War & ideas in the renaissance


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  • In my lectures giving the background to the Renaissance, I described the medieval persistence of long-distance trade as well as the warm climate and population growth. All of these contributed to the rapid spread of the Black Death, which, in turn, helped to launch the Renaissance. The map you see here gives the places in Europe affected according to time. It also tells you that the plague was launched from present-day Turkey and came across to trade cities on the Mediterranean. It took about three years to travel inland – following the slower movement of people traveling on foot and not by boat.
  • Most of you will have heard that the carriers for the plague are rats, rats that live comfortably on shipboard and in barnyards. The other essential plague carriers are the fleas that live on the rats. These both carry the plague bacteria YersinaPestis, and transmit the bacteria through bites. The plague broke out repeatedly over several centuries, but the mid-1300s was the most devastating in terms of deaths, totaling from one-third to almost ninety percent of the population, depending upon place. The plague still exists and kills a few people in the southwest US annually. Scientists are continuing to explore, carefully, just what made that particular outbreak in the 1340s and 50s so deadly.
  • So plague leads us to a consideration of trade and shipping. And shipping will take us to war. But first, how did trade get carried out, and who thought it was so important? Trade was deadly serious. You can understand that if you think about the power of oil in contemporary political relationships. At the beginning of the 15th century (1400s), the important trade goods were finished wool cloth and spices. Making finished and dyed wool goods was a specialized task belonging to certain cities and specialty technological groups. Also, control of access to spices from the East gave important monopolies to the cities that had the best and most warlike navy prepared to defend trading ships.This slide illustrates a Italian galley from 1571, about the last time such ships were significant to warfare. Such a ship depended on rowers as well as the wind. It wasn’t meant for heavy weaponry. Most likely, the sailors would board and kill the sailors or traders on the other ships. Venice took an early lead in the technology of shipbuilding. By the 1320s, it had developed a shipyard called the Arsenal. The Arsenal could put out a SHIP a DAY with interchangeable parts AND (believe it or not) they kept a fountain of wine for the workers. Why a fountain? It kept people from having to dip their hands into a barrel, and therefore, it kept the woodchips out of the wine. 
  • Most historians place the start of Renaissance in the Italian city states. If you recall that stiff-looking fellow, Justinian, you may recall his capital city, Constantinople. That city was sacked in 1204 by Crusaders and Venetians. The Venetians, who were part of a complex set of political maneuvers, won a large treasure and control of the Eastern trade. Subsequently, the Italian city states struggled with each other, with France, with Spain and with the Ottoman Empire. In 1378, a war called the War of Chioggia brought Venice in conflict with Genoa. They sit on either side of the peninsula. That war was over trade and over control of the Adriatic Sea. Venice won, and increasingly took territory on the coast next to the Ottoman empire. By the 1390s Milan had grown in power and prestige, and it attempted to control Florence and Venice, both of whom fought back. To complicate matters further, France had a dynastic claim on Milan and also on Sicily. So France also fought Spain for control of Italy. 
  • During this period, firearms were developing. In particular, the cannon changed fortification and offense. First conceived of as a siege weapon, the cannon was a massively heavy kind of metal pot that hurled huge balls against solid stone walls. Eventually it became a lighter, deadlier piece that could be mounted on a moveable platform (specifically, a ship) and rain explosives against coastal cities and citizens. And ships changed accordingly – they were stronger, heavier, able to carry double-decked rows of cannons. You see here the kinds of changes that the cannon made to castle fortifications. Castles needed to have angled bastions or rounded walls to allow defenders to fire in several directions, and thick, low walls to resist cannon fire. This slide offers two views of Copertino Castle, on the bootheel of Italy.
  • What’s important to keep in mind: the radical ideas of human dignity, the new scholarship in Greek and Roman literature, and the incredibly beautiful devotional art of the Renaissance aren’t the product of peaceful times. They are concurrent with vicious economic and political wars. It wasn't all paintings of Madonnas and depth perspective and translations of Greek poets and trips to old libraries for new ideas. It was all that, plus bitterto-the-death struggles for supremacy and power.I’d like to talk for little bit about Florence as a touchstone for the Renaissance. Florence went from a being a republic to a virtual dictatorship run by the Medici, who also managed to install their family in charge of the Papacy. It is the home of Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Lorenzo the Magnificent. When we get to the Machiavelli reading, you’ll see what he thought about power and how it should be wielded. Florence was one the cities dominated by textile finishing, and so, it was run by the cloth merchant’s guild. There were twelve such powerful guilds in Florence, each controlling a business sector.
  • Lorenzo the Magnificent, pictured here, was the patron of Michelangelo (as was Pope Julian, who when asked if he wanted to be painted with a Bible, said “why?”). The Medici family dominated Florence through three generations and gained their money and power as cloth-merchants and later bankers. The portrait on the right shows him in the most expensive color of the day, red. The Medici were exiled briefly during the life of Lorenzo’s father, Piero. Other families strenuously resisted their return: Lorenzo was the subject of a famous assassination plot which took place during a public Mass and killed his brother Guiliano. Lorenzo was a survivor. In addition to Michelangelo, Lorenzo also sponsored Leonardo Da Vinci. If he was a strong personality – and he was – he wasn’t afraid to surround himself with excellence.
  • I mentioned the Nine Worthies in a previous lecture. They were medieval heroes. The hero that Florence identified itself with was David, one of the three Biblical heroes. David’s story is told in the Bible, in the first book of Samuel. David came from a wealthy family with flocks of sheep. His six older brothers were serving in the Israeli army, which was out fighting the Philistines. David, being the youngest, was left home to be a shepherd. His father sent him to bring supplies to his brothers. He arrived just at the time that Goliath, a warrior for the Philistines, was issuing his daily challenge. Goliath was a giant. According to the ancient measures offered in the Bible, he would have been over nine feet tall. He had issued a “single-combat” challenge to anyone who dared to face him. Winner takes all – no need for the armies to meet. But no one dared. David, seeing and hearing what he did, was indignant. He said “Why doesn’t anyone dare to face him? Isn’t God on our side? Or don’t we actually believe that?” David’s words were repeated and he was taken to the Israeli king. The king agreed that David could take up the challenge, and even offered him his own armor. David tried it on and said “I can’t wear this; I’m not used to it.” So he went out with just a slingshot and stones. Goliath, seeing David, laughed. “This boy? I’ll feed his flesh to the birds.” David replied “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” David hit Goliath with a stone square between the eyes. Goliath went down, and David cut off his head with his own sword. The Philistines ran, and the Israeli army triumphed. That’s the story that the Florentines loved. It was a hero, a stripling, with faith and courage and daring, who won. Over the next decade, various artists and sculptors tried their hand at David. They referenced classical models, as this early one does. The artist Donatello, paid by the Medici, producedtwo Davids. This one is in marble, and sculpted around 1408. The posture is open, alert, graceful.(I Samuel, Chapters 16-17 for the whole story of David.)
  • You see here the calm, almost serene expression on David’s face, and at his feet, Goliath’s head. This statue stood at the town hall (The Palazzo Vecchio).
  • Donatello made a second David just short of life-size. This one is more contorted in posture, and the overall expression is inward, rather than outward. It is the first Renaissance attempt at a bronze nude.
  • In contrast to the first David, it stood in the courtyard of the Medici family on a specially-made column. The inscription on the column urged citizens to conquer tyranny. Scholars are still debating just what this David means, is, and says.
  • Andrea Del Verrochio offered another David in bronze during the 1460s. This one is again outward, open, and defiant, but not nude. Goliath is clearly visible and clearly human.
  • He is lean and muscled, with a crown of unruly hair and an alert expression. This work was commissioned by PierodiMedici.
  • Here is the David that most of us have seen. Michelangelo produced this David between 1501 and 1504 for a cathedral, but ultimately, it was too large to raise to the place it had been commissioned for. Here we have a David who is a model of human near-perfection. At about seventeen feet, he is much taller than life size, carrying a cloak over his shoulder, and Goliath is not part of the composition. This statue was placed outside the town hall (the Palazzo Vecchio) at the city center with three other versions of David.
  • David symbolizes the city’s vigilance against any and all enemies. Most of us learn about this David without its context, history and local symbolism. Instead, like the Mona Lisa, it has become one of the most enduring images of the Renaissance – for most, it symbolizes the Renaissance itself and the value of culture, learning and humanity. This David has been reproduced again and again.
  • We began in Venice, and we return to Venice at the Rialto. This bridge, which spans the Grand Canal, is one of the places Venetians would have gone to trade, to chat, to see the ships come in, or to buy books.
  • In a future lecture, I will discuss the importance of printing. But now, I simply want to mention that Venice was a city of books. A bookseller of Venice in 1484 traded in classics, Bibles, devotionals, works on church law, romances, schoolbooks and poetry. Just to compare, a cook book was fourteen soldi, while a little collection of the biographies of the Caesars (Seutonius)was four soldi. Dante was more expensive, at one ducat. Greek war stories by the historian Thucydideswere about the middle, at one lira, nine soldi. In my dissertation chapter on Luca Pacioli, who was a monk and professor of accounting, I noted that Venetian bookshops seem startlingly familiar. Then as now there was a population that liked cookbooks and histories as well as travel literature and classics. The bookseller kept on hand Roman social satires (Juvenal)and the thousand-year-old war-horse Latin grammar book (Donatus). He also kept Peregrinato ad Jerusalem(travels to Jerusalem)and the Letters of Pope Pius II, both of which sold out quickly.
  • At the age of 51, in 1496, Pacioli met Leonardo da Vinci in Milan and became part of the Sforza family court. Leonardo, having read the Summa, had requested the meeting. Leonardo was seven years younger than Pacioli, but the men became friends and lived together for a while. Between 1496 and 1499, Da Vinci created “The Last Supper,” and Pacioli wrote De DivinaProportione, which Leonardo illustrated. In 1499, when war broke out in Milan, the two men fled to Florence. And one speculation holds that Da Vinci, who seemed to know everyone, was the youthfulmodel for none other than Andrea Del Verrochio’s David. It makes a nice circle, doesn’t it? 
  • War & ideas in the renaissance

    1. 1. Gutenberg Bible, printed in Mainz, Germanyand completed in 1454 or 1455.
    2. 2. Gutenberg Bible, printed in Mainz, Germanyand completed in 1454 or 1455.
    3. 3. References and Image CreditsPlague Incidencehttp://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/plague/facts.htmPlague Maphttp://images.travelpod.com/tripwow/photos/ta-00d4-bc02-7913/this-is-map-of-the-bubonic-plague-n1-italy-italy+1152_12960797464-tpfil02aw-30598.jpgGalley, Battle of Lepanto,http://www.art-wallpaper.com/14169/Lorck+Melchior/The+ships+Battle+of+Lepanto+on+7+October+1571?Width=1680&Height=1050Italian Stateshttp://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/ralph/ralimage/map18ita.jpgCopertino Castlehttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Copertino.jpg
    4. 4. References and Image CreditsVasari’s Map of Florencehttp://www.florin.ms/vasarimap1.jpgLorenzo Di Medici’s portraithttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lorenzo_de%27_Medici-ritratto.jpgDonatello’s Marble Davidhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Donatello,_david_(marmo)_01.JPGDonatello’s Bronze Davidhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Donatello_-_David_-_Floren%C3%A7a.jpgAndrea Del Verrochio ‘s David (overview of David in Florence)http://www.high.org/david/symbol.htmlMichelangelo’s Davidhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo%27s_David.JPG
    5. 5. References and Image CreditsGutenberg Bible, printed in Mainz (Harry Ransom Center,University of Texas, Austin)http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/gutenberg/Luca Paciolihttp://www.leonardo3.net/mazzocchio/L3-Leonardo%20da%20Vinci_LucaPacioli.jpgVitruvian Manhttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/17/Vitruvian.jpg/300px-Vitruvian.jpg