By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo
Spring is here and once again we enjoy the rebirth of nature. Centuries ago, Italy was the epicenter of a rebirth of society which influenced the entire globe. During this time, other powers sought to exert their control over the city states that controlled the territories across the peninsula.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, barbarians overran the peninsula. The country, as we know it today, ceased to exist. After almost 10 centuries and numerous conquests, particularly in the south by
the Moors, the Saracens, the Franks, and even the Vikings in the 15th century, Italy remained unlike any other place in Europe. In the north, the peninsula was divided into independent city-states, each with a different form of government. The city of Florence was an independent republic. It was also a banking and commercial capital and, after London and Constantinople, the third-largest city in Europe.
The Renaissance had its inception in Florence, Italy, a place with a rich cultural history where wealthy citizens could afford to support budding artists. Members of the powerful Medici family, which ruled Florence for more than 60 years, were famous backers of the movement. By the 1300s the city became the cultural center of Europe and the birthplace of the Renaissance, while the south remained impoverished and dominated by foreign powers.
The word renaissance itself is a French word, but its origins come from the Italian word rinascita, which means “rebirth.” Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), a man of many talents (he was an artist, art theorist, architect, writer, and engineer), first introduced this term to describe this new period of awakening in Italy in his publication Le Vite, meaning “The Lives.”
The Renaissance was an important event in European history that stretched from the 14th century to the 17th century. It was a time of extreme change after the darkness of the Middle Ages. This period of reawakening eventually led to the Age of Enlightenment. In historical terms the Renaissance is important because it led to a major shift in European thought and worldview. While the Renaissance is recognized to have begun in the city-states of the peninsula in the 14th century, the main ideas of the movement eventually spread to all of Europe by the 16th century.
The most significant changes that emerged in this time are expressed in European architecture, art, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, politics, religion, and science. Historians have identified quite a few causes for the emergence of the Renaissance following the Middle Ages, such as: increased interaction between diverse cultures, the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman texts, the emergence of humanism, different artistic and technological innovations, and the impacts of conflict and death. This “rebirth” also sought to reawaken what is referred to as “classical antiquity” from the ancient times of Greek and Rome.
Italian Renaissance artists focused more on the ideas of humanism and naturalistic portrayals of the world and people around them.
The Renaissance gave the world the ideas and arts from Italians who live on through their works to this day. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Tintoretto, Masaccio, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Verocchio, Galileo Galilei, Dante Aligheri, Niccolò Machiavelli and Giovanni Boccaccio are just a few who made major contributions to Italian society and the world during this time.
Leonardo da Vinci was the ideal Renaissance man, the greatest Universal Genius, who, among other things, was a painter, mathe-matician, engineer, architect, botanist, sculptor and anatomist. Da Vinci is one of the greatest painters in history. Lorenzo de’ Medici is perhaps the most famous and enthusiastic patron of the Renaissance. Francesco Petrarca, known as Petrarch, led the resurgence of learning based on classical sources. He described the preceding 900 years, as “dark,” for he saw it as a time where humans didn’t realize their potential. He is considered by many to be the “Father of the Renaissance.” Raphael was perhaps the most popular painter during the Renaissance.
However, while the Renaissance was reviving the cultural grandeur of its Roman past, foreign powers vied for control of the peninsula. France invaded northern areas of Italy in 1494 and Spain soon followed suit. Austria was another power which attempted to dominate some northern areas. Spain prevailed in its war against France to control Italy and with the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, directly and indirectly ensured authority over most of the Italian states.
The war between Spain and France lasted a long time. Between 1494 and 1553 Spain, France and Austria continued to maintain influence over different areas of Italy as the renaissance flourished.
At the end of the wars, Italy split between viceroyalties of the Spanish Habsburgs in the south and formal fiefs of the Austrian Habsburgs in the north. The most significant Italian power left was the Papacy in central Italy, as it maintained major cultural and political influence during the Catholic Reformation.
Attempts to dominate different regions of the peninsula after this period finally ended in 1861 when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy.
While foreign powers rule did reshape the political and geographical features of Italy it did not diminish the accomplishments of Italian artists, scientists and philosophers who created a new world.
Renaissance ideas soon spread beyond Italy to northern Europe by means of trade, travel, and printed material, influencing the art and ideas of the north.