Lawyers: Behind-the-Scenes Actors in Renaissance Italy

The Renaissance era (1300-1600) marks a significant period of cultural rebirth across many European cities. Creatives and intellectuals flourished during this period, creating new ideas and innovations within the spheres of artistic, political, and scientific thought. As new fields of study emerged and others expanded, certain professions gained clout within society.

What do lawyers and artists have in common? As it turns out, both occupations gained distinction during the Renaissance, owing in part to a growing appreciation for their respective works.

Lawyers as Renaissance Men and Women

In many cities the lawyer ranked above, equal to, or just below the knight. Both tended to enjoy similar honors in ceremonial or diplomatic situations. Although lawyers aligned more with knights and noblemen in early years of the Renaissance, they came to take on more prominent roles in public life, until eventually the lawyers’ guild took precedence over all others.

Lawyers were expected to fulfill a wide range of duties, evidenced in part by the variety of names used to identify their position. The most common of these terms include “advocate”, “judge”, “jurist”, “expert”, and “doctor of law.” Lawyers enjoyed a more prestigious place in society as the Renaissance reached new pinnacles of cultural change.

Notable lawyers tended to distinguish themselves in other fields, including politics, diplomacy, philosophy, history, or writing. Six to nine years of legal education, in addition to their varied knowledge and skills, made lawyers an instrumental asset in matters of politics and power. Many cities assigned notaries and lawyers to assist high-level officials, like podestas (chief magistrates or administrators) and captains, and many other public officials consulted lawyers as advisors in political matters.

Politics, Power, and Patronage in Renaissance Florence

Many lawyers sought to establish themselves in the city of Florence, the heart of the Italian Renaissance. The House of Medici, a powerful and influential family of merchants, first came to power in Florence. While the Medici family made its mark in commerce and banking, it employed a variety of tactics to maintain wealth and political power. The Medicis often used cultural sponsorship, including patronage of the arts and architecture, to style and promote an image for themselves. They commissioned many of the most renowned works of art from that period. As a result, many artists vied for the attention and favor of Medici patrons—including now-famous figures like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Those who earned the family’s favor were infinitely more likely to succeed as artists.

Where do lawyers fit into this portrait? The Renaissance period offered a competitive environment for artists and politicians alike—or any individuals who wanted to make a name for themselves. Those who sought to maintain power and influence, like the Medicis, as well as artists and architects seeking honor and fame, often consulted with lawyers to strategize their next moves. Lawyers, with their varied knowledge and education, could advise on new architectural endeavors, portrait commissions, affiliations with religious figures, political partnerships, and other tactics that could be used to solidify one’s political or professional growth.

Time-Tested Legal Counsel for Modern-Day Needs

The Renaissance may have ended in the 17th century, but its impact can still be observed in many facets of modern life, from our banking system to our appreciation for art history. While the duties of an attorney have changed over the centuries, modern attorneys can look to Renaissance lawyers as strong role models for their practice. Just as Renaissance lawyers often assumed the role of consigliere, or counselor, the most cunning modern attorneys can fulfill a strategically vital role for their clients.

In that spirit, Calevoso Law wants to provide you with a tactical advantage in your business matters. We have provided countless studios, galleries, agencies, and other media arts companies with high-quality solutions for their legal needs. Want to see how our versatile and resourceful approach can work for you? Give us a call to learn how our multi-talented attorneys practice the fine art of advocacy.