For nearly two centuries, some dozen city states waged war and their leaders competed to create spheres of both authority and magnificence. Artists from Italy and abroad flourished, moving from court to court, sharing influences and creating ever more sumptuous environments for their patrons. This course examines the role of the ruling families, their spectacular personalities and projects, and the culture of the age that drove this artistic flowering. We will examine how regimes justified their power, the particulars of the relationship between the princely patron and the artists who worked for them and attempt to understand how art was the product of political regimes during period of warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed. This course will concentrate on the social history and visual culture of selected cities between 1400 and 1600.
Texts for the class:
Alison Cole, Italian Renaissance Courts: Art, Pleasure and Power.
Supplemental texts (optional):
Mary Hollingsworth, Patronage in Renaissance Italy: From 1400 to the Early Sixteenth Century
John Paoletti and Gary Radke, Art in Renaissance Italy.
Art and Magnificence: Princely courts of the Renaissance
What makes a Renaissance prince and how did they assert their legitimacy and authority? For a Renaissance prince, money spent lavishly on art and architecture was money well spent. Each Renaissance court was in either a friendly or contentious rivalry with the other, vying to create the most magnificent city. Rivalries were made all the more intense by a complex network of martial relationships and diplomatic ties.
Topics to be considered: political situation in 15th century Italy, mercenary generals, the princely palace, marriage and diplomacy, alliances and expressions of wealth and power.
Milan: the Visconti and Sforzas
Milan set the pace and the tone for courtly life in Renaissance Italy. Beginning with the rule of the Visconti family and ending with the Sforza, Milan was considered one of the greatest artistic centers in Europe. Topics to be considered: Family succession and alliances, Certosa of Pavia, Lombard style, Bramante, and Leonardo da Vinci.
Urbino: Magnificence in the Marches
Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, was in many ways the ideal Renaissance ruler – courageous soldier, benevolent statesman and cultivated and lavish patron of the arts. We will concentrate on the paintings, architecture, manuscripts and sculpture associated with Federigo and how he transformed Urbino into a magnificent Renaissance center and ideal city.
Topics to be considered: the ideal city, Renaissance architecture, Piero della Francesca, Justus of Ghent, Baldassare Castiglione, young Raphael.
Poets and Soldiers: Ferrara and Rimini
The d’Este rulers of Ferrara created an environment of taste and magnificence, brick and marble, with the finest paintings, in a city that they made as a model of early urban planning. Much of their collections is now dispersed, but we will consider their impact as well as that of the sculpture, architecture and paintings which remain. We will also cast a glance at Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini, “more wild beast than man”. Topics to be consdiered: all’antica, Pisanello, International Gothic style, Alberti, and Piero della Francesca.
Mantua and the Gonzaga
Mantua, small and muddy, was one of the least powerful of Italian city-states. However, through extraordinary and judicious patronage of the arts, the Gonzaga dynasty created an image of splendor, which made the city the envy of its contemporaries. From Ludovico Gonzaga to Isabella d’Este to Federico Gonzaga, few cultural centers have achieved the brilliance of Mantua.
Topics to be considered: art collecting, Alberti, Mantegna, Giulio Romano.
The 16th century Court of the Medici
During the first decades of the 16th century, Medici rule extended over most of Tuscany and Florence was its capital. We will look at Cosimo I’s spectacular rise to power, Florence transitioning from republic to duchy, its alliance with Spain and subsequent Medici dukes.
Topics to be considered: Medici Popes, Charles V, propaganda, Giorgio Vasari, Bronzino and Benvenuto Cellini.
Review and Final exam
The Princely Courts of Renaissance Italy
COST: $395 or €325 per person
($180 discounted fee to additional household members)
WHEN: Wednesdays starting on May 12th at
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm (Florence)
Should you wish to pay with Zelle, please click the button below and enter the $395 registration fee, using my email