A Short History of Renaissance Italy

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-12-14
  • Publisher: Pearson

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The book follows an interdisciplinary approach and covers the origins of the Italian Renaissance through the Baroque period. It is comprised of fifteen chapters, organized chronologically, along with an introduction and conclusion.

Author Biography

Lisa Kaborycha has a Ph.D. in Medieval and Early Modern History and an M.A. in Italian Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where for years she taught undergraduate courses in Renaissance Italian History and Culture. A former recipient of the Fulbright Award and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the Medici Archive Project, Dr. Kaborycha currently resides in Florence, Italy, where she is a Research Fellow at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.

Table of Contents

Preface xiv

Foreword by Gene A. Brucker xviii

A Note Concerning Dating xx


Chapter 1: Out of the Ashes: The Rise of the Communes and Florence

in the Age of Dante 1

The grandeur that was Rome 2

The spread of Christianity 3

The empire returns? 5

The Commercial Revolution 5

Communal governments sprout up in Italy 6

Tensions between magnates and popolo 8

The age of the popular commune, 1200–1290 8

A “pullulation of little powers” 10

Florentines, the “fifth element of the world” 11

Dante Alighieri, Florentine poet and political exile 12

The Divine Comedy, the first masterpiece of Italian literature 13

“Those brand new people and their sudden earnings” 14

Mendicant friars praised and corrupt popes punished 14

Dante on the separate powers of church and state 15

An explosion of naturalism in art—Giotto Di Bondone 16

Sculptural innovators—Nicola, Giovanni, and Andrea Pisano 17

Considerations—“Medieval” or “Renaissance”? 17

Resources 18


Chapter 2: The Crises of the Fourteenth Century: Climatic, Epidemic, Demographic

Disasters 20

Climate change—Global cooling 21

The Hundred Years’ War and crash of international banking 22

1347—A devastating pandemic arrives in Europe 22

Boccaccio’s account of the Black Death 25

The life of Giovanni Boccaccio 25

The Decameron, 100 tales of love, lust, and loss 26

Society in the wake of the Black Death 27

Government and medicine respond to the crisis 28

Social mobility and unrest 28

The Ciompi Rebellion 30

Town and country 30

“Motionless History” in the countryside 31

Hard times in the Contado 31

An age of new men 32

Painting in the early Trecento–The Sienese school 33

Art in the aftermath of the Black Death 34

Recovery and renewal 34

Considerations–Just how calamitous was the fourteenth

century? 35

Resources 35


Chapter 3: Back to the Future: Italian Humanists Recover the

Classical Past 37

Humanism–A cultural revolution led by notaries 38

The medieval scholastic heritage 39

Italian humanists restore ancient texts 40

The life of Petrarch–A passionate humanist 41

“Carried away by the fire of youth . . .” 42

Petrarch’s interiority–It’s all about “me” 43

Scattered Rhymes 43

An “educational surge”–Literacy and learning in Italian cities 45

The flowering of Florentine vernacular culture 47

Rhetoric–How to speak with strength, impetuosity

and grace 48

The generation after Petrarch–Salutati, Bruni, and

civic humanism 48

Ghiberti’s vigorous bronze reliefs 51

Donatello’s sculpture–Classical grace and civic virtue 52

Brunelleschi, engineer, architect, and pioneer of perspective 53

Masaccio, a painter of dramatic realism 54

Considerations–Humanism, humanitarianism, and

the humanities 55

Resources 55


Chapter 4: Caput Mundi Again? Rome from Cola di Rienzo to Pius II 57

The city of the Caesars becomes the city of the popes 59

The papacy precariously balanced on a rock 59

Roman communal politics–A “monstrous thing” 60

The two swords of Boniface VIII and Philip the Fair clash 61

A manifesto of papal absolutism–Unam sanctam 61

Rome widowed 62

The meteoric rise and fall of Cola di Rienzo 63

The Babylonian Captivity of the church, 1309—1378 64

The popes return to Rome 66

Antipopes and Western Schism, 1378—1417 66

The conciliar movement, 1409–1439 67

The birth of the Renaissance “papal prince” 69

Popes Martin V, Eugenius IV, and Nicholas V rebuild Rome,

1417–1455 69

The amazing Leon Battista Alberti 71

Reinventing the role of the architect 73

The Commentaries of Pius II, the humanist pope 74

Considerations—Renaissance pope and Renaissance man 76

Resources 77


Chapter 5: Hearth and Home: Lay Piety,Women, and the Family 79

Religion—A family affair 81

The saints—Christ’s special friends 82

Confraternities—Group settings for prayer and good

deeds 82

A Third Order of monasticism for laypeople 83

Female holiness in an age of living saints 84

Religion in women’s daily lives 86

Who were Laura and Beatrice really? 87

“What’s love got to do with It?”—Marriage among

Renaissance elites 88

Governing the household—The woman’s realm 90

A woman’s voice from the patrician class—Alessandra

Strozzi 90

The widow’s limited options 92

The nun in her cloister—Protected or imprisoned? 92

Working women—Domestic servants and wet nurses 93

Social outcasts—Prostitutes, outsiders, and slaves 94

Images of women in Renaissance art 94

Considerations—Was it the Renaissance for men, but the Dark Ages for

women? 96

Resources 97


Chapter 6: Lords of the Renaissance: The Medici, Visconti, and Sforza Dynasties

through 1466 99

From commune to signoria 100

Dissatisfaction within the communes 100

Life under the signore 102

Milan—In the middle of it all 103

The Visconti—The clan of vipers 104

Giangaleazzo Visconti—A prince among tyrants? 106

An intermission between two Milanese dynasties—The Ambrosian Republic,

1447–1450 107

Francesco Sforza—From soldier of fortune to statesman 107

The Medici–Where did they come from? 108

Giovanni di Bicci lays the foundations of the Medici banking

fortune 109

Cosimo de’ Medici (1389—1464)–Son of a money changer, father of

his country 110

“Be careful not to draw attention to yourself” 110

1433–Arrest and exile 111

Cosimo’s triumphal 1434 return–“A king in all but

name” 111

1454–Peace breaks out in Italy 112

Art, politics, and money–The patronage of Cosimo

de’ Medici 113

“Having so much on his conscience . . .” Vespasiano da

Bisticci on Cosimo’s rebuilding of the Monastery of

San Marco 114

Considerations–Was the Renaissance a cultural byproduct of new lords

seeking to legitimize their rule? 115

Resources 117


Chapter 7: The Mezzogiorno: The “Other Renaissance” in Naples

and Sicily 118

Land of myth and midday sun 119

Sicily–Bread-basket and lumber yard for Rome 120

Campania Felix–Naples and surroundings under the Roman

Empire 120

Fifth to ninth century invasions–Vandals, Goths, Byzantines,

Arabs 122

The south emerges as economic powerhouse, cultural melting pot in the

ninth century 122

Norman domination of the south, 1059—1130 123

Frederick II (1194—1250)–An emperor who was the wonder

of the world 124

The Sicilian Vespers 126

Aragon and Anjou fight over the two Sicilies, 1282—1442 127

The Two Sicilies reunited under Alfonso of Aragon, 1442 128

Ferrante I–The “bastard” who brought stability to Naples 129

The Renaissance in Naples, 1443—1494 130

Antonello da Messina’s paintings–Meticulous realism and

haunting mystery 131

Alfonso’s patronage of humanists 132

Lorenzo Valla–Humanist scholar and freethinker 132

Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of

Constantine 133

Considerations–Was the south backward or ahead of its time? 135

Resources 136


Chapter 8: La Serenissima:When Venice Ruled the Seas 138

“You live like sea birds, your homes scattered over

the water . . .” 140

The Venetians’ battle for survival 140

Inventing a Venetian identity—The city of Saint Mark takes wing,

810–1000 142

From the “Venetian Gulf” to “Beyond-the-Sea”, 1000–1204 145

The Venetian commune comes of age, 1032–1297 146

The Great Council—Keystone of the Venetian Republic 148

The “aristocratic commune” closes ranks—The 1297 serrata 148

The Council of Ten—The vigilant lion 149

The Doge of Venice—Prince or primus inter pares? 150

“Lords of the sea” 150

Expansion of the Venetian Empire into the terraferma 152

Daily life in Renaissance Venice 153

Festivals, scuole, and venezianità 155

Humanism, printing, the sciences 156

Venetian painting of the early Renaissance—Bellini and

Carpaccio 157

The Renaissance comes to Venetian architecture—Sansovino 159

Gasparo Contarini’s The Commonwealth and Government of

Venice 159

Considerations—The myth and countermyth of Venice 160

Resources 161


Chapter 9: Magnificent Florence: Life under Lorenzo De’ Medici,

1469–1492 163

The restlessness of the Florentine Elites, 1464–1469 164

Lorenzo takes control, 1469–1477 165

“Brigades” of poets and jousts for love 166

Marsilio Ficino and Florentine Platonism 166

Vernacular magnificence—Lorenzo and literature 168

Luigi Pulci’s Il Morgante 168

Angelo Poliziano’s Stanzas for Giuliano de’ Medici 169

The Renaissance on the streets—Popular entertainments and festivals in

quattrocento Florence 169

Lorenzo and Pope Sixtus IV collide 171

The Pazzi Conspiracy—Murder in the cathedral 172

Florence at war with the pope 172

Lorenzo as “boss of the shop” 173

Money and art in Renaissance Florence 174

Competition and innovation in the arts 175

The realism of Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio 175

The idealism of Botticelli 176

Depicting the here and now–Ghirlandaio 177

Building for posterity 178

The spiritual mood in late quattrocento Florence 179

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity

of Man” 179

Considerations–Golden ages 180

Resources 181


Chapter 10: 1494: The Beginning of the Calamities of Italy 183

The Italian League unravels 184

Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI 186

The French Invasion of 1494 187

Savonarola–The rise of the “little friar” from Ferrara 188

The “New Jerusalem”–The Florentine Republic renewed 189

Weepers, angry men, and ugly companions 190

The fiery end of Savonarola 190

Louis XII and the French Invasion of 1499 191

The meteoric career of Cesare Borgia 192

Julius II the “terrible” pope takes on Venice 194

The Holy League–A brief alliance born of mutual enmity 196

The Florentine Republic under Soderini gives way to Medici

rule in 1512 196

Niccolò Machiavelli out of work 197

The Prince–A mirror for the Medici? 197

When virtù is not necessarily virtuous and fortuna is not always

fortunate 198

The role of morality and religion in The Prince 199

Does Machiavelli advocate tyranny? 201

Considerations–Fortuna, providence or chance? 202

Resources 204


Chapter 11: Paradoxes of the High Renaissance: Art in a time

of Turmoil 205

Leonardo–The pacifist who designed weapons for

a prince 207

Mantua, Ferrara, Urbino–Small courts, big ambitions 209

Mantua–“The most beautiful chamber in the world” painted by

Mantegna 209

Isabella d’Este’s studiolo of her own 210

The Dukes of Ferrara celebrated in poetry and music 210

Urbino–The condottiero’s refined court, library, and art collection 211

The Venetian innovators—Painters in a watery city dream of idyllic

pastures 211

The visual poetry of Giorgione 212

Titian’s bold colors, sensuality, triumphant images 213

The explosive genius of Michelangelo—Extreme piety and extreme

paganism 213

The David—Bold symbol of the Florentine Republic 214

Pope Julius II—A second Caesar 215

Bramante tears down St. Peter’s 216

Michelangelo paints a “terrible” ceiling 217

Raphael in Rome—A painter of sweet-faced Madonnas creates majestic

rooms for a pope 218

The School of Athens—Antiquity alive and energized 219

The banker’s pleasure palace, talking statues, and risqué positions—The end

of an era in Rome 219

Considerations—Terrible times and awesome art 220

Resources 221


Chapter 12: The 1527 Sack of Rome and its Aftermath: Courtiers and Courtesans in

High Renaissance Literature 223

A new world order in the sixteenth century 225

The profligate papacy of Leo X, 1513–1521 225

Francesco Guicciardini’s career as papal governor in the

Romagna 227

The tragically indecisive Pope Clement VII 227

On the brink of disaster, 1526 228

The Sack 229

A traumatized Christendom takes stock 231

Baldassare Castiglione’s instant bestseller 232

Contradictions and tensions within The Courtier 233

The Machiavellian courtier? 234

Gender-bending at court and the changing role of women 234

Courtiers, court ladies, and courtesans 235

Ariosto and Sannazaro’s escapist fantasies 236

Considerations—Accepting defeat with grazia 237

Resources 238


Chapter 13: Reformations: Political, Religious, and Artistic Upheaval,

1530–1563 240

The last Florentine Republic, 1527–1530 241

The Medici principate established 242

The teenaged Cosimo becomes Duke of Florence 243

Michelangelo and the Medici, 1516–1534 243

Martin Luther–A German monk protests 244

Humanist origins of the Protestant Reformation–“Christian

Humanism” 245

Catholic reformations before the Reformation 245

The church responds–Catholic versus Protestant 246

The Council of Trent, 1545—1563 247

The Vulgate Bible–“No one is to dare or presume to reject it under any

pretext” 248

The Sacraments and the role of the priest re-affirmed 248

Social consequences of Trent 249

Clerical reform and full enclosure of nuns 249

Michelangelo in Rome, 1534—1564 250

Mannerism–Avant-garde art 252

The artist as courtier 252

The Lives of the Artists–Vasari invents art history 253

Benvenuto Cellini’s Autobiography–The artist invents himself 254

Considerations–The sixteenth-century reformations put in perspective 256

Resources 258


Chapter 14: The “Imperial Renaissance”: Italy during the Spanish Peace,

1559—1598 259

The Habsburgs–A spectacular matrimonial conglomerate 260

Keeping the troublesome republics subdued 262

The rule of Spanish viceroys 262

Pax hispanica 263

Learning that was not strictly academic 264

Print culture–Read all about it 265

The epic poetry of Torquato Tasso 265

The erotic poetry of Veronica Franco 266

Buffoons, faithful shepherds, and prima donnas–The birth of Renaissance

theater 267

Italian words and music come together–Madrigals, motets, and masses 268

Architecture–Perfection of classical forms and experimentation 269

Palladio shapes western architecture 270

Rome gloriously rebuilt 270

Venetian masters–Titian’s late style, Tintoretto, and Veronese 271

Opportunities for women artists–Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia

Fontana 272

The anti-mannerists–Annibale, Agostino, and Ludovico Carracci 273

The Michelangelo from Caravaggio 273

Considerations–Was the late sixteenth century a Siglo de Oro for Italy? 275

Resources 276


Chapter 15: Celestial Revolutions: Heaven and Earth Collide at the Turn of the

Seventeenth Century 278

Inquistions 280

The Roman Inquisition—Myth and reality 280

Jews and witches 281

The index of Prohibited books 282

Missionaries to the mezzogiorno—“The Indies down here” 283

The “new philosophy”—Natural philosophers try to read the book of

nature 284

Italian scientific revolutions 285

A flowering of the natural sciences 286

The sciences put to work—The genius of engineers and artists 287

Anatomy—Physicians and artists look inside the human body 288

Astrology, astronomy, cosmology—The sixteenth-century view

from Earth 289

Measuring the heavens—Mathematicians invade outer space 291

Galileo and the “new science” 292

Galileo takes a spyglass and turns it into telescope 293

The Starry Messenger—The Medici become moons and the scientist becomes

a star 294

The conflict between the new science and religion 295

The trial of the century—Galileo before the Inquisition in 1633 297

Considerations—What would the ancient Greeks and

Romans have said? 298

Resources 298


Epilogue: The End of the Renaissance? 301


Index 304




1. St. Francis Master, St. Francis Renounces His Worldly Possessions, detail 1

2. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government, detail 20

3. Donatello, St. George, detail 37

4. Masolino da Panicale, The Founding of Santa Maria Maggiore 57

5. Piero della Francesca, Madonna del parto, della Madonna del Parto, Monterchi 79

6. Benozzo Gozzoli, Journey of the Magi, detail 99

7. Antonello da Messina, Virgin Annunciate 118

8. Vittore Carpaccio, The Miracle at the Rialto 138

9. Sandro Botticelli, Primavera, detail 163

10. Giorgione, The Tempest 183

11. Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man 205

12. Raphael, Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione 223

13. Michelangelo, Last Judgment, detail 240

14. Caravaggio, Bacchus 259

15. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius 278



Regions of Italy, Inside front cover

1.1 Principal Italian Communes c. 1250 7

2.1 Spread of the Black Death in Europe 23

2.2 Social Unrest in Europe During the Fourteenth Century 29

3.1 Education in Renaissance Italy 46

4.1 Western Schism (1378—1417) 68

6.1 Communes and Signories in Italy c. 1250 101

6.2 Communes and Signories in Italy c. 1450 101

6.3 Milanese Territory under the Visconti 105

7.1 Southern Italy and the Mediterranean c. 600 CE 121

8.1 The Early Settlement of Venice and Trade Routes Through the Mainland 141

8.2 Venice and the Eastern Mediterranean, 1140—1204 144

8.3 Venetian Merchant Fleets in the Fifteenth Century 151

10.1 The Five Major Italian States, 1494 185

10.2 The Papal States 195

12.1 The Empire of Charles V in Europe 224

14.1 Italy, 1559 261

15.1 Changing Concepts of the Cosmos 290



Population of Italian cities c. 1300 11

Ancient texts in Greek: Some of the earliest dates they appear in Italy 50

Percentage of female saints 84

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