The Triumph of the City
    



         





The High Renaissance
 
&

Mannerism




(Renaissance  Art Map)







 





INTRODUCTION



 

I

Masaccio's classical nobility, Piero della Francesca's elegant geometry, Fra Angelico's enchanting purity, Botticelli's wistfully gracious allegories, Mantegna's hard-edged monumentality: these are among the most famous images of the Quattrocento (fifteenth century) in Italy. They all use the solemn vet cheerful language of the Renaissance, with its deliberate rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman art and culture. Whether in the tranquility of private studies, in the lecture halls of universities, or in the most fashionable courts, artists and writers created one of the deepest and longest-lasting cultural transformations that the world has ever seen. Without lessening their intense religious feelings (and it was a deeply religious age), the fifteenth-century artists broke loose from medieval shackles. They turned their attention out to the natural world, so often rejected by medieval men, and took an active role as responsible players in the world and its history. Christopher Columbus' undertaking can be seen almost as the symbolic seal on a century that fell no fear of the unknown and embraced discovery. But, significantly, Columbus was not trying to discover a new world but to find a new wav to an old one, that of Asia. So, too, did most Quattrocento scholars and artists attempt to rediscover the lost world of Antiquity. In triumphantly doing so, they created an utterly new world.

It is difficult to avoid the cliched but fascinating comparison between Lorenzo the Magnificent's Florence or the splendid court of Federico da Montefeltro in Urbino with classical Athens at its zenith under Pericles in the fifth century B.C. The first Greek Humanism, with its belief "Man is the measure of all things" is the key to the Renaissance, a civilization which also placed human beings at the center of the universe and which exalted culture and art. This was achieved through the creativity of architects, painters, and sculptors who applied an ideal of perfect geometry to the correct "imitation" of nature. It was also made possible by the passionate and indeed courageous patronage of dukes, bishops, republics, and cities, prepared to back radical commissions.
If we look at Italian civilization in the fifteenth century, we see something thrilling, not only because of the intellectual attempts to rediscover the classical world. Indeed, the greatest fascination of the early Renaissance lies in its variety and the continuous contrast between very different forms of expression. This artistic and cultural plurality was encouraged by the complex political structure in Italy, split between countless city states and principalities. This diversity assumes particular significance when we take into account the vital role of enlightened patrons in the fifteenth century. Their awareness of the "political" role of the image shaped and conditioned expressive choices and specific-iconographies. The republics of Venice and Florence, among others, emphasized the part that all citizens had to play in government and administration (even though, in fact, in both cities aristocratic oligarchies held power). In other centers great and small, the courts of the local princes were experiencing their moments of greatest splendor. Just after the middle of the century, the Peace of Lodi (1454) confirmed the dominance of five main states (the duchy of Milan, the republics of Venice and Florence, the Papacv in Rome, and the Kingdom of Naples). But smaller states could still hold the balance between their bigger neighbors and so had potential importance.





 
  

Raphael
 

 




 

Lorenzo Costa
 

 












 

 















 

 


Giorgione
 






 


Leonardo da Vinci
 






 


Lucas Cranach
 






 

Titian
 






 

Massys
 






 

Correggio

 

Fifteenth-ccnturv painting in Italy witnessed the flowering of numerous local schools. Each was capable of coming up with fresh, innovative ideas thanks to their relative freedom of expression and the open dialogue with other cities. In this wav, a relationship grew up between centers and outlying districts which provided the impetus for all the most important moments of Italian painting. In concrete terms, this can be seen in the rich, widespread presence of works of art right across the country. No other century gives such a clear picture of the underlying characteristics of Italian painting and by which it can be identified. The belief in the intrinsic dignity of human beings led to harmonious spaces, based upon mathematical laws, into which all figures seem to fit perfectly. Italian painting in the fifteenth century above all breathes the air of superbly well-calculated proportion. No one aspect of a painting dominates the others, every part is in relationship to the whole. Even violent expressions and feelings seem to be portrayed with controlled composure. The "waning of the Middle Ages" merges almost imperceptibly with the dawn of modern humanity.
Trying to condense the main lines of the history of painting, we can hazard the sweeping statement that the first years of the century's art seems covered in the gold, gems, and precious flowers of International Gothic. Gentile da Fabriano is the most elegant of those who worked in this vein. He is also someone who reminds us of how frequently fifteenth-century painters traveled. This, combined with the influx of foreign works and artists, meant that comparisons and modernization were part of a continuous process. By checking the dates, we can understand how frenetic the pace of innovation must have been. In 142 3 Gentile da Fabriano painted his masterpiece (Adoration of the Magi for S.Trinita) in Florence. The following year Masolino and Masaccio started work on the frescos in the Brancacci Chapel at S. Maria del Carmine, situated on the other side of the Arno. Only a few months and a lew hundred yards separate the most splendid flowering of International Gothie and the revolutionary, unadorned, terse exaltation of the human figure that Masaccio created.

In Florence, Masaccio's radicalism (at much the same time as Donatcllo was transforming sculpture and Brunelleschi modernizing architecture) swiftly molded the vocabulary of a new generation of young artists. From the 1430s onwards, painters such as Fra Angelico, Paolo Uccello, and Filippo Lippi searched for a personal compromise between Masaccio's cogent, neo-Giottesquc austerity and the still widespread taste for rich and complex images. One major innovation can be noticed at once. Gold backgrounds disappeared and were replaced by sweeping landscapes or realistic architectural backdrops. Similarly, the polyptych was replaced by the "tabula quadra" [square picture] as a single altar-piece in which all the characters were involved in the same scene. An excellent example of the new formula applied to the Sacra Conversazione is Domenico Veneziano's Altarpiece of St. Lucy of the Magnolias which is outstanding for its nobility.

Meanwhile, courts in southern and northern Italy alike were exploring the contrasts with art from northern Europe, in particular Flemish and Provencal painting. This comparison between Italian masters and the influx of work from north of the Alps was typical of the last period of Gothic art in Naples and Milan. However, it bore different results in the two cities. Pisanello, one of the greatest painters of the day, traveled constantly between Verona, Mantua, Ferrara, Venice, Milan, Rome, and Naples. Such movement encouraged the transition of taste in the splendid aristocratic courts away from International Gothic toward the Renaissance rediscovery of ancient art. While in Florence painters in the earlv fifteenth century concentrated above all on the human figure and on the quest for an "ideal city," fashioned in clear and pure architectural forms, in some courts artists still depicted plants and animals, customs and landscapes, feelings and relationships with highly detailed, intricate craftsmanship. In fact, this type of courtly art complemented the Tuscan artists' work in defining the rules of three-dimensional vision, which could sometimes become almost too cerebral. It took the truly universal genius of Leonardo da Vinci to bring the two strands together at the end of the century. On the other hand, Florence itself was not entirely resistant to the charms of an art rich in detail and narrative content, as shown by Benozzo Gozzoli's fresco of the The journey of the Magi for the private chapel in the Medici Palace.
In northern Italy, a complete understanding of the rules of perspective was reached when Donatello worked for a time in Padua. By 1450 this Venetian city had become the most advanced northern center of new creative ideas, although this advance depended on visiting Tuscan masters as much as the young, talented northern painters working in Padua. This led to an explosion in differing local styles. An example of this is the odd and highly original painting turned out in Ferrara by Cosme Tura and Francesco del Cossa (whose frescos in Palazzo Schifanoia provide a fascinating testimony of their work). Another is the highly decorative refinement of Carlo Crivelli's work in the Marches. Above all, this was the period that gave us the archeologically accurate but highly dramatic genius of Andrea Mantegna. The Bridal Chamber in Mantua marks a new era in the style of ltalian courts. Gone is all gorgeous late-Gothic love of ornament. Instead we have solemn and highly intellectual Renaissance images. The most complete example of a Renaissance court, however, was the Ducal Palace built by Federico da Montefeltro in the small city of Urbino. With visionary patronage, the Duke brought men of letters, Renaissances, architects, and painters from all parts of Italy to Urbino. Each made his contribution to an international dialogue on art on the highest level, but the outstanding figure in Urbino was surely Piero della Francesca. He produced works, such as the Montefeltro Altarpiece now in the Brera Gallery in Milan, that are unsurpassable models of how form and color can be blended into mathematical perspective. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, his austere geometrical art was not widely popular.
By the 1470s knowledge of perspective and how to paint a three-dimensional image had almost certainly penetrated every corner of Italy. Although the manner differed from place to place, by this date a revolution in painting had already taken place. In Florence, this was the age of Botticelli. Thanks both to the Medicis' support and the sophisticated philosophical and esthetic  Neoplatonism of their circle, Botticelli produced huge pagan allegories, such as Spring and the Birth of Venus marked by powerful, elegant but clear design, not without a Gothic grace. These masterpieces epitomize the Golden Age of Lorenzo the Magnificent. In 147S, Antonello da Messina arrived in Venice, fresh from contacts both with Flemish painting, which had pioneered the use of oil paints, and the work of Piero della Francesca. Thanks to Antonello's time in the city of the lagoons, the Venetian school abandoned the last vestiges of Byzantine art and Gothic tradition and began their own new, long-lasting and distinctive Renaissance. The main artist in this phase was Giovanni Bellini, who laid the foundations of Venetian painting and shaped its essence. Giovanni Bellini can, in fact, be credited with being the first artist to depict fully all the subtleties of atmospheric light and shadow. At first his example was only taken up partially by Vivarini and Carpaccio, not being developed in full until the start of the following century through Giorgione and Titian's early work.
A true Renaissance school of art also grew up in Milan under the Sforza dukes, thanks initially to the work of Vincenzo Foppa and Bramante, but they were soon eclipsed by Leonardo da Vinci who, arriving in 1481, effectively created the Milanese School. After a long period of crisis, when the Popes were either absent or far too busy with political problems to act as art patrons, Rome also began to reclaim its role as a great cultural center. Pope Sextus IV built the Sistine Chapel which was decorated around 1480 by artists such as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino. This represented one of the triumphs of sophisticated but elegant Quattrocento painting, devoid of all harshness. Perugino's sweet and very urbane style was extremely popular throughout Italy. It was from this high plateau of artistic excellence that Raphael would soon soar.
There arc two other important factors to bear in mind. The first concerns the technical developments that took place in painting and in the equipment artists used. At the start of the fifteenth century, monumental painting fell exclusively into one of two categories: frescos or wood panels. There was a marked preference for polyptychs on a gold background, framed in richly carved surrounds. These were the most widespread tvpe of late-Gothic painting. The progressive growth in the acceptance of the view that art should imitate reality led to gold backgrounds being replaced by landscapes and to the fragmented device of the polyptych being abandoned in favor of large single pictures. An evergrowing number of patrons, many of whom commissioned work that was no longer exclusively religious in nature, welcomed even further developments. Equally important after the middle of the centurv, and thanks mainly to Antonello da Messina, the use of oil as the preferred medium began to gain favor throughout Italy. Within two generations it had replaced traditional color techniques using tempera (made of egg yolk, quick drving and so ideal for fresco work but less capable of expressing atmosphere). Oil initially was used for small-scale works such as portraits, but was later used for altarpieces too. Some artists like Botticelli at times worked in a mixture of the two mediums.
The second factor concerns the role of the artist in societv. In the previous centurv, some masters such as Giotto had already begun to raise the status of artists, but in the early fifteenth century the social rank of painters remained fairly low, on a par with specialized craftsmen. Painting was considered one of the "mechanical arts" in which manual dexterity was the most important consideration. The mechanical arts were contrasted unfavorably with the liberal arts which were based on writing and the intellect. Artists' studios across Europe in the fifteenth century-were more like workshops or factories than libraries. Thev turned out not only paintings, but many other products: decorated furniture, costumes, heraldic shields, the trappings for public holidays, flags and so on. But in Italy the way that artists increasinglv took part in the cultural and philosophical debate (Leon Battista Alberti and Piero della Francesca being two typical examples) led to major social developments which had almost no parallel in other countries.
During the Renaissance, Italian painters became intellectuals, taking part in dialogues with their patrons and with men of letters. They did not merely carry out a work but also claimed the right to discuss its underlying ideas. This should be borne in mind when we consider the perennial greatness and importance of a century in which art above all else contributed to giving humanity a new horizon, and perspectives hitherto undreamed of. The ideals of fifteenth-century humanism, seen from a distance of five hundred years, may appear Utopian. Its premises of universal harmony and the restoration of a civilization governed by serene, rational thought were only partially achieved even at the zenith of the Renaissance. Nevertheless, through its marvelous accomplishments, it left to humanity one of the few periods in art that has lastingly exalted the human spirit.

 

II

Fifteenth-century Renaissance art can be seen as a reflection of a calm and stable epoch in search of harmony. The often grandiose and dramatic art of the Cinquecento (sixteenth century) symbolizes a different century, one torn by wars, troubled by profound doubts and shaken by new religious movements. While some nation states (Spain, France, England) consolidated themselves, new routes were opened up by overseas discoveries and whole new worlds were discovered. Meanwhile Martin Luther's Reformation tore central Europe apart, the Ottoman Empire of Turkey continued its advance up to the gates of Vienna and the plague recurred again and again. These were events that shook the Continent politically, economically, and culturally, and changed Europe for ever. It is no coincidence that historians often classify the fifteenth century as part of the Middle Ages, whereas the sixteenth century is considered the beginning of the Modern Age. In Italy there could no longer be anv doubt that foreign powers were there to stay (the whole of the South as well as the former Duchy of Milan fell under Spanish rule and only Venice retained a real independence). At the same time, the old-established patterns of trade across the Mediterranean seemed threatened by new ocean routes to the East, although this threat was slow to materialize.
But the century opened splendidly. Its first twenty years are known as the High Renaissance, when Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian - bitter rivals but ones who constantly exchanged ideas — produced unprecedented masterpieces, fulfilling the ideals pursued by artists since Giotto two centuries earlier. Italian art as a whole reached heights that have never been surpassed, and was confirmed as by far the richest, most varied, and influential school in Europe. However, Italy's increasingly troubled political situation (it was the chief battle ground for the constantly clashing armies of France, Spain, and Germany up to 1559) meant that both artists and their works sometimes went abroad, lured by rich monarchs. They took with them the latest in Italian Renaissance art which spread throughout Europe. Leonardo moved to France where he died, so bringing the High Renaissance to a still medieval country. Other, lesser painters such as Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio followed, founding the Fontainebleau school of painting. Great rulers such as the Emperor Charles V and his son Philip II became Titian's main patrons, partlv supplanting the old-established families of small Italian courts. At the same time there were already the first signs of the economic and historical decline that would undermine Italian art in the very long run, although the Seicento (seventeenth century) saw another golden age in the arts.

The Cinquecento was also a century of self-portraits. The great Italian masters had already acquired the same high cultural status enjoyed by Renaissance scholars, and were no longer regarded as menial craftsmen. Their interest in self-portraiture (the cheapest type of portraiture, after all) partlv reflects their new-found status. Leonardo drew his own aging self in the wrinkled and meditative psychological self-portrait in his Merlin-like drawing done in extreme old age. At the apex of the High Renaissance, Raphael's self-portrait depicts him at case among scholars and philosophers in "The School of Athens." Decades later, utterly disillusioned with history and life, Michelangelo produced his self-portrait as St. Bartholomew, a ragged old beggar with flayed skin in his Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. The Mannerist painter Parmigianino turned his Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror into a prodigious virtuoso exercise. Titian's great series of self-portraits show a painter physically growing older but whose understanding grew ever more vigorous — an artist ready to meet eternitv with paintbrush in hand.
Without simplifying art history too much, we can say that in the sixteenth century major changes occurred about every two decades. Each change was, often deliberately, part of the process of constant renewal, for artists were still keen to experiment in any way they possibly could, untrammelled by the past. Each period contained an abundance and variety of art forms without parallel in any other century of art history, save perhaps our own. Up to 1520 the High Renaissance sparkled with the splendor of its Golden Age. From 1520 to 1540 new religious doubts and questionings on the destiny of man opened the way to new concepts in painting which later culminated in Michelangelo's Last Judgment. From 1 540 to 1 560 a dichotomy emerged between the hyper-sophisticated Mannerism of Tuscany and Rome and the sensual depiction of reality of the Venetian and Lombard schools. Between 1560 and 1580 Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese brought Venetian painting to a triumphant and dramatic climax. The last twenty years of the century were, by comparison, years of relative stagnation artisticallv until Caravaggio rediscovered the natural world with his revolutionary realism and the Carracci dynasty revitalized the classical tradition. Michelangelo and Titian were both particularly long-lived. If we compare the two great masters' early work with that of their old age, we are instantly struck by the chasm between the generally sunnily optimistic art of the early sixteenth century and the often work tortured of the second half.

Among the key events shaping much of the cultural pattern of the first half of the Cinquccento, some occurred before the turn of the century. In 1492 Christopher Columbus had inadvertently discovered a new continent. This spelled the end of the old map of the world, which the fifteenth century had shared with Antiquity. The Earth was found to be bigger than the supposedly omniscient Greek philosophers had ever guessed. Also Florence, capital of the earlv Renaissance, was in turmoil after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492, terrified by the admonitory sermons ot Fra Savonarola. Although four years later the Dominican monk was burned at the stake, his condemnation of the vanities of pleasure-seeking and paganism shook the conscience of many, including artists. The charming style in which some painters had worked throughout their long careers (Botticelli, Pcrugino) was now found inadequate.
In the first years of the sixteenth century, Florence was again the center of artistic excitement, as Leonardo and Michelangelo competed to decorate the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio with huge battle scenes, which impressed all contemporaries, including the young Raphael. At the same time Michelangelo carved his David, the supreme emblem of High Renaissance heroism. But it was Rome which was to be the real center of Cinquccento art, as the popes began their grandiose project of rebuilding St. Peter's. Michelangelo was summoned there in 1505 to build Pope Julius II's tomb — a gigantic project never to be finished. Instead, in 1508 he began decorating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with his back-breaking and breathtaking masterpiece, the fresco cycle of The Creation, where the fall from the Garden of Eden is portrayed with passionate intensity. The same year saw Raphael start work on another part of the work of the Vatican, the Stanza della Scgnalura, where he created an enchanted equilibrium. In contrast to the grandiose power to be found in Michelangelo, the frescos in the Stanze di Raffaello (or Raphael Rooms as they are now often known), show a combination of majestic grandeur with sweet gracefulness which seemed to incarnate the ideals of the High Renaissance. Plato (a portrait probably of Leonardo) and Aristotle dispute in the fresco The School of Athens as though they were members of the papal court — a court which sometimes felt itself more pagan Greek than Christian, but where pagan and Christian thought united in general harmony. What united both Michelangelo's and Raphael's art was their immense, supremely assured, grandeur.
The change in style and generation, however, was not felt only in central Italy. Milan was being fought over by the French and the Spanish when Leonardo returned to put his own seal on the local school. In Venice the narrative and analytical tradition of Carpaccio and Gentile Bellini was replaced, first by the melancholy, poetic dreamy sweetness of Giorgione and then by Titian's first explosions of color which characterize The Assumption on the high altar of the Venetian church of the Frari. These new leaders of art were quickly surrounded by schools, assistants, and lesser imitators. They were also supported by a lively output of writings and treatises on art. These theoretical essays (which culminated in the famous Lives of the Most Excellent Artists from Cimabue to Michelangelo published by Giorgio Vasari in 1550) began to uncover an ever-more marked contrast between the supremacy of draughtsmanship venerated in Florence and Rome and the rich, dramatic love and use of color that the Venetians adored. At the same time a few painters who lived highly individual lives, such as Lorenzo Lotto, raised the question of whether other, more personalized, ways of painting might not be possible.
Raphael's death (1 520) coincided with the rapid growth of the Lutheran schism which the highly cultured, peace-loving Pope Leo X (Lorenzo the Magnificent's son) could not halt. A few years later the Eternal Citv was dealt a seemingly mortal blow by the Sack of Rome (1527), and the High Renaissance was finally over, except for some artists in Venice. In such a changed world, painters perceived the urgent need to rethink the forms and rules of their art. The most thoroughgoing proposals came out of Florence where Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino started by studying and faithfully emulating the works of Michelangelo and Raphael and ended by violently distorting such traditional forms. Their frozen figures flaunted wildly contorted poses and nervously melodramatic expressions, far removed from Raphael's serenity. A new movement was born: Mannerism. During the course of the century this was to become the dominant artistic current in central Italy and, through the export of works of art and of artists themselves, much of Europe. In northern Italy, however, they had different ideas. At about the same time, that is to sav around 1 520, provincial artists began working on large-scale decorative projects. These were much appreciated by the public. Instead of the tormented estheticism of the Tuscan Mannerists these moving works blended all the elements together in harmonv. The frescos painted by Gaudenzio Ferrari at Varallo, bv Pordenone in Cremona and above all by Correggio in Parma provide a daring foretaste of the most thrilling compositions of Baroque art.
There is no doubt, however, that in their respective cities of Rome and Venice it was Michelangelo and Titian who determined how art developed. After almost 30 years Michelangelo returned to the Sistine Chapel to paint The Last Judgment, the final and most terrible epic in the history of the human race. By then, Titian was the international artist par excellence. He painted a host of memorable portraits which captured the faces and characteristics of the most powerful people in Europe. In 1 545 the two great artists, by then both growing old, met in Rome and failed to agree. Both had been commissioned by the Farnese Pope Paul III, who also called the Council of Trent at the start of the Counter-Reformation.
The work of this huge religious council was closely linked to the more strictly political tasks demanded by the Emperor Charles V and the Diet of Augsburg, which Titian also attended while painting the Emperor. From the middle of the century, the end of over 30 years of conflict in Germany between Catholics and Protestants meant that the way religious images had long been used needed to be reassessed. As had happened two centuries earlier after the Black Death of 1 348, the century divided almost into two halves. On the one hand, and especially in Florence and Rome, Mannerism became ever-more sophisticated and intellectual, striving toward the artificial creation of a new-painting and celebrating the rule of often despotic dukes. Bronzino's portraits arc a perfect example of this, but they were nonetheless outdone by the bizarreness of some the richest and most fancilul foreign collectors, such as the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II who was Arcimboldo's patron. On the other hand, in the smaller centers, such as Brescia, Bergamo and the Marches, there was a rediscovery of the human dimension in direct touch with reality. Here we have forerunners of Caravaggio's radical realism and of the return of simple treatments of religious subjects.
The expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean posed a real threat to Venice whose island empire was being continually attacked. Not even victory in the Battle of Lepanto (1571) removed the ever-present Turkish danger. Despite this, in the sixteenth century as a whole Venice put on a glittering display, building classically-inspired palaces, churches, libraries, and villas designed by Sansovino and Palladio. It also boasted a glittering list of magnificent painters. Titian had embarked on a solitary and wonderful adventure. In his extreme old age he painted some of the most striking images ever produced in art, works so unfinished and evanescent that they move almost toward abstraction. These were not the works which made him famous but they appeal to us now more than ever. Generally, the Venetian school produced artists who were at ease in any situation, always willing and able to take on decorative cvcles of enormous size. In the 1560s and 1570s artistic activity in Venice reached levels of the very highest creativity. You can choose the sunlit, sumptuous, spectacular scenes created bv Paolo Veronese, where no touch of religious controversy and doubt is permitted to darken scenes of franklv pagan sensuality — but a sensuality transmuted by the power of art to a higher plane. Or you can choose the intensely spiritual, highly dramatic canvases of Tintoretto, which rival Michelangelo's greatest works, or turn to Jacopo Bassano's marvelously realistic views of peasant life in the mountains.
Bv the close of the century, however, the great stream ol Iresh geniuses seemed to have dried up. One after another the greatest painters had died: Michelangelo in 1 564,Titian in 1 576, Veronese in 1588, and Tintoretto in 1594. A new generation of artists would have to make its mark on a very different artistic landscape. It would also have to stand up to ever fiercer international competition from new schools of painting, themselves often originallv inspired bv Italy. Little by little, Italy was destined to lose its central position in the world of European art, although for centuries to come it would remain a place of artistic pilgrimage. In the seventeenth century artists as different as Rubens and Poussin would visit Italv, and Poussin, the founder of French classicism, would choose to spend his lite in Rome. Even so, the last years of the century saw Italian art adrift and directionless. The narrow puritanism of the early Counter-Reformation, with its distrust of all exuberance and artistic independence, had blighted even the art of Venice. The most luminous period of Italian art and culture therefore closed on a note of muted tragedy.This is all the more striking because it came after such an extraordinary era of the human spirit.

The adventurous path pursued by Renaissance man was first trodden in the proud citv of Florence by Dante and Giotto. They set out to claim a new role for humanity to play in the world ("fatti non foste a viver come bruti/ ma per scguir virtute c conoscenza" ["you were not made to live like savages/ but to follow virtue and knowledge"). Over the generations the Renaissance had taken on a scale and depth that could not possibly have been foreseen at the start. At its zenith, it produced a unique generation of the greatest masters, all of them born between the middle and the end of the fifteenth century. It was in the centuries of the Renaissance that our own modern wav of living in the world was first hinted at and shaped. With that came our modern ability to relate to our own history and destiny, our wav of interpreting the present as a link in the chain between a passionately-studied past and a future that we can face with equanimity. With the Renaissance came also a new awareness of the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans and with that a slowly achieved awareness quite lacking in the Middle Ages — that such a world was over and past. The Renaissance also gave us a new taste for beauty, a new love of nature, and a new passion for life and for art. This, more than the individual masterpieces of even the greatest painters, is the true inheritance of the Renaissance, ft is undoubtedly something for Italy to be proud of, but it also has produced an abundance of works of art, many of them of the highest quality, that are difficult to preserve and to keep intact for the world.
In its dying days the Renaissance gave way to a new attitude toward man, nature, the mysteries of the cosmos, and the divine mystery. This was the generation of Caravaggio and Galileo. Each in his own way built a telescope to look fearlessly into the depths of the soul or into the dark of the night. They looked toward a humanity and a universe which, a century earlier, Leonardo had more joyously been the first to explore.

Stefano Zuffi

 

 

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