined San Gimignano's main street than it is to observe that they flourished around Rialto, or on modern-day High Streets and Main Streets.26
Within the Eternal City, the destination of that pilgrimage traffic, the complex network of medieval streets that predated the numerous papal interventions of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was most easily navigated by its three major axes, the Corso (or via Lata), which entered the city from the north at Porta del Popolo, and the two east-west axes, the via Peregrinorum and via Papalis, which linked the Vatican precinct to the Lateran, passing by various landmarks and piazzas (Figure 8).27 These major routes eased and rationalized the movement of outsiders through the city, so service industries and luxury retail naturally concentrated around these thoroughfares during the fifteenth century, as Anna Modigliani has demonstrated.28 These streets also cut through the abitato—the built and lived-in core of Rome during the Middle Ages—and thus were lined with residential properties of varied social status. As on Siena's Strada Romana, conditions in Rome favored the overlap of commercial and residential property, necessitating buildings that could accommodate both. This was especially the case in Rome during the later decades of the fifteenth and into the sixteenth centuries, when the palazzo type was at the peak of its architectural development.29
Perhaps the best-known example of the typology of the Renaissance palace-with-shops in Rome is the Palazzo della Cancelleria (Figure 9). As is well known, Cardinal Raffaele Riario constructed eleven shops in the via Peregrinorum façade of the Cancelleria, as reparation to the chapter of his titular church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, which had owned the shops that were demolished to make way for the new palace.30 Not only did the chapter derive an annual rental income of 240 ducats from the shops, but it seems likely that a number of shopkeepers depended upon those spaces for their livelihoods. Modigliani's research has revealed the high density of commercial activity in the environs, which helps to explain the high rents commanded by the Cancelleria shops.31 The façade along the via Peregrinorum is not the principal elevation of the palace, which addresses a purpose-built piazza running north-south, at a right angle to the Campo dei Fiori. It is nevertheless highly visible, as is acknowledged by the prow-like balcony, adorned with the Riario arms and inscription, that projects into the via Peregrinorum and toward the Campo dei Fiori.32 Far from being relegated to a side street, away from the principal façade, the shops faced the busiest thoroughfare in the neighborhood, one of the city's most important arteries (Figure 10).
The commercial potential of a site probably also influenced palace design elsewhere in early sixteenth-century Rome.33 An analysis of the palaces surveyed in Christoph Frommel's monumental monograph on palaces in Renaissance Rome unsurprisingly reveals that the palaces constructed along the city's major thoroughfares, whether old pilgrimage routes or new papal streets, were likely to contain shops on the ground floor (see Figure 8).34 The via Alessandrina or Borgo Nuovo, cut in honor of Pope Alexander VI Borgia in 1498, is perhaps the clearest example of economic policy and architectural design coming together to forge a new form of palace façade (Figure 11).35
Among the earliest palaces built along this new street was Bramante's Palazzo Caprini, originally constructed for the bishop of Viterbo, Adriano Caprini, and completed around 1510 (Figure 12).36 The palace that would later be the residence of Raphael sits atop shops on both the piazza Scossacavalli and via Alessandrina façades, and Bramante distinguished between the upper residential floor and the lower (social and physical) level of the palace by employing a rusticated base and introducing the orders only to the piano nobile.37 This innovative solution enabled the prelate-patron to distinguish between his upper-floor residence and the ground-floor shops that catered to the dense curial and pilgrim traffic that the via Alessandrina funneled toward St. Peter's basilica. As can be seen in a drawing of the palazzo formerly attributed to Palladio, the ground floor was designed with a mezzanine, providing the shop tenants with storage and residential space over the shops while isolating these from the palace.38
Among numerous ancient Roman examples of retail architectural types, historians have tended to highlight the Markets of Trajan as an important precedent, although the ground-floor shop with mezzanine arrangement was also in widespread use throughout the medieval period (Figure 13).39 Thus Bramante's design would appear to cite an all’antica treatment and a functional arrangement that had been in continuous use since antiquity. It is its perennial aspect that has made the Palazzo Caprini iconic for students and architects of shopping—such as Rem Koolhaas—who start with it in plotting the post-antique chronology of the contemporary shopping mall.40
In the decade or so that followed the construction of Palazzo Caprini, its model was widely imitated and interpreted by Raphael and his followers in Rome, especially in the streets of the Borgo and the Rione Ponte commercial and banking district.41 Scholars have noted the significance of the individual locations of these palaces to explain the presence of shops in their design, although none appears to have recognized the extent to which economic desiderata for the choice of site and palace construction went hand in hand.42 As Kate Lowe argued for Cardinal Francesco Soderini's real estate investments in the Borgo, however, patrons were very much alive to the income-generating potential of shops in well-placed palaces.43 Cardinal Soderini's property in the Borgo filled a large insula, and ground-floor shops and a number of apartments provided rental income. Much the same can be said for Giulio Alberini's palace in via de’ Banchi, near the piazza di Ponte, designed by Raphael around 1515, soon after street widening in the area (1512; Figure 14).44 Acquisition documents indicate that for Alberini, a Roman nobleman who speculated in property in and around the city, the income from rental of the botteghe was crucial to the financial success of the project, and Pier Nicola Pagliara has suggested that the entire ground floor was built first, in order that the shops might be let before completion of the rest of the palace.45
While it is not possible to survey all palaces built between the commencement of the Palazzo della Cancelleria and the Sack of Rome, where the front or back of a palace faced a major route, shops were likely to appear in that façade. Moreover, even such puzzlers as the shops in Giulio Romano's Palazzo Stati-Maccarani, built on the minor square of Sant’Eustachio, can be explained by the fact that this was one of a number of intersections in the Campo Marzio that emerged as sites for markets; it was densely packed with shops.46 A much later view by Giuseppe Vasi gives some indication of the situation, and the commercial vocation of the area is confirmed by the Palazzetto of Tizio Chermandio da Spoleto (with the frescoed façade), which also accommodated ground-floor shops (Figure 15).47 The same can be said for the palaces along the via del Portico di Ottavia and piazza Giudea, where the late-fifteenth-century Palazzo Santa Croce and the house of Lorenzo Manilio had ground-level shops that served the commercial activity of the fish market area.48
The Problem of Florence
If Rome and Siena seem to demonstrate that both patrons and their architects worked to accommodate ground-floor shops, the prevalent argument for Florence is that by the fifteenth century elite residential structures did not allow botteghe on their principal façades.49 This is explained by various factors, ranging from the surplus of residential and commercial property after the Black Death, through tax incentives putatively provided to shop-free palaces in the 1427 catasto, to the aesthetic appeal of a single central portal.50
As noted, the bottega had been a common feature in fourteenth-century residential architecture in Florence, from the palaces of the noble Cavalcanti and Minerberti, to the regularized shop-front arcades that wrapped around the cathedral and lined the via Calzaiuoli and piazza della Signoria (Figure 16).51 By the end of the following century, however, things had to some extent changed, as Lorenzo de’ Medici's advice to Filippo di Matteo Strozzi about the undesirablity of commercial tenants testifies. By forgoing considerable shop rental income, Strozzi was making a magnificent statement.52 His decision, combined with a few other examples from the same years, have been interpreted as suggesting a Florentine preference for shop-free palace design by around 1500.
The research of Brenda Preyer and Caroline Elam has shown, for example, that a 1473 property transaction by the Ricasoli specified that their new palace on the Lungarno by the Ponte a Carraia, an area distinguished by many botteghe, should contain no shops.53 Another important case is the via Maggio in the Oltrarno (Figure 17). Here, as Francesco Baldovinetti testified in 1520, in the previous twenty or so years, around sixty woolworkers’ workshops had been removed, making way for “many beautiful houses.”54 Though this transformation came to be explained by the relocation of the Medici to the Palazzo Pitti and the courtly enclave that developed around it, this does not explain its transformation in the late 1490s.55 Tax returns indicate a dramatic reduction of the woolworkers’ activity in via Maggio around 1480, with shop-owners complaining that they could not find tenants for their properties.56 The selection of the via Maggio for Pope Leo X's 1513 triumphal entry route through the Oltrarno was at once a sign of the ongoing transformation of that area, and a notable contributor to that process. Luca Landucci recorded that in order to clear the route “they demolished without any discretion” (“fracassavasi sanza discrezione”) the overhanging structures, mostly the lean-to, cantilevered roofs that protected the entrances to the woolworkers’ shops.57 After demolishing the shops and paving the street, the social ecology of the street had been irrevocably transformed.58
However, the existence of this debate surrounding shop location suggests that excluding shops from high-rent areas was the exception rather than the rule in Florence. Individual case evidence of the sort described above is intriguing, but this needs to be understood within the wider context of choices made elsewhere in the city. It should also be considered in the light of changes in the legislation that regulated property, and particularly the tax status of citizens’ homes. In fact, quantitative data collected by Crispin Bayley for the Black Lion district in Santa Croce sheds new light on Nicolai Rubinstein's intuitive suggestion that the 1427 catasto legislation in some way altered palace design strategies.59 Bayley argued that the taxation of all rentable property contributed to the withdrawal of much commercial and residential property from the rental market during the half century following 1427.60 This policy had inevitable consequences on the design of elite residences, which increasingly absorbed neighboring properties, swallowing up what had been rental housing and shops, in order to protect the owners from tax liability by registering large blocks of property as principal residences.61 This explains, for example, the Morelli's accrual of property on the corner of piazza Santa Croce and Borgo Santa Croce during the fifteenth century, while Tommaso Spinelli enhanced his lineage through the construction of a conspicuous new palace façade on ancestral family property in the same area (Figure 18).62
Much of the surviving material evidence of fifteenth-century Florentine palaces corroborates these findings. Preyer has argued that even before the emergence of new design solutions for palace façades, shops were being squeezed out of previously purpose-built ground-floor shop arcading (such as that along via Calzaiuoli and around the piazza Duomo), to be replaced, in the remarkable case of the house of Alberto di Zanobi, by blind arcades reminiscent of Or San Michele.63 As the century progressed, ground-floor façades showed largely closed walls—punctured only by high windows—to the street, sometimes embellished by a bench and/or elaborate stonework.64 It might thus be argued that the all’antica palace, increasingly devoid of ground-floor openings for shops or loggias and instead oriented toward an internal courtyard, provided a new formula for the mediation between the public space of the street and the private realm of the palace. It may have been either a desire to pay less tax or a taste for classically inspired living that led the Florentines to such choices.65 Surviving palaces, literary evidence, and the prevalent scholarly interpretation suggests that already during the fifteenth century a process of aristocratization had altered the morphology of Florentine streets by creating palace enclaves devoid of shops and dominated by massive family monuments to fortune and all’antica lifestyles.
However, such a view may be an anachronism, developed on the basis of sixteenth-century evidence and a narrowly Florentine model of urban process.66 It is worth testing the Florentine case more carefully against the evidence of Siena and Rome, where there was a pragmatic choice based on urbanistic and economic considerations. Where there was potential for considerable rental income, patrons were likely to include rentable space.
This more nuanced interpretation emerges if the Florentine evidence is re-examined more clearly in relation to urban planning considerations, pinpointing the concentration of retail areas and identifying the city's principal thoroughfares. While a comprehensive review has not been completed, a number of findings undermine the common generalizations about the divorce of commercial and residential usage in Florence.
One of the most important bodies of evidence about land use in Renaissance Florence was lost to the modern visitor when, as is well known, Florence's urban core was radically altered in the 1890s by the demolition of both the Mercato Vecchio area and Ghetto, the retail and commercial heart of the medieval and Renaissance city, to make way for the piazza della Repubblica. The campaign saw the destruction of swathes of minor artisanal properties, but also a number of more significant buildings, including churches, public buildings, and palaces.67 Photographic evidence as well as numerous drawings and a remarkable set of architectural studies made by Corinto Corinti give some sense of the area before the 1890s (Figures 19, 20).68 It seems clear from this material that the earlier street morphology of this area was quite different, with palace design continuing to accommodate shops. While additional archival research is required to confirm the visual evidence offered by the Mercato Vecchio, the numerous ground-floor openings that can be seen in properties along the via degli Speziali, via Calimara, and via dei Cardinali, as well as the Borromei house, the Casa Sassetti, the Palazzo di Palla Strozzi and Palazzo della Luna, suggest that the palazzo with street-front shops was the norm for that area.69
For example, at the Palazzo Arcivescovile, the presence of numerous shops, some even located under the steps to the palace, is documented; from these rentals the archbishopric had derived income starting as early as the thirteenth century (Figure 21).70 This palazzo is a rare survivor of the nineteenth-century demolition of premodern buildings on the edge of the commercial center of Florence, and its sixteenth-century remodeling retained the shops (resembling those at the Cancelleria, in Rome). The sixteenth-century tenants of these shops included numerous shoemakers and a baker, suggesting that the trades exercised here were long-established and not restricted to elite or luxury products.71
High-quality residential and institutional properties coincided in the prime commercial district, with the inevitable result that two building typologies fused into one. The 1427 legislation posed no tax threat to the property as a whole, since these shops were sure to generate income.72 In this context, it is worth comparing the location of extant fifteenth-century palaces to the commercial and residential areas of their time. The maps drawn up by Bianchi and Grossi show the density of retail establishments in Florence and indicate what might be termed “commercial” streets.73 It is interesting to compare this with Donatella Calabi's recent mapping of Florentine palaces, which reveals their concentration outside these commercial centers (Figure 22).74 Florence's gridded street plan—derived from its Roman foundation, its multiple points of entry, and relatively large core, combined with the fact that it was not on any major trade/pilgrimage route to reduce the incidence of residential/commercial overlap in the center. A degree of separation was thus exercised, with the majority of palaces located outside the densely packed commercial center.
The shop-density maps confirm Isabelle Hyman's assertion that the new Palazzo Medici, although seemingly central, was almost suburban by comparison to the houses and shops in the Mercato Vecchio. The absence of shops on its façade, while in part an aesthetic measure, was surely also dictated by the practical consideration that the palace's location would offer little potential for income.75 Indeed, understanding the location of the Palazzo Strozzi on a major commercial artery entering the Mercato Vecchio leads to a better appreciation of Filippo Strozzi's financial sacrifice. His decision to exclude shops from the palace was made in spite of its income potential.76 Conversely, there is no particular incongruence between Giovanni Rucellai's reminder to his sons that they were first and foremost shopkeepers and the fact that their new palace contained no shops, as via della Vigna Nuova was not a major commercial street.77
In Florence, as in Rome, Siena, and elsewhere, income potential influenced design choices. Nonetheless, it is also surely true that Florentine tax legislation in 1427 was a disincentive to the construction of shops and so had a powerful effect on the design of palaces in the city. That these tax policies were counterproductive to both the housing and commercial rental market was soon acknowledged by the Florentine government, and as early as 1463 legislation was set in place to reverse the process.78 The successive laws of 1474 and 1489, sponsored by Lorenzo de’ Medici, encouraged the construction of low-cost housing for artisans and indirectly contributed to a new wave of palace building in the early 1490s.79
Various factors conditioned palace design, including the question of whether to equip elite residences with rent-earning shops. A broader assembly of evidence challenges assumptions based solely on Florentine examples (as Florentine paradigms all too often guide Renaissance studies).80 It can now be determined with some confidence that Siena's Palazzo Todeschini-Piccolomini was more widely representative than the somewhat exceptional Palazzo Strozzi. Urban placement was a key determinant of the design of palaces, and where prime residential and commercial districts overlapped, palaces tended to have ground-floor shops.
Location was often a non-negotiable matter for palace patrons, whose proud monuments were erected on sites that were often central and that usually had long ancestral associations. Increasingly, in cities organized around axial arteries, palace sites might overlap with areas where municipally enforced zoning provisions encouraged high-end commerce through the clustering of shops for luxury products such as silk, wool, or gold. In such locations design solutions were favored that offered a reconciliation between residential and commercial functions and thus satisfied the economic interests of patrons; where potential rent income was high, shops were usually included. Construction phasing might even—as at the Palazzo Todeschini-Piccolomini and the Palazzo Alberini—favor the completion of the shops in advance of the residential quarters, so that rental income could offset construction costs.
It seems obvious that patrons’ economic interests might have played such a decisive part in architectural design, but it challenges the style-dominated tradition of domestic architecture studies. The proud, somewhat ostentatious term palazzo that is used to denote the architectural type associated with the Italian urban elite of the early modern period should not distort our understanding of what was appropriate or normal for a fifteenth-century palace patron. Indeed, the literary evidence of architectural treatises tends to confirm that a patron's economic self-interests should be reflected in the choices made in the design of domestic architecture. Although Vitruvius's writings were not fully understood in the fifteenth century, his treatise clearly acknowledged a functional hierarchy of residential types responding to the professional needs of their incumbents, so that “those who deal in farm produce must have stalls and shops in their entrance courts,” while more luxurious surroundings were prescribed for bankers and merchants.81 Leon Battista Alberti's somewhat ambiguous comments do not make it clear if he intended fewer class distinctions, but he remarked that “within the city, the shop that lies beneath the house and provides the owner with his livelihood should be better fitted out than his dining room, as would appear more in keeping with his hopes and ambitions.”82 Later in the fifteenth century, Francesco di Giorgio Martini recommended socially stratified housing types and proposed that luxury retail should cluster around the central city streets.83
None of these authors discussed whether the status of the palace-owner might be affected negatively by the presence of shops, shopkeepers, or their families on the ground floor of their palaces, suggesting that it was not a concern at this period. Somewhat different in nature are the more case-specific comments of Paolo Cortesi, whose De Cardinalatu of 1510, which indicated that the “palaces [of cardinals] should be built in the center of Rome in order to make them more accessible to the many people who have business with the cardinal,” while arguing that they should be far from the sounds and smells of trade.84 Nevertheless, such injunctions had little impact on the cardinals’ choices; the Cancelleria contained shops, as did countless other palazzi, such as those of Francesco Soderini and Francesco Armellini, whose houses were both central and income producing, often from somewhat indecorous professions.85 Cortesi was perhaps the first to express concerns for clerical leaders’ decorum in palace design, which only became an issue for secular patrons after the second quarter of the sixteenth century.86
During the fifteenth and into the early sixteenth century, however, botteghe remained an integral feature of many palace designs. Although they lacked architectural status, shops under elite housing epitomized the complex and changing relationships between individuals and the public space of the street.