Birth City of the Renaissance
Joseph J. Green
Northern Arizona University
Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and was important to the genesis of the Renaissance for many reasons. Florence was in a unique position due to its strong economy, its focus on art, and its support of the individual. Due to the many unique features of Florence, it is no surprise that it would be the city to give birth to the Renaissance.
Florence managed to create some of the most wealthy families in Europe. Florence had an exceptionally wealthy upper and middle class of merchants and bankers. Much of this wealth can be attributed to the relative peace that the Italian peninsula enjoyed at the time, and its relatively early trade with the East. In fact, Florence was so economically strong, their currency, the gold florin, was internationally recognized. With wealth, typically, comes desires to use it to expand upon the pleasures of life (Harris and Zucker, n.d.). At the time of the Renaissance, those pleasures often included literature and art which are two subjects generally associated with the Renaissance, such expenditures must have contributed to the birth of the Renaissance. It was also around this time that the banking Medici family, who, for a time, had the most profitable family business in all of Europe, came to power (Lenihan, 2008).
Florence also had an exceptionally high influence on the development of art. It was during this time that Giotto di Bondone entered the art scene, and revolutionized art by making art in a completely new way. He created art that focused on being more naturalistic to the human form. He and his contemporaries formed a “thriving artistic community that responded to the great demand for art and literature in the growing city” (Getty.edu, 2013). The Medici family had a great interest in arts and literature, so it should come to no surprise that they contributed greatly to the development of the Renaissance. When they first came to true political power under the leadership of Cosimo il Vecchio, Cosimo spent much of his wealth improving the culture of Florence. One of his major accomplishments was creating the largest library in Europe. His library included many works from across the world including that of Greek sources, such as the works of Plato. He also created the Platonic Academy, and patronized Marsilio Ficino who would go on to create the first Latin edition of the collected works of Plato. Aside from his major contributions to literature and intellect, he also focused heavily on art. He supported artists such as Ghiberti, who created The Gates of Paradise, Brunelleschi, who, among many other wonders of his ability as an architect, successfully designed a dome to top the Florence Cathedral, Donatello, who sculpted a bronze David, Alberti, another architect, who contributed to various measurement systems, Fra Angelico, who’s fresco paintings are rated among the best of Italian art, and Ucello, who was an imaginative painter and a designer for stained glass (Galileo.rice.edu, n.d.;Artic.edu, 2007;Oneonta.edu, n.d.;Browarny, n.d.;Hood, n.d.;The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles, n.d.). While the culture was certainly flourishing anyway, the Medici family clearly had an eye for talent, and became a huge contributor to the development of art in the Renaissance. With talent such as this, it is no wonder how Florence became the cultural and humanist center of Europe.
Another unique aspect of Florence was its focus on individuality and respect for the individual. Florence was a republic, a place where individual freedom was guaranteed, and many citizens had a right to participate in the government. Florence also had a high literacy rate compared to other European countries of the time (Lenihan, 2008). The people of Florence took great pride in their government and feared losing it to threats from Milan, who was ruled by dukes with absolute power, and the Kingdom of Naples (Harris and Zucker, n.d.). Such freedom and focus on individuality must have been the proper recipe to allow Florence to flourish as the center of rebirth for Europe. Under a harsh reign, as was common during the fall of feudalism, it is hard to believe that the people would have been able to accumulate the wealth and power necessary to focus their attention on cultural development. If the people suffered harsh restrictions on trade, or if the people were repressed from expressing their creativity, how could they possibly become the center of cultural revolution?
Would the Renaissance have happened were it not for the unique advantages found in Florence? Possibly, but there is no question that Florence managed to accelerate that movement. The wealth and relative peace of the people contributed no small amount to the ability of the people to focus their attention on things beyond the struggle to stay alive. Wealth that was then used to contribute vastly to the arts and literacy which allowed people of renowned talent to come to fruition. People who continue to challenge the best of what we have to offer, in their respective disciplines, today. The freedom that the people of Florence enjoyed must have contributed greatly to the people’s ability to obtain wealth and spend it on the arts, as well as being a necessary catalyst to the development of humanism. With boons such as these, there is little wonder how Florence could be considered the genesis of the Renaissance.
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