Renaissance: The Renaissance (1400-1530)

Originally I planed to start this part by the description of the immediate precursors of renaissance such as Chimabue and Giotto. But the most important feature of this period is not so much one or another particular artist, but the atmosphere which allowed the gifted artist to bloom up, the zeitgeist, the readiness of the rich and influential to spent huge amounts of money for books and arts. This is the most exciting time when Europe wakened up after a thousand years of slumber. The story begins in Florence. The learned man of Italy the humanists captivated the mind of Italy, turned it from religion to philosophy, from heaven to earth. The proper study of mankind was now to be a man, in all the potential strength and beauty of his body; in all the joy and pain of his senses and feelings. Nearly all the Latin and many of the Greek classics were known to the medieval scholars, and the major pagan philosophers, but they ignored the Greek poetry. Many invaluable manuscripts concealed in some of the monasteries were recovered among them the works of Tacitus, the letters of the younger Pliny. These became a prize possession of Leo X. It is noteworthy to observe that some of the Popes of this period were ardent servants of the new movement being the benevolent supporters of the most talented artists. "In the half century before the Turks took Constantinople (fall of the city in year 1453) a dozen of humanists studied or travelled in Greece; one of them Giovanni Aurispa brought back to Italy 238 manuscripts, including the plays of Aeschylus, and Sophocles; another, Franceska Filelfo, salvaged from Constaninople texts of Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Demosthenes, Aeschines, and Aristotle, and seven dramas of Euripides" Will Durant. It was a good fortune of Italy and mankind that Cosimo Medici (1389-1464) cared as much for literature, scholarship, philosophy, and art as for wealth and power. He knew Latin well, and had a smattering of Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic; he was broad enough to appreciate the piety and painting of Fra Angelico, the engaging rascality of Fra Philippo Lippi, the classical style of Ghilberti's relief's, the bold originality of Donatello's sculpture, the grandiose churches of Brunellesco, the refinement of Alberti" "He spent a large part of his fortune collecting classic texts, so that the most costly cargoes of his ships were in many cases manuscript carried from Greece to Alexandria. All his collections were open to teachers and students without charge. But if we embrace not only Cosimo Pater Patriae, but his descendants Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492), popes of the Medici family, Leo X (1475-1521), Clement VII (1478-1534) , and Pius IV (1499-1565) we may admit that in patronage of learning and art the Medici have never been equalled by any other family in the known history of mankind, "summarises W. Durant. For instance the sum which Cosimo devoted from his private means to administration and adornment of Florence would roughly correspond in current values to not less than 40-50 million of dollars. This was almost double the sum that he left to his heirs !!! The example of Cosimo shows an ideal client for the extremely talented artists of his time, another figure so typical for Renaissance is his son's son Lorenzo called the Magnificent. After the death of his father Piero, Lorenzo, then aged twenty years, found himself the richest man in Florence, perhaps in Italy. The management of his fortune and his business might have been a sufficient burden for his young shoulders, but two days after his father death a deputation of leading citizens asked him to assume the guidance of the state. Lorenzo ruled as his grandfather and father had ruled, remaining till 1490 a private citizen but recommending policies to a council in which the supporters of his house had a secure majority. In private he made his many friends immediately forget his power and wealth, he enjoyed the subtlest art and the simplest buffoons. "He was a humorist with Pulci, a mystic with Pico, an aesthete with Boticelli musician with Squarcialupi , a reveller with the gayest in festival times. His morals were not as exemplary as his mind. Like many of his contemporaries he did not allow his religious faith to hamper his enjoyment of life. He seems rarely to have known remorse except for pleasures missed. No one questioned his liberality; it was as lavish as Cosimo's. Lorenzo's aesthetic sensibilities were too keen for his morals. Poetry was one of his prime devotions, and his compositions rivalled the best of his time. Nothing could better illustrate the morals and manners, the complexity and diversity of the Italian Renaissance than the picture of its most central character ruling a state, managing a fortune, jousting in tournament, writing excellent poetry, supporting artists and authors with discriminating patronage, mingling at ease with scholars and philosophers , peasants and buffoons, singing bawdy songs, composing tender hymns, playing with mistresses, begetting a pope, and honoured throughout Europe as the greatest and noblest Italian of his times. Unfortunately he died as a still young person being just 43 years old", writes W. Durant. The Catholic Church was the main beneficiary of the artist because, during the Renaissance, there was a huge demand for religious images. The number of altarpieces increased as they were commissioned by orders of monks and friars, guilds, and wealthy citizens, while small, ready-made pictures were bought by pious individuals. The artist's were as a rule very respected citizens and well paid for their work. So Leonardo was paid by Lodovico Sforza about 2000 ducats approximately 75,000 USD? a year in addition to many gifts and privileges. The artist lived as an aristocrat. "Despotism was a boon to Italian art. A dozen of rulers competed in seeking architects, sculptures, and painters to adorn their capitals and memory; in this rivalry they spent such sums as democracy rarely spares to beauty, except in Athenes under Pericles . The result was an art of country distinction and aristocratic taste", says W. Durant. Concerning literature, and especially poetry this time (the 15th century) is rather poor. However it produced the greatest French medieval poet, and one of the greatest European lyricists - Fransua Villon. One contemporary writer has made a witty remark:" There has been just one poetic genius who did not read Villon-it was he himself". Immediately after printing was introduced in France in 1489 his works were edited for the first time, and during the next forty years twenty more editions were published. The next among the greatest French poets - P. de Ronsard appeared one hundred years later, and was the most bright representatives of French Renaissance in poetry.

See also:
» Early Renaissance     1400-1455
» High Renaissance     1470-1530
» Mannerism 1520-1580

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