Waters and Wealth: Navigation, Infrastructure, and Political Economy in Grand Ducal Tuscany, ca. 1550–1610

Caroline Murphy

Girolamo di Pace da Prato, Detail from a plan of the course of the Arno upstream of Florence, 1534, with additions from 1558. Biblioteca Roncioniana di Prato. Source: Emanuela Ferretti, Acquedotti e fontane del Rinascimento in Toscana: Acqua, architettura e città al tempo di Cosimo I dei Medici (2016)

This dissertation examines the design of the aqueous landscape in late Renaissance Tuscany, one of the wealthiest and most powerful of the new regional states of early modern Italy. From the reign of its first duke Cosimo I de' Medici in the middle of the sixteenth century, until the reign of its third duke, Ferdinando I de' Medici in the early seventeenth, the Tuscan government embarked on a series of projects to control and reshape the waters of its territory. Significant resources were allocated for clearing rivers and fortifying their banks, extending watercourses by means of canals, and buttressing and building new ports along the aqueous network. Motivated by a desire to forge a system of waterborne navigation to connect the ducal capital of Florence to the commercial nexus of the Mediterranean Sea, and by extension (if however briefly) to South American shores across the Atlantic Ocean, these projects, in scale and frequency, were the most extensive the region had seen since the days of the Roman Empire. As Europe's economic and geopolitical interests shifted from the Mediterranean basin to the imperial states of northern Europe and their holdings in the Western hemisphere, the princes of Tuscany realized the need to create an infrastructure to augment commerce and industry across the kingdom, as well as on the international stage. Concentrating on the strategies deployed to recompose surface waters along the region's principal communication artery, the Arno river corridor, this dissertation traces how material efforts to rationalize the natural environment and forge a connective hydraulic infrastructure underpinned an incipient, unifying theory of mercantilist political economy emerging in Italy at this very same moment. Charting a history of Renaissance architecture beyond the civic scale, this project posits the emergence of a distinct imaginary in early modern Italy in which the management of infrastructure, environment, and economy were intimately linked.


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