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The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art Worldby Paul Robert Walker
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One Plague Of the Bianchi In these extraordinary times, it appears that nearly all of the citizens of Florence, as well as those subject to the city and residents of surrounding cities and regions, have put on white linen garments, and ... joined in processions.
— Provvisioni of the Signoria, September 10, 1399
In the summer of 1399, a religious movement arose in Lombardy, the northern Italian region around Milan, and began to travel southward toward Rome, attracting thousands of followers on the way. They were called the Bianchi, the Whites, for the white linen robes they wore as a sign of penitence and spiritual renewal. The pilgrims reached Florence in August, and their effect on the city was extraordinary. Shops and factories closed as citizens joined pilgrimages to smaller towns and villages, up the Arno and into the Apennine Mountains, "piously singing lauds, engaging in acts of penitence, abstaining from meat for nine consecutive days, and from wine for another day, not sleeping in beds ... the air vibrating with their voices." Old enemies swore new friendship, and there were cries to throw open the gates of the city prison.
The fervor cut across social classes, from impoverished cloth workers to wealthy merchants and manufacturers, though the rich could follow their religious path in more comfort than the poor. One wealthy merchant, Francesco Datini from the town of Prato, near Florence, wrote of joining a pilgrimage on this 18th day of August 1399 ... clothed entirely in white linen and barefoot ... And that we might have what was necessary, I took with us two of my horses and the mule: and on these we placed two small saddle chests, containing boxes of allkinds of comfits ... and candles, and fresh bread and biscuits and round cakes, sweet and unsweetened, and other things besides that appertain to a man's life.
An aristocratic and powerful Florentine merchant named Buonaccorso Pitti followed this movement from the isolation of the Palazzo della Signoria, now called the Palazzo Vecchio, or "Old Palace," the massive stone building, topped by a looming tower, where the nine members of the Signoria lived and worked during their two-month terms of office. The Signoria was the supreme executive authority of Florence, and the brief terms reflected both the total commitment required of those who served and the concept that a short term of office prevented any single man from gaining too much power. In fact, ambitious men found ways to consolidate power, but by the standards of medieval Europe, the Signoria and other Florentine institutions formed a noble experiment in republican government.
"During my term in the Signoria," Pitti wrote, "a great novelty was seen throughout Italy when people of all conditions began to don white linen robes with cowls covering their heads and faces, and throng the roads, singing and begging God for grace and mercy. While this was going on in Florence someone raised the cry: 'Open the Stinche prison and free the prisoners!' By God's grace the danger of armed riots was averted, though it was a near thing. In the end everything turned out well, for the pilgrims brought about many reconciliations between citizens." Pitti's own family made peace with the relatives of a man he had killed in Pisa, settling their difference in a written and notarized compact. Other families made similar efforts to overcomelong-held vendettas, the seething, ritualized hatred of man for man and family for family that had poisoned Florentine society for centuries.
The spirit of brotherhood and forgiveness brought on by the Bianchi carried into the fall, and on September 10, shortly after Pitti's term of office expired, the Signoria issued a proclamation to the effect that "the lord priors are firmly convinced that all of this has proceeded from divine inspiration," but they could not free the prisoners who had been incarcerated for debt "without suspending those laws which prohibit this." Instead, the Signoria temporarily suspended the laws which limited their own authority to release prisoners, making it easier to show mercy in individual cases. It was a thoughtful and rational approach to a difficult situation: the Signoria could not suspend the laws that required punishment for debtors without destroying the very fabric of their mercantile society; yet neither could they ignore the will of the people.
Unfortunately, the Bianchi brought plague along with reconciliation. The pestilence had already struck Italy when the movement began, and the thousands of barefoot, white-robed pilgrims helped to carry it from town to town, so that it became known as the plague of the Bianchi. The sickness ran rampant through Florence, aided in its deadly course by a severe grain shortage in the winter and spring of 1400. By the time the carnage was over, some twelve thousand Florentines had died out of a total population of sixty thousand. It was a devastating blow to a city still struggling to recover from the Black Death of 1348, which had killed almost half the citizens of what was then among the largest cities inEurope. And it would not be the last such blow, for the plague would return with gruesome regularity throughout the Quattrocento, leaving a trail of death at the very time that Florentine art and culture blossomed with new creative life.
Beyond its personal toll, the plague of the Bianchi brought Florentine business to a halt. The timing could not have been worse, for the economy was already strained to its limits by heavy taxation to support a protracted war with Milan. Led by the brilliant despot Giangaleazzo Visconti, the northern Italian power had expanded its control throughout the decade, first in Lombardy, then moving south into Tuscany and beyond. In some ways, the Bianchi movement was a response to this militant expansion, a peaceful echo of Visconti's march; that the Bianchi proved more lethal than the army did not diminish their noble intentions. Visconti's own intentions were more questionable. He presented himself as a strong leader who could unify Italy ...
Follows the story of the creation of Florence's great Santa Maria Del Fiore's dome, noting its design by architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who was forced to share its commission with archrival and gifted sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti.
The lively and intriguing tale of the competition between two artists, culminating in the construction of the Duomo in Florence, this is also the story of a city on the verge of greatness, and the dawn of the Renaissance, when everything artistic would change.
Florence's Duomo : the dome of the Santa Maria del Diore cathedral 埩s one of the most enduring symbols of the Italian Renaissance, an equal in influence and fame to Leonardo and Michaelangelo's works. It was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the temperamental architect who rediscovered the techniques of mathematical perspective. He was the dome's ⨮ventor,⟷hose secret methods for building remain a mystery as compelling to architects as Fermat's Last Theorem once was to mathematicians. Yet Brunelleschi didn't direct the construction of the dome alone. He was forced to share the commission with his archrival, the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose ⏡radise Doors⟡re also masterworks. This is the story of these two men, a tale of artistic genius and individual triumph.
The story begins in the waning days of the fourteenth century, the Trecento, a time when the two masters were young, full of dreams and promise, and Florence herself — already old and storied — stood at a crossroads, not only in Italy but in the history of the western world, a crossroads that could only lead in one of two directions: destruction or rebirth.
The competition began with the creation of the door for the church of St. John the Baptist. Lorenzo Ghiberti, ayoung, unknown, and inexperienced painter, produced an elegant panel cast almost entirely in a single sheet of bronze. Filippo Brunelleschi, a local goldsmith, designed a far more dramatic and expressive panel that also drew considerable attention. In the end, Ghiberti was chosen to make the doors. Brunelleschi took a path that led him to rediscover the laws of perspective and reinvent the role of the architect.
Fifteen years later, the two artists faced off again in a contest to design the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. After more than a century of planning and work, the enormous structure was nearing completion, yet a gaping hole lay awaiting the great cupola. It was to be the widest, heaviest, and highest dome ever constructed, and while no one doubted that it could be made, it was unsure who would rise to the challenge. This time, the wealthy patrons turned to Brunelleschi. His ingenious designs gained him the most important commission in the history of Florence, crowning the cathedral with a dome of such magnificence and beauty that it has become one of the most enduring symbols of the Renaissance.
In this lush, imaginative history — a fascinating true story of artistic genius and personal triumph — Paul Robert Walker brings to life two talented, passionate artists and the competitive drive that united and divided them. As it illuminates the drama surrounding the birth of a new artistic vision, the story also explores the lives of other fascinating individuals from Daonatello and Masaccio to Cosimo de' Medici and Leon Battista Alberti. The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance offers a glorious tour of fifteenth-century Florence, a bustling city on the verge of greatness, during a time of flourishing creativity.
About the Author
Paul Robert Walker has written twenty books on subjects ranging from the Italian Renaissance and the American West to folklore, baseball, and miracles. A former teacher and journalist, he lives in Escondido, California, with his wife and two children.
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