Niccolò Machiavelli

Place Of Sender



Francesco Guicciardini

Place Of Destination


Relevance to the Project


Type of Record

Standard (Letter text)

Type of Document


Main Subject

M. replies to Guicciardini’s doubts concerning the performance of the Mandragola in Faenza and comments on the political situation and the eventuality of war.

The first part of the letter takes up the long correspondence concerning the performance of the Mandragola planned in Faenza for the forthcoming carnival (26-04-1526; 17-08-1525; 06-09-1525; 16/20-10-1525; 26-12-1525). The second part is dedicated to an analysis of the delicate and uncertain political-diplomatic situation of the time. M. argues that it would be a supreme folly of the emperor Charles V to release Francis I who had been taken captive in the course of the battle of Pavia. Furthermore, M. urges Guicciardini not to postpone his activities and negotiations for a favorable marriage of his daughters just because of the spreading rumors about a forthcoming war.


Otiose Leisure and Political Conflict: The Staging of the Mandragola in Times of Turmoil

After expressing his condolences on the loss of Guicciardini’s sister in law, who had died in the postpartum period, M. pays his tribute to Guicciardini’s statement on the importance of comedy in turbulent times (cf. Guicciardini’s letter from 26-12-1525) by replying with his maxim to live as cheerfully as possible even in times of turmoil (“per vivere in tante turbolenzie allegro”). From the perspective concerning the research questions of this project, comedy might even be considered a practice of strategic retreat (cf. Frömmer, “Rückzug”). M. assures his friend that he will join him in Faenza for the performance of the Mandragola and that he is optimistic to bring along Barbara Salutati. He boasts that he and “la Bàrbera” composed five new songs for the performance in Faenza (“cinque canzone nuove a proposito della commedia, e si sono musicate per cantarle tra gli atti”) which are attached to this letter. This is obviously an exaggeration, because M. had actually recycled music material from earlier performances (cf. the commentary to N. Machiavelli, Lettere, vol. 2, 1449; and the section “M.’s canzoni” in Notes). M.’s musical rendering of madrigals for the forthcoming event as well as for the performance of Clizia in 1525 are considered to be pioneering and a “landmark in music history” (Black, Machiavelli, 203; cf. also Vivanti, Niccolò Machiavelli, 178f. and Magnani, “Verdelot, Philippe”). In the end, however, the performance of the Mandragola in Faenza did not materialize. The reason for this was that Guicciardini was involved in the negotiations for the League of Cognac and, in contrast to his allegations in the letter from 26-12-1525, had to put his thoughts on the play to the back of his mind. Accordingly, M. dedicates the second part of the letter to political and military reflections. From this perspective, the parts of the correspondence dedicated to the Mandragola might be considered as a more or less virtual otiose practice: as a fictional substitute for otiose leisure in a world which does not seem to allow for otium but is actually dominated by political conflict.


Quanto alla lettera di Vostra Signoria, io mi comincerò dove voi, per vivere in tante turbolenzie allegro. Io vi ho a dire questo: che io verrò in ogni modo, né mi può impedire altro che una malattia (che Iddio ne guardi), e verrò passato questo mese e a quel tempo che voi mi scriverrete. Quanto alla Bàrbera, e a’ cantori, quando altro rispetto non vi tenga, io credo poterla menare a quindici soldi per lira. Dico così perché l’ha certi innamorati, che potrebbono impedire; pure, usando diligenzia, potrebbono quietarsi. E che lei e io abbiamo pensato a venire, vi se ne fa questa fede, che noi abbiamo fatto cinque canzone nuove a proposito della commedia, e si sono musicate per cantarle tra gli atti; delle quali io vi mando alligate con questa le parole, acciò che Vostra Signoria possa considerarle; la musica, o noi tutti o io solo, ve la portereno. Bisognerà bene, quando lei avesse a venire, mandare qui un garzone de’ vostri con 2 o 3 bestie; e questo è quanto alla commedia.


Source: Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli

As for Your Lordship’s letter, I shall begin at the point you do, about living happily amid such turbulence. I can tell you this: I shall go there come what may; nothing can hold me back except illness, may God protect me from it; I shall arrive when the month is up and at whatever time you may set in your letter. As for Barbera and the singers, I believe I can bring her for fifteen soldi to the lira unless some other consideration holds you back. I mention this because she has certain lovers who might block the way; still, one might contrive to keep them quiet. And that she and I have decided to come, you have this attestation: we have composed five new songs appropriate to the play that have been set to music and are to be sung between the acts. As an enclosure to this letter, I am forwarding you the words so that you may look them over; either all of us or I alone shall bring you the music for them. If she decides to come, you will certainly need to send one of your grooms with two or three animals. So much for the play.


Source: Atkinson/Sices: Machiavelli and his friends. Their Personal Correspondence.

N. Pirrotta, Li due Orfei. Da Poliziano a Monteverdi (Turin: Einaudi, 1975), 155-60; R. Ridolfi, Vita di Niccolò Machiavelli (Florence: Sansoni, 1978), 347-49; P. Baldan, “La musica della (e nella) ‘Mandragola’ di Machiavelli,” Italianistica 26 (1997): 53-59; Arnaldo Bruni, “Gli intermedi della ‘Mandragola’,” in Il teatro di Machiavelli, ed. G. Barbarisi and A. M. Cabrini (Milan: Cisalpino, 2005), 367-408; R. Chiesa, “Machiavelli e la musica,” Rivista italiana di musicologia IV (1969): 3–31; E. Scarpa, “Argo, Clemente VII e Pasquino in un epigramma del Machiavelli e in un’antologia del Sanudo,” Filologia e critica I (1976): 259-270; D. Hoeges, Niccolò Machiavelli. Dichter – Poeta (Frankfurt a. M./Berlin/Bern: 2006), 217-237; C. Vivanti, Niccolò Machiavelli. I tempi della politica (Rome: Donzelli, 2008), 178f.; R. Black, Machiavelli (London/New York: Routledge, 2013), 203, 280; M. Mangani, “Verdelot, Philippe,” in Enciclopedia machiavelliana (Rome: Ist. della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2014); J. Frömmer. “Rückzug,” in Muße und Mußeforschung. Ein Kompendium, ed. Gregor Dobler and Tilman Kasten (Tüngen: Mohr Siebeck, 2023) 195-203.



M.’s canzoni

M.’s canzoni are attached to this letter: one to be sung before the comedy, and the others as interludes to be performed between the acts. Two of them were recovered for the Clizia; others were set up specifically for the performance in Faenza, which, it is assumed, did not take place because Guicciardini was called to Rome in the context of the negotiations for the League of Cognac (see the comment of the letter of 15-03-1526). The importance M. gives to these songs and the details of the performance highlights the importance of Renaissance comedy as a multi-media spectacle and a physical as well as a collective experience of otium. However, his songs are not only part of theatrical entertainment, but also provide the possibility to please his patrons and mentors such as Guicciardini by encomiastic elements (cf. Hoeges, Niccolò Machiavelli. Dichter – Poeta, p. 230). Furthermore, the musical intermezzi in the comic plot offer moments of pause and reflection. In the dramatic logic of the play they might constitute forms of otiose leisure, which provide spaces for irony, comment, and critical thinking of the audience.


Machiavelli and Barbara Salutati

The singer and actress Barbara Raffacani Salutati is probably M.’ most famous mistress, even more so as their relationship was not formed by merely erotic, but also by intellectual bonds and a shared interest in literature and the arts (see Ridolfi, Vita, 323–324 et passim; Ruggiero, Machiavelli in Love, 1–4 et passim; Benner, Be Like the Fox, 292–294; Simonetta, Tutti gli uomini, 201–207; Saracino, “Barbara Salutati Raffacani”). In a painting by Domenico Puligo, mentioned in Vasari’s respective biography in the Vite, “la Barbara Fiorentina in quel tempo famosa e bellissima cortigiana e molto amata da molti, non meno che per la bellezza, per le sue buone creanze, e particolarmente per essere bonissima musica e cantare divinamente” is represented as an educated woman and reader of poetry (cf. Vasari, Vite, II, 198; see also Simonetta, Tutti gli uomini, 202-203). Following the hypothesis of Slim, enhanced by Ottavia Niccoli, Gaetano Lettieri argues that this painting had been commissioned by M. himself and is part of his playful transformations and metamorphoses of literal and spiritual meanings as enacted in the Mandragola (see Lettieri, “Il Cantico dei cantici chiave della Mandragola”, 95–99). It is likely that M. had dedicated several poems such as “Ardeva il petto mio, ardeva l’alma” and the madrigal “Non so se ’l duol ch’i’ sento” to his friend, colleague, muse and mistress. As actress and singer “la Bàrbera” also had her share in the production and representations of M.’s comedies: Not only did she perform the songs between the acts of the Clizia, but she and M. had in all probability composed a selection of additional songs for a perfomance of the Mandragola at Faenza which had been scheduled for the summer of 1526.


The Captivity of Francis I

The French king Francis I, who had been taken captive at the battle of Pavia, was set free by the Emperor in March 1526. This event inspired M. to write his epigram Sappi ch’io non son Argo quale io paio, which satirizes the Emperor’s inexpediency (cf. Scarpa, “Argo, Clemente VII e Pasquino”; Hoeges, Niccolò Machiavelli, 106-110). In his next letter to Guicciardini from 15-03-1525, M. accuses Charles V of being a “sciocco”.


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Cite as: Judith Frömmer, Andrea Guidi

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