araldica di firenze: the rucellai


Family: Rucellai
Dates to: 1260
Meaningful shapes, colors and symbols: The shield is divided in two.  The top haf has a sliver
lion on a red background, and the bottom half has blue and gold waves.
Where to find it: Palazzo Rucellai

The Rucellai are a rare Florentine family in that they achieved much and were never enobled. The fact that the Rucellai were successful yet not enobled is, if anything, a testament to their continuing ability to serve Florence ably.

The family's origins date to the 1260s, when an early member known as Alamanno found on a trip abroad a particular type of grass could dye cloth a deep red color. This process brought the family great success in the wool trade that flourished in Florence.  Over time, the family would lend their wealth out through a network of banks. The Rucellai banks were primarily based in Lyon and Constantinople, and increased their wealth greatly.

The Rucellai had their fair share of notable members. Berlinghieri led a Florentine militia to put down a revolt in Sienna, and it was for this effort that the Rucellai have the silver lion on a red background as part of their arms. Berlinghieri's son, Paolo, also showed military skill when he helped drive the Duke of Athens from Florence some years later. During the Medici years, the Rucellai married into the Medici family, but were sometimes rebellioius against them.  In particular, Bernardo Rucellai, who married Nannina de' Medici - the sister of Lorenzo the Magnificant. Though Bernardo was allied to the Medici through his wife, he also supported Savonarola (a sometime Medici opponent). Bernardo is also remembered for hosting the Platonic Academy of Florence in his garden.

By the time the 1700s came around, it seemed as though the Rucellai had established a tradition of supporting liberalizing political movements.  Giulio Rucellai, who lived from 1702-1778, was a politican and professor of law at the University of Pisa. It was partly due to his writings and influence that Tuscany adopted a series of liberal legal reforms under the first Lorraine Grand Dukes of Tuscany (post-Medici).