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- 1 This article expands on materials developed in my Abandoned Children of the Italian Renaissance: Or (...)
- 2 For this infant, abandoned in 1597, see: ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo (Esposti), I/1, fol (...)
1In the dead of night a figure slips down a dark street beside Bologna's foundling home, the Ospedale degli Esposti, stopping briefly to open a small door in the wall and thrust in a tightly wrapped bundle before hurrying off. Another baby has entered the foundling home, and a group of people on the other side of the wall now moves into action. A married couple who had been sleeping in the small room on the other side of the doorway takes up the infant and looks to see if any other objects have been left behind with it – perhaps half a coin or a bit of coral or a sack of coins. The man opens a ledger close to the small doorway to quickly write the day and hour and the child's sex and approximate age, and record any swaddling bands and blankets that cover it and the objects that were left behind. His wife meanwhile picks up the child and carries it out of the small room and across a courtyard into a separate dormitory where rows of beds are flanked by small cribs filled with babies. She wakes up a young woman dozing close to the door, who takes the child and begins nursing it. Meanwhile the man has gone off to rouse the priest. These two return, and the priest quickly baptizes the child, giving her the name 'Contessa'. The wetnurse resumes feeding the baby before laying it in one of the cribs beside her bed. The priest steals quietly to his bed in another part of the home while the husband and wife return to fitful sleep in the room beside the small door, always alert for the sounds of another arrival.2
2Scenes like this play out countless times night after night in a growing number of towns and cities across Italy from the fifteenth century. Through the following centuries, similar big homes with small doors spread across other parts of Europe, and the doors open almost nightly receiving thousands of infants. Some use basins like a baptismal font located just beside one of the main doors of the home to keep these abandoned infants safely above the sniffing curiosity of scavenging dogs. Many, like Bologna's home, enjoy a central location, richly decorated porticoes, public churches and private dormitories, extensive land holdings, and treasure troves of art that testify to their citizens' enormous pride in and generosity towards a shelter they see as a social and spiritual triumph. Many have spiritually-resonant names, like The Hospital of the Holy Innocents (Ospedale degli Innocenti) in Florence, or the Great House (Casa Grande) in Perugia. Few Bolognese refer to their Hospital of Saints Peter and Proculus by its formal name. The polite ones call it the Esposti ('the exposed'), while many others refer to it more bluntly as the Home of the Little Bastards (i Bastardini).
- 3 The 'alms of the baby' were initially described in the 1569 draft statutes as a 'tasse' or 'susidio (...)
3The infant girl noted above entered the Esposti in 1597. She was almost certainly a bastard, and her name may have been equally resonant. Does the fact that she was baptised with the name 'Contessa' suggest that she was particularly beautiful ? Or that she cried indignantly when taken into the home ? Did they suspect from some object left behind that she had been sired by one of Bologna's growing number of title-hungry patricians like Count Pompeo Aldrovandi or Count Marc'Antonio Bianchettii ? Perhaps she didn't enter the Esposti by the little doorway at all, but rather on the arm of a haughty and resentful teenage mother. For all their pride and generosity, a few decades earlier the Bolognese had become frustrated with meeting the cost of raising other people's 'little bastards.' The Esposti was taking in 200-300 babies annually by some accounts, and the cost of wetnursing in particular had more than tripled over the previous decades, rising steadily from just under a third to almost half of the entire budget by the late 1580s. In 1570 the home's administrators began levying a fee of 25 lire for each infant abandoned, eventually calling it with almost Orwellian doublespeak the « alms of the baby » (l'elemosina del bambino). Alms were meant to be freely given and received, but these were really nothing less than a fee. The amount charged was roughly equivalent to what a family would pay a wetnurse for 8 – 12 months service.3 If the infant's father – possibly a guild master, an employer, or a servant lover – did not pay the fee, then the mother – usually a teenage servant or possibly a slave – was forced to spend a year living in the foundling home's special dormitory (casa delle balie) as an unpaid wetnurse.
- 4 The 1569 draft statutes referred more generally to a subsidy: «Debba anchor esso Guardiano essere d (...)
4About 70-80 % of infants were pushed through the small doorway with a sack of coins to cover the 'alms of the baby', and this was one of the things that the man who received the infant recorded immediately in his book. But that still left three or four dozen young women annually who were forced into the casa delle balie to sleep in the dormitory cots and tend the babies ranged in cribs around them. If they did not come voluntarily or were not pushed into the home by the baby's father (or perhaps that man's wife) then the Esposti would track down the mother and bring her into custody – even the statutes used the term 'custodicano'.4 Most of those abandoning their babies in this period were young unwed mothers who had few options, and even in a large city like Bologna, there were few places where an unmarried pregnant woman could escape notice. So Contessa's birth mother may have been forced into wetnursing because of her lover's failure to pay the 'alms of the baby'.
- 5 Libro di Congregazione (1601-30), ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, 1/1, 120v.
5Contessa lived within the Esposti's large walled compound for the next three years, sleeping in the dormitory, eating in the refectory, and playing in the courtyard. At age three she emerged from the Esposti, possibly for the first time in her life, and moved across town and into the home of Giovanni Battista Picci and his wife Giulia, who lived in Borgo S. Giacomo close to the San Donato Gate. Giovanni Battista and Giulia fostered Contessa for the next seventeen years, providing her with bed and board, ensuring that she learned how to read, and instructing her in 'other virtues'. In return, Contessa worked with and for the Picci family, likely earning nothing more than her shelter and clothing. From time to time, a representative of the Esposti foundling home visited them, or perhaps Giovanni Battista or Giulia came to present Contessa to nurses at the Esposti who could judge whether she was being well cared for. As Contessa grew older, she caught the eye of a young shoemaker who lived a few streets away in the same neighbourhood. Tomaso Merighi wanted to marry her, but Giovanni and Giulia either could not or would not provide Contessa’s dowry. So Contessa turned to the only parents she knew, the Governors of the Esposti. She wrote a petition to them, asking that they provide her with some help and alms, and leaving to their better judgment just how much they might offer. Contessa's letter was read out to the governors in their meeting of January 1617, and they discussed it at some length before voting secretly but unanimously to give the girl 140 lire in cash, linens, and household goods. It was a generous dowry for a girl with no family. This was about what a modest artisan could expect to earn in a year at that time, and it was the amount that many girls of artisinal rank brought into their marriages. Forty lire of Contessa's dowry represented the standard sum that any girls marrying out of the Esposti could expect as a matter of right. The governors decided to enrich it with an additional 100 lire from a legacy that had been left by a Signor Mussolini, who was eager to help foundling girls marry and start their own families.5
6Who was Contessa ? As a foundling abandoned to the Esposti, she was formally no-one’s child and of no-one’s lineage. Her birth mother was either anonymous or deliberately kept from her. Giovanni Battista Picci and his wife Giulia had fostered her, but not adopted her. Their inability or disinclination to provide a dowry underscored the fact that seventeen years of living under their roof had not brought her into their family. The Governor’s action in providing her with the home’s standard dowry showed that they considered her one of their own, and indeed the promise of some dowry was likely part of their agreement with the Picci. For all the legal awkwardness, Contessa was a member of the Esposti family, and likely used the surname ‘Esposta’ that was given to many of the institution's girls and boys as a way of giving linguistic substance to that legal abstraction. She could and soon would form a new family with Tomaso Merighi, but until those vows were exchanged, Contessa inhabited an ambiguous liminal space. Coming from no-where, adopted by an institution which posed as a family, fostered by a family which nonetheless held her at arms-length, she literally created herself by earning the dowry that would allow her to start a new lineage with Tomaso. By looking at Contessa's case in the context of the range of homes in Bologna, we can explore how the differences between fostering and adoption help clarify the dynamics between what we might call 'real' and 'virtual' families, and how those family dynamics themselves fit into broader political concerns.
- 6 Volker Hunecke quite decisively locates the origins of institutional foundling homes in fifteenth c (...)
7A rich literature has explored the emergence of the many dozens of specialized foundling homes in Italy through the fifteenth century, and what it meant demographically, culturally, and sociologically. While institutional shelter had been available in some general hospitals from the fourteenth century, abandoned children entered them as simply another group of ‘the poor of God’.6 And in fact, most orphaned and abandoned children would not have entered institutional homes at all. They were cared for by and usually within extended family structures of blood and symbolic kin. Children’s place was in that family of kin, not simply for reasons of sentiment, but also because they were themselves fundamentally property in a legal and cultural system where property ownership was organized chiefly through families and corporate groups rather than through individuals. A child’s loss of parents might be emotionally-wrenching, but a key challenge for guardians and custodians was finding a way to preserve ownership of two forms of property – both the property that the child itself represented to the family, and also the family property that the child might have some title or right to. This sometimes strikes modern commentators as heartless, and its implications were among the reasons that a whole generation of scholars beginning with Philippe Aries hypothesized that there was no love lost or gained to warm the early modern family. That hypothesis has, by now, been shown to be a well-intentioned but fundamentally anachronistic projection of modern values onto historical social realities. We need to pick up the other end of the stick. The greater surprise for us, in an age when many so things are acquired, consumed, and then disposed of, should not be how little emotion early moderns invested in their children, but rather how much they invested in their property.
- 7 For examples of adoption contracts, see Chojnacka - Wiesner-Hanks, 2002, p. 19-35.
8Property is disposed of by contract, and so when the care of a child moved outside the family, a contract was called for. Many guardians found it convenient to secure care for their wards through the existing legal institutions of apprenticeship or domestic service. As a result many of the contracts for apprentices or servants are fundamentally about the care and maintenance of a bit of human property outside an extended family which, for some reason or another, could not do the job itself. Those assuming responsibility for the child had obligations beyond bed and board : they were to help secure the child’s future, or at least to provide the conditions through which the child could secure its own future. By absorbing a guild master’s training, an orphaned boy learned those skills which would allow him or her to assume a trade and establish a household. By working in an employer’s home, an abandoned girl earned the dowry which would allow her to find a husband and also establish a household. These options were not so fixed and gendered : boys also became domestic servants, and most of the apprenticeship contracts we have for girls are for those who were orphaned or abandoned. These contracts stated the conditions under which the child earned the resources to secure its own future, while still giving adults – masters, employers, or blood family – a say in determining what that future would be.7
- 8 Bianchi 1997, p. 58-63.
9The legal institutions of apprenticeship and service were forms of fostering that filled the gap left when a child's kin were dead or absent. The charitable institutions emerging in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries aimed to plug that same gap. Yet not all gaps were in fact the same. Some orphaned and abandoned children lacked parents but still had families, and one range of homes which we call orphanages or conservatories aimed to return them eventually to these families. Children born outside of marriage were in more ambiguous situations, and some legal authorities drew a distinction between naturales or nothis (those born of known fathers) and spurii (those with unknown fathers). The former were often born into stable but extra-marital relationships, like concubinage or simple co-habitation, and their fathers usually took some responsibility for the cost or work of raising them. The latter were the results of brief extra-marital sexual encounters that may have been forced or consensual and could range from prostitution to rape. Their mothers might be widows, wives, servants or slaves of any age, and these women could seldom count on the fathers taking any responsibility for the cost or work of raising the child. A woman in a publicly-recognized and long term relationship like concubinage might sue the father of her naturales for support in the ecclesiastical tribunal, but the destitute mother of spurii had few options beyond abandonment.8
10Most children in foundling homes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were either naturales or spurii. The Bolognese father of a naturale could show his support by paying the 'alms of the baby', and in these cases the father's identity might also be recorded and could be passed on to the child, although there was no guarantee that this would happen. By contrast, spurii who were pushed anonymously through a turntable, dropped into a font, or left at the gate of a foundling home had moved beyond all family connection and into a kind of legal limbo. These infants were truly aliens, in that the lack of a lineage meant that they were no one's property. This complicated the challenge of securing a future for them, and made it all the more important to provide the conditions through which they could secure their own future, and so create a new lineage and property where none already existed.
- 9 Hunecke 1997 et Terpstra 1994, p. 105-114; Terpstra 1998, p. 103-115; Terpstra 2006, p. 264-83.
11Conservatories, orphanages, and foundling homes all acted 'in loco parentis.' They did so by using family rhetoric and attempting to replicate family forms within the walls of the institution. The dozens of older children within these institutional homes were to consider each other brothers or sisters, the staff were to consider themselves parents, and the administrative governors were to consider themselves heads of the institutional family. These latter often gathered together in confraternities or other fraternal corporate bodies like guilds, and they considered their symbolic kinship together to be a key force holding society together. Volker Hunecke has noted that one of the pressing agendas for research into foundling homes and orphanages in Renaissance Italy is to determine why almost all of them were founded by laypeople in confraternities. I would argue that the ubiquitous rhetoric of symbolic kinship provides a clue, particularly when we see how it extends into a far broader range of social institutions and becomes the very rhetoric of politics itself.9
12The 'virtual families' created out of social kinship were critical for social organization, and looking at how confraternities ran orphanages and foundling homes helps us to clarify how they related their wide-ranging 'virtual families' of symbolic kinship to the 'real families' of blood kinship. There were fundamental differences that went back to issues of lineage and property, and the question of whether infants or children entered the home with or without them. Generally speaking, orphanages and conservatories fostered children, while foundling homes might actually adopt them. Fostering is about providing temporary shelter, while adoption is about providing an identity and a future. In the balance of this article, I would like to explore some of the dynamics of fostering and adoption in charitable homes in early modern Italy, using the homes of Bologna as my main examples, and clarifying through comparisons between them how they negotiated the distinctions between real and virtual families, and what this meant for the children themselves. As we will see, the local politics of charity complicated the situation in late Cinquecento Bologna, as civic leaders saw in care for the poor a means of legitimating their own political authority.
13Children orphaned or abandoned by the death of one or both parents entered homes that functioned as temporary shelters through the period of adolescence, after which the child might return under the care of its blood family. These orphanages or conservatories saw their role as supplements rather than surrogates for the family, and most took great care to govern admissions according to family values of legitimacy, honour, and property. They existed not simply to shelter a child, but to preserve those values of lineage and property which the death of one or both parents had jeopardized. Bolognese founders and patrons, who all eventually took the form of confraternities, opened eight such homes through the course of the sixteenth century. Five were for girls : S. Marta (1505), S. Gregorio (c.1512), S. Maria del Baraccano (1528), S. Croce (1583), and S. Giuseppe (1606). Three were for boys : S. Bartolomeo di Reno (1530), S. Onofrio (1557), and S. Giacomo (1590). All homes, but particularly the five for girls, occupied distinct and well-defined points on the social hierarchy, with S. Gregorio being for girls from poor families, S. Croce for daughters of prostitutes, S. Giuseppe for girls from artisinal families and S. Marta and S. Maria del Baraccano for girls from better-off families reaching up to the ranks of the 'shame-faced' poor. The homes for boys were not as clearly distinguished by class.
- 10 ASB PIE S. Maria Maddalena, mss 4/VIII & 5/IX; ASB PIE S. Maria del Baraccano, Busta 12, ms. 1. The (...)
14Each of these homes exercised close control over admissions, adopting careful procedures for the nomination, review, and approval of children which expanded in scope and invasiveness the further up the social ladder the home operated. Need alone would not open a home's doors. Children had to be the right age and qualità and be the legitimately born offspring of Bolognese parents. They had to be mentally and physically healthy and free of disabilities. The home's investigators sought out the recommendations of neighbours and the testimony of priests, and eventually required baptismal and marriage certificates as well. Girls had to provide proof of their virginity and reputation, with some homes eventually requiring physical examinations as one of the tests prior to admission. These protracted reviews unfolded in a series of steps which were frequently punctuated by discussions and votes in the assembly of the confraternity that administered the home. The brotherhoods operating Bologna's three boys' orphanages conducted all steps of their search, while the five girls' conservatories included congregations of women to handle some of the critical examinations into virginity and reputation and then recommend to their male counterparts whether a particular girl's case ought to be dismissed or moved to the next stage. Bolognese children applying to enter an orphanage or conservatory faced at least three and sometimes four separate votes that began in small committees and ended in meetings of the entire brotherhood attended by anywhere from 20 to 100 members or more, and often requiring at least two-thirds and sometimes three-quarters of the votes cast before moving to the next stage. On average about half of the children fell away at some point in the review process. The S. Onofrio home accepted only 28 of 53 boys who applied from 1575-80, and then eased up somewhat, while S. Bartolomeo normally accepted about 75 % of boys applying. S. Maria del Baraccano accepted roughly half the girls who applied from 1563-1601 (173 of 348), a percentage matched by S. Croce at the opposite end of the social scale. In some crisis years (eg., 1582, 1594), they might take in only a quarter.10
15The confraternities' close examination of orphaned and abandoned children was a form of social discipline, yet like many such forms we should remember that discipline went two ways. Beyond controlling the children and their families, the confratelli and consorelle were demonstrating their own self-control. That is, the homes themselves had to establish publicly the legitimacy of this new charitable activity. Their tight examinations were demonstrating publicly their capacity individually and collectively to foster children. The largely well-born confraternity members were personally-disciplined, socially-conscious, civically-responsible, charitably-driven, and accountable. By selecting their wards so carefully, they were legitimating their own capacity to act 'in loco parentis' towards them as foster kin. The examinations established and recorded that these children were indeed the property of particular lineages, and not alien or rootless. The written applications, the testimony of neighbours, and the baptismal and marriage certificates all served to mark the child's place in an existing local family network. By centuries' end, girls' admission to the higher-ranked homes was facilitated by pledges and financial contributions towards their dowries from family members, and sometimes from sponsors who were taking on the role of guardian or patron. The confraternities kept these funds in trust for the girls, together with any family property that they brought with them on entry. Each home maintained extensive ledgers to record carefully what a girl brought in and what she acquired over the course of her time in the home. The more that the family or guardian pledged and contributed, the more it secured for itself a say in the decision as to when and whom she would marry.
16Bologna's conservatories fulfilled the conventions of fostering by sheltering girls for a period of 6-12 years and then arranging where they would go when it was time to leave the home. A handful of girls returned to their families or joined convents, somewhat more entered domestic service, and the majority married a man whom the conservatory itself had vetted and approved. The conservatory provided a temporary foster home and a virtual family that never replaced or erased the girl's real family and lineage, but rather supported the girl until she could pick up those connections again.
17If orphanages and conservatories aimed to preserve, through the act of fostering, a child's existing identity and networks of lineage, then foundling homes had instead to create, possibly through the act of adoption, values of lineage and property where none had previously existed. This was the case above all with spurii. The act of taking in a foundling was the act of taking in an alien infant and turning this child into property by giving it a fictive identity and lineage. Boys would carry this new identity and lineage forward into their lives, while girls could take it as a temporary identity that might be traded, by marriage, for the identity of a husband and a lineage created jointly with him.
- 11 While some groups in the city aimed to revive the older corporate forms of the medieval commune, th (...)
18Bologna's Ospedale degli Esposti began doing this in 1450, five years after the first baby entered Florence's Ospedale degli Innocenti. Four separate confraternities merged to initiate this work as the brotherhood of S. Maria degli Angeli, which then grew significantly in the 1490s when the signorial family of the Bentivoglio began using the brotherhood and foundling home to advance its own social and political ambitions. Bentivoglio patronage secured new rights and resources as other confraternities and their properties were forcibly merged into S. Maria degli Angeli, and the most prominent sign of its expanded role was the monumental façade which marked the public face of a large complex on a major street in the centre of the city. The Bentivoglio fall in 1506 left that facade unfinished. More importantly, it triggered a prolonged realignment of Bologna’s political and ecclesiastical establishment which drew in the foundling home of the Esposti together with many other confraternal charitable institutions and which was not finally resolved until the end of the sixteenth century. By that point the broad movement towards oligarchy that characterized the ancien regime locally meant that the large confraternities running most public charitable institutions like the Esposti were replaced with small self-perpetuating boards of elite Governors.11 Reformers active in government, in industry, in lay religious bodies, and among regular and secular clergy competed and sometimes collaborated in their agendas for changing the city's system of political governance, social welfare, and spiritual life.
- 12 Citing increasing numbers of infants, declining revenues from alms and rents, and a lack of members (...)
- 13 Prodi 1959; Prodi 1967; Bianchi 2008.
- 14 Paleotti 1550. Paleotti was the first modern jurist to deal with the subject directly, and his trea (...)
- 15 Paleotti's final chapter included a list of 92 famous illegitimates from classical, biblical, and m (...)
19We can see one possible example of the dovetailing of distinct agendas for reform at the Esposti in the 1560s, when the statutes underwent a protracted and possibly controversial revision.12 Bishop Gabriele Paleotti (1522-97), appointed to the diocese of Bologna in 1563 and an active proponent of a wide-ranging program of legal, charitable, and ecclesiastical reform was one of those pushing for revised statutes which would improve conditions in the home and tighten up administration.13 From the time he received his doctorate in canon and civil law, Paleotti had advocated for the rights of illegitimate children, making it the subject of his first legal treatise De nothis spuriisque filiis (Of Natural and Spurious Offspring) in 1550.14 Paleotti had argued that there should be no sharp separation or discrimination between legitimate and illegitimate children, but that a natural human equality should trump purely social and local marital customs. Children born outside of wedlock should not suffer any infamy or legal impediments since it was not right to punish them for their parents' actions. Paleotti believed that canon law assumed precisely this fundamental equality, and he argued further that by extension there should be no distinction between naturali and spurii. If all of this seemed too abstract, he offered the sharp reminder that Christ had chosen to be born from David's adulterous line and that illegitimates could be found in the ranks of princes, scholars, churchmen, and even popes.15
20Paleotti’s treatise was not an apologia for adultery, but a call to better guard the rights and prospects of those born through no fault of their own outside the bonds of marriage. While we do not know what direct role if any he may have played when the Esposti's statutes were revised, some of the new provisions secured the rights and prospects of illegitimate children. Others secured the powers of a closed and oligarchic set of governors who staked full claims to the rhetoric of kinship and were able to give a lineage and identity to the Esposti's children.
- 16 The home was to record for each infant the dates it was born, exposed, baptized, and sent out to we (...)
21With regard to the first agenda, the new statutes contained far clearer procedures for identifying both the children abandoned on the Esposti's turntable and also the men who had fathered them. The 'alms of the baby' established a convention that made fathers' obligations easier to identify and fulfill, while also giving the pretext for collecting far more detailed records about these men and their relationship to the children in the home.16 This eroded the distinctions between naturali and spurii. By leaving open the possibility that a father or his family might be approached for help when the child grew old enough to leave the home, it also eroded the distinction between real and virtual families. The home might be able to foster rather than adopt its wards, since they were no longer entirely alien and lacking a lineage.
- 17 This continued divisions between home and confraternity administration first evident in the 1520s. (...)
22With regard to the second agenda, the new statutes also confirmed that the home was taken out of the hands of the broad confraternity of S. Maria degli Angeli and put into the hands of a narrower and more oligarchic group of patricians responsible not to the brotherhood but to other appointed authorities in the city, chiefly the Senate and the Bishop. This congregazione was always to be headed by a member of Senate who would serve as the head of the foundling home, and was to include a canon of the cathedral, a doctor of civil and canon law trained in Bologna, and a representative of the devotional subgroup within the confraternity of S. Maria degli Angeli.17
- 18 «L'ufficio de quali guardiano et guardiana sia principalemente d'essere come padre et madre amorevo (...)
23These two 'reform' agendas converged to create a home even more distinctly shaped around the model of the family, with the 24 governors themselves doing a far greater part of the work as Visitors who regularly checked on the children, their wetnurses, and the families fostering children in city and countryside. They tightened controls over accounting and payments to nurses, and raised considerably the expectations on the married couple who were the home's resident wardens and whose office was « principally to be as the loving father and mother ... in governing this house and its family » .18 Much of this was conventional : the guardian couple had to keep a close eye on the accounts, work hard to keep peace within the famiglia of nurses and servants, and keep the gates locked, the pantry full, and the inventory current. The Esposti also expected them to collect the 'alms of the baby', track down those fathers or mothers who ran away or tried to hide, and keep a particularly close eye on those mothers forced to wetnurse in the home who might be careless, argumentative, or aiming to flee.
- 19 APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1°, fol. 34r-35r. Unfortunatel (...)
24With these reforms, the Esposti also adopted for the first time clear procedures governing the 'distribuzione delli putti.' From the terminology and description, this functioned more like adoption than fostering. Anyone seeking a male or female child of any age, « per figliuolo » ('as a child', or 'as offspring', and hence distinct from seeking a child as a servant or apprentice) had to submit a written request which the home's notary would record and which a team of Visitors would then investigate. The Visitors checked the conditioni e qualità of the ones making the request, their intentions and the promises they had offered, and then reported to the next meeting of the congregazione for a discussion and vote. If approved, the conditions, obligations, commitments to property and securities for this (« ubligatione dei beni et della sigurta » ) of the adoption were written up, notarized, and deposited in the Esposti's archive. The new statutes emphasized that a child could be given « as offspring » only under these explicit terms, suggesting perhaps that in previous decades children may have been 'distributed' with fewer safeguards or guarantees.19
25The 1570 statutes aimed to create a stronger virtual family of administrators above the Esposti and tighter virtual family of staff and wards within it. They brought in procedures, possibly inspired by Paleotti, which would also make it easier to trace the real families of children within the homes, and to create new real families through clear rules for adoption that paid attention both to property and lineage. Yet the statutes may have expressed little more than the good intentions of Bishop Paleotti and some Bolognese patricians. None of the detailed registers for either entries or adoptions that the statutes call for are extant, leaving us searching for more concrete proof of how the Esposti acted to establish identity and lineage for its wards. We are brought back to the Libri di Congregatione where the case of Contessa is recorded. There are two things which could help to create identity and lineage : a name and a dowry. In the Libri di Congregatione we find firm evidence for both.
- 20 Hunecke 1989, p. 64; Pellegrini 1974, p. 141-42. The early records are sparse, and since the series (...)
- 21 In the current Bologna phonebook accessible online, there are 2 'Esposto', 52 'Esposito' and 257 'E (...)
26The core of identity and the mark of lineage was the family name. The Ospedale degli Esposti, like many foundling homes at the time, seems to have given its children a family name that was a variant on 'Esposto' or 'Esposta'. This was the clearest sign to everyone that they had been adopted, and that the virtual family of the foundling home was also their real family. Each of the girls mentioned in the first extant Libro di Congregatione covering 1601-30 is identified by her first name and the word 'Esposta' written as a family name : Serena Esposta, Domenica Esposta, Elisabetta Esposta, Isabella Esposta, Flaminia Esposta, etc. I would argue that this was not written simply as an adjective, but as a family name. Foundling homes typically gave family names to their wards in order to help establish them when they left. Most gave the same name to all their charges until at least the nineteenth century, with the result that names like 'Esposito' (used in Naples and the south) or 'Colombo' (used in Milan) or 'Innocenti' (used in Florence) remain even now some of the most common family names in Italy.20 Bologna's Libri di Congregatione suggest that that the names surviving into the present may tell only half the story at best. Hundreds more girls than boys entered foundling homes and hence many more wards later left those homes with the female variant of the adoptive institutional family name ('Esposta') than the male variant ('Esposto', 'Esposti'). At the same time, given marital conventions at the time, they would give up that surname when they married : Contessa left the foundling home bearing the surname 'Esposta', but upon marriage took her husband's family name of 'Merighi.' While there remain in Bologna today hundreds of people with the family name 'Esposti', there is not a single 'Esposta' in the city.21
- 22 1601, Feb 2: Cecilia Esposta left with what was described as «il solito dote» of 25 lire and clothi (...)
- 23 Formagine's bottega appears in the Libri Mastri from 1621, and subsidizes 18 dowries
27Boys carried their identity with their name, but girls needed more than a name to frame a new identity. They needed to marry, and for this they needed a dowry. As we saw above, private and institutional guardians like employers and conservatories extended dowries to the wards they fostered, though in many cases these dowries represented delayed payment for years of labour either as domestic servants or as workers in institutional textile production. This meant that dowries were fundamentally the property that the girls themselves had earned, and their dotal property was sometimes supplemented with family funds pledged or given when the girls had first entered their fostering arrangement. Foundling homes followed similar practices. At the Esposti, the governors voted to raise the standard dowry from 25 to 40 lire in 1601. This was essentially what every girl who carried the name 'Esposta' could expect to receive from her institutional family if she married out of the home.22 At the same time, not all girls were created equal, and not all dowries either. Gifts, favours, and the girls' own work and connections all played a part. Foundling homes and conservatories occasionally received large gifts like the one offered by Signore Mussolini that were meant to supplement the standard dowries ; Angelo Formagine left a goldsmith's shop whose rental income of 160 lire annually went directly to dowries.23 Sometimes donors designated these gifts for individual girls, or particular classes of girl, and sometimes they simply gave instructions that the funds supplement existing dowries and so improve girls' chances of exiting more speedily from the institution of the foundling home into the institution of marriage.
- 24 There are 57 cases in Libro I/1 (1601-30), and 30 in Libro I/3 (1631-52). The decision to devolve r (...)
28The Governors assessed and voted on at least 83 cases from 1601-37 when they ceded this responsibility to a committee of officials and ceased recording anything but exceptional dowries in their own records.24 This was roughly 2-3 per year, an extremely low number when many chronicles claim that the Esposti was taking in hundreds of children annually. It may indicate either continued poor record-keeping, or a decision to vote only on those girls whose dowries exceeded the standard 40 lire rate, as indeed almost all these dowries did ; certainly not all the dowries that are noted in the financial records known as Libri Mastri appear in the Libro di Congregazione. It may also mean that many girls were leaving the home before marriage either to adoptive or foster parents who would provide their dowries, or to blood kin whose identity had been recorded on the night that they were first abandoned or when the 'alms of the baby' had been paid.
- 25 The nuns all received a dowry of 25 lire, while two servant girls received 140 lire and the third 1 (...)
- 26 The Governors raised the dowries «per facilitare maggiormente il maritarsi», and even considered go (...)
- 27 On 19 April 1633, Caterina Esposta received 150 lire from the Mattaletti legacy to marry the painte (...)
29Finally, it may be that these 83 were among the spurii, that is, those infants abandoned anonymously with no traceable family who had been formally adopted by the Esposti and who now received a name and a dowry from their adoptive parents. Almost all of the 83 girls discussed by the Governors were identified by a proper name and the surname 'Esposta'. The exceptions were three un-named girls who went to an un-named convent in December 1605, three other women with their own family names who were identified as servants leaving after a long period of working in the home (during which time they were considered part of the Esposti's virtual famiglia), and two other women whose family name was given when they first entered the home. No-one recorded in the Libro di Congregatione, received only the 40 lire 'standard' dowry.25 Most of the girls received much more thanks to various funds from special legacies, and the dowry inflation that hit Bologna generally pushed these up considerably through the seventeenth century. From 1607 Esposti girls regularly received at least 100-150 lire, increasing to 150-200 lire by 1620, and then jumping to 500 lire in 1663.26 Most dowries included cash and some combination of clothing, textiles, and furniture. Men sometimes approached the Esposti asking for particular girls, but sometimes simply for a girl that the home itself would choose, and it is worth noting that in many cases the dowries were paid directly to the women and not to their new husbands.27 The girls who entered Bolognese society as adopted daughters with the surname 'Esposta' demonstrated in their very names and their dowries the generous charitable care of the city and its governing elite. With the spurii in particular, the Esposti Governors exercised their 'virtual parenthood' to the fullest and secured a 'real' family for girls who had once been helpless abandoned aliens.
30The rhetoric of kinship and family is so ubiquitous in early modern charitable homes that we are not always careful to distinguish the many different uses and meanings in different contexts. As a result, we risk missing the dynamics of real and virtual families as these institutions negotiated adoption and fostering. Yet as we identify the different forms of family and of care, we should remember that they were not fixed states but fluid stages that might overlap and could certainly lead from one into another. Institutional homes were liminal spaces where a child's very identity could be held in suspension until it returned to society in late adolescence. Homes aimed to preserve real family lines where possible, and they used forms of fostering and virtual family environments to carry orphaned and abandoned children through periods of difficulty in the hope that they could eventually reactivate those family ties. This was relatively straightforward in orphanages and conservatories. Foundling homes faced greater challenges because many parents abandoning infants aimed precisely to erase those family lines and ties.
31Most Italian foundling homes aided parents in this by facilitating anonymous abandonment. In Bologna's Ospedale degli Esposti, we find evidence which suggests that in the late sixteenth century the separate priorities of a reforming Bishop and a political oligarchy converged to attempt a different approach. The foundling home's governors aimed to find ways of recording, preserving, and eventually activating ties of identity and lineage for their children, just as Bologna's conservatories and orphanages did for the children they fostered. The Esposti sent many abandoned children into foster households before releasing them as young adults into civic society where they might reactivate their natal lines. It simplified procedures that allowed married couples to adopt a child into their own line. In a relatively small number of cases, most likely for the shunned spurii who had been conceived in chance or violent encounters, the Esposti adopted the children itself in a legal fiction that merged the virtual and the real families. The home gave the children its own name as their new family name, and it gave its 'daughters' the dowries which all parents owed their children as they moved out to create new families of their own. When Contessa Esposta wrote from the home of her foster parents Giovanni Batista and Giulia Picci to her adoptive parents the Governors of the Esposti, she demonstrated how fostering and adoption could work together and effect the merging of her real and virtual families in a way that would give her the resources to start a new family together with Tomaso Merighi.
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Bianchi 1989 = A. Bianchi, 'L’elemosina di un bambino'. Pratica e controllo dell’abbandono all’ospedale dei Bastardini (secc. XVI-XVIII), in Sanità scienza e storia, 2, 1989, p. 43-45.
Bianchi 1997 = A. Bianchi, Madri e padri davanti al Tribunale arcivescovile. Conflitti per il mantenimento dei figli illegittimi a Bologna alla fine del Cinquecento, in C. Grandi (ed.), « Benedetto chi ti porta, maledetto chi ti manda » : l'infanzia abbandonata nel Triveneto (secoli XV-XIX), Treviso, 1997, p. 58-63.
Bianchi 2008 = I. Bianchi, La politica delle immagini nell'età della Controriforma : Gabriele Paleotti teorico e committente, Bologna, 2008.
Chojnacka - Wiesner-Hanks 2002 = M. Chojnacka, M. E. Wiesner-Hanks, Ages of Woman, Ages of Man : Sources in European Social History, 1400-1750, London, 2002.
Hunecke 1989 = V. Hunecke, I trovatelli di Milano : Bambini esposti e famiglie espositrici dal XVII al XIX secol o : Un'indagine storico-demografica, Bologna, 1989.
Hunecke 1997 = V. Hunecke, L'invenzione dell'assistenza agli esposti nell'Italia del Quattrocento, in C. Grandi (ed.), « Benedetto chi ti porta, maledetto chi ti manda » : L'infanzia abbandonata nel Triveneto (secoli XV-XIX), Treviso, 1997.
Paleotti 1550 = Gabriele Paleotti, De nothis spuriisque filiis, Bologna, Anselmum Giaccarellum, 1550.
Pancino 1989 = C. Pancino, La levatrice fra delazione e segretezza, in Sanità scienza e storia, 2, 1989, p. 117-25.
Pellegrini 1974 = L. Pellegrini, 'L'esposizione' dei fanciulli a Milano dal 1860 al 1901, in M. Gorni & L. Pellegrini (ed.), Una problema di storia sociale. L'infanzia abbandonata in Italia nel secolo XIX, Firenze, 1974.
Prodi 1959 = P. Prodi, Il cardinale Gabriele Paleotti (1522-1597), vol. 1, Rome, 1959.
Prodi 1967 = P. Prodi, Il cardinale Gabriele Paleotti (1522-1597), vol. 2, Rome, 1967.
Prodi 1997 = P. Prodi, I figli illegittimi all'inizio dell'età moderna. Il trattato De nothis spuriisque filiis di Gabriele Paleotti, in C. Grandi (ed.), « Benedetto chi ti porta, maledetto chi ti manda » : L'infanzia abbandonata nel Triveneto (secoli XV-XIX), Treviso, 1997, p. 49-57.
Terpstra 1994 = N. Terpstra, Frati, Fratelli, e famiglie dirigenti : fanciulli esposti tra carità e politica nella Bologna del Rinascimento, in L. B. Lenoci (ed.), Confraternite, chiesa e società. Aspetti e problemi dell'associazionismo laicale europeo moderno e contemporaneo, Fasano, 1994, p. 105-114.
Terpstra 1998 = N. Terpstra, Kinship translated : « Confraternite maggiori » and political apprenticeship in Early Modern Italy, in D. Zardin (ed.), Corpi, « Fraternità » , Mestieri nella storia della società europea, Rome, 1998, p. 103-115.
Terpstra 2006 = N. Terpstra, De-institutionalizing confraternity studies : fraternalism and social capital in cross-cultural contexts, in C. Black, P. Gravestock (ed.), Early modern confraternities in Europe and the Americas, Aldershot, 2006, p. 264-83.
This article expands on materials developed in my Abandoned Children of the Italian Renaissance: Orphan Care in Florence and Bologna, Baltimore, 2005, and in Cultures of Charity: Women, Politics, and the Reform of Poor Relief in Early Modern Italy Cambridge MA, 2013. Statistical details and more extensive archival citations can be found in those volumes. Archival abbreviations used in this article: APB (Archivio Provinciale di Bologna); ASB (Archivio di Stato di Bologna); Osp (Fondo Ospedale); PIE (Pii Istituti Educativi); BCAB (Biblioteca Communale dell'Archiginnasio di Bologna).
For this infant, abandoned in 1597, see: ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo (Esposti), I/1, fol. 120v. Instructions for how the guardiano is to receive infants are given in the 1569 draft statutes: APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1a, fol. 24r-26v, 28r-29v. For the final version of 1570 see: BCAB 3628, p. 14-74.
The 'alms of the baby' were initially described in the 1569 draft statutes as a 'tasse' or 'susidio' [see n. 4 below], APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1a, fol. 30v. These figures come from the Esposti's Libri Mastri: ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, III/10 (1567-72) & III/15 (1587-94). In 1528, the Esposti paid its wetnurses 1913.11.6 lire, or just over 31% of its annual budget of 6078.19.7 lire. ASB Osp, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, III/1, fol. 61r-77v (see payment 75v). By 1587, the amount had grown to 7522.13.8 lire, which was now 41.25% (the largest single item by far) of the annual budget of 18,233.3.1 lire ASB Osp, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, III/15, fol. 113v. In 1632, the Ospedale raised payments to wetnurses outside to 4 lire in order to attract more to the work and so ease the pressure on those inside, who were nursing 2 or 3 infants each. ASB Osp, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, I/3, fol. 25r-v. By 1692, the amount spent on wetnurses was 10,758 lire (29.1%) and other living costs (food, wine, and wood) were 10,875 lire (29.41%), so the two together represented 58.5% of total costs of 36,976 lire. ASB Osp, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, III/33 (1684-92), fol. 403 r-v. See also: APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, busta 2, fasc. 1/a, fol. 30v. Bianchi 1989, p. 43-45; Pancino 1989, p. 117-25.
The 1569 draft statutes referred more generally to a subsidy: «Debba anchor esso Guardiano essere diligente et accurato in cercare et investigare le madre de li infanti esposti et far sopre che siano condotte al hospitale predetto anchor che non fossero atto et sufficiente a latare quale pero si potrano in tal caso et dovranno al arbitrio delli Governatori tassare et condennare a dare sussidio alla spesa qualsi fa alle creature per causa loro et qual madre condotte al luogo predetto esso guardiano et guardiana le custodiscano con gran diligenza accioche non fugano over si partino», APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1a, fol. 30v.
Libro di Congregazione (1601-30), ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, 1/1, 120v.
Volker Hunecke quite decisively locates the origins of institutional foundling homes in fifteenth century Italy. Hunecke 1997.
For examples of adoption contracts, see Chojnacka - Wiesner-Hanks, 2002, p. 19-35.
Bianchi 1997, p. 58-63.
Hunecke 1997 et Terpstra 1994, p. 105-114; Terpstra 1998, p. 103-115; Terpstra 2006, p. 264-83.
ASB PIE S. Maria Maddalena, mss 4/VIII & 5/IX; ASB PIE S. Maria del Baraccano, Busta 12, ms. 1. The percentages could vary widely from year to year, based on a range of factors within or outside the homes. For more on these procedures, and the dynamics and statistics involved, see Terpstra 2005, p. 70-102.
While some groups in the city aimed to revive the older corporate forms of the medieval commune, there was significant pressure towards more oligarchic government, and in particular a drive to reduce corporate government and consolidate power in the city’s Senate. For an expanded discussion of the role of charitable institutions in this process, see Terpstra 2013.
Citing increasing numbers of infants, declining revenues from alms and rents, and a lack of members, the 10 governors appointed 14 new colleagues and then charged 3 old and 3 new members (Annibale dalla Testa, Anniballo Monterentio, Francesco de Segna, Tomaso Fava, Francesco Ghisilieri, and Bartolomeo Cannobbio) with revising the statutes, arguing that they were full of superfluities, weren't being properly observed, and needed to be updated in order to reflect newer modes of governance. At almost 3 years from start to final approval by Paleotti (1567-1570), their work took far longer than most other reviews, suggesting that there may have been disagreements within the group. APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1°, 2r-5v.
Prodi 1959; Prodi 1967; Bianchi 2008.
Paleotti 1550. Paleotti was the first modern jurist to deal with the subject directly, and his treatise was reprinted at least four times over the following century, and included in a selection of 3 works on the subject in 1585. For a summary of his arguments, see: Prodi 1997, p. 49-57.
Paleotti's final chapter included a list of 92 famous illegitimates from classical, biblical, and medieval and recent history (including Clement VII). Paleotti 1550, cc. 4r-v, 74r-v, 88v-90v.
The home was to record for each infant the dates it was born, exposed, baptized, and sent out to wetnurse (together with the full name and address of the nurse), the name of any relatives, an inventory of any signs, tokens or objects left with it, and a description of its 'natura' and 'qualità'. APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1a, fol. 24r-26v, 30v. Unfortunately, no such volumes remain in the Esposti's archive for these years.
This continued divisions between home and confraternity administration first evident in the 1520s. See Terpstra 1994 and APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1a, fol. 2r-9r.
«L'ufficio de quali guardiano et guardiana sia principalemente d'essere come padre et madre amorevole et sicondo le occorentie ancor riagidi nel governare detta casa et sua famiglia... ». Approved wetnurses and foster parents (balie & gubernatrice) received a registration card which they had to show when receiving a baby, claiming payment, requesting clothing, or submitting to a Visitor's review. APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1°, fol. 24r-26v; 28r-31v.
APB, Fondo Ospedale degli Esposti, Serie Miscellanea, Busta 2, fasc. 1°, fol. 34r-35r. Unfortunately, no registers or contracts remain for adoptions of any sort, so it is difficult to know whether or how often they may have occurred, who typically adopted, and what kind of child they sought.
Hunecke 1989, p. 64; Pellegrini 1974, p. 141-42. The early records are sparse, and since the series of extant Libri di Congregatione begin only in 1601, we have evidence of the practice, but no record of the decision to establish it.
In the current Bologna phonebook accessible online, there are 2 'Esposto', 52 'Esposito' and 257 'Esposti'. See: http://en.comuni-italiani.it/037/006/telefono.html (accessed 7 May 2011). The figures are reversed in Milan: 'Esposito' 276, and Esposti '58'. See: http://en.comuni-italiani.it/015/146/telefono.html (accessed 7 May 2011). This rough and impressionistic indicator cannot, of course, account for the migration of many individuals from southern to northern Italy, but local comparisons are not without significance: 'Colombo', the name used in Milan, is the fifth most common family name in Italy, but the second in Milan.
1601, Feb 2: Cecilia Esposta left with what was described as «il solito dote» of 25 lire and clothing, and shortly after this the Governor raised the normal dowry to 40 lire. ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, I/ 1, fol. 4 r-v.
Formagine's bottega appears in the Libri Mastri from 1621, and subsidizes 18 dowries
in amounts from 50 to 260 lire from 1622-49, at which point this fund has a surplus of
1136.11 lire ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, III/23, fol. 49r-v, III/25, fol. 15r-v.
From 1633, most dowries noted in the Libro di Congregazione included supplements that
came from the income of a legacy left by Maffeo Mattaletti. ASB, Ospedale dei SS.
Pietro e Proculo, I/3, fol. 42v-43r.
There are 57 cases in Libro I/1 (1601-30), and 30 in Libro I/3 (1631-52). The decision to devolve responsibility to the Signori Camerlenghi was taken 22 August 1636 (85v-86r). ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, I/1 & I/3.
The nuns all received a dowry of 25 lire, while two servant girls received 140 lire and the third 150 lire. One of those bearing a family name, Doratea Orsoni, had a dowry of 300 lire, but the other, Margarita Baratta, had only 100 lire plus some furniture. The largest dowry of 800 lire went to Elisabetta Esposta, for reasons that the Libro is discretely silent on. For these girls in turn: ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, 1/1, fol. 34r (nuns), 51v, 119v (servants), 89r (Orsoni), 199r (Baratta), 163r (Elisabetta Esposta).
The Governors raised the dowries «per facilitare maggiormente il maritarsi», and even considered going as high as 600 lire. Financial problems brought a drop to 300 lire in April 1669, but they restored the 500 lire a year later. ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, Libro di Congregazione, I/4, fol. 91v-93r, 124v, 133v.
On 19 April 1633, Caterina Esposta received 150 lire from the Mattaletti legacy to marry the painter Giulio Grogli. While he had asked the Congregazione specifically for her hand in marriage, the dowry was recorded as being paid to her rather than him. ASB, Ospedale dei SS. Pietro e Proculo, Libro di Congregazione, I/3, fol. 42v-43r. The Libri di Congregazione frequently indicated whether it was the wife or husband who received the dowry without specifying a reason. Haut de page