Relationship between Culture and Power on the Example of Renaissance Florence

Aug 3, 2018 in Art

It is known that the house of Medici was one of the most well known and respected in Italy; perhaps, because Medici are closely connected to the city, which became a symbol of Renaissance Italy. For many of that time Italy, Florence, was the most glorious city of the entire peninsular.

Early development of the communitty of Florence, the formation of the urban culture, the emergence of civil society and public patriotism, the democratization of the system of management, as well as an interest in antiquity, led to folding in Florence in the XIII century of the humanist vision with its interest in people and society. For Florence, it was particularly true the early emergence of the idea of freedom was the great value of the Florentine state and the pride for its republican system. Namely Florence became the first leader of the Italian humanist movement and a good example of the mutual influence of art and power.

Florentine history is inextricably linked with the history of Medici family

Everywhere in the city we can see the coat of arms of this kind - a shield with six balls depicted on it. Legend tells that these balls are the drops of blood of the terrible giant, who once threatened to Florence, and with whom the progenitor of the family of Medici fought, just like David fought Goliath. However, there is another interpretation of this emblem. The word “Medici” itself, as we might guess, means “doctor”, meaning healer. The rulers of Florence, apparently, expatriated of this venerable estate (Kent 2004).

Management of grandson of Cosimo, Lorenzo de 'Medici, seems to Florentines as another flash in the pan. They love him for his easy and happy disposition, with the ease of communication and desire to fill the life of the city with the state of holiday (Hibbert 1980).

Constantly, processions and celebrations took place in the city; sculptors, painters, philosophers and poets flourished there. One of them was Angelo Ambrodzhini, nicknamed Poliziano (1454-1494), poet, humanist and playwright, court poet and friend of Lorenzo de 'Medici, the tutor of his sons. He was a professor of Greek and Latin literature at Florence University, the author of the poem “Stanzas for the tournament” (1475), the play “The Legend of Orpheus” (1471), in which the idea of harmony between man and nature dominates; one of the ubiquitous ideas across Renaissance culture. Poetry of Poliziano is cheerful, riddled by the sense of delight in the beauty of nature, and appealing to enjoy it together with the beauty of the man.

By the order of Lorenzo de 'Medici Poliziano wrote a book “On the Pazzi Conspiracy” (1478). Poliziano received his nickname (“Pulchansky”) on the basis of the name of his native town in Latin - Mons Politianus.

As the poet, Poliziano drew a lot not only from classical Latin, but also from the traditional Italian literature. This corresponded to his ideas on development and improvement of the language. In his theory of poetry, and especially in his own poetry, Poliziano actively promoted the formation of Renaissance literary style in Latin and Italian versions.

Great contribution Poliziano made also to humanistic philology, especially the development of the method of historical criticism of the text, where each text is perceived in the context of the era, which it belongs to. His philological study largely continued the line started by Petrarch and Bilhah. Contributing to the development of humanistic philology, Poliziano applied it to the analysis of the work in order to achieve the activity of Latin poets, particularly Ovid, Statius, Persia, in a lecture he gave at the University of Florence.

In the poem “Stanzas for the tournament”, dedicated to brother of Lorenzo de 'Medici - Giuliano and his beloved Simonetta Vespucci, for which in January 1476, luxury event was organized, the mythological basis of the work serves to the author for creating Renaissance idyll, spiritualizing nature and deifying a man. It embodies the art and humanism problem of the relation of valor and fortune. The main subject of the poem is the love that gives joy and happiness, but also deprives a person of inner freedom. Beautiful young hunter Julius (Julian), in love with a nymph (Simonette), is grieving for the lost freedom, “Where is your freedom, where is your heart? Cupid and woman take them away from you” (Quint).

Julius, where is venomous passion

Which, inflicting blows skillfully

On loving you sneered relish?

You do not hunt? What is it?

Your power of desire

You lost – the heart was captured by a lady.

Nymph in the beautiful colors, which is an image of the poem of Poliziano, blew a number of images in paintings by Botticelli.

Through his neighbor, Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, Botticelli was well received in the circle of the intellectual elite of Florence. Botticelli attended the Platonic Academy of Lorenzo the Magnificent. He may have been familiar with Angelo Poliziano, who in one of his poems described the birth of Venus. Another source of advice for the artist could be a philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), who tried to combine classical philosophy and Christianity. In his philosophical doctrine Celestial Venus was an important figure, who symbolized humanity, compassion and love, and whose beauty led mortals to heaven.

Even if Poliziano and Ficino were not direct advisers of Botticelli, their works prepared public opinion to accept the image of a nude ancient goddess, and the artist could work on his work without fear of judgment or lack of understanding from the part of citizens.

For many years, Botticelli maintained friendly relations with the Medici family, often working under orders of the members of this large family. But the artist was especially friendly with cousin of Florentine ruler, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de 'Medici, for whom he wrote his famous paintings “Spring” and “The Birth of Venus”.

In “Birth of Venus” the ancient goddess of love emerging from the sea foam is depicted. She swims in the shell and she is directed to the bank by Zephyrs, symbols of spiritual passion. On the shore the goddess is met by one of Or, goddesses of the seasons, to conceal the naked body of Venus by the blanket woven with flowers. Flowers are flying in the air adding a shade of romance to the situation. All this is in bright, matte colors: golden, greenish, light blue.

The presence of Venus symbolizes not sensual love in its pagan sense, but appears as humanistic ideal of spiritual love, “of conscious or semi-recognized aspiration of the soul heavenward, which clears all its movement” (Knackfuss 1901).

By the idea, “The Birth of Venus” is close to “Spring”: the provision of Neoplatonic myth is interpreted as the act of embodiment of Humanitas by Nature. Connecting with the matter, the life-giving spirit breathes life into it, and Ora (time of year), representing the historic moment of improving humanity, stretches to goddess cloak of “modesty” giving her generosity in bringing people their virtues. It seems that this picture is reflected in the lines of the poem of Poliziano “Stanzas on the tournament”:

“The Girl of the divine beauty

Is swaying, standing at the sink,

Drawn by the shore by voluptuous Zephyrs

And the heavens admire this [sight]”.

It should be said that the problem of interdependence of power structures and cultural values can be viewed in several ways.

First, the strata, occupying a dominant position, are usually culturally dominated. This means that the values, norms and ideals inherent in the dominant strata, have priority over the values, norms and ideals of the groups occupying a subordinate position.

Second, any system of government needs cultural legitimation: a belief system justifying and supporting the existing power hierarchy.

Third, the “cultural capital” in itself can be a source of power; though, more often “cultural capital” should be supplemented by other forms of capital. It can be clearly seen through the history of Florence, especially during the time of ruling of Lorenzo de 'Medici (Battersby 2005).

“With the leaving of Lorenzo peace in Florence came to the end” the Pope saidafter getting to know the death of Lorenzo de 'Medici. Nature in its own responded to this event: lightning struck with such force in the dome of the church of Santa Reparata, that part of it collapsed, causing a general amazement of Florentines.

His wisdom was described in legends, his fine artistic taste was appreciated far beyond Italy, modesty did not stop to be a subject of wonder, and power and might rarely were exposed to challenge. Lorenzo de 'Medici. Lorenzo the Magnificent. His name will forever be linked with flowering of Florence, creation and lives of geniuses of the Renaissance, the splendor of the Renaissance.

Over time, respect of the Florentines to their ruler grows more and more; more than once they were convinced of his reliability and toughness. They know well that Lorenzo is able to share their fate not only during the holidays and fun, but at the time of trials as well.

In 1478, the situation in Florence was getting more and more threatening day by day. The treasury is empty, and the country is about to begin a war with the king of Naples, with the Pope and with Genoa. There are no allies. All hopes – for Lorenzo. He alone goes to the King of Naples, speaks to him on the situation in Italy, on the aspirations of its rulers, its people, and the hopes that would bring peace, and the dangers of continuing the war.

To Florence Lorenzo returned with the Peace Treaty and the Agreement on eternal friendship in the interest of both countries. Few people remember that peace that Lorenzo went for alone to the enemy, exposing his life to danger.

He enjoyed absolute authority in the policy affairs, but ruled Florence showing common sense, courtesy and dignity without formal title or ranks.

The richest man in the world, friendship and favor of whom, the rulers of Italian city-states and the powerful monarchs of East and West were seeking, and yet he has an open and a gentle nature and a complete lack of arrogance. Lacking either the army or guard, he walks the streets of Florence with no entourage, talks with all citizens as equal, lives a simple family life, loves to play with his children and keeps his house open to artists, writers and scientists from around the world.

Patriae decus, familiae amplitudo, incrementum atrium – “benefit for the fatherland, the grandeur of the family, the increase in arts” - these are the principles that in all matters guided the ruler of Florence never separating one from the other.

In the history Lorenzo the Magnificent will also remain as the creator of Europe's first public library. His collection consisted of about ten thousand manuscripts and printed books. Such a library did not exist anywhere else after Alexandria. It still bears his name, Laurentian Library, and is located at the Cathedral of San Lorenzo.

Art in the eyes of Lorenzo is much more important concern than his flotilla sailing in all the seas of the world, and his banks, entangled by their network the whole Europe (Hibbert 1980).

XV century, the era of the Quattrocento, the golden age of the Italian Renaissance; the time, when in the same city on the banks of Arno, a whole constellation of geniuses is gathering: Antonio Pollaiuolo, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Amerigo Vespucci, Leonardo da Vinci.

All of them were contemporaries of Lorenzo the Magnificent. In life of many of them the ruler of Florence will play the role appointed by fate.

Today, many historians argue about whether, in fact, Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts and philanthropist, as legends stated. They find the facts and evidences that allegedly not many artists worked on his direct order. Actually, this may be true. But another thing is obvious: in his attention to the people of art and their creativity Lorenzo the Magnificent opened so many various forms of support for artists and architects that it is time to talk about real and a well thought out policy in the field of art.

Ruler of Florence gave his fellow citizens, and especially the rich people of the city, love to beauty, to the antiquity, good taste and desire to fill life with the works of the true art. In it he continued the work begun by his grandfather, Cosimo the Elder, a great admirer and connoisseur of antiquity, and he became a living example of the synergy of public administration and development of the arts.

Related essays