The Poveri Vergognosi: Fallen Nobility or an Ethical Abstraction Operating within the Boundaries Set by Poverty?

Samantha Hughes-Johnson


Despite the emergence of various studies focussing on, and tangential to the poveri vergognosi (shamed or shame-faced poor, as they are otherwise referred to), this ambiguous, yet well-known locu­tion has managed to evade satisfactory explanation. This is not to say that previous studies have been lacking in academic rigour, quite the contrary. Investigations addressing this term have been constantly hindered by the phrase’s lack of qualification in Renaissance primary source manuscripts. Accordingly, this paper seeks to analyse the term in its original context in order to seek further clarification. In other words, by conducting an examination of various primary sources re­lating directly to the poveri vergognosi (paying particular attention to documents produced during the fifteenth century by the lay confrater­nity of the Buonomini di San Martino, in Florence, whose main ben­eficiaries were the shamed poor) and by further scrutinising the phrase within the conditions and terms set by poverty, this short study should provide an understanding of how the shamed poor were deemed, by their contemporary society, to be just that.

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