Books and Resources

A Short History of the Italian Renaissance

Author: Kenneth R. Bartlett

Time Period: 800-1571

About The Book

Award-winning lecturer Kenneth R. Bartlett applies his decades of experience teaching the Italian Renaissance to this beautifully illustrated overview. In his introductory Note to the Reader, Bartlett first explains why he chose Jacob Burckhardt’s classic narrative to guide students through the complex history of the Renaissance and then provides his own contemporary interpretation of that narrative. Over seventy color illustrations, genealogies of important Renaissance families, eight maps, a list of popes, a timeline of events, a bibliography, and an index are included.

About The Author

Kenneth R. Bartlett is Professor of History and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto. He is the author of The English in Italy 1525-1558: A Study in Culture and Politics (1991), co-editor of Humanism and the Northern Renaissance (2000), and co-translator of Giovanni Della Casa’s Galateo (third edition 1994).

Questions for Reflection

Hundreds of questions are available here to encourage students to think creatively about what they are reading in their textbook. The questions are organized by chapter and focus on the maps and figures as well as the text. They will be an invaluable resource for students reviewing for their exams or simply testing their knowledge as they work through the material.

  • 1. Consider Map 11.1 in your textbook. Looking at this map of Italy at the time of the Peace of Lodi (1454), can you suggest why the five leading Italian states signed this peace?

    2. How did Italy manage to sustain a lengthy period of relative peace and stability after 1454?

    3. Why was it very much in the interests of Cosimo de’Medici of Florence and Francesco Sforza of Milan to keep the peace, despite the traditional hostility between their states?

    4. Why did Lodovico il Moro encourage the French invasion of 1494?

    5. What were the ambitions of Charles VIII of France in his invasion of Italy?

    6. The Granacci painting of the entry of the French into Florence (Figure 11.2) was painted from the Florentine point of view. Discuss.

    7. Explain the appeal of Girolamo Savonarola to the Florentines in the late 1480s and 1490s.

    8. What does the portrait of Savonarola (Figure 11.1) by Fra Bartolommeo reveal about the man?

    9. Does Savonarola’s rise to influence indicate that the roots of Florentine humanism were shallow or that Savonarola spoke to those groups who felt disaffected from the regime and culture of Lorenzo de’Medici, Il Magnifico?

    10. Were Savonarola’s prophecies fully in accord with the city’s belief in Florentine exceptionalism?

    11. Why was apocalyptic prophecy particularly compelling at the end of the fifteenth century in Italy?

    12. Savonarola envisioned a theocratic republic, freed from the Medici and cleansed of “pagan” humanism. Was he justified in his proscription of Laurentian values and was he in the republican traditions of the city?

    13. Was Pope Alexander VI justified in his excommunication of Savonarola?

    14. Account for Savonarola’s fall and execution.

    15. The anonymous painting of the burning of the body of Savonarola and his two followers (Figure 11.3) depicts the Piazza della Signoria in 1498. How much has the piazza changed over the past five centuries?

    16. The composition of The Burning of Savonarola (Figure 11.3) tells a story of power as well as an execution. Explain how the narrative reveals the sympathies of the painter.

    17. Account for the complete failure of Piero de’Medici to sustain Medici hegemony in the city and security from attack by the French.

    18. The French invasion of 1494 introduced a fatal element of instability into the Italian peninsula and ultimately resulted in the loss of Italian liberty. Discuss.

    19. After 1494 the fate of Italy would be decided outside the peninsula by forces largely outside Italian control. Discuss.

    20. Compare the Italy of 1454 with the Italy of 1494: what changed and what remained constant?

  • 1. Why did the republic of Florence fall and the Medici return in 1512?

    2. How did the election in 1513 of Giovanni de’Medici as pope (Leo X) affect Florence?

    3. How was Florence ruled after the departure of Giovanni de’Medici for Rome?

    4. Why did Florence once more expel the Medici and re-establish itself as a free republic in 1527?

    5. Account for the uncompromising nature of the republican regime between 1527 and 1530. Why were the republic’s leaders unwilling to recognize the hopelessness of their situation and accommodate the Medici once again?

    6. What can Giorgio Vasari’s fresco, The Siege of Florence, 1529-30 (Figure 12.1), tell us about that event? Is it significant that it was commissioned by Duke Cosimo I and painted in a room in the Palazzo della Signoria?

    7. Duke Alessandro de’Medici was probably the worst ruler in Florentine history. Does this explain and justify his murder by Lorenzaccio?

    8. Describe the character and ascent to power of Cosimo de’Medici, the first hereditary duke of Florence.

    9. What made Francesco Guicciardini and Francesco Vettori cynically think that they could manipulate the inexperienced teenaged Cosimo and be the powers behind the throne after Alessandro’s murder?

    10. Assess the character, strengths, and weaknesses of Duke Cosimo de’Medici.

    11. Duke Cosimo turned Florence from a state with deep republican traditions into a dynastic, centralized despotism in a very short period of time. How did he manage this?

    12. Looking at the Bronzino portrait of Eleonora of Toledo (Figure 12.2), the wife of Duke Cosimo I, what can we learn about her status, her taste, her character, and her family?

    13. What changed the cultivated patrician elite of Florence from republican merchants and magistrates to aristocratic courtiers, proud of their new titles and offices?

    14. The Florentine economy and the city’s wealth declined in parallel with the loss of political freedom. Are there connections between political and intellectual freedom and economic success?

    15. Why did Duke Cosimo, Eleonora, and their family move first into the Palazzo della Signoria and then into the Palazzo Pitti?

    16. As an historian, what would Leonardo Bruni have written about Duke Cosimo de’Medici?

  • 1. What events characterized Machiavelli’s early life in Florence?

    2. Did Machiavelli’s social class, education, and experience have a significant influence on his period in office in Florence (1498-1512)?

    3. What was the situation in Italy at the time Machiavelli wrote The Prince (1513)?

    4. What does Machiavelli’s letter to Vettori tell us about his life in exile?

    5. Do you agree with Machiavelli’s assessment of Cesare Borgia (Duke Valentino)?

    6. Is it appropriate that The Prince concludes with a poem (Italia Mia) by Petrarch?

    7. Why would Machiavelli write an analysis of Florentine affairs in the form of a commentary on the ancient Roman historian Livy?

    8. Why did Machiavelli have to be careful in writing his History of Florence?

    9. Compare the backgrounds and early experience of Machiavelli and Guicciardini.

    10. Why do you think Guicciardini was so successful as an agent of papal policy?

    11. Why was Guicciardini willing to support an evil ruler like Alessandro de’Medici?

    12. Do you think Guicciardini believed that the young Cosimo de’Medici (the future Duke Cosimo I) would be the best ruler for Florence and its people?

    13. Why do you think Duke Cosimo banished Guicciardini from a position of influence in Florence in 1537?

    14. What motivated Guicciardini to write his History of Italy?

    15. Do you agree that all people are motivated almost completely by their own self-interest, even to the detriment of others and the community?

    16. Is history really a web of circumstances in which we are all caught?

    17. Is experience the only thing that really matters in a politician, diplomat, or leader in any occupation?

    18. Compare Machiavelli and Guicciardini as statesmen. Which one would be the best leader?

    19. If you had to choose would you rather work for Machiavelli or Guicciardini? Why?

  • 1. Compare Giotto’s Lamentation (Figure 14.1) with Masaccio’s Trinity (Figure 14.3). What do these frescoes have in common and what makes them different?

    2. Piero della Francesca was a master of perspective. How does he illustrate his skill in The Montefeltro (or Brera) Altarpiece (Figure 14.4)?

    3. Can you identify the figures in The Montefeltro (or Brera) Altarpiece?

    4. Compare The Montefeltro (or Brera) Altarpiece with the Pala Sforzesca (Figure 9.3).

    5. How does Botticelli use Christian iconography for political purposes in The Uffizi Adoration of the Magi (Figure 14.5)?

    6. Why do you think that Gaspare Lami commissioned Botticelli to paint The Uffizi Adoration of the Magi as the altarpiece for his chapel in Santa Maria Novella?

    7. Explain Pallas and the Centaur (Figure 14.6) by Botticelli as a symbolic representation of the events of the Pazzi Conspiracy (1478) against the Medici.

    8. Examine Figures 14.7 and 14.8. The equestrian mounted bronze statues of Gattamelata (Erasmo da Narni) and Bartolommeo Colleoni both represent condottieri (mercenary captains). Why are contract military leaders portrayed in this way? What is similar about the two figures and what is different?

    9. In Carpaccio’s Miracle of the True Cross (Figure 14.9), what is the focus of the narrative? What are the figures doing? How many women do you see in the painting and what are they doing?

    10. In Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love (Figure 14.10) why is it thought that the figure of profane love is the clothed woman and sacred love the nude woman? 11. Vasari referred to Michelangelo as divino. What Renaissance values accorded him divine status? 12. In his painting of the vault of the Sistine Chapel (Figure 14.12), what challenges did Michelangelo have to confront in the structure?

    13. In the Sistine ceiling, can you identify the image of Pope Julius II? Why was he included in the fresco?

    14. Besides the Biblical story of Creation, there are prophets, sibyls, and ignudi (nude male youths) included in the Sistine ceiling. Why might have Michelangelo included these figures in his design?

    15. In the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo (Figure 14.13), identify the classical elements in the structure and in Michelangelo’s sculptures.

    16. Looking at The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple (Figure 14.14), discuss why Raphael included a portrait of Pope Julius II. Why was an episode from the apocryphal Book of Maccabees used for this fresco? What elements of Raphael’s depiction of the temple indicate that the fresco was painted in the early sixteenth century?

    17. Study the image of the Pazzi Chapel (Figure 14.15) carefully. What part does geometry play in Brunelleschi’s design? Why is the only strong color mostly provided by the terracotta roundels?

    18. The Tempio Malatestiano of Alberti in Rimini (Figure 14.16) and the Tempietto of Bramante in Rome (Figure 14.18) are both based on classical models but appear very different. First, discuss the Renaissance architect’s application of ancient principles in these buildings; and second, account for their very different appearance.

    19. Why was there a competition among Renaissance cities and princes for the very best artists and architects?

    20. Discuss how the principles of humanism influenced Renaissance artistic and architectural style.

    21. Examine Figures 14.20 and 14.21. Compare and contrast these two examples by Ghiberti of the panels on the two sets of doors on the Baptistery in Florence.

    22. The Salt Cellar (Figure 14.22) of Francis I by Cellini is an exquisite object in itself. How does it reflect Renaissance taste and values? What role did such luxury objects play in a privileged Renaissance household?

    23. Discuss how the social status of the Renaissance artist changed from Giotto to Cellini.

    24. Cellini made himself the hero of his own epic story and Vasari collected the biographies of artists in a manner similar to the way the Church compiled the lives of saints. Discuss.

    25. How did the patronage of a republic like Florence differ from patronage in a principality?

    26. In Rome and Venice art was propaganda as much as the creation of beauty. Discuss. 27. What were the consequences of the artist functioning as a courtier to a prince or pope?

  • 1. Why did the Florentine republic fail?

    2. The decline of Florence came not with the Medici monarchy but with Giovanni de’Medici’s election as Pope Leo X. Discuss.

    3. What motivated the Florentine patricians to accept the autocratic monarchy of Duke Cosimo I so willingly just a decade after the heroic defence of the 1527-30 republic?

    4. Was the monarchy of Cosimo I beneficial to Florence?

    5. There are no important original statues of David produced in Florence after the David of Michelangelo. Why?

    6. The facades of the Pantheon (Figure 15.4), the Villa Rotonda (Figure 15.5), and St Peter’s Basilica (Figure 15.7) all share certain significant characteristics but are very different kinds of structures. Account for the similarity in architectural vocabulary and why this style was revived so effectively after 1500 years.

    7. What were the causes of the crisis that challenged Venetian confidence after 1453?

    8. Was it reasonable and sensible for the Venetian patricians to increasingly invest in landed estates and take capital out of trade beginning in the sixteenth century?

    9. Despite centuries of colonization and contact, Venetian influence outside Italy seldom went far beyond the walls of the cities and towns they fortified. Why?

    10. The decade 1517-27 was one of the most devastating in the long history of Rome and the papacy. Discuss.

    11. Was it still possible for Roman humanists to believe in the dignity of man after the Sack of Rome in 1527?

    12. Humanism could be used to control ideas and dissent as much as encourage new and challenging ideas. Discuss.

    13. What effect did the Roman Inquisition of 1542 and the Index of Forbidden Books (1559) have on the intellectual and cultural life of Italy?

  • 1. Do you think dividing the past into historical periods is useful?

    2. Why have scholars had difficulty determining when the Renaissance began and ended?

    3. Why did Italians of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries identify themselves as different and removed from the experience of those who had lived in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries?

    4. Is it more meaningful to define an historical period by fixed dates and events, such as the regnal dates of monarchs or popes, or events, such as the signing of the Magna Carta (1215) or the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, than by means of cultural movements or broader social experience?

    5. The passages quoted from Giovanni Boccaccio, Matteo Palmieri, and Giorgio Vasari on pages 3-4 of your textbook were written over a period of about two centuries. What do these have in common and how are they different and why?

    6. What was the contribution of Jacob Burckhardt to the study of the Renaissance? Is it fair to ascribe so much influence to one scholar, writing over 150 years ago?

    7. There has been a powerful reaction to Burckhardt over the past century and a half. What factors drove that reaction and are these fair and legitimate?

    8. Burckhardt was a product of his own age and environment (Basel, Switzerland in 1860). Is all history the product of the age in which it is written?

    9. Why has the study of the Renaissance retained its popularity, despite the many changes that have occurred since Burckhardt?

  • 1. Consider Map 2.1 in your textbook. Is it appropriate to speak of “Italy” during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance?

    2. Why was the question of sovereignty so important in Italy during the Middle Ages?

    3. Discuss why the forces that divided Italy into a mosaic of small states were more powerful than those seeking to unite the peninsula.

    4. Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day 800 in Rome. Why was this a particularly important moment in medieval Italian history?

    5. Guelfs and Ghibellines were separated by more than allegiance to the papacy or empire. What other factors contributed to determining whether a family, city, or state chose one allegiance over another?

    6. The bishop of Rome (the pope) saw himself as the legitimate heir of both the emperor Constantine and St Peter. Was this a valid position for him to take?

    7. Why was Dante so important to Italians during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance?

    8. Do you agree that Dante was more medieval than Renaissance in perspective? Why?

    9. Dante wrote The Divine Comedy in the Tuscan dialect of Italian. Why was this so important and how would Dante have responded to the knowledge that his dialect would become the received literary language of educated Italians?

    10. Examine Figure 2.2. Describe how literature, history, memory, and religion all inform Domenico di Michelino’s The Divine Comedy of Dante Illuminates Florence, painted on the wall of the Florence cathedral.

  • 1. How were marriages arranged and families formed in Renaissance Italy?

    2. Who constituted the Renaissance Italian family?

    3. Examine Figure 3.2. In this Ghirlandaio fresco, The Birth of John the Baptist, can you identify the figures represented? What are they doing and how does the composition of the fresco describe the narrative of the event?

    4. In elite families, what roles would servants play and how would they be viewed by their employers?

    5. Looking at the image of the Italian Renaissance bedroom (Figure 3.5), discuss the extent to which the decoration and furnishings differ from a modern room.

    6. According to Church law, a girl had to enter into even an arranged marriage willingly. How much freedom do you think a young girl in fact had to refuse her parents’ choice of husband?

    7. Why was anyone outside the Catholic Church marginalized in Renaissance society? How do you think this marginalization or even exclusion was achieved in an Italian town or city?

    8. How, why, and by whom was sexual morality regulated in the Italian Renaissance?

    9. Why were rich and powerful men and women able to avoid the legal and social sanctions against irregular moral behavior?

    10. How important was the neighborhood in which a rich citizen of an Italian city lived? Was it equally or more important to a poor laborer and why?

    11. The daily lives of Renaissance Italian children and adults were regulated and restricted by a very complex set of religious, family, and social obligations. Was this a good and effective way of organizing society, and what were the consequences of not fulfilling these obligations?

  • 1. In the illustration of Six Tuscan Poets by Vasari (Figure 4.1), can you identify the objects shown in the painting? Why are some poets crowned with laurel and others not? Why would Vasari create this imaginary group portrait of poets who lived at different times, and is there anything about the composition of the painting that indicates how Vasari felt about the relationship of the poets to one another?

    2. What aspects of Cicero’s legacy most appealed to Petrarch?

    3. How did Petrarch’s experience as a Florentine exile living outside Italy influence him?

    4. Why were there so very few autobiographies written in Italy between the fall of the Roman Empire and Petrarch’s Secret Book (Secretum)?

    5. What was the significance of Petrarch’s coronation as poet laureate in Rome?

    6. Petrarch and his contemporaries, such as Giovanni Boccaccio, sought everywhere for lost works from classical antiquity. Why were certain ancient Greek and Roman texts unread during the Middle Ages?

    7. Discuss how knowledge of and veneration for classical antiquity provided an inspiration for Petrarch and his contemporaries to investigate their own world.

    8. It has been suggested that the Laura of Petrarch’s canzoniere never really existed. Does this matter?

    9. Dante and Petrarch both experienced exile. Did this defining experience help create their poetic genius? Did it liberate them from the restrictions imposed on individuals by late medieval Italian society, such as those we saw in the previous chapter?

    10. Petrarch was in many ways obsessed with words and language. Can this be seen as the beginning of the Renaissance mentality?

    11. Do you think that Petrarch was the first Renaissance man? If so, why? If not, why not?

  • 1. What were the connections between the medieval ars dictaminis and Italian humanism?

    2. Why was humanism so attractive as the cultural and educational preparation for the sons of Florence’s elite families?

    3. Explain the growing interest in Greek studies among humanists and their students.

    4. Why was Coluccio Salutati as an individual so significant in the development and institutionalization of humanism in Florence?

    5. What were the connections between the office of chancellor in Florence and the spread and influence of humanism? Why was Leonardo Bruni so revered as chancellor?

    6. The Tomb of Leonardo Bruni by Bernardo Rossellino (Figure 5.1) in Santa Croce can be interpreted as a monument to Renaissance Italian humanism as well as to one of its most celebrated proponents. What aspects of this tomb reflect humanist ideals? How are Christian symbols integrated into the classical frame and motifs of the tomb?

    7. Did Leonardo Bruni invent “civic humanism”?

    8. Discuss how the Cicero revealed in his letters to Atticus so engaged the Florentine Republic of the fifteenth century, whereas they had greatly disappointed Petrarch in 1345.

    9. What constituted the humanist educational curriculum? Was it an educational program only for the elite?

    10. The humanist classical curriculum lasted as a system of education up to the twentieth century, despite the absence of much science or mathematics. What factors accounted for its continued appeal and relevance for such an extended period?

    11. Why were there so few women humanists?

    12. Account for the lasting reputation and influence of Guarino of Verona and Vittorino da Feltre.

    13. The famous university of Padua was a guild of students. Could such a model work today?

    14. Was it the educational role of humanism that resulted in its spread across the Italian peninsula during the Renaissance?

    15. Was humanist training as useful in a monarchy like Milan or even papal Rome as in a republic like Florence?

  • 1. Account for the spectacular wealth of Florence by 1300.

    2. Why was there tension between the old magnate / grandi families and newly enriched guildsmen?

    3. What were the most important elements contained in the 1293 Ordinances of Justice?

    4. Account for the instability during the first fifty years of operation of the guild republic.

    5. Why did it take the crisis of 1343 to force the political class to work cooperatively for the well-being of the republic?

    6. Describe the effects of the Black Death of 1348-49 on the city of Florence.

    7. The ciompi revolt was one of Florence’s most dramatic moments. Why did this revolt occur and what was the response of the privileged elite?

    8. Explain the return of Florence to an oligarchic regime after the suppression of the ciompi revolt. Is it in the nature of oligarchies to become ever smaller, concentrating more and more power into the hands of a restricted privileged elite of wealthy, influential families? 9. What policies and qualities of character propelled Cosimo de’Medici, the elder (il Vecchio), into the leadership of the anti-oligarchic faction?

    10. How did Cosimo and his faction maintain power after his return from exile in 1434?

    11. Were the Medici the guarantors of the republican constitution by making it work or were they clandestine princes subverting the republic?

    12. Does Lorenzo de’Medici, Il Magnifico, deserve the praise and virtual adulation that he has received up to the present day?

    13. What might have happened if the Pazzi Conspiracy had succeeded?

    14. Was Lorenzo de’Medici’s patronage of art, architecture, and sculpture the sincere desire of a leading citizen to celebrate and embellish his city or was it a clever policy designed to obfuscate the Medici’s growing princely status, undermining the operation of the republic?

    15. There are three urban structures illustrated in Chapter Six in three different images: the Palace of the Wool Guild (Figure 6.2), the towers of San Gimignano (Figure 6.3), and the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence (Figure 6.4). Compare these three images. What do the buildings illustrated have in common, despite all having different functions?


  • 1. Why was the Babylonian Captivity so dangerous for the unity of the Church and the primacy of the pope?

    2. The Vasari fresco of The Return of Pope Gregory XI to Rome (Figure 7.1) in 1377 was painted almost two centuries after the event. What is the intent of this fresco? Although it refers to the papacy and the Church, there are pagan, classical figures in the fresco, such as the goddess Rome, and the personification of the Tiber River. Why would Vasari add these to his narrative? Are there other figures you can identify?

    3. Why were there two and eventually three popes during the Great Schism? Why was the Church unable to resolve this issue and unite under a single pope?

    4. The Babylonian Captivity and Great Schism were disasters for the city of Rome. Why?

    5. The Schism was only ended by the Council of Constance. Why was the Holy Roman Emperor so intent on re-uniting the Church? Why did it take a great Church Council to solve the problem of the Schism?

    6. The Council of Constance reintroduced the notion of conciliarism into the operation of the Church. Why was this concept popular among Church reformers and unpopular with the papacy?

    7. What kinds of challenges did Pope Martin V and his immediate successors face in the aftermath of the Schism and the Council of Constance?

    8. Why did the Renaissance arrive in Rome later than in other major Italian cities? What stimulated the introduction to Rome of humanist principles and Renaissance styles in art and architecture?

    9. Explain why most of the major artists, architects, and humanists in Rome during the fifteenth century came from elsewhere in Italy.

    10. Compare the two images painted by Raphael on opposite walls of the Stanza della Segnatura in the Apostolic Palace (Figures 7.3 and 7.4). How does Raphael depict human wisdom in The School of Athens and divine wisdom in The Disputation over the Holy Sacrament? What techniques does he employ to differentiate the experience of the observer of these two frescoes? Why does he place portraits of his contemporaries, including himself, in the frescoes to represent ancient philosophers, popes, or theologians? 11. The pope was both the ruler of an important Italian state and the head of the Church. What problems resulted from this dual role during the reigns of Alexander VI, Julius II, and Leo X?

    12. Do the Borgias deserve their notorious reputation?

    13. Did the sack of Rome result from the policies and character flaws of Pope Clement VII or was he the victim of forces beyond his control?

    14. To what extent were the horrors of the sack of Rome the consequence of the Protestant demonization of the pope and the Roman Church?

    15. Assess the character, policies, and patronage of Pope Paul III. 16. Compare the Council of Constance with the Council of Trent.

  • 1. Why did Genoa and Pisa cease being allies and become mortal enemies?

    2. Initially the small southern Italian town of Amalfi was a competitor with Genoa, Pisa, and Venice for Mediterranean trade. Why was Amalfi so soon superseded by its rivals?

    3. Explain why Pisa was unable to recover its power and influence after its defeat in 1284 at Meloria.

    4. The rivalry between Genoa and Venice lasted until the late fourteenth century. What factors favored Venice and led to its ultimate domination of Mediterranean trade?

    5. Genoa and Venice were both maritime, mercantile republics. Genoa was extremely politically unstable and Venice extremely stable. What factors determined that the Venetian Republic would avoid the internal divisions experienced by Genoa?

    6. Account for the spectacular wealth and naval power of Venice in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

    7. Compare the Florentine Ordinances of Justice (1293) with the Venetian Serrata (1297). What major differences are evident in these two contemporary constitutional documents? Why?

    8. Looking at the map of the Venetian state (Map 8.1), discuss why Venice expanded along the eastern coast of the Adriatic (Dalmatia) as opposed to the western, Italian coast. Why were the Venetian territories in Dalmatia limited to the coast rather than expanding inland?

    9. Explain why Venice decided to expand onto the Italian mainland.

    10. Examine Figure 8.2. The painting of the Hall of the Great Council shows a huge room with no central supports. Why was it important that the room be this large and that there be no pillars in the centre? Consider the images on the walls and ceiling. Why did the Republic of Venice choose these images for this room?

    11. Look at the illustration of the Foscari Arch or Porta della carta (Figure 8.4). What symbols or figures can you identify? Why are there so many architectural styles represented? And why are the porphyry figures of the four tetrarchs placed where they are? 12. Examine Figure 8.5. Looking at this illustration of the Gentile Bellini painting of the Procession in the Piazza San Marco, describe the event as portrayed by Bellini. What is happening? Who is represented? Compare this image of the Piazza San Marco in 1496 with any images you might be able to find of how it looks today: what is the same and what has changed?

    13. Why did Renaissance humanism and culture arrive late in Venice?

    14. The Council of Ten was a feared office. Is it always necessary to impose some instruments of fear and repression to ensure political stability?

    15. Why were there only two significant attempts to overthrow the government of Venice? Why did both attempts fail?

    16. What can the painting of the Battle of Lepanto (Figure 8.9) tell us about sixteenth-century naval warfare?

    17. What factors drove Venetian patricians to take money out of trade and invest in landed estates on the mainland?

    18. Venice was the greatest maritime power in the Mediterranean, yet it did not participate in the voyages of discovery. Why?

    19. The greatest disaster to befall Venice was not the fall of Constantinople to the Turks but the Portuguese circumnavigation of Africa. Discuss.

    20. The architecture of Palladio symbolizes the shift in Venetian culture away from its earlier eastern inspiration to an acceptance of its new place as an Italian state. Discuss.

    21. To what extent was the “myth of Venice” propagated by official state patronage or propaganda and to what extent did it reflect the reality of Venetian culture and society?

  • 1. Looking at the map of Italy illustrating the major principalities (Map 9.1), can you determine any geographical factors that might encourage a monarchy over a republic?

    2. Why did the huge kingdom of Naples (or Naples and Sicily) not fragment into much smaller political units as in the rest of the Italian peninsula?

    3. Why did some Italian states evolve into principalities and others into republics?

    4. Why was the kingdom of Naples so different from the other states of the Italian peninsula?

    5. What factors accounted for the instability of the kingdom of Naples?

    6. Why did Renaissance style and humanism put down only superficial roots in Naples?

    7. Did Milan become powerful and rich because of or in spite of the despotism of its rulers?

    8. What might have occurred if Giangaleazzo Visconti had not died in 1402?

    9. Compare the patronage of art and culture in Milan with that of Florence. What makes these two cities so different?

    10. Looking at The Sforza Altarpiece (Figure 9.3), identify the figures included by the artist. Why were those particular saints chosen? What is the Christ child doing and why? Why was Lodovico il Moro’s illegitimate son included in this family representation? Is there anything about the architectural decoration that reflects Renaissance values?

    11. Looking at Mantegna’s Family of Lodovico Gonzaga (Figure 9.4), can you identify the figures? Can you distinguish between members of the Gonzaga family and their servants and officials? How does Mantegna carry the drama of the narrative in this fresco?

    12. Amor and Psyche (Figure 9.5) by Giulio Romano in the Palazzo Te in Mantua depicts a story from Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. Can you understand what is happening without having read the story? Can you identify some of the figures? Compare what is happening in the upper register of the lunettes and the lower register of the walls: why are these images so different? Account for the exotic animals. Why is there so much nudity? What can the covered table, the display of precious objects behind it, and the vessels in front of it tell us about a Renaissance marriage feast?

    13. Is it fair to blame the humiliation of Italy by the northern Europeans after 1494 on the Milanese?

    14. Why is Lodovico il Moro not as famous and celebrated as his contemporary, Lorenzo de’Medici, Il Magnifico?

    15. For small condottiere principalities like Mantua, Ferrara, and Urbino, the patronage of art was war by other means and a way of legitimizing illegitimate rulers. Discuss.

    16. Explain why Mantua became one of Italy’s most famous cities for art, architecture, and music.

    17. What qualities made Isabella d’Este one of the most celebrated women of the Renaissance? What advantages did she have and what challenges did she have to overcome?

    18. What do the difficulties experienced by the House of Este in Ferrara tell us about the inherent danger of dynastic inheritance and princely authority?

    19. In the illustration of the month of April (Figure 9.6) from the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, can you identify the astrological symbols and the goddess Venus? How do we know she is Venus? What are the human figures doing and what do the animals represent?

    20. Was Federigo da Montefeltro essentially a soldier or a humanist prince?

    21. How did Federigo succeed in turning his small, poor, and isolated duchy into one of the cultural capitals of Renaissance Italy?

    22. The portrait of Federigo da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino (Figure 9.8), is a collection of symbols as well as a representation of the duke and his son, Guidobaldo. What are father and son doing? What are they wearing and why? What are the objects set around them?

    23. What does Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (Figure 9.9) reveal about the man and the artist who painted him?

    24. Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier expresses a tone of regret, melancholy, and nostalgia. Why were these the dominant emotions in Urbino, and elsewhere in Italy, after 1528?

  • 1. What precipitated the enthusiasm for Greek studies and the works of Plato and the neo-Platonists in Renaissance Florence?

    2. What was the role of Cosimo de’Medici (il Vecchio) and Marsilio Ficino in popularizing Platonic texts?

    3. Discuss the relationship between neo-Platonic ideas and Renaissance Florentine painting and literature.

    4. What exactly was the Platonic Academy?

    5. Describe what is happening in Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera (Figure 10.1). Can you identify the figures? And how does Botticelli tell his story in this painting?

    6. Examine Figure 10.2. In this nineteenth-century painting of Lorenzo de’Medici and the Platonic Academy by Mussini, what event is being celebrated? Does the composition of the picture tell us something about the roles played by Lorenzo and Plato? Try to identify the other figures in the illustration and suggest what they are doing.

    7. Is Florentine neo-Platonism the antithesis of Florentine civic humanism?

    8. Do you think Cosimo de’Medici patronized Platonism so vigorously to distract the Florentine patrician humanist elite from his attempts to manipulate the republican constitution?

    9. Is there any fundamental disjunction between Florentine neo-Platonism and traditional Catholic Christianity?

    10. What is Platonic love?

    11. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola argued for the unity of truth, suggesting that all philosophies, religions, and even literature were divinely inspired. How do you think this idea would have been received by the Church?

    12. Pico and Botticelli later fell under the influence of the Dominican apocalyptic preacher Savonarola. Why do you think they rejected their earlier commitment to neo-Platonism in favor of Savonarola’s uncompromising, fundamentalist millenarianism?