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Italian History

 

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Amerigo Vespucci sailing ship T-shirts

These are links to my pages on Italy's various historical eras.   

 

 Buy Antique Maps posters and prints at Art.com

 

See my free Renaissance Figures you can print out to color, frame or to make into paper dolls.

 

Cover of the free e-book about the Renaissance in Italy.  This is a classic work on the Italian Renaissance:  'The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy' by Jacob Burckhardt from 1878, translated by S.G.C. Middlemore.  I had to edit the text due to the poor quality of the public domain edition. The book is 349 pages long, followed by two pieces I added about the author and his writings on history.  

Sample page from the free e-book about the Renaissance.  I've added appropriate graphics at the start of each chapter.  The chapter headings are:  

  • The State as a Work of Art, 

  • The Development of the Individual, 

  • The Revival of Antiquity, 

  • The Discovery of the World and of Man, 

  • Society and Festivals, 

  • Morality and Religion.  

 

 

The Costumer's Manifesto site at Costumes.org offers everything you could ever want to know about how Italians dressed, danced and wore their hair during the Renaissance.  They even have patterns.

 

This is part of a map from the late Renaissance showing Italy.

 

The logo above links to 'The History Guide' article on The Age of Discovery.  It is excellent, and from there you can link to other wonderful articles.  There is quite a bit about Columbus in the linked article.

 

This is an image of Explorer Amerigo Vespucci from a very famous map made by Martin Waldseemüller who lived from 1470 to 1521.  He is the man who pushed to have the New World named for Vespucci.  No, not to call it Vespucci, but to call it America. 

 

Click on the logo of the 'Catholic Encyclopedia' site above, to read their article on The Reformation.  It's very interesting to read the Catholic perspective on a religious revolution that divided the Christian church in two.

And click here to read about a Vatican exhibit that details how the Popes rebuilt Rome during the Renaissance.

 

Click on the logo for the 'Internet Medieval Sourcebook' site to find online versions of original documents from the Medieval period, mainly pertaining to The Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

 

This is an image of north and central Italy during the Renaissance.  Click on the image to go to 'The Medieval Sourcebook' site's list of maps, where you will find this one and others of Italy through time.

 

There is a wonderful book about the customs of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that includes many images, and tons of curious information.

It is available to read on-line via Gutenberg Press, for free.

Manners, Customs, and Dress During the Middle Ages, and During the Renaissance Period.

By Paul Lacroix
(Bibliophile Jacob),
Curator of the Imperial Library of the Arsenal, Paris.

Illustrated with
Nineteen Chromolithographic Prints by F. Kellerhoven
and upwards of
Four Hundred Engravings on Wood

 

Il Rinascimento - The Renaissance

 

The visible remains of Il Rinascimento are the architecture and art, but it is the ideas of time that really caused the re-birth of society and the human spirit from roughly the 1300s to the 1600s in Italy.  

 

Medieval society was swept aside by ideas such as humanism, individuality, a secular society, realism, education, self-improvement, good governance, intellectual curiosity.  

 

It is these ideas that made their way north and seeded the Northern version of the Renaissance that was more focused on ideas rather than art, leading to the Enlightenment and modern society.

 

It was the growth of commerce and foreign influences in the port and trade cities that stimulated this embracing of new ideas.  Italy was not as feudal as the rest of Europe.  Her city-states and well-developed ports provided independence from the invasive Catholic church and the repressive feudal lords.  

 

And commerce required skilled laborers in many different fields, building a middle class that was eager to have their children escape the drudgery and precariousness of agricultural life.  Education was recognized for the first time as the key to advancement and a better life.

 

The intellectually curious during the Renaissance looked to the Ancient Greeks as an example of a society that searched for answers to life’s questions in reason, logic, ethics and science.  Ancient Roman writers, who learned from the Greeks and either revived or expanded on their ideas were also embraced. 

 

Greco-Roman classicism became the intellectual starting point, and all the old texts they could find were translated and studied.  Schools were founded to teach the social sciences, arts, and sciences.  

 

Intellectual curiosity was encouraged.  Experimentation and human achievement was rewarded.  The study and description of mankind and civilization's systems is exemplified by Machiavelli, who was an early political scientist and historian.

 

The names of the greats of the Italian Rinascimento are well-known throughout the world.  In literature, Dante is often considered the first Renaissance writer, writing the famous allegory about man’s journey through life, The Divine Comedy, in Italian.  

 

No longer was literature only for monks, but it was now for the educated common, secular man.  Petrarch, Boccaccio, Castiglione, Ariosto and many others followed Dante, writing works that entertained and edified the educated Italians of their day. 

 

The Renaissance artists are too many to name them all, but the earliest is usually considered Giotto, who broke from the medieval static designs and symbolism to create more naturalistic images that anyone could understand and appreciate.  

 

He was followed by Botticelli, Rafaello, Donatello, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo to name a few.  They were often versatile artists, achieving success several artistic fields, rather than specializing like artists before them. Vasari famously wrote mini-biographies of them during the Renaissance, ensuring them lasting fame.

 

They excelled in sculpture, architecture, painting, decorating, ceramics, metal casting, entertainments, mechanics, and decorating.  They helped create the description of a multi-talented person as a Renaissance Man.

 

Florence was the center of the Italian Rinascimento.  The ruling merchant family, the Medici, encouraged and gloried in Florentine invention and art.  Every advancement and accomplishment was seen as enhancing the Medici standing in the known world. 

 

The wealth pouring into the region was used to fund ever greater showpieces for the Medici and the many merchant families.  This personal aggrandizement, rather than piety and payments to the church, eventually was repeated in the merchant countries of northern Europe.

 

A great Italian figure during this time was Marco Polo, famous for his accounts of his travels in the east: 'The Milione - TheTravels of Marco Polo'.  Wikipedia has a great page if you want to know more.

 

 

The Age of Discovery

 

The Renaissance lead directly to the great period of exploration of the globe, from the 1480s onward, by explorers financed by monarchies of trading nations and rich trading republics, like Genoa and Venice, searching for new markets, resources and trade routes. 

 

Most of the stars at the beginning of the era were Spanish and Portuguese, and later the English and French.  But some of the stars of the era were Italian, either as captains of explorations, like Columbus, or as navigators, geographers and map-makers, like Amerigo Vespucci. 

 

The great expansion of trade, wealth and commerce during this period also financed explorations in science and invention.  For example, in the field of map-making,  inventions like the compass and accurate timepieces and other devices to assist accurate measurement and travel around the globe were developed, often at the instigation of the governments which were becoming ever richer by their growing foreign empires.  Maps and map-makers were powerful economic tools defended to the death.

 

Armies traveled after the explorers, conquering lands, decimating local populations, and keeping the riches out of the clutches of other trading nations.  Empires were built, and consciences were soothed by the myth that the western conquerors were bringing religion, civilization, modern medicine and effective administrations to backward peoples.  All the while those peoples were dying and being exploited and robbed.  The Age of Colonialism had arrived.

 

During this era, the Catholic church was challenged by the Reformation that produced Protestantism in the 1500s.  The Catholic church fought back with the Counter-Reformation which relied heavily on Inquisitors to scare people back to the faith. 

 

The religious wars that followed throughout Europe (France, German, Spain, Britain, the Low Countries…) would cause many deaths, shape whole countries and governments, and cause mass emigrations. 

 

Many monarchies had staked their legitimacy on allegiance to the Catholic church, and the church relied on their territories for their income.  So these were bloody fights that ended in divisions that remain to this day, most visibly in Belgium which is one country in name only, in reality divided between the Protestant Flemish and the Catholic Walloons. 

 

But Italy remained predominantly Catholic, partly due to the strenuous and bloody efforts of the Inquisition which was especially strong there, and in Spain and France. 

 

And the Catholic church retained land in central Italy, including Rome and the Vatican.  The Papacy was offered military protection by the Catholic monarchies, namely Spain and France.  It was only when French protection was withdrawn in 1870 that Rome joined the rest of unified Italy, leaving the Vatican as an independent state reliant on the good-will of the Italian government for its survival.

 

Next Section:  The Age of Colonialism, Capitalism, Reason, and the Industrial Revolution

 

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Please visit Candida Martinelli's Writing Website and Young-Adult Historical Mystery Series Website