Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
The Renaissance
It wasn't only merchants who were jockeying for power at this time. To put an end to the
competing claims of the Tuscan Ghibelline faction that was allied with the Holy Roman
Empire, the Rome-backed Guelph faction had marked its territory with impressive new
landmarks, predominantly in Florence. Giotto - often described as the founding artist of the
Renaissance - had been commissioned to design the city's iconic 85m-tall square campan-
ile (bell tower) and thus one-up the 57m-tall tower under construction in Ghibelline Pisa
that was already looking a bit off kilter. And this was only one of many such projects.
'Mess with Florence, and you take on Rome' was the not-so-subtle hint delivered by
Florentine architects, who made frequent reference to the glories of the ancient power and
its classical architecture when designing the new churches, palazzi and public buildings
that sprouted across the city during the Trecento (14th century) and proliferated in the
Quattrocentro (15th century). This new Florentine style became known as Renaissance or
'rebirth', and really hit its swing after architect Filippo Brunelleschi ( Click here ) won a
competition to design the dome of Florence's duomo . Brunelleschi was heavily influenced
by the achievements of the classical masters, but he was able to do something that they
hadn't been able to do themselves - discover and record the mathematical rules by which
objects appear to diminish as they recede from us. In so doing, he gave local artists and ar-
chitects a whole new visual perspective and a means to glorious artistic ends.
To decorate the new buildings, artists enjoyed a bonanza of commissions to paint heroic
battle scenes, fresco private chapels and carve busts of the latest power players - works that
sometimes outlived their patrons' clout. A good example is the Peruzzi family, whose
members had risen to prominence in 14th-century Florence as bankers with interests reach-
ing from London to the Middle East. They set the trend for art patronage by commissioning
Giotto to fresco the family's memorial chapel in Santa Croce, completed in 1320. When
Peruzzi client King Edward III of England defaulted on loans the family went bankrupt -
but as patrons of Giotto's explorations in perspective and Renaissance illusionism, their
legacy set the tone for the artistic flowering of Florence.
One Florentine family to follow the Peruzzis' lead was the prominent Brancacci, who
commissioned Masolino da Panicale and his precocious assistant Masaccio to decorate a
chapel in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. After Masaccio's premature
death aged only 27, the frescoes were completed by Filippino Lippi. In these dramatic fres-
coes, framed in astonishingly convincing architectural sets, scenes from the life of St Peter
allude to pressing Florentine concerns of the day: the new income tax, unfair imprisonment
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