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Italian Renaissance - Influence

( Originally Published 1921 )



I. Geographical.

The Renaissance in Italy is best considered geographically under the three great distinctive cities of its activity, Florence, Rome, and Venice, which are here taken as centres rather than as schools.

Florence.—The city-state of Florence, centrally situated, was one of the chief powers of Italy. Though its dominions included a comparatively small part of the peninsula, the Florentines exerted considerable influence on surrounding districts during the Renaissance period, as they previously had in the Romanesque and Gothic periods (pp. 251, 497), and now, as then, geographical influence was a stable factor. Under Florence is included Genoa and also Milan, where the Florentine Bramante, who had studied in Rome, first practised his art ; an instance of the counter; and reflex influences at work at this time.

Rome.—The unique influence of Rome at this period was due, as always, to its central position and its prestige as the capital of an empire that had indeed crumbled away, but whose architecture was now being revived by popes and cardinals. The ruins of ancient Rome, then better preserved than now, supplied the models for new buildings which, in their turn, became models for all Europe. Under Rome is taken the surrounding district, though her influence is visible everywhere,

Venice.—The greatness of Venice was founded during the Mediaeval period (pp. 251, 497) on her Oriental commerce, due to geographical position, and this prosperity lasted well into Renaissance times. The history of the Venetian State was always influenced by her isolated position on the Adriatic Sea, which gave her the island frontier of the Lido, secured her against attack from the mainland and made her the sea-power of the Adriatic with direct maritime connection with the trade of the East, until geographical discoveries opened up new routes and thus modified her importance as a trading port.

"Underneath day's azure eyes,
Ocean's nursling, Venice lies."

Under Venice are included such connecting Iinks with Milan along the valley of the Po as the cities of Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, and Bergamo.

II. Geological.

Florence.—The quarries of Tuscany were as ungrudging in their supplies of large blocks of stone and marble as in previous periods (pp. 252, 498), and these give a massive and monumental character to the architecture, especially of the palaces of the nobles and of the princes of the Church.

Rome.—The ruined buildings of pagan Rome, such as the Colosseum, Pantheon, Thermae, Forum, and Colonnades, were quarries from which material could be easily collected for Renaissance buildings, besides which there was an inexhaustible supply of that local travertine stone and marble from the mountains which had influenced previous styles (pp. 130, 199, 252)

Venice.—Although the floating city of Venice could produce no building materials, yet by easy water-carriage she could gather together stone, marble, brick, and wood, according to her needs, as we have seen in the Mediaeval period (pp. 252, 498).

III. Climatic.

Florence.—The bright and sunny climate rendered large windows not only unnecessary, but also unsuitable, and this is well indicated by Tennyson:

" In bright vignettes, and each complete,
Of tower or duomo sunny-sweet,
Or palace, how the city glittered
Through cypress avenues, at our feet."

The open " cortile and the sheltering colonnade are both, as in ancient times, the result of the warm climate ; while the low-pitched roof, natural in a country where snow was rare, lent itself to cornice and balustrade.

Rome.—Though religious, social, and historical influences changed with the centuries, the climate of Rome exercised the same influence in Renaissance as in ancient and Mediaeval times (pp. 130, 252, 498).

Venice. The climate, as seen in previous periods (pp. 252, 498), has the extreme heat of summer tempered by sea breezes, and this favours outdoor life, so that belvederes and balconies are usual and were all the more necessary in the absence of gardens, occasioned by the restricted character of the island sites. On the other hand, owing to its northern latitude and the winds that sweep down from the snow mountains, chimneys are more necessary than in many Italian cities, and here have a character of their own.

IV. Religious.

Florence.—The great Dominican preacher, Savonarola (A.D. 1452–98), arose as a power in Florence in the fifteenth century, and by his ardent piety and reforming zeal he changed the habits of the citizens, swayed the policy of the State, and even menaced the authority of the supreme Pontiff. Saint, preacher, reformer, martyr, his terrific denunciations of corruption in Church and State, his eloquent exhortations to purity of life, his personal devotion and singleness of purpose spread consternation in the pleasure loving city of Florence, roused the citizens from indolence and indifference, dealt a death-blow at the unbridled tyranny of the Medici, and called upon the rulers of Christendom to summon a general council to reform church abuses. At one time banished from Florence by a Medici, at another excommunicated by a pope, and yet again forsaken by his own people, Savonarola, in spite of all, became the saviour, lawgiver, and dictator of the Florentine Republic ; his influence lived on after his death, and is even evidenced in the frescoes by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

Rome.-The return of the popes (A.D. 1377) from Avignon to Rome had helped to re-establish her former position of importance and prosperity. From the time of the Council of Constance (A.D. 1417), the popes, notably Nicholas V (A.D. 1447–55) and Leo X (A.D. 1503-22), took a prominent position as Italian princes and patrons of art and also greatly extended their temporal dominions in Italy. There were people who then looked for the consolidation of Italian unity under the papal sway, and Caesar Borgia, nephew of Pope Alexander VI, proposed to effect this by absorbing the Italian states as one would eat an artichoke—leaf by leaf. Julius II (A.D. 1509-13), with sword in one hand and crozier in the other, sought to accomplish this end by force, and his pontificate was a record of politico-religious strife. Thus do we see the impossibility of unravelling into separate threads the warp of religious and social conditions of this rest-less period, when princes of the Church vied with one another in building magnificent palaces. The Jesuits, founded by the Spaniard, Ignatius Loyola, in A.D. 1539, to combat the effects of the Reformation and to strengthen the papal power, built preaching churches and religious colleges, and were not only religious enthusiasts, but also a great building con-fraternity, and their name became associated with the late Renaissance style, which is more properly called Baroque (p. 545)

Venice.—In the days of the growing temporal power of the papacy, the freedom-loving Venetians, loyal before all things to their sea-born city, maintained a semi-independence of the pope at Rome, and this was specially manifested during the attempted Interdict (A.D. 1607) of Paul V, when the learned theologian Paolo Sarpi (A.D. 1552–1623) was the adviser of the Venetian State. A people capable of such independent action naturally showed it in the variety and style of their architecture, while their commercial connection with Constantinople inclined them to religious tolerance, as is shown in the erection of a Greek church, an interesting example of local Renaissance.

V. Social.

Florence.—The rediscovery of Classical literature produced a wave of enthusiasm throughout Italy for old Roman architecture. This new movement began in Florence under the Medici family, founded A.D. 1424 by Giovanni de' Medici (d. A.D. 1429), which gradually assumed supreme authority in the State. His son, Cosimo the Elder (d. A.D. 1464), founded the Medici Library and Platonic Academy, and was the patron of artists, such as Brunelleschi, Donatello, Michelozzo, Lippi, and Masaccio. Under Pietro and Lorenzo de' Medici, Florence, the Athens of the Renaissance," became the centre of the revival in literature and art. In A.D. 1471 a printing press was set up there, from which were issued the " Bucolics," Georgics," and " AEneid of Virgil. In Florentine social life the craft guilds had played a prominent part, and indeed from them had sprung the great Medici family, which had such a controlling influence during the whole of this period, and that too in spite of blots on their family scutcheon and in spite of habits of extreme luxury and even of vice. The Uffizi Palace and the Villa Medici are two architectural evidences of the greatness of this ruling family and of their patronage of art. The golden florin had first been coined at Florence in A.D. 1252, and it is indicative of the commercial prosperity and predominance of that city that this coin had become the general standard of value in Europe. Thus Florence was a leader among cities in art, literature, and commerce, and took her share in the military conflicts of the time, while internally the city was rent by continuous feuds of rival parties, and this condition of unrest is reflected in the semi-fortified character of the palaces. The powerful and well-organised craft guilds had a considerable share in directing the activities of studio and workshop which, inspired by the Renaissance movement, sprang up in every Florentine street, and the daily routine of the Florentine craftsmen has been well described in " The Fine Arts " by Baldwin Brown. In all the little centres of creative art, whether artists' studios or gold-smiths' shops, men of all crafts began to design in the new style, the charm of which lay not in imitation, but in new and delightful combinations of old Roman motifs.

Rome.—In Rome a central government checked party strife, and there-fore palaces were not as necessary as in Florence. Rome was also the home of old Classic traditions which naturally exerted great influence over any new developments. During the fifteenth century, when the popes became strong temporal rulers, many great families returned to Rome ; splendid new palaces and churches were erected and were embellished by eminent painters, such as Peruzzi, Raphael, and Michelangelo. A school sprang up for artists and craftsmen who gradually spread the Renaissance style throughout Italy and Europe. Printing presses were set up about A.D. 1465, and in A.D. 1515 an edition of Pindar was printed in Rome at the press of the banker, Agostino Chigi, and this opened up a wider access to the study of ancient writers.

Venice.—During the whole of the fifteenth century Venice was engaged in conquering neighbouring towns, over which Venetian nobles were appointed as governors. The republican government of Venice gave special care to regulations for the development of trade, both in home and overseas markets. Her prosperity was due to a state commercial system, and was not the result of mere accident or of the enterprise of individuals. This successful trading community produced many kings of commerce, whose rivalry in display led to the erection of the many fine palaces on the Grand Canal, which were not fortresses as at Florence, but residences of peaceable citizens and merchant princes. John of Spires established (A.D. 1466) the first of those printing presses for which Venice became so famous when, at a later time, the Aldine Press issued its editions of the Greek Classics. Thus during those years of the Classic revival in Venice her artists, craftsmen, and printers were all busy with brush, chisel, and type in giving new forms to old ideas and new life to ancient literature.

VI. Historical.

Florence. —The grouping together of independent commonwealths in Italy is a feature of this period when, as in ancient Greece, one city bore rule over another. In A.D. 1406 Florence conquered Pisa and thus obtained a seaport, and in A.D. 1421 she took Leghorn from the Genoese and was strong enough to challenge Milan and Lucca in war, and so became the chief power in Italy and the art centre of Europe. The feuds between nobles were aggravated by the warfare between the Guelphs and Ghibel - lines (pp. 253, 498). In A.D. 1494 Charles VIII of France occupied Florence during his brief invasion of Italy to enforce his claims to the kingdom of Naples. The short-lived republic of Savonarola followed, but the Medici, in spite of successive banishments, were reinstated by the Emperor Charles V when he took the town in A.D. 1530, after a siege of eleven months, during which Michelangelo acted as engineer to the republic. Political liberty was subsequently curtailed, especially under Cosimo I (A.D. 1537-74), who, however, greatly extended the Florentine dominions and obtained Siena from the Emperor Charles V in A.D. 1557. The Grand Dukes of Tuscany passed through varying fortunes until, in A.D. 1737, the House of Medici became extinct and the Duchy passed to Austria. In A.D. 1801 Florence again attained political freedom as a republic and afterwards as the Kingdom of Etruria. Between A.D. 1807 and 1814 she was incorporated with France, and in A.D. 1860 she was united to the Kingdom of Italy.

Rome.—The Council of Constance, which followed the return of the popes after their long sojourn in Avignon, put an end not only to the scandal of rival popes, but also to the factions of the barons within the papal city ; so that times of more stable government and greater security resulted in an increase of wealth and prestige and a revival of building in Rome. That ambitious Pope, Julius II, besides extending the temporal power of the papacy, sought to aggrandise himself in the popular imagination, and thus his original intention of erecting a monumental tomb house for himself developed into the gigantic scheme for the rebuilding of S. Peter's, as the greatest cathedral in Christendom (p. 582). For the seventh and last time Rome was taken and plundered by the Emperor Charles V (A.D. 1527). One external power after another then exercised authority in Italy, and so modified the natural tendency of Italian architecture. First came Charles V and the influence of Spain which, with her dignified state ceremonials, was responsible for the introduction of extravagant ornament. This was followed by the French ideas of the magnificent times of Louis XIV. Then the Italian peninsula passed largely under the yoke of Austria ; until the national sentiment, though checked and thwarted in A.D. 1848, culminated in the formation of the new Kingdom of Italy (A.D. 1870), when Rome, though still the stronghold of the papacy, became the capital city of united Italy.

Venice.—In the middle of the fifteenth century, when Constantinople was taken by the Turks (A.D. 1453), the supremacy of Venice, which had been her commercial ally, was undermined ; while the discovery by Diaz in A.D. 1486 of the new route round the Cape to India diverted her commerce to the Portuguese. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Venetians were at constant war with the Turks, and eventually in A.D. 1715 Venice lost the whole of her possessions, except those in north Italy ; but even when her territorial power was reduced and her commerce diverted, the mighty sea-republic still cherished the arts and crafts which had been the first-fruits of her prosperity.



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