Hi, everybody, welcome to Dance Notes History. I'm Dan Snow. Today, we're going to talk about the Renaissance. You've heard of it. An awakening, a rebirth. Did it exist? What was it? Why is it will get so excited about the Renaissance? Are we living through a renaissance now? Isn't that an explosion of learning culture, art?
Well, maybe not right now with covid, but generally in this kind of period in which we're living. So I kind of wanted to get under the skin of a renaissance. What exactly happened in the 15th and early 16th century in Italy? And the person I want to talk to is Mary Hollingsworth's. She has written a book called Princes of the Renaissance about the people that became the artistic patrons in that period. It was a really fun chat. We jump around a lot, a lot of bringing in different periods and ideas.
So I had a great time. I learnt a lot. I hope you do, too. If you want to come and listen to people like Mary Hollingsworth, wonderful historians who are at the top of their game and can tell us all about some of the most fascinating periods in history, please come along to our live tour history. At dot com slash tour, you'll be hearing from many of the wonderful voices you hear on this podcast. And of course, as ever, go and check out history hit TV.
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In the meantime, everyone here is Mary Hollingsworth.
Thank you so much, coming on the podcast. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. Who are the princes of the Renaissance?
They are the people who are basically responsible for the Renaissance, and they are the people who commissioned all the buildings and all the art that we think of as the real renaissance art. And they are the ones that are not the Medici because the stage were not princes.
Well, that's very interesting, because from your book, I get the impression that the use of the word prince is quite interesting, isn't it? Was this a time of a power lying in the hands of the hereditary sort of dynastic families? But some of them are kind of self-made, aren't they?
Well, yes, but they were self-made with the intention of becoming dynasties. So the sources are the ones that come from nowhere, if you like, but beat up to become Prince did become dukes in 1850. But the minute you don't become dukes until 15, 37 or 50, 32, it's a slightly dodgy. But do they actually get the title 15 that year to 37 anyway? So they're not 15th century dynasties, they're just rich bankers, enablers.
Quite useful. Very useful indeed.
Everyone needs a rich banker. Exactly. Just talk to the British kings and politicians in the 18th century. So, Mary, what comes first with Renaissance? What do we need to talk about first? Was this a time when traditional elites were being replaced by rich bankers and merchants, or is there something going on here?
No, it's definitely different. Rich bankers are just enablers. The it's a time when all the princes of Italy so these are all dynastic that marquises, Duke's cardinals, countless princes, because they have the same social status as princes and they are reinventing themselves as the heirs to the Italy of ancient Rome. So not as a united empire, but I don't think any of them, possibly Alfonso of Aragon, had ambitions to rule the world, but most of them were just using the Roman heritage that they all have to promote themselves emperors.
And that's a bit simplistic. But that's why they had began to adopt the language, the artistic language of ancient Rome to display their power, which is at this point is completely different from what's going on north of the Alps outside Italy. So this is, you know, the equivalent of perpendicular and the flat barriers, decorated forms of Gothic or what is a normal north of the Alps.
Whenever I talk to other medieval early medieval historians, they find the Renaissance quite troubling because they talk about the Carolingian Renaissance. They talk about the renaissance that went on in Paris a couple hundred years before. What's going on that's different here south of the Alps in this period. And why does it happen?
I would say the interesting point you bring up is the Carolingian Renaissance, because, of course, it's doing exactly the same. The Carolingian were reviving the concept of empire. They did have much more political aims of grandeur, if you like, in terms of scale. But Charlemagne was the first Holy Roman key word emperor. So that was reviving the old pattern of imperial Rome.
Right. Then 12th century renaissance is something that happens in large parts right across Europe.
I mean, the difference with this is that it's Italian. And in a sense, the Italians had a much easier claim. They could see ancient Rome in all their cities. I mean, apart from the ruins of ancient Rome, there's an actual theater in Verona that was there. You know, there are arches and bridges and things right across northern Italy. They were coins in the fields. Farmers would be digging up, plowing up coins with their oxen every year.
It was part of their heritage. And that is the difference.
And it's caused if that's the right word. I mean, is it the interplay of global politics, if you like, with people talk about the Greek scholars coming over from Constantinople after the fall of that city in the early 40s or 50s. But just the political the cultural soil was ready to receive that crop.
That seed, was it? I think that's a very good way of putting it.
I really do. I like that analogy, the idea that it was something in the right place at the right time. I think the other point you've got to remember is not only did that mean an awful lot more scholars, Greek Orthodox scholars, but also Latinist as well as Greek specialists moving to Italy just to leave the conquered Constantinople, if you like. But also the popes come back from Avignon, come back to Italy in 14, 15, 14, 17.
I mean, they didn't really settle in Rome until the fourteen twenties. But that's the point at which the papacy becomes Italian and the focus of the popes is Italy and then the focus of all their foreign rulers. We're talking France the first and the fifth. Their focus is on getting Italy for themselves. That's a slightly different issue, but it's quite a key point that the return of the papacy to Rome marks a very significant piece of the jigsaw. There's just one little extra bits of detail that it will happen to be in the right place at the right time.
I was very struck in the book you talk about war, which so many of us think is a kind of antithesis of Botticelli and Michelangelo's art, but war is clearly hugely important. And is it war that's changing these power structures? And then these new people in power are desperate to surround themselves with the trappings of civilization to enhance their legitimacy following the fate they've had on the battlefield?
Well, the people who start off the Renaissance, the sort of two earliest patrons that are quite significant patrons, they are both established. And that chapter to which I deal with Leonella Dastan, Sigismondi Malatesta, those two are both mercenaries by job, if you like, but they control their own states. But it's the people who come up after them, like the forces who are imitating what princely behavior was. That gives a bit of impetus to the whole movement.
There's that long, oft lamented way in which dynasties. The first one is the kind of hard bitten soldier Ibn Khaldoon in the Middle East talks about this and the ones that follow become interested in culture and art. Absolutely.
No, it's really fascinating. And you just watch them. And then the really interesting thing is watching how the ones who are really the hard working soldiers, how they adapt to becoming politicians because not all of them do. And it's quite interesting. It's two completely different skills. A skill on the battlefield is not the same skill in a council chamber or of diplomats, that kind of thing. But that's another thing that comes out of the Renaissance, is diplomacy, which is something that people don't often think about.
But it's effectively Francesco Schwarzer wanted to know what was going on each court in Italy.
He established full time ambassadors at the court in Rome and in Florence and in particularly in Venice. Milan versus Venice was an important part of the power struggle in northern Italy that the other thing is, of course, as the power struggle within Italy for control of different, smaller states, bigger states, everybody wanted to be bigger, obviously, and the popes wanted to be dynasties. That's another important point to the pope set themselves up as dynasties and some of them failed.
And some of the were it was proliferation and competition.
The more you could, the better you were, the grander you were. Why is art important?
Because that sounds familiar. You know, perhaps within the Greek city state system of the ancient world, people are competing. One needs to invest their money in space and breastplates and artillery pieces. Why does art and architecture become important in this Game of Thrones?
I ought to have called the book Game of Thrones. I think it might it might have been trademarked. I'm slightly nervous about that. I think it might have been princes of the Renaissance is also there is a board game anyway. Let's not worry about that. It's very difficult to say why they didn't just buy more breastplates. I suppose in one sense there is the classical world.
That is what they're trying to revive. It's not just the fighting, but also the culture. You could read these letters and you know that you could be in Rome and be in the middle of the politics.
So you could be fighting, you know, people and people, soldiers who could be fighting. But also you have your luxury life of living in your villa, surrounded by servants and your winter dining rooms and your summer breakfast rooms and all the rooms facing whichever the best way was for light and heat. And all these things mattered in an era where you didn't have central heating, you had to do the best you could. You wouldn't have a north facing winter bedroom, would.
You know, that's a terrible plan. I mean, if I'm if I'm sleeping in a north facing at the moment with some work done and it's absolutely freezing and it's unbelievable. I'd be a very bad prince of a renaissance.
If you built your own house from the ground up, I think you would probably decide. Maybe I won't have it on that side of the house.
Maybe I'll have it on this site. Elizabeth Desnos history, we're talking about the Renaissance with Mary Hollingsworth, more after this. I'm very happy this episode Dance Knows History is brought to you by Hello Fresh with Hello Fresh, you get fresh, obviously pre measured ingredients and mouthwatering seasonal recipes delivered right to your door. This is what we've all been waiting for, folks. My kids are about to turn into a piece of pasta. It's all I can cook.
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Don't miss this out people. This is special offer. Get involved. Hello Fresh America's number one meal kit. And art is central to politics, is it? It's the central visual adjunct, if you like, and it's a way of saying who you are. So I mean, just at the very basic level, if you're receiving somebody, a foreign dignitary, just out of respect, you put his coat of arms up and you probably put yours up and then you might want to show that you claim descent from seven 77, say, Emperor Augustus or Troy.
Quite a few people claim to be descended from prior CO, but that's not a thing. It's not just artists and sculptors. It's also literary. It's also poets. And Ariosto writes of endless poetry explaining why the family are descended from Troyes.
It's a broad cultural sweep, but the visual side of it was critical because after it is all about display, the richer you are, the richer you looked. You had to show you. You still do. I was just thinking of Tiger Woods and a custom made SUV, the accident that he had and this is incredibly expensive car with all the sort of possible extras. And I suddenly thought, you know, that's just exactly if he was Renaissance prince, he would have the most expensive horse with the most expensive comparisons and you'd have detailed you have your own coat of arms and your own little emblems and your own history in inverted commas that went back your dissent to prove your antiquity and to prove your value, your power.
It's a show off world. Think of horses like sports cars or SUVs.
Now I ride a bicycle, so I need to really up my game on this one. Mary, what always fascinates me about Italy during the Renaissance, as you think about other cultures enjoying a kind of extraordinary cultural scientific flowerings, the Dutch in the 17th century, the Brits in the 18th 19th, the Americans in the second half of the 20th century, or the Tang Dynasty, the flowering that you see there in China, Mughal India, you assume that that goes hand in hand with hard imperial power.
So you conquer everybody else. You enforce a kind of Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, and then you have a lovely flowering because you can invest all your money in artists. And people flock from all over the world to Lisbon or London or Amsterdam. But what's going on in Italy is incredibly violent. These states are actually quite transient. And yet you've got this going on at the same time. So what's going on?
Their war wasn't 24/7 in Italy. It was seasonal. So you only fought during the summer. So you stop fighting from October to March and perhaps that's when you thought about designing your palaces. But I think to be honest, the two went hand-in-hand in Italy and it's quite significant. We don't pay enough attention to their interest in military culture. And when I was writing this book, I've been studying this period for decades and even I didn't realize quite how much military material there was and not the parties themselves wrote treatises on how to fight wars, and they read everything that was going in the classical world.
In the modern world. I don't think they got as far as the Chinese books of war, but war is part of that display. The whole thing about the warfare, though, warfare changes around fifteen hundred, around 40, 1944. Suddenly artillery means that the damage you can inflict on somebody suddenly changes it. Suddenly brutal in a way that shooting with. Crossbows and longbows isn't quite the same brutality. So you've got to rebuild all your fortresses, what you've got artillery attacking your futures.
It's no good having little battlement. You've got to have a whole new system of Bastian's, for example. A lot of the architects, particularly I mentioned in the book, for example, Leonardo, are employed to design angular bastian's that will counter that will protect ducal palaces and ducal castle from assault by the new weapons which are coming in from the north. That's really the invasion of Charles, the 8th of France, which is 40 Ninety-four.
Yes. With his huge artillery training. Exactly. Exactly. Which must have been staggering. They looked at it and just went, oh, my God, we've got a problem here.
We've got a problem. We've got a real problem. I think I've probably misrepresented Dutch, British, American and Chinese power because those were also very violent cultures. But the violence is going away on a frontier. It was going on somewhere else. But actually, you're right. If you look at someone like Brunel in 19th century Britain, he was building lots of amazing things, but he was also working for the government building military related things. So I guess there isn't as much difference as I thought.
Yeah, exactly. And so it's seen as engineering, architecture, art and in battlefield ornamentation. It's all closer than it might feel to us now.
Yes, if you were a painter, you might well trained as a painter and end up designing fortresses. Francesca DiGiorgio did exactly that. And he also became a hydraulics expert and he had to work out how to get a siege proof water supply to Siena, which I don't know whether you've been to see it, but it's on the top of a hill during siege conditions.
You can't go out with your little bucket, but there's an internal system for getting the water into the city, which is designed around 1800 by the man who trained as a painter. If you trained as you trained as a draftsman. So you learn about drawing. You know, it's an old fashioned skill painting. You learn a technique and you learned how to use colour and how to draw basically and how to see. And you started out doing architectural backgrounds before you got on doing people's fingers and faces.
And we think about even so many of today's, quote unquote, civilians. You know, the Internet is absolutely a product of US military spending in the second half of the 20th century. And by microprocessors coming out to these printers that you mentioned, there's quite a turbulent time. There were likely to be turfed off these drones. Their kids were as well. They didn't strike me that this giant investment in art and it wasn't necessarily money well spent on one level or what it was for some.
For some, it was very well spent. So Federico Gonzaga, who built the city in Mantua, and it's absolutely stunning. It is quite awesome. That was designed very much to host Charles the Fifth when he was travelling through Italy. He was being crowned in Bologna, that city emperor, but he spends a month at Mantua in this palace or in the hills around doing a lot of hunting. And he gets a close ally. He gets promoted from Marquis to Duke for a start.
And the other person who benefits, of course, is Titian, because tickin then gets to meet Charles de facto and see what Titian could do, which he did in Mantua. That was it. Titian became Charles Swift and then four seconds court painter. Well, I don't blame them. I wish my court. Exactly. Oh, my goodness. Does the Renaissance ever stop or does the Renaissance just sort of bleed straight into this kind of explosion of art, science, engineering culture that goes into 17th and 18th centuries?
I think it did continue, but just not in the same lines as we would like to think, because, of course, the Reformation totally changes everything. Europe becomes a very different place. And that's the point at which Italy, largely because of the Inquisition and the fact that the papacy was based in Rome, Italy, is largely free of Protestantism and of Protestants in Venice and in some of the northern Italian courts like Ferrare. But basically they didn't have a Protestant movement like they did in the Empire or in France.
And then the religious wars of the second off the 16th century take place largely in northern Europe. That is a very large generalization, but the pressure comes off Italy.
But then, of course, you have the country reformation.
So and you have this huge flowering of ideas of a slightly different sort which takes place in Italy and those beautiful baroque churches that just like, hold on these Dowa Protestants, let's just dial up to 11 who exactly fill this church up.
I mean, I just love those churches, the interior of St. Peter's, with the Bernini Tabernacles, with the trysting columns covered with the Barberini beads in gold. I mean, the idea of that being in a Protestant church, it just doesn't.
So and we're much poorer for it here in this patch of northern Europe. That is renaissance kind of what happens to us humans in the absence of like giant total war or ecological or environmental disasters, you know, so are they just doing what humans do when they've just got a bit of breathing space?
Yes, that's what I was going to say. And the bigger the pressure has been, the bigger the reaction will be.
So I suppose World War One had a massive impact on intellectual life of Europe. World War two, big impact.
Well, I think and I'm sure the pandemic's going to have there must be a sense of release and relief that the danger is over. But I'm not sure that it's relief that is the basis of that renaissance. But having said that, I suppose there's an element of suddenly, wow, we can do something.
Yeah, it strikes me that there's periods, even if you look on a very small scale in southern England, Alfred, the great court, he establishes, even though he's at war all the time, there is a place in which you can start creating. It's not also all hands, the pumps the whole time, you know. So if you look at the Islamic conquest of North Africa into the day, job is kind of fighting and trying to keep your world in order.
And I just wonder if these Italian they managed to carve out space as we've done today and hopefully will continue doing despite the imminent environmental catastrophe, where we just allow all creativity to flourish because we're pretty creative people. And if you give us a bit of wriggle room, we're going to start creating stuff.
I know, and we always have been as well. We've been like this from the caveman. I was reading just recently about the I Kamba, what the catastrophe was some some radiation bombardment. And the people that survived were the ones who went to live in caves. And that's why they started painting the walls with all the animals that they could remember, really.
It's an interesting idea.
If you're suddenly locked up in a cave, you couldn't go outside, except very rarely. You probably would spend your time painting everything.
Well, me and my family have been locked inside during this pandemic and during the winter months, and we've adorned our house with pictures of famous historical figures drawn by the cave.
So they go, that's it. Proof it's a long way from the cave.
And in fact, Leonardo. Well, thank you. That conversation spiral out of control brilliantly. Marry your wonderful book is called The Princes of the Renaissance Preservations.
Go and get it, everybody. It's such an interesting book in such an interesting period. Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you. Thank you.
I've enjoyed it very much. And allow us to create a strong bond in the history of our country. Paul. And Ivan, thanks for reaching the end of this podcast. Most of you probably asleep, so I'm talking to your snoring forms.
But anyone who's awake, it would be great if you could do me a quick favor, head over to wherever you get your podcasts and rate it five stars and then leave a nice glowing review. It makes a huge difference for some reason to how these podcasts do. Martinus. I know, but them's the rules. Then we go farther up the charts, more people listen to us and everything will be awesome. So thank you so much. I'll sleep well.