The town of Barberino was the birthplace of several important literary and ecclesiastical figures, including poets Francesco and Andrea da Barberino, as well as Pope Urban VIII.
Pope Urban VIII: Maffeo Vincenzo Barberini
Barberino-born Pope Urban VIII is at once famous, for having given the order to construct Bernini’s baldachin in Saint Peter's in Rome, and infamous, for his condemnation of Galileo Galilei. The Barberinese origins of Pope Urban VIII are attested to by the story of the symbol of the town of Barberino, which features three bees. Originally, the town’s coat-of-arms depicted three horseflies, but the Pope wanted to change these to bees to make the symbol more noble and more in keeping with the grandeur of the papacy. The original coat-of-arms was introduced by Taddio of Cecco (ancestor of the Pope) and featured the three horseflies alongside a pair of scissors, to indicate his trade as a weaver. Urban – in addition to changing the horseflies to bees – also removed the scissors, which were considered unsuitable as a symbol of nobility. Maffeo Vincenzo Barberini, born in Barberino Val d'Elsa, was elected Pope at the age of fifty-five. After completing his studies in law, and on the recommendation of a Roman uncle of his, he acquired a position as a lawyer within the papal administration. He soon made his way up the ranks, constantly ensuring that he kept his distance from the two warring factions within the Papal States (i.e. the French and the Spanish factions). His role as go-between contributed decisively to his election as Pope. He has been defined by authoritative writers, such as Montanelli, as an ambitious, warmongering, despotic Pope, who believed more in firearms than in the ‘weapons’ of faith. That said, Urban VIII’s papacy did result in an explosion of artistic creativity in the 17th century – thanks, at least in part, to his appreciation of art. Indeed, it was the Pope who commissioned Bernini to design a plethora of important buildings, over and above his celebrated works at Saint Peter’s Basilica. The architect also designed the Palazzo Barberini in Rome and the Pope’s funeral monument, which came to be considered the archetypal Baroque tombstone, the perfect expression of the dramatically religious nature of the 1600s. On Bellini’s most renowned work – the Baldacchino – the bees and the laurel bush that wrap around the spiral columns all the way to the top can still be seen, continuing to serve as reminders of the enduring power of Pope Urban VIII.
Francesco da Barberino
Born in 1264, Francesco di Ser Neri of Barberino worked during a period that saw the establishment of Tuscan supremacy in literature. While not considered one of the greats, he certainly deserves to be heaped with praise for his humanistic studies. His principal works - Documenti d'amore (Documents on Love, aimed at male readers) and Reggimento e costumi delle donne (On the Conduct and Customs of Ladies, aimed at female readers) – proved popular across the social spectrum, not just for those within the courtly milieu. The ‘Documents’ are a collection of one hundred and fifty “rules of love”, based undoubtedly on the model of Andrea Cappellano's De Amore (On Love). Each section is translated and commented on in Latin to display the encyclopaedic knowledge of the Tuscan poet. Having returned to Florence after a period in exile, he wrote the Reggimento e costumi delle donne, a book intended to provide practical instruction to ladies no matter their social standing. Francesco da Barberino is also an important figure in the development of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Indeed, Barberino has been immortalized for the so-called 'Barberinian thesis', which is used to affirm that it was between the end of 1313 and 1314 that the Florentine poet completed the first section (Inferno) of the Divine Comedy. In those very years, Francesco found himself in Mantua, where he told Dante that it was his intention to emulate him by composing a work inspired by the Inferno. His passion for drawing led him to befriend Giotto. Francesco died in 1348 during the dreadful plague that was described so well by Boccaccio, and it was Boccaccio himself who composed the epitaph for Francesco’s grave in Santa Croce.
Andrea da Barberino
Andrea di Jacopo de' Mangabotti was born in Barberino in 1370, but spent most of his life in Florence, where he died in 1431. During his lifetime, he was the author of several important romances that proved to be highly successful, such as Guerrin Meschino, Reali di Francia, and Storie Narbonesi. In these works, Andrea da Barberino focuses on the adventures of the protagonists rather than on their psychological motivations, as was typically the case in the works of the Carolingian cycle. Andrea’s romances were actually intended more for reading out loud than for silent contemplation, so they had to be written in such a way as to guarantee that the listeners would be kept entertained. Andrea often recited the tales himself, inserting topical references for added effect.