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Not a member? Sign up for My OBO. Already a member? Publications Pages Publications Pages. Subscriber sign in. Forgot password? Don't have an account? Sign in via your Institution. Sign in with your library card. On the other hand, animal milk was distrusted even more than maternal milk, due to the general opinion that the child would grow up with the characteristics of whichever animal it had received its milk from. Piero Bargellini Florence, , Charles S. Singleton Bari, , —6. Wet-Nurses in Fifteenth-Century Florence 7 evidently the destiny of many infants, and this continued to be one of the more dangerous, if not fatal, weaknesses of the system.
Records attesting to this practice are to be found in the ricordanze, in which the events of day-to-day family life were documented, including how a newborn child was received and what happened to him or her in the years following birth. Thus we learn that the Tuscan balii played a significant role as both suppliers and consumers in the distinctive and diffused social practice of wet-nursing. The balii clearly looked upon this activity as a business. The example of Piero shows that he found it advantageous to send his own children out to nurse, and, as we will see, quite a long way away from Florence, so that his wife could offer her services to civic families.
Perhaps the main reason to resort to a balia was that lactation was allegedly a form of contraception.
However, Rudolph Bell argues that parents in those days loved their children dearly and tried to raise them with individual caring attention, and that the practice of putting them out to nurse was not even a common practice among the urban bourgeoisie and certainly not in the countryside. High levels of prolactin in the breast-feeding woman may prevent ovulation at least in the early phases of lactation.
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Today it is generally acknowledged that breast-feeding is not an effective contraceptive. Although fertility tends to be reduced during the time when a woman is fully breast-feeding, the usual practice of feeding a baby only every four hours makes the early return of ovulation more likely: Sheila Kitzinger, The Experience of Breastfeeding Harmondsworth, , —3. The adoption records of the biggest Florentine charitable institution for foundlings of the time, the Hospital of the Innocenti, demonstrate the affection of Florentines for children and their concern for the alleviation of the suffering of abandoned infants, leaving no room to doubt that fifteenth-century Florence was a child-centred culture.
The recourse to wet-nurses from rural areas was widespread, particularly among the Florentine charitable institutions for foundlings. The Hospital of the Innocenti set the standard in choosing predominantly country girls for wet-nursing, for they were deemed both healthier and cheaper. The Casentino — north-east of Florence in the territory of Arezzo — was a particularly popular destination for infants, while another area north of Florence, the Mugello, supplied a large number of in-house wet-nurses.
Both Klapisch-Zuber and Valerie Fildes agree that a Florentine balia could hope to receive up to 18—20 florins per year 6—7 lire per month , whereas a countryside nurse could only hope to earn up to 9—15 florins 3—5 lire per month. John Henderson and Richard Wall , — Wet-Nurses in Fifteenth-Century Florence 9 Thus the fate of the child put out with a balia depended upon many variables, including the duration of the stay.
Supposedly it lasted for two years, or until weaning, which was obviously abrupt in many cases; Barberino advocates a sojourn of about two years and warns against sudden weaning. This regulation was followed a few decades later, in , by another, which strictly forbade the balie from reneging on a contract before thirty months had elapsed. He argued that, notably in Florence, a surplus of needy children and shortage of adults volunteering their assistance in Florentine homes and foundling institutions, meant that busy administrators were highly unlikely to become surrogate parents.
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The catasto of speaks clearly on the matter: among the bocche 41 Barberino, Reggimento, Romolo Caggese 2 vols. Vittore Branca Florence, , Santa was in all probability too young to suckle the infants of others, or at any rate to prove a good wet-nurse both Barberino and Savonarola, as we have seen, agree that a good wet-nurse must be between twenty-five and thirty-five years old. The child was a male, Tommaso, later nicknamed Maso, who was presumably born some weeks or even a few days before 20 October this is the boy described in the catasto of as being five years old.
Piero does not tell us explicitly whether Maso was sent to the borgo of San Benedetto — although this is likely to have happened — some thirty miles south-west of Florence in the territory of San Gimignano, where the balio Jacomino and seemingly his wife, the wet- nurse, came from. What is certain is that Jacomino was to be paid 50 soldi 2 lire, 10 soldi per month, in view of the contract stipulated with Piero.
Along with the payments for suckling the child, Piero also made an entry on 17 December for the purchase for his son of a small giubbarello a cloak open down the front , for which he paid cash. Towards the end of the contract, he also settled the outstanding debt with Jacomino for the purchase of two pairs of shoes for the child, who had presumably started to walk. Of course a typical Tuscan couple like Piero and Santa did not read 49 See above, notes 18 and The plague was particularly devastating for the young.
In fact, children older than babies were the preferred targets of plague attacks.
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Comparatively, few babies fell victim to plague, perhaps because many were being nursed in the countryside, see John Henderson, The Renaissance Hospital. Wet-Nurses in Fifteenth-Century Florence 11 medical treatises on distant wet-nursing. Although ordinary people among Florentines had no concept of bacteriology, certainly they must have been aware of the dangers of changing environments, notably for the young, and knew that this practice — although regarded as culturally and socially appropriate — did indeed endanger children. But Piero none the less decided to send Maso away.
Thus for the little boy there was also the factor of a long journey of thirty miles, which in the autumn season, often wet and rainy in Tuscany, was quite likely to take more than one day, thus exposing the recently-born infant to a whole range of infections en route, in addition to possibly low temperatures. Maso, like other newborn babies sent out to be wet-nursed, was indeed unprotected from many diseases and perils, which might ultimately have resulted in his death.
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The statutes of , which prescribed pay scales for domestic servants and nurses, suggest that variable costs played a major role. As we have seen, roughly speaking, for wet-nurses employed to nurse boys or girls outside the paternal residence, pay scales fell as the distance from the centre of Florence increased. This was the only way that Santa and Piero could possibly afford to send their children out to nurse and yet make some profit from taking in the children of others.
Women would often contribute to family finances by resorting to manual work themselves. Many would help their husbands in their shops, or by weaving and spinning themselves. Wet-nursing was the easiest, and one of the most lucrative ways of providing support without the need to leave the house. A whole network of neighbourhood, business and social relationships thus comes to light, and we cannot exclude the possibility that, like many other young mothers, Santa would have worked as a wet-nurse only for the time necessary to put together small sums of money needed to discharge family debts.
The first record of Santa working as a balia dates back to in his journal Piero wrote: On 20 October. La tradizione fiorentina Florence, , 28— Santa did not have children between and Did Piero simply omit to enter the birth of yet another child, perhaps born already dead, or who died shortly thereafter, or was Santa engaged during these years in wet-nursing the foundlings of the Innocenti, with Piero again failing to register her activity in his journal?
At the end of that period, on 7 April , he noted: I received from Monna Leonarda, wife of Piero son of messere Vanni Castellani, her daughter, whom my wife is to raise; the said wife and nurse shall receive each year for her trouble and her breast-feeding of the said little girl 7 lire per month paid by the said Monna Leonarda, who is bound to pay 21 fiorini [84 lire] for the whole year to Piero Puro and to his said wife.
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