Sunday, May 6, 2007
THE BEGINNINGS-NORTHERN ITALY
Many people associate the Renaissance with the modern-day country of Italy which, at the time if the Renaissance, was made up of a number of independent city-states. Despite this, often when people think about the Renaissance, famous Italian artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello and Michelangelo spring to mind, as does Italian Renaissance architecture and famous merchant families like the Medicis of Florence. While the Renaissance was a period of monumental change in many other parts of Europe as well, there is good reason for its common association with Italy. This is the small Mediterranean country where Europe's Renaissance began, where it flourished and where its legacy can be seen most clearly today.
Italy during the Renaissance period
During the Renaissance period, the Italian Peninsula was comprised of a combination of independent city-states, which were usually ruled by a family. The Medicis, for example, were a wealthy merchant family who ruled the city of Florence for part of the 15th and 16th centuries.
The beginnings of the Renaissance
The Renaissance (in Italian, il Rinascimento) began in the northern city-states of Italy in the early 14th century and gradually spread throughout Western Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. Its exact origins can be traced to the famous Renaissance cities of Genoa (Genoa), Florence (Firenze), and Venice (Venezia).
There are a few explanations for why the European Renaissance began in Italy. These are linked to Italy's ancient history and its advantageous geographical position during the Middle Ages - in the centre of the rich and bustling Mediterranean Sea. See animation one
Italy's glorious past
Much of the inspiration behind the Renaissance was sought from a revision of Europe's ancient societies. Ancient Rome, of which Italy was the centre, was one such society; it is considered one of the greatest empires in the history of humankind. All across Italy, evidence of this classical past can still be seen today in Ancient Roman ruins such as the Forum and the mighty Colosseum.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages, remnants of Italy's glorious past provided stimulation for artists, architects, scientists, writers and philosophers. These Renaissance creators did not, however, simply want to imitate the past, they wanted to emulate it. This means that they wished to pay tribute to Europe's pre-medieval and what many considered 'superior', history, so that they could improve upon it and move forward. This yearning to break free of the darker, more rigid culture of the Middle Ages was what inspired people to question, create, explore and discover new ways of thinking and doing things during the Renaissance.
Italy was also extremely well-positioned geographically during the Middle Ages, lying at the centre of many important trade routes between Western Europe and the Near East. Due to its long coastline, Italy also possessed a great deal of naval strength, which had spurred a thriving commercial sector and given rise to a wealthy merchant (or trading) class.
By the 14th century, trade was flourishing in cities such as Genoa, Venice and Florence. The merchant classes, confined largely to well-to-do families, became extremely wealthy and started to gain more social and political influence. These merchant families became the patrons of artists, architects and inventors, sponsoring them so that they could put all their time and energy into excelling at their passions. The rise of the merchant classes and patronage is explored in more depth later (refer Topic one, Chapter three).
The Renaissance spreads
As the Renaissance spirit spread throughout Italy, artists and intellects from across Europe flocked to the northern cities of Venice, Florence and Genoa in search of new ideas and inspiration. Some of these people also travelled to Italy in the hope of finding a patron (rich merchant sponsor) to nurture their talents.
Traders and bankers from other Western European countries also began heading to Italy, lured by the hope of making their fortunes like the wealthy and influential Italian merchant classes were doing.
When these visitors returned home, they spread word of the exciting social and cultural movements that they had witnessed in Italy. Inspired by what they had seen and experienced, they told stories which created enthusiasm and sparked periods of renaissance in places like Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.