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The Balbi Family

Balbi Wealth and Wills

Cieling TileDuring the Renaissance period, Genoese family wealth was traditionally passed on through the first and second sons, and dowries were established for daughters. The Balbi family observed these traditions. There was a very equal distribution of wealth within the Balbi family that included buildings, houses and land parcels. The distribution included natural children who were absorbed into the family and received part of the inheritance upon the death of their father. The Balbi women had quite a lot of autonomy and often left their wealth to their sisters, daughters, or other women in the family.

In his will, Gio Francesco I provided encouragement to his children, telling them to love each other, always stand by and support each other, and never forget the love that their mother and father felt and will continue to feel for them. He advised them to study well at school and not be distracted by entertainment, laziness or vices, and above all heresy, especially against the Republic. He told them to never let anyone fool them with illicit earnings. He said that it was better to die with less wealth than accept wealth surplus if they did not know where the money came from.

He counseled them to be moderate with expenses and to remember to help the poor and people in need. He told his sons to love and care for their sisters, to insure that they did not get involved with unscrupulous people, and to protect their reputations. His widow, Battina Durazzo Balbi, also confirmed in her will the importance of family solidarity and the need to respect it. Many of these same sentiments would later be reiterated in the will of Bartolomeo II, nephew of Gio Francesco I, son of Gerolamo I.

In Renaissance Genoa, daughters' dowries were established differently, depending upon whether they married with the approval of the family, without the approval of the family, or became nuns. Fourteen of the sixteen Balbi women who became nuns did so in the 1600s. The family of a woman who became a nun was responsible for supporting her life in the convent, and this was quite expensive. The Balbis made sure that the women in the family who became nuns lived very well. As an example, Stefano Balbi insured that his four daughters who became nuns lived together in the San Paolo Convent. Convents were religious sanctuaries for women and also provided shelter for women who were widowed, sick or needed asylum.