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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Florence Facts

For the rest of November, I'm going to write random thoughts about things that interest me, bother me, or just tweak my imagination. It should be an interesting ride. I invite you to come along.

Most folks who've looked at the Renaissance realize it began in Italy. As they narrow down, they give credit to the flourishing of art that happened largely in Florence in the late 1400s (think Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael...). What I didn't realize until I started studying it carefully is this: Had it not been for one man, Lorenzo di Medici, the Renaissance as we know it might never have happened.

To make my point, let me take you to Florence, circa 1450:

The old feudal system of kings, knights, and so forth is gone, but the aristocratic families still proudly claim knights as ancestors. Slavery is still widely practiced; Circassian slave girls are especially popular and many prominent men have an acknowledged child or two with their slaves. People are openly pious in proclaiming their religion, yet they often profit openly from business practices that are condemned by the church. (In a city built on banking, usury is one of the most serious of those sins.)

The Tuscan city-state ruled by Florence is one of many rival kingdoms on the Italian peninsula. Among these, the papal states, where the pope rules as unrivaled "prince of the church," has one of the strongest armies. In the midst of this, Florence manages a nominal democracy where even lowly craftsmen can rule for a time alongside the most vaunted names in the city.

And into this mix steps Lorenzo di Medici, known even in his lifetime as Il Magnifico. He organizes the Plato Academy where, for the first time, the greatness of God is celebrated together with the greatness of human form and thought: a combining of Christian and humanist thought that has never been rivaled. He creates a sculpture garden, finds talents such as the young Michelangelo Buonarroti (13 years old when Il Magnifico took him in) and nurtures them in the traditions of Greek sculptors. He holds contests for poets to equal Dante, hires Brunelleschi to complete the dome on the cathedral (which has stood uncovered for 100 years) and creates a library of manuscripts to rival the fabled library of Alexandria. What a fascinating man!

I'm imagining my story, set against the backdrop of Il Magnifico's magnificent life, and I'm enjoying the process of studying and researching for it. In time I hope to share it all with you. Stay tuned!

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