Filippo de’ Nerli

Place Of Sender



Niccolò Machiavelli

Place Of Destination


Relevance to the Project


Type of Record

Standard (Letter text)

Type of Document


Main Subject

Nerli writes about the circulation of M.’s latest writings, which he had not been able to read at that time. In particular, he requests a copy of M.’s De re militari, i. e. the Libro dell’arte della Guerra (Art of War), which Giulio de’ Medici has shown some interest in. Moreover, he passes on an additional request from Lucrezia Salviati for a comment on a contemporary text about the life of Alexander the Great.

Although the Vita di Castruccio Castracani, and the Libro dell’arte della Guerra were obviously circulating within the circle of the Orti Oricellari, Nerli has not yet had an occasion to read them. He asks for M.’s help in soliciting Zanobi Buondelmonti to send him a manuscript of De re militari (to be published as Libro dell’arte della guerra in 1521). Nerli wants to make sure he has a copy of the text, also on behalf of cardinal Giulio de’ Medici. (In the context, M.’s appointment as a historiographer by the Medici was a recent one – see the official commission given to M., dating 8 November, in Passerini, Introduction, LXXXIX).

Nerli also passes on a request from Lucrezia Salviati (the daughter of Lorenzo il Magnifico). As her son-in-law and Medici-courtier, Nerli gives a report on how he used to read ancient authors (among others Quintus Curtius Rufus’ Alexander-biography) to Lucrezia in the evening. She had lately received a new “vita d’Alessandro” written by an unnamed author and she had asked to have M. comment on its content. However, Nerli had reacted with some reservation and asks for M.’s opinion on this potential commission. He even prefers to take all the blame should M. turn down the requested comment on this new, rather simple-minded author (“un nuovo pesce”).

Nerli concludes his letter by sending his regards to Donato del Corno and their common group of friends in Florence that assembled at del Corno’s shop on Ponte Vecchio in the evenings (he speaks of “Donato del Corno e tutta la sua loggia che gl’ha la sera in bottega”).

The End of M.’s ‘Idle’ Years and the Support of the Medici

The letter provides further evidence of how M.’s literary activities improved his relationship with the Medici, who were obviously eager to integrate him into their network of literary patronage. Nerli’s comments testify to the crucial role the Castruccio and the Libro dell’arte della guerra played in the context of M.’s “rehabilitation”. M.’s writings, being, at the same time, products and producers of otium, had obviously increased his popularity in Medici circles and the courtly ambiente in Rome.


Otium and Patronage

The Medici’s newfound interest in M. was probably a consequence of his decision to present himself (with the support of the circle of friends at the Orti Oricellari) as an author of literary texts and a historiographer, rather than as a political advisor. His newest writings, in particular the Mandragola and the Art of War, began to circulate (the latter in a manuscript version) and were increasingly appreciated.

Nerli’s comments on Lucrezia Salviati’s request bespeak the relevance of otium for systems of patronage. Thus, forms and practices of leisure and otium are obviously necessary in order to gain the favor of patrons, but, as his activities in the Orti Oricellari and the careful introduction of M.’s Libro dell’arte della guerra suggest, they might also be turned into a subtle ‘art of war’ on the strategical level (see also section “Otiose Leisure and Networking” and Notes).


Otiose Leisure and Networking

M.’s exchange of letters with the friends of the brigata, and especially the documentation of his involvement in the activities at the Orti Oricellari in his correspondence (e.g. see letters of 17-12-1517; 6-09-1520; and 1-08-1520), shed light on the importance of otiose practices and leisure activities for social, professional and political networking: whether it is the otium doctum and the intellectual discussions of the Orti Oricellari circle or the more popular or casual forms of leisure in the “bottega” alluded to in the last paragraph of this letter. The fact that personalities such as Nerli or Machiavelli were associated with both of these worlds are suggestive of the social mobility involved with otium and leisure and the mutual permeability of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ forms of otiose practices. Moreover, it is important to note the social gap between M. as member of an ancient, but impoverished family and the young aristocrats of the Orti, some of whom were to become ‘radical’ republicans and strong opponents of the Medici regime. From this perspective, otiose leisure does not only provide occasions for the intermingling of different social groups and classes, but also seems to promote alternative political spaces and even conspiracies such as the one against cardinal de’ Giulio de’ Medici discovered in 1522 (see notes).



La Vita di Castruccio, che io l’avessi non ne fu altro; e del libro De re militari, ut supra. Sappiate che io leggo la sera a madonna Lucrezia Giustino e Quinto Curzio De rebus gestis Alexandri. È stato un nuovo pesce che gl’ha dato un trattato della vita d’Alessandro, e benché io non l’abbia letto, e’ non mi piace: lei mi richiese che io ve lo mandassi, perché voi lo rassettassi con aggiugnervi di certa parte delle cose sua, come vi paressi. Ora io non l’ho fatto né detto di fare, ma ho fatto Berto, dicendo: “Vedremo”, con animo di scrivervene prima, per vedere se voi avessi il capo a questa opera; e quando mi rispondiate di sì, ve lo manderò e dirò a lei d’averlo fatto, benché credo sarebbe meglio discorrere, secondo Plutarco, della vita d’Alessandro quello ne saprete, piú tosto che vedere altro scritto di questo animale. Farò quanto mi avviserete, e, come ho detto, per insino che voi non mi rispondete di contentarvene, non dirò mai di averne scritto; voglio piú tosto essere io negligente, che voi abbiate a negarlo, non volendo voi durare questa fatica; però me ne rispondete per il primo.

A Zanobi Buondelmonti dite che io mi racomando a lui, e che si ricordi della promessa del venire. Io gli scrissi vie l’altro dí, […]. Il tinore dello scriverli mio fu circa il libro De re militari, che per l’avermi lui detto di mandarlo, mi farà tenere bugiardo a Mons. Rev. [sc. Giulio de’ Medici], se non lo manda; sí che tra voi e lui fate non mi manchi.

A Donato del Corno e tutta la sua loggia che g’lha la sera in bottega, ancora infinite volte mi raccomanderete, e tutti per mia parte salutate.


Source: Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli

Whether I had the Life of Castruccio made no difference; and of the book De re militari, the same. You should know that I read Justin and Quintus Curtius’s De rebus gestis Alexandri in the evening to Madonna Lucrezia. There was some new ass who gave her a treatise on the life of Alexander, and although I have not read it, I do not like it. She asked me to send it to you so that you might rearrange it, adding certain parts of her doing as you saw fit. Now I did not do it or say I would do it, but I laughed about it, saying, “We shall see,” with the intention of writing you about it first to see if you had a mind to do this job. If you should answer me yes, I shall send it to you and tell her that I have done it, although I believe it would be better to discuss what you know about the life of Alexander, according to Plutarch, rather than see anything else written by this animal. I shall do as you advise me, and as I have said, until you answer me that you are happy to, I shall never say that I have written about it. I should rather be negligent than for you to have to refuse it, if you do want to undertake this effort. So answer me right away about it.

Tell Zanobi Buondelmonti that I send him my regards and that he should remember his promise to come. I also wrote him the other day […]. The tenor of my writing to him was concerning the book De re militari, which, since he had told me to send it, will get me taken for a liar by His Most Reverend Monsignor if I do not send it. So make sure between you and him that I do fail to get it.

Give my endless regards to Donato del Corno and all his bunch that he has in his shop at night, and give greetings on my behalf to everyone.


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

L. Passerini, Introduction to N. Machiavelli, Opere, vol. I, Istorie fiorentine, ed. by G. Milanesi and P. Fanfani (Florence: Tipografia cenniniana, 1873), LXXXIX; R. Ridolfi, Vita di Niccolò Machiavelli (Florence: Sansoni, 1978), 288; M. Martelli: “Note su Machiavelli,” Interpres 18 (1999): 130-38.


For Lucrezia Salviati, see: I. Fosi, “Medici, Lucrezia de’,” in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Vol. 73 (Rome: Ist. della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2009), online access.


For the Orti Oricellari, see: J. Barthas, “Un giardino due congiure: gli Orti Oricellari,” in Atlante della letteratura italiana, ed. by S. Luzzato and G. Pedullà, vol. I, Dalle origini als Rinascimento (Turin: Einaudi, 2010), 694-701.


For Machiavelli’s Libro dell’arte della guerra, see: J. Frömmer, “Machiavellis Kriegskunst. Die Lehren des Libro dell’arte della guerra,” in Romanistisches Jahrbuch (2023); A. Guidi, Books, People and Military Thought. Machiavelli’s Art of War and the Fortune of the Militia in Sixteenth-Century Europe (Leiden: Brill, 2020).



The life of Alexander

For Machiavelli’s knowledge and uses of Plutarch’s and Quintus Curtius Rufus’ lives of Alexander in his major works, see Martelli, “Note su Machiavelli” 130-38.


Lucrezia Salviati

For Lucrezia Salviati, see Fosi, “Medici, Lucrezia de”.


M.’s Libro dell’arte della guerra (1521)

Although the Libro dell’arte della guerra was most probably written in a Medicean context with the intention to make a case for its author as a military advisor, the concept of the militia developed in this complex text might also recall certain aspects of M.’s military thinking that point to a more radical republicanism as expressed in the Discourses on Livy. This ‘machiavellian’ republicanism is potentially at odds with aristocratic policies and with specific tendencies of a monarchical culture that anticipate the so-called “reason of state” (cf. Guidi, Books, People, 87-90, 96-97, 152-53, 168-69, 213-14).

The setting of M.’s dialogue on the Arte della guerra are the Orti Oricellari, and among the interlocutors are Cosimo Rucellai and Zanobi Buondelmonti, the dedicatees of M.’s Discourses on Livy, Luigi Alamanni, together with Buondelmonti, the dedicatee of The Life of Castruccio Castracani, and Battista della Palla (on the ‘otiose’ setting of the dialogue see also Frömmer, “Machiavellis Kriegskunst”). In 1522, one year after the publication of the Art of War, Buondelmonti, Alamanni, and della Palla’s involvement in a conspiracy against Giulio de’ Medici was discovered and they had to flee into exile (see also Barthas, “Un giardino due congiure,” 700).


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Cite as: Judith Frömmer, Andrea Guidi

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