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The arts in Italian Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance was a very difficult time period in European history. The arts were flourishing, while the city-states in Italy fought bloody battles with each other and within themselves. Bribery and murder were not uncommon tools for men to use when they wanted power. Meanwhile those same rulers patronized the arts a great deal and they would commission the best artistic minds of the time to build, design and paint their palaces and churches and later on their own portraits and everyday paraphernalia.

In the beginning of Renaissance the artists, as well as the princes, were mostly nterested in religious themes, mostly from the New Testament. They all believed that if God let them prosper, then they should give thanks in some form. Therefore, the artists were commissioned to paint the churches, monasteries or nunneries where God was worshipped. People who could afford it, loved to pray out of expensive books or give expensive gifts to worship God. Also, many rich courts tried to emulate the papal court.

The Popes in Rome set an example to all the other rulers by having such a vast collection of artwork that it was doubtful that anyone would ever be able to compete with them. However the paintings in churches and nunneries had another purpose besides the one described above. The Pope and the ruler of any particular area needed to have obedient subjects. Religion was one way to keep people that obedient. The stained glass windows and the frescoes in the churches and cathedrals often told stories from the Bible or depicted hell and heaven and what people should or should not do.

Since most people were illiterate, they depended on the priest to interpret the Bible for them. The illustrations around only supported that interpretation of the Bible which was beneficial o the rich and ruling classes. Even when some people preached poverty and abstinence from anything secular, the religious artworks were considered part of religion itself. As time went on, the illustrations took on yet another purpose. Each city-state starting using art to depict and immortalize their victories and their rulers.

People now commissioned artists to paint their portraits, design their tabletops, candleholders, fans or walls in their studies. A lot of themes varied from religion and if someone were to commission a religious theme, often the faces of the buyers were to appear in that work f art. Many people wanted to see something else around them and the elaborate pictures told stories of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses or peoples favorite pastime. By the 16th century the profession of the artist was becoming fashionable. In the 15th century it was still unheard of the artists mingling with the powerful and the rich.

There were very few masters, who were considered brilliant, so there was practically no competition between them. One person could paint the same monastery or church for years, adding just a little personal variation to the story and the style of the painting. It as becoming fashionable for an artist to not only do his work at a royal court but also be associated with that court. Many city-states claimed ownership of the brilliant minds that worked there. Also, individualism was becoming an important aspect of peoples lives. Any individual who exhibited some sort of talent could easily find a sponsor among rich neighbors .

Mantegna was a shepherd in Padua until someone discovered him and he became a court painter at Mantua. Monetary rewards were also very important to artists. Rivalry between the artists challenged them to go to new and better levels and the more oney they received the harder they tried. Many artists, such as Bruneleleschi, Uccello or Piero della Franesca started experimenting with perspective. After that many lesser known artists started emulating them and the paintings now had a new and different dimension to them. Also, there were other innovations in art.

Nudity was more acceptable in sculpture and Donatellos David and then Michelangelos David made a new and bolder statement. They looked up to Greeks and Romans for inspiration and technique. In painting, artists also experimented with nature and landscape. Before Renaissance, landscape was only sed as a background and not as a subject for a painting itself. Now it was being used by Titian, Giorgione and Tintoretto to create mood, atmosphere and to stir people to emotions because of its beauty. However, one should not be deceived by the achievements of artists during Renaissance.

It was a very violent time in Italian history and blood was shed as easily as money was given for the patronage of arts. The way to power was strewn with corpses; men murdered their wives, wives poisoned their husbands, brother slaughtered brother, family raged against family, city sacked city (Plumb, 21). This quote is a perfect xplanation of what was going on in Renaissance Italy. Anyone with power had to always watch their backs because the traitor would always be the least expected person. Politics was a dangerous game and anyone who played gambled with his life, however the spoils of the game were enough to attract many.

The city-states of Italy gained their independence by switching their allegiance from Popes side to the Emperors. The Pope was not only a religious leader but a secular one as well. The Church owned more property then the Emperor and also had right to collect taxes and the tithe. The Emperor on the other hand fought with the Church for the ight to appoint bishops. Both sides based their motives on religion but the true reasons were very clear money and power. If the Church were to appoint the bishop then the taxes and the tithe goes to the church treasury and the people on that land owe their allegiance to the Church.

If the Emperor were to appoint the bishop, then it would probably be someone whom the Emperor trusts and not all the money would go to the Churchs treasury. And since the Pope was rivaling the Emperor in secular power the appointment of bishops took on that struggle. The people in city-states in Italy were divided into two parties, Guelphs for the Pope and Ghibellines for the Emperor. This rivalry continued long after the Emperor, for whom this party was formed, was gone. Amidst this rivalry Florence, Milan, Naples and Venice emerged as the strongest and most powerful city-states.

They were not powerful enough to overthrow each other but they constantly engaged into internal wars. This struggle lasted for over fifty years and then Charles V added Italy to the Hapsburg Empire. Regardless of war, the towns were growing. They were of different size and power but all of them were undergoing a political change trying to establish democracy ut of feudalism. However, they failed and went from democracy to oligarchy. The members of craft guilds had acquired power and taken over the institution of the government.

They had no written or constitutional authority to rule the city but they represented the oligarchy that was capable of ruling the city. They solved all the problems by force and moved on to secure the financial well-being of the city. There was never any unity in the Italian communities. The gentry had been at odds with merchant and artisans of the city even before the formation of the Guelph and Chibellino parties. And although the merchants were the domineering power in the city, they often needed the help of nobility in financial or diplomatic matters.

Another problem in the Renaissance Italy was the plague. People died by thousands. By the end of the epidemic the population was reduced to almost half of its previous size. The resulting poverty, brought on by the decline of trade was a fertile ground for tyranny to spring upon. The exile of Popes to Avignon had given princes a chance to reestablish their power and the Great Schism only encouraged warfare. While the Popes were fighting mongst themselves, they had little time to oversee the behavior of the Christian world and especially the Papal States.

When the Popes came back to Rome, it led to nothing else but a power struggle between the tyrants in Perugia, who already established themselves and the Popes, who had to reestablish themselves. The wars were becoming more complicated and the states started hiring mercenaries or condottieri. At first, they were foreigners such as Sir John Hawkwood and the White Company. Later on, the tyrants of the smaller states started hiring out their men and very often, themselves. However, these troops were very unreliable. Since they were out for hire, they would help anyone who paid more than the previous owner.

Because of this, the soldiers camps were filled with spies not only from the enemys side but also from their own. But the hired troops did something very important they saved lives. No captain wished to waste his men, so the level of bloodshed dropped and the diplomatic talks became more frequent. All this violence made the people more susceptible to religion. After every slaughter, people would repent and pray and try to be the model of Christianity. People such as Savonarola and Fra Bernardino, who denounced all the earthly possessions, found fertile ground in cities wrecked by war and plague.

While such moments of religious fervor were fleeting, they were very frequent, which shows that bloody slaughter and the plague were a common occurrence. People who killed today would go to church and renounce all the worldly possessions tomorrow only to repeat this cycle of sin and repentance. All of the above shows that Italian Renaissance was a period of time in European history when two different elements of life coexisted at the same time. It is very difficult to understand what moved people to kill for power and then spend money with ease on gifts to Church through art.

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