While England and France were battling it out in the 100 Years' War, and the German princes were distracted with issues of succession for each of their principalities at home, and while the popes were having their issue with Avignon vs. Rome and excommunicating each other, there was a bit of a political vacuum, and Northern Italians took the opportunity to experience local rule- the city states emerged, and sometimes had power struggles, i.e.: the Guelfs (Welfs) and the Ghibellines in Tuscany, but at the same time, another aristocratic movement was beginning: the Renaissance

...so, what color are the Papal States on this map? Its unlabeled...



Consequences of the Crusades: Italian ships on the Mediterranean trade routes start

doing a great business in transporting spice, sugar, dyes, precious gems and stones and

new kinds of wood- in the 1300s Italy will begin the transition out of the middle ages into

modernity: the Renaissance- art, literature and city building will transform




Hi there, I'm Cosimo de Medici, Duke of Toscana. My great wealth came from banking, and I used it to patronise the arts. I funded great works from my palatial home in Florence. Not only that, I funded the translation of Plato from Greek to Latin so we could read it. Imagine: translating something into Latin so it could be read! They gave me the honor Pater Patria, father of the country, an honor previously given only to Cicero. I was worth about 150k gold florins, about 30 million dollars today. Not as much as you thought? Well, generous doners in your time give a lot... like me... more than me! So where's the great art they'll still be looking at in 2500 AD? Think about it.


Remember me, they call me Lorenzo the Magnificent- Lorenzo il Magnifico in Italian. I was the quintessential Renaissance ruler, in the Florence of my family. Like my ancestors, I patronized the art world, funding Michaelangelo, Botticelli and many more. The Medici Bank gave us the wealth to spend on this kind of philanthropy, and make Florence the leading city of the Renaissance. Look closely at Botticelli's paintings and my family members are in them! Humanism was my creed, I love its spirit of optimism. It helps us believe in us. Yeah, I was a despot. I put down a few riots.





Florence of the Medicis: the fantastic dome of Brunelleschi atop Florence Cathedral is a symbol of the Renaissance





As Duke of Urbino, I was the most successful condotteri (war leader), at least in my opinion. I commissioned the construction of a great library at Urbino, the largest in Italy after the Vatican. My scribes copied every book from everywhere, because I wanted a humanistic court like no other. They called me the "Light of Italy" a nice nickname. I also funded the training of a certain young painter you might know: Raphael. Still not convinced I was a Renaissance Man? I strolled around in shops and talked to people in town, and if a soldier of mine died, I took care of a dowry for his daughter if he had one. If you had to have a condotteri, I wouldn't be a bad choice.





The light of the Renaissance shines on Duke Fredrigo's court at Urbino




Remember me, I was a great Renaissance woman, Marchesa of Mantua, where I was a fashion icon and cultural figure. My style was copied in Italy and France by leading ladies and at the courts. When my husband Francesco II Gonzaga was away, I managed the affairs of state and in 1500 I met King Louis XII of France, and pursuaded him not to attack Mantua.





The Mantua of Isabella d'Este Gonzaga- one of the most fantastic locations in the world, but these are artificial lakes,

built for defense of the city in the 12th century! They are fed by the Po River. Monteverdi premiered L'Orfeo here




Remember me, Queen Bona of Poland, of the Italian Sforza family. My family ruled the Duchy of Milan in Northern Italy, and I grew up in the gigantic Sforza Castle. I was a major catch. My dowry was a claim on Milan, and Lorenzo de Medici, Ferdinand of Habsburg and others wanted to marry me. Then Zygmunt, King of Poland, approached me by messenger. I went to Poland and the wedding was a week long. I had a short fuse and Zygmunt was very patient. I lived in the Wawel Castle and planted gardens there. I was involved in political life, and helped bring Italian styles and Renaissance era arts to Poland. When my husband died my son became King of Poland I went back to Italy, where my trusted right hand man poisoned me at the behest of King Philip II of Spain, who didn't want to pay back debts he owed me.





The Milan of the Sforzas- the Piazza del Duomo, and the amazing Cathedral of Milano





 In nearby Pisa, wait, seriously? Well, what do you do if you have one of the weird landmarks in the world located in your town?

Although that looks suspiciously like American cheerleaders on the left, so, then, what do you do if you are visiting a weird landmark? Vulgarize it!!!









Banking in Genoa in the 14th century- money made the signori, the city-lords, able to build










Genoa's main rival, in banking and in the naval and trading arts... was Venice

Home of one of the great explorers of all time...


MARCO POLO (14th century)

I have written the electrifying adventure story of world travel, not that I know what electricity is. I made a 33 year long trip, from Venice to the Orient. I crossed the Gobi Desert, walked along the Silk Road through Muslim territory, and finally arrived in China after an epic journey by sea and land. Europe and China have very little contact, only through Muslim traders did we know about the other. Now, two great civilizations meet through me. In my book, Travels, I describe what you call Turkey, Iraq, Iran, India, Tibet, Mongolia and finally the end of the world: China itself. I met the Great Khan of the Tartars himself at Xanadu, his pleasure palace, had many adventures. I exchanged cultural informations which sparked the imagination of Europe for centuries. Columbus read my book and it inspired him to seek Asia too- only- the other way around. He had an annotated copy of my book on his voyage, who else can say that?





Marco Polo leaving Venice on his travels to the Middle East- which one is he?




How the scene looked in real life- painting has changed a bit in 500 years!




Venice is below sea level, that is how the canals so easily replace roads. Hudson is like that too, west of US 19. So... can it ever flood like this?




Venetians are used to it- here are some enjoying the day, swimming to school or work, in the Mediterranean Sea!




The famous Basilica of San Marco in Venice is an architectual gem of church building. The piazza in front of it sees men proposing to women every day.





POPE ALEXANDER VI, 15th century

Remember me, Rodrigo Borgia, and remember the House of Borgia. I was the second Borgia elected pope, in 1492, and even though my family was notorious for simony, that is the buying and selling of church offices, and theft, bribery and adultery, and maybe murder by arsenic poisoning here and there, and even though the Medici and Este families disliked our family because we groped for power by hook or by crook, remember one thing: we got it. We were Machiavellian, the low point of the papacy. Any wonder Luther would emerge less than 15 years after I finished my term as Alexander VI? Our clan came from Valencia, Spain originally. My long term affair (evan as pope because I am a good role model) with Vanozza dei Cattanei produced Cesare and Lucrezia, among others. I also had children with another woman, and a mistress to, who was married to some other dude. Sounds like I was pretty modern doesn't it? Hip with the times like some other popes you might know.

Remember me, the illigitimate son of a pope (how many people can say that)? So I started off in a weird situation. Things were so corrupt in the church at that point that they made me a Bishop of Pamplona, Spain, where they do the running of the bulls every July, when I was 15! When I was 17, my dad was elected Pope Alexander VI, and they made me cardinal! In Monte Python they say "Its good to be king" and I'm saying its good to be pope as well. In the soap opera of my life, I obtained a 4,000 plus Swiss Army and attacked the Sforza family to bring them to heel, and later Urbino, in 1502. I was so cruel that when I was about to attack Bologna, my own military treasoned against me, which was weird because my subjects liked me, I was, in fact, popular. So my enemies plotted... and I invited them for a reconciliation, and had them executed. Well, they were reconciled with death.


POPE JULIUS II, 16th century

Remember me, Giuliano della Rovere, who succeeded the corrupt Pope Alexander VI. When Alexander was elected, I was angry and went to Paris to, as a cardinal, advise the king to attack Naples. How did someone like that get to be pope? Well, first I plotted with his son Caesar by promising him continued support for his plans to conquer states in northern Italy if he backed me. He did. Then I then ignored him and as Pope Julius II, started building projects in Rome, such as the tearing down and rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica (that's right, I unilaterally voted to destroy the old one as everyone bit their fingernails). I hired Michaelangelo to design the new one and decorate the Sistine Chapel ceiling. As for the Borgias, I did what Pharaoh did to Moses, saying, "I forbid, under pain of excommunication, anyone to say or use the name Borgia. I want it stricken from all records and the rooms they lived in torn down." And you know what? I was successful. The new Vatican is an architectual masterpiece, and no Borgia ever was victorious over the Papal States. I was pope for just a decade, and five years after, Luther hung up those damn theses.








 Renaissance Literature

Francesco Petrarch


Dialogues and Poetry

By meditating on his lost love, Laura, Petrarch plants the seeds for all the later poets and even Shakespeare. This collection unites Earthly love for Laura with the Divine love of the Virgin Mary, producing a union of the supernatural and the personal. It is also the essential transition from the medieval mind into the renaissance.

Giovanni Boccaccio


The Decameron

Cooped up for ten days (hence Deca in Decameron) in a country manor house, seven women and three men- tell each other 100 stories. The stories seem funny, romantic, erotic, carefree, even frivilous. But each has a bittersweet moral tale, and after spending "The 10 Days," together, all go forth with a greater knowledge, sympathy, and a life changed. This book is similar to the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer in this respect, and the 1001 Arabian Nights- many little stories in one.

Baldassaire Castiglione


The Courtier

For centuries since its publication during the renaissance, this book has provided the model of the ideal gentleman and the ideal lady. European 'courts,' that is, 'King's Courts' or 'duke's court', 'count's court', or any important court, required the land's noblefolk to behave in certain ways. This is the guidebook to proper behavior and manners, inspired by medieval chivalry but going beyond it, it features a conversation between some nobles in the court of Urbino, Italy, a famous renaissance venue. These Urbino nobles discuss the virtues, grace, love, humor and happiness of the ideal man and woman of the aristocratic class. Today, we don't have the same kind of aristocratic-commoner distinction, so its fun to read about the old times, when some people were just, yes, considered better.

Francois Rabelais


Gargantua and Pantagruel

 A voracious alcoholic, Rabelais writes 'by drinkers, for drinkers.' Pantagruel is the son of Gargantua, and the first book is that of the dad, then the son. In Gargantua, we find a satire of the day's academic values. Pantagruel goes to college at the University of Paris and gets a 'care letter' from his dad with advice that is considered the twin super-education in Renaissance values (with 'The Courtier')!



The Essays

His dad woke him every morning with the sound of a musical instrument. Montaigne inherited an estate in France and retired to it to write his life's work so that when he died, his friends would more easily remember who he was... live and almost in person. He and this book are the originators of the modern essay. An essay is a short piece of opinion or thought about a story or news item. Montaigne's are the first, and probably the most famous. They range widely, to almost any topic you can think of, in a nice, convenient format to read in a moment of lull.

Jan Kochanowski

Laments (Treny)

The ultimate story of the pain of the worst kind... the loss of a child... the great Polish bard Jan (Kok-han-ov-ski) reveals his soul to us after the death of Urszula, his two year old daughter. Usually reserved for important people, here we find an eleugy that paints such powerful imaginations in our head, that we find ourselves pained and comforted at the same time. After much terrifically powerful thought, it comes to pass that Christ answers all prayers.



 Renaissance Thought

Niccolo Machiavelli, 1511

The Prince

Theological and moral behavior have no place in the political arena. This book and its credo are the first stirrings of modern philosophy, whose endpoint tells us that nihilism, 'a belief in nothing,' is about as good as human beings are going to get. So... this is a complicated situation. Even though modern philosophy has hardened our hearts, this is a great and exciting book, telling Prince Lorenzo de Medici how do run his principality in central Italy. He says that the prince must sometimes go against the religion, the right, and the morally good deed, to preserve the power of the State. Codified power politics find their root here.



Science and Invention

Leonardo Da Vinci



In all of history, very rarely a man of such incredible virtuosity and genius arises. Leonardo's life was full of amazing pursuits: he tried to invent airplanes, solve the problems of the human body and in fact, his imagination is so powerful that he is thought to be the Newton or Einstein of the Renaissance. He was a painter and a sculpter as well, the Mona Lisa is his work, as is the Last Supper. Da Vinci's masterful life is apparent in his famed Notebooks, that is, his drawings of the things that make the world matter.



NICHOLAS OF CUSA, 15th century







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Next: Age of Exploration



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