Florence and the Renaissance

Why is Florence considered the cradle of the Renaissance? What does Renaissance mean?

Renaissance (“Rinascimento” in Italian) means rebirth, revival and it’s usually referred to a period that begins in the late 14 th century and goes all the way to the late 16 th century. It embraces art, for which is mostly known, but also a lot innovations in the field of science happened during that period as well as an unprecedented expansion of the known world: new trade routes are opened and America is discovered. Thus the Middle Ages gave way to this unique moment in history.

Some historians state that the Renaissance in Florence began in 1401 when Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti participated in the competition held by the city for one of the doors of the Baptistery. They both made a gilded bronze panel depicting the scene of Isaac’s sacrifice from the Old Testament.

Both tiles were very innovative, but it was Ghiberti who won the competition and the commission for the door.

The Medici and the Renaissance

The Medici was the family that ruled Florence and Tuscany for more than three centuries. Thanks to their unrelenting patronage the arts, the city became a beacon and inspiration for artists all over Italy and Europe. Patrons and avid collectors, they protected and financed artists, commissioning an impressive body of works that, over the centuries, decorated their palaces and villas and embellished Florence. Art became a symbol of wealth and power, the prominent families of the city also used it to promote themselves.

Artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo (and later also the scientists like Galileo) were able to express and develop their talent in Florence thanks to the Medici’s sponsorship.

Renaissance and ancient art

During the Renaissance we assist to a revival of classic art: as the archeological excavations in Rome revealed new treasures, many artists travelled to the city expressly to study roman art. Artists became fond of ancient Greek and Roman art, they replicated this classical style in paintings, sculptures and the new palaces and churches. In a way, the Renaissance was a “reinvention” of antiquity.

Renaissance is everywhere in Florence

Renaissance architecture featured simple, logical and geometrical structures: a very simple module using the square and the circle. Every measurement had to be a multiple of these two simple geometric figures. Some relevant examples of civil Renaissance architecture are the Medici Palace and the Strozzi Palace: sober and austere from the outside all revolving around a courtyard, much like the Roman domus. A beautiful example of Renaissance sacred architecture is the Church of San Lorenzo, conceived by Filippo Brunelleschi, where the carefully planned division of space and the uniform lighting gave a sense of a nice, uniform flow.

Some of the most famous paintings of the Renaissance are here in Florence: “The birth of Venus” and “The Primavera” by Sandro Botticelli, both hosted in the Uffizi Gallery. Inside the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella you can admire the “Trinity” by Masaccio, a fresco considered to be the “prototype” of Renaissance painting thanks to its impressive use of perspective, that is, the illusion of depth on a flat surface, one of the greatest gifts that the artists of this period left us.

The statue of “David” by Michelangelo, hosted in the Gallery of the Academy, is definitely one of the best known sculptures in the world. It expresses the perfect eclectic nature of the Renaissance: where antiquity and Christian art are embodied in one gigantic block of marble.

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