Villani, Giovanni, Matteo, and Filippo

   Florentine mercantile family, known principally for their description of Florence on the eve of the period when it became a major center of Renaissance humanism. Giovanni (ca. 1275-1348) travelled to Rome for the pa-pal jubilee in 1300 and after seeing the ruinous ancient capital de-clared that Rome, the old metropolis, was sinking while his city, Flo-rence, was rising. Confident of the great destiny lying before Florence, he undertook to write its history, beginning, in good medieval fashion, with the Tower of Babel and providing a largely uncritical account un-til he got to his own times, which he described with shrewd insight into the civic life he knew from personal experience. Giovanni served three terms as one of the priors and held several significant adminis-trative jobs. He also endured a period of exile. As an experienced busi-nessman who had travelled in France and Flanders in 1302-1308 and had worked as manager of the Peruzzi bank's branch at Bruges, he had an interest in numbers that led him to include not only his famous estimate of the number of students in Florence but also much other statistical information on population, food consumption, cloth pro-duction, public works, and churches. Modern research has in general found these estimates remarkably accurate. Giovanni died in the Black Death of 1348. His brother Matteo continued the history of Florence down to 1363, when he also died of plague, and Matteo's son Filippo added one book covering one additional year.
   Giovanni's description of the large number of boys and girls at-tending school in the city (between 8,000 and 10,000 in vernacular schools and 550 to 600 boys learning Latin grammar) is often cited, both as an indication of widespread literacy and as evidence of the more restricted availability of Latin education. Filippo Villani, who was one of the city's early humanists and served as chancellor of the commune of Perugia and as lecturer on Dante in the Florentine Stu-dio (1401-1404), is also known for his work Famous Citizens of the City of Florence, a collection of biographical sketches of local citi-zens, written in Latin.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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