Italy as the Birthplace and Center of Renaissance

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In Italian the Renaissance is pronounced “Il Rinascimento” and Italy was a primary place when it came to the Rinascimento, but what made Italy the destination of the Renaissance? Other countries such as France, Germany, and England went through similar culture changes, but Italy was still the center of it all. Italy was important in this era for many reasons including: the Mediterranean sea, with many trading routes and buying of goods, the resurrection of culture and civilization after the fall of Rome, and the strong presence of the Catholic church. The Renaissance was a revival of culture, literature, art, knowledge, and ideas birthed from learning and having a passion for ancient eras like the Roman Empire and Greek civilizations which is also considered to be the “Classical Age”.

The movement of the Italian Renaissance was a rebirth of humanity caused during and after the middle ages and the fall of Rome. It developed in the late 1400s and lasted all the way to the end of the 1700s. It is argued that it was from the 15th to the mid-16th century because that is when it made the biggest impact on history and was considered the “High Renaissance” which represented the creation of several forms of revolutionary art in a small area of the world, Italy. The High Renaissance is said to be extinguished with the death of Raphael, the artist that is most known for his painting the School of Athens. Many historians think it’s possible that the Renaissance could’ve ended later or started earlier varying by country. Some people also argue that the Renaissance never actually happened as it did not impact low-class civilians, women, and most of the Italian inhabitants. It was a movement that required you to have access to wealth and connections. People of that time also didn’t think that they were going through a historic movement, and most people didn’t realize that anything different was happening. It was considered a long period of unique events that impacted hundreds of years in history (“The Renaissance: Was It a Thing?”).

Italy was the center for the Roman empire which was the civilization that contributed the most in the creation of trade routes around the Mediterranean Sea. The starting of the fall of the Roman Empire was caused by the decay of the economy in Rome and the barbarian invasions. The diminishing process of the western civilization was long, and eventually ended in September of 476 AD by a barbarian statesman, Flavius Odoacer whose people raided the long-lived city for the third time removing the Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus from the rest of what was left of the Roman army in Italy giving the 500-year-old powerful union a new form of government. Making Odoacer the new king, which lead to several kings and princes, without a future of another Italian emperor.

After the Roman Empire fell, it became the Byzantine Empire which was the continuation of the Roman Empire for another 1000 years. The Eastern empire controlled countries such as Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Albania, Croatia, Greece, and for some periods they even owned Northern and Southern Italy. The empire fell in 1453 due to the invasion by a Turkish empire, the Ottomans. The Western Roman Empire no longer remained in existence.

For many years Renaissance intellectuals have been studying ancient Greek and Roman text but with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the capital of Byzantine and the Roman Empire lead to further spreading of Greek philosophies because Byzantine’s intellectuals left and migrated to Italy with their manuscripts and books with them. The Islamic civilizations were the origin of many writings and manuscripts that Italian Renaissance intellectuals studied.

The impact of the Plague caused scientists, scholars, and artists to be intrigued, they wanted to research more on the “present” life rather than the “past” life. The uprising of the Medieval Ages, also known as the Dark Ages came along and it remained unlighted with few written sources. There were few paintings found with the artist’s credentials, short lifespans of humans, and the infamous Great Plague. It was an age of fear and was known to last 1000 years from the 5th century all the way to the 15th century. It was an age where people thought life was supposed to be difficult. They felt the only thing you can do is work hard and go to war. It was an era of mostly farming and servitude. They had no interest nor ambition in learning, knowledge or any form of philosophy. Around the 1300s after the Plague, the people of Italy started to think differently. Due to disease and war, it affected people in a big way when they started to think of life. Labor became more valuable. They started to study ancient Roman and Greek art and literature. They then realized that these types of people and civilizations lived different lives. It was the beginning of the idea of living a more humanistic life which was taken away during the Dark Ages along with a third of the population.

With the invention of the printer in 1450 ideas spread quickly throughout Europe. Printing became a new form of technology, making it accessible to communication and media. An outcome gave us text from Francesco Petrarca also is known as Petrarch, a scholar and Italian poet. He released his concern about 14th-century life, stating that he hates what fate has brought among humans in these horrible years. Unhappy with the Dark Age of which he lived in, he started studying Plato and Cicero which he considered ancient and promoted them through this new technology of printing. From his writings, he created and advanced the new age of the Renaissance. His Latin writings include peered-review journal works, self-analytical writings, letters, and more poetry. His most famous poetry is The Canzoniere. (“Petrarch.”) Leonardo Bruni was claimed the first modern historian. He was the first person to write about all three views of history: the Classical Age, the Middle Ages, and the Modern era. He claimed Francesco Petrarca was the first humanist of his time. “Humanism promoted the idea that man was the center of his own universe, and people should embrace human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science.”(“Renaissance.”)

In January 1417, a man named Poggio Bracciolini, an Italian scholar and humanist went to visit Germany looking for lost Greek and Roman manuscripts. There is where he made one of the biggest rediscoveries. It was the De Rerum Natura translated to English meaning On the Nature of Things by a Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius (“The Internet Classics Archive: On the Nature of Things by Lucretius.”). It was also the only found text from Lucretius. It was found in a monastery in Germany, now named the Benedictine library at Fulda and it gave us the Greek Philosophy Epicureanism.

Renaissance leaders and philosophers wanted to run their societies victoriously, to make their people intelligent, and build beautiful cities. Bracciolini found many more manuscripts throughout his lifetime and was greatly passionate about ancient texts. Bracciollini searched for ancient texts to obtain lost knowledge, not lost history. He was trying to bring ancient wisdom to the present-day society in the Italian Renaissance.

It was believed by many historians that developments in international finance and trade set the tone for the Renaissance in Europe. Italy at the time was a center of city-states that were abundant with land and sea trade. Every city specialized in different types of commodities. Florence made cloth and Milan made guns. Genoa and Venice became wealthy from trade and Venice became the richest city from this aspect. After the Crusades wars, the Venetians adapted to become great sailors, merchants and knew how to build ships. They also knew how to do trade and commerce with Islamic civilizations which included one of the biggest in economic powers within the region, the Ottoman Empire. Without this form of income, Italy couldn’t have afforded to be the center of the Renaissance. They exported textiles to the Ottoman empire from Florence. Florence’s textiles were highly demanded at this time because the color in them remained beautiful and vibrant through time. They were dyed by a powder named alum found in the Anatolia within the Ottoman empire. They retrieved this chemical from the empire until about 1460 when Giovanni De Castro’s second godson found alum in the mountains of Italy and an abundance of it. The Pope then granted a monopoly on alum after the findings in the mountains to the Medici family.

Leonardo de’ Medici was a 20-year old nobleman for one of the wealthiest, powerful and known families in the city of Florence in 1469. His father, Piero de’ Medici just died and decided to give his place of power to one of his two sons, Lorenzo. Lorenzo also took over the Medici bank which was his family’s business. It was one of the most respected financial institutions in Europe and has been around since 1397. It was a perk that Lorenzo was good with business and had the family bank branches in Florence, Rome, Venice, and Geneva. Eventually, with his great business skills, he expanded more branches within Europe within his lifetime.

The Medici family was purposeful when it came to how they spent their florins. They believed it was a reason to promote beauty, truth, and wisdom into the world. They loaned immense amounts of money from their banks and themselves to artists, scholars, and entrepreneurs.

Lorenzo Medici’s grandfather Cosimo de’ Medici, started a collection of books known as the Medici Library and Lorenzo went to extreme and severe researchers to look into all the libraries across Europe for any forgotten manuscripts from ancient civilization. Lorenzo Medici was a big supporter of many philosophers with one including Marsilio Ficino, a revitalizer of Neoplatonism and the first translator of Plato’s complete extant works into Latin. With Lorenzo’s guidance, these philosophers would start getting into classical Greek philosophy. They tried to balance Plato’s theories with Christianity and also engaged in ideas from Epicurus, Cicero, and Aristotle.

Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and a founder of a school called Epicureanism in 307 BC. His belief was what he considered ‘pleasure’ was the greatest good, but that the way to attain this “pleasure” was to live modestly, to gain knowledge on how the world works, and to limit one’s wantings. This would lead you to obtain a state of peace and freedom from fear as well as no future body pain.

Cicero was a very big contributor in politics in his time. He was considered to be a lawyer, politician, philosopher, and several other labels. He was considered a great philosopher of the ancient eras, in his lifetime he and the Greeks understood the value of philosophy, while the Romans viewed it as less important and believed in a more practical way of government. Leading him to translate Greek writings to Latin and even inventing new words to fill for the Greek words that did not have Latin alternatives (image, science, appetite, and others are examples). He translated Greek to Latin summarizing the beliefs spoken about in the philosophical schools of his time including Academic Skeptics, Peripatetics, Stoics, and Epicureans. He is also the only reason we understand as much as we do until this day about what was addressed in these Greek philosophical schools.

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher in the classical period of Greece. He made many impacts on physics, logic, medicine, agriculture, and many other things. He is famous for disagreeing with Plato’s theory of forms. “Aristotle sees the universe as a scale lying between the two extremes: form without matter is on one end, and matter without form is on the other end. The passage of matter into form must be shown in its various stages in the world of nature. To do this is the object of Aristotle’s physics or philosophy of nature. It is important to keep in mind that the passage from form to matter within nature is a movement towards ends or purposes. Everything in nature has its end and function, and nothing is without its purpose” (“Aristotle”).

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Lorenzo Medici is best remembered for his passion and support of the arts. He patronaged many artists and obtained art from Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, and others. He was very involved and took art seriously. At one point Michelangelo lived with him and his family for 5 years and engaged in discussions led by Marsilio Ficino.

Money was a big aspect in the Medici family but a vision is what they held. It is estimated that the Medici family spent around 500,000,000 florins on the different arts. But the Medici family funded the Renaissance for years with a vision. They didn’t just give money to artists to make more money, they gave money to artists because they believed in creating art and studying philosophy. They were forward when they expressed this vision creating beautiful art and with Marsilio Ficino, Lorenzo thought art was a kind of education. An education that was meant to be admired. He would ask the artist looking for his patronage to illustrate things like the truth about kindness and compassion or promote peacefulness.

In 1484 in Florence, the Medici family home now named the Palazzo Medici was finished being built by Michelozzo Di Bartolomeo. Bartolomeo was one of Cosimo de’ Medici’s favorite architects, Lorenzo’s grandfather. This was considered to be the “golden age” of architecture in Florence Italy. The Medici’s family villa represents the kind of architecture you will find in the time of the golden age. Italy fell in love with the thought that their cities were the center of beauty which is a huge difference in some of today’s societies. Some historians believed that they built nice places because they didn’t have all the complications of having cars and zoning ordinances but had access to stone located right outside of the city of Florence (“HISTORY OF IDEAS”).

The Renaissance was a mission to create beautiful cities and architecture. The people in this time wanted to build beauty because they believed that humans are “shaped” by character to their surroundings and adapt to environments. Making sure the environment of their cities show peace and morale. They believed it wasn’t just a luxury to have nice cities but it was to help promote mindedness and happiness for the population.

Italian Renaissance architects believed in rules in the building structure of creating a city. They required squares within the city. These squares are called a piazza. A piazza should be small enough that if a mother called her child, her child should be able to hear her from across the piazza (“HISTORY OF IDEAS”). A lot of squares have small fountains located within the middle of them while the surrounding buildings are basic. Buildings should have five floors and should have covered passages so people can be out in all types of weather.

The views of the ancient Roman historian Salist was greatly admired by the Italian Renaissance leaders. He quoted “Publice egestas privatim opulentiaz” meaning “public squalor and private opulence”. Salist had a belief that in a healthy society the public should be “opulent” meaning rich or lavish. It will help wealthy people not seclude themselves in their homes and citizens will be uplifted by the surrounding beauty.

In Venice, Italy in 1488 Giovani Bellini, a Venetian painter completed the San Zaccaria Altarpiece. Christian artist for centuries have been trying to complete this piece but something was always not perfect. After Bellini, people believed that Jesus and Mary looked human. They believed Bellini finished and perfected the work.

The people of the Renaissance Italy had clarity on what art is for. They sought an invest into artist accordingly. The Renaissance isn’t remembered for money but rather by how much wealthy people and families invested on creativity. The Renaissance could be traced as a marketing age. Although they weren’t marketing commodities, they were marketing beauty, wisdom, and truth. They were marketing through paintings and from the paintings they wanted to put out new ideas that can be useful and life-changing.

One of the things the Italian Renaissance impacted was spread and influence of philosophy. One of the most talented Renaissance artists Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino painted on the walls of the Vatican and painted on it from 1509 to 1511. The painting is called The School of Athens, it shows Plato and Aristotle being with a group of several other Greek philosophers. Plato is seen pointing up at the sky while Aristotle is shown with the palm of his hand turned down. This was an important part of the painting. In different ways both of their philosophies have been incorporated into Christianity. The rest of the painting signifying the union of art, philosophy, and science that was a representation of the Italian Renaissance. It represents all the greatest philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians from classical times sharing their ideas and learning from one another. All the people within the photo lived in different times but are gathered all in one painting.

Some of the most famous artwork created within the Italian Renaissance era was: The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, Statue of David by Michelangelo, The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, and The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo is a part of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling in the Vatican located in Rome. It was painted from 1508 to 1512. It was authorized by Pope Julius II for Michelangelo to create this piece. The painting resembled god giving life to the first man, Adam. This painting symbolizes god passing a spark of life not only to Adam but all of humanity. “Some claim that the figures and shapes surrounding the figure of God are an exact drawing of the human brain, in which the frontal lobe, brainstem and pituitary gland, are detectable, along with other parts of the cerebrum. While others have speculated that the red cloth surrounding God is in the shape of a human uterus, while the green-coloured scarf at the bottom is actually a freshly cut umbilical cord.”(“The Creation of Adam (1511).)”

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli was believed to be painted in 1480 in Florence Italy. It shows Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, riding on a sea shell arriving at the shore of the island Cyprus after being born. It said to be painted for the Medici family but It is not stated for which Medici family member it was painted for. It is said to represent writings from an ancient Greek poet named Homer.

Statue of David by Michelangelo is a 17 feet tall marble sculpture that was created from 1501 to 1504 in Florence. It replaced Donotello’s bronze Michelangelo for the Medici family once they were exiled out of Florence in 1492. It represented Florentine’s struggle against the power of the Medici family. The sculpture was a symbol of strength and beauty.

The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci was painted from 1495 to 1498 in Milan. He was creating it for a Church named the Santa Maria delle Grazie. Leonardo was requested by Ludovico il Moro, a Milanese duke to paint Christ’s last supper. He painted it with an oil/egg tempura mix and used it on drywall, he wanted to capture the look of an oil painting. It started fading even within his lifetime due to the mixture he chose. The beautiful painting still remains in Milan till this day.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is the most recognized painting from the Renaissance era and is known for it’s high insurance valuation. It was painted from 1503 to 1506 in Florence, and was considered an incomplete painting by Leonardo till 1516. It was stated that Da Vinci was never paid for the painting meaning that it never made it to the person it was intended for. It is speculated on whether the woman in the photo is Lisa Gherardini Giocondo who was 25 years old at the time and was married to a wealthy cloth and silk merchant. (“Did You Know- The Mona Lisa.”)

Through all the beauty, art and wisdom created and studied within Italy, it started to branch out and influence into other countries and eventually branched out to the northern Renaissance from the late 15th century. It started to develop into France, England, and Spain.

The Renaissance centered within Italy for many reasons; art, wealth, history, and geography being one of the many few. After the fall of Rome, the Byzantine empire, and Constantinople, the people after wanted to look for different ways of thinking and knowledge. The Dark Ages brought upon disease and war, making labor valuable. The Plague influenced how people thought about life, they wanted to stop focusing on death and obtain knowledge for a better lifestyle. This thinking process alone is what made Italy the center of the Renaissance, it started in Tuscany with an Italian poet, Francesco Petrarca starting his ideas about Humanism through printing and eventually it branched on into Florence. It was the country that started to adapt to the idea of Humanism and had many places of knowledge. Eventually, intellectuals and artists wanted to explore the Classical Age of Greece and Rome making these people create some of the most beautiful pieces of art ever created in history. Many manuscripts from antiquity were found by Italian scholars and brought back to Italy to study their ideas, movements, and philosophy. Italy was full of wealth by trade and commerce making it easy for people and families with an abundance of money to patronage artist, creating beautiful architecture, cities, and art that no one has ever seen until the Renaissance era. The Medici family was one of many known wealthy families in the era that helped influence their outlook on beauty to the rest of the world. They had a vision and an abundance of money to fund the vision they held. That outlook was to promote beauty, knowledge, and truth making the country of Italy till this day still resemble that perspective. This movement that Italy birthed traveled into other countries in the later 1500s contributing to the spread of the Renaissance to the north of Europe.

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