Machiavelli and his times. This section outlines the historical context in which Macchiavelli lived, noting the major events and contemporaries of the period.
The Prince. The centerpiece of the exhibition, this section is dedicated to the celebrated treatise and displays the most important and influential editions and prints, from one of the nineteen manuscript codices that still exist in the world and the first print edition, 1532 Florence, published after Machiavelli’s death by Bernardo Giunta and today conserved at the Biblioteca Augusta in Perugia. One part of this section is dedicated to the major translations of The Prince in various languages. The print and art works are introduced in an inspiring video by Pierfrancesco Favino who reads the letter that Niccolò Macchiavelli wrote to Francesco Vettore on 10 December 1513 announcing that he had composed the celebrated treatise.
The Prince-its fortune and dissemination. The purpose of this section is to evidence how The Prince has come down to us over history, through observations over time, collector’s editions and contemporary translations, but also in plagiarized and manipulated versions.
Machiavelli and our times: uses and abuses. This section is dedicated to uses and abuses of the treatise. Table games, videogames, stamps, postcards, and marketing manuals inspired by Machiavellian ‘theory’. This part is intended to evidence how the finest political mind in contemporary culture has influenced various fields of political thought. In fact, the exhibition will display paintings, medals, stamps, ancient manuscripts and incunabula, alongside table and parlor games, postcards, vinyl records, as well as very bizarre and peculiar Machiavellian paraphernalia. Machiavelli, who was an irreverent spirit but mainly a great innovator, would probably have appreciated this type of corruption and would not have felt at all offended to see his own name or that of his masterpiece linked to a package of cigarettes, a musical group, or a child’s puppet.
With the writing of The Prince in 1513, originally titled De principatibus and published for the first time in 1532, Machiavelli penned the first true treatise on modern politics. As a man of his times and careful observer of his period, Machiavelli composed a work that through the use of an original essayist style marked by rigor and intensity, reveals the profile of a writer who was very aware of the roles and duties of politics. Machiavelli’s ‘homeland’, citing Francesco De Sanctis, among the first authors to reassess the scope of his thinking, “is naturally the free commune, free for its virtue and not by thanks to the Pope or the Emperor, government by all in the interests of all.”
Machiavelli’s treatise, which has divided readers into supporters and detractors and is responsible for coinage of the term Machiavellianism, signaled the liberation of the concept of politics by separating the Prince’s actions from morality and religion.
In this transformed vision of the State, in juxtaposition to fortune, understood as the external world, unforeseeable and adverse, are the virtues of the Prince, understood as intelligence, energy and zeal in one’s work.
Between August and September 1512, Florence’s republican experience draws to a close when the Medici’s return to power. Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, future Pope Leo X, together with brother Giuliano, reestablish the Medici dominion after an 18 year interlude. A list of anti-Medici conspirators contains the name Niccolò Machiavelli, who is thus arrested and tortured. While acknowledged as not having been connected to the affair, he was not able to regain the good graces of the powerful family, and thus Machiavelli, withdraws to his villa, Albergaccio, in Sant’Andrea in Percussina. Here he dedicates himself to writing The Prince, a treatise on political doctrine initially dedicated to Giuliano de’ Medici, who is in Rome with the Pope, and later addressed to Lorenzo, Captain-General of the Florentine Militia and Duke of Urbino from 1516. Upon receiving the work as a gift in 1515, neither realized the importance it would bear.
Written in 1513, but not published until 1532, after the death of its author, The Prince is divided into 26 chapters. Machiavelli cautions his reader, Lorenzo de’ Medici, that in it he will find “the cognition of the actions of great men, which I have learned through long experience in modern things and continuous instruction from ancient times”. Machiavelli outlines the qualities that a prince must possess to conquer and maintain a state, coming to an extremely realistic view of actuality in which the action of the prince must turn, very firmly and forcefully, to reaching his objective.
As the narrative unfolds, Machiavelli touches on a host of topics, from an analysis of various types of principalities and the autonomy of politics, to the morality of the Church and the concepts of virtue and fortune.
During these past five hundred years, The Prince has been interpreted in any number of different and sometimes conflicting ways, and it has been plagiarized, censured, and even confuted. It is one of the most widely translated literary works in the world, and the subject of many influential critiques. It remains a fascinating and controversial work that still reveals an extraordinary reflection on power.