Beyond Florence – Patrons and Courts from the Italian Renaissance: A Seven-Part Course with Cecilia Martini

Beyond Florence – Patrons and Courts from the Italian Renaissance: A Seven-Part Course with Cecilia Martini


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Why was the Renaissance born in Italy? Why did it bloom in Florence? Where did it manifest outside of Florence, Rome, and Venice? During this seven-part course, we will examine the Italian Renaissance from its birth in Florence to its flourishing in lesser-known regions such as Urbino, Ferrara, Mantova, and Milan. We will visit the magnificent courts that together, through their patronage, formed the symphony of the Renaissance.

Over seven weeks, we will meet Piero della Francesca, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Bramante, Mantegna, and Leonardo da Vinci, all of whom created their masterpieces in the courts of these regions. Led by art historian and native Roman Cecilia Martini, this course is conceived as an ideal journey through the amazing season of fifteenth-century Renaissance Italy to investigate its origins and to be a possible source of inspiration for a future trip.

Lecture 1: Florence

Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance. A city of merchants and bankers used to measure the world with their eyes and give value to it. It was a rich city where art patronage was a status symbol and artists were honored and became famous. From Brunelleschi to the young Michelangelo, from the Florentine Repubblica to the season of the Signoria, from Cosimo de’ Medici to Lorenzo il Magnifico, this first lecture answers the question: why was the Renaissance born in Florence?

Lecture 2: The “New Athens”

With the end of the merchants, the great season of the “new Athens” began. At the court of the Medici, philosophers, and poets, humanists and artists created a unique environment where future popes and geniuses such as Michelangelo were raised. This lecture covers the sophisticated art of the time as expressed by Botticelli and Ghirlandaio, Verrocchio, and Pollaiolo and by the first works of the young Leonardo da Vinci. These were all precursors to the shadow of Savonarola.

Lecture 3: Urbino

Federico da Montefeltro was a mercenary and one of the best men at arms of the Renaissance. He was also a man of culture: he spent most of the money he earned fighting to buy and promote art and to amass an amazing library. The palace that he built in Urbino still stands as a fairy castle, hosting the works of the great masters that worked for him such as Piero della Francesca and Luciano Laurana. We’ll discuss other masterminds born and raised in this unique city: Bramante and Raphael breathed the Renaissance spirit that they then spread all over Italy.

Lecture 4: Ferrara

Lecture four takes a look at this charming city, ruled for three hundred years by the Este family. Rough men at arms at the beginning of their history, they turned into sophisticated art patrons during the fifteenth-century. The Ferrarese school of painters that decorated the Schifanoia palace is one of the most interesting of the all Italian Renaissance. The Castle in the middle of the city was the birthplace of the great Isabella d’Este but also the residence of Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara. Typical of the Italian courts of that time, poets and artists, beautiful women, and men of power met to hatch unexpected plots.

Lecture 5: Mantova

This lecture explores how, for three hundred years, Mantova was a nexus of art patronage. The rulers of this land, men at arm and mercenaries, but also cultured gentlemen, loved to be surrounded by beauty. In the fifteenth-century, Mantegna and Leon Battista Alberti were the favorites of the Marquis, while at the end of the century the great Isabella d’Este created one of the most amazing art collections of the Renaissance. In 1526 Giulio Romano built and painted Palazzo Te, and in the seventeenth-century, they gathered an outstanding art collection with the help of their advisor Pieter Paul Rubens.

Lecture 6: Milan

Milan needs no other introduction than this: Leonardo da Vinci. Born in Tuscany and raised in Florence, da Vinci’s talent was recognized in Milan where he worked as an artist, urban planner, and military engineer for Duke Ludovico il Moro. It was here that he left his Last Supper and painted some of his most famous portraits such as the Lady with the Ermine and the Belle Ferronière. In this same city, the great Bramante designed his first important piece of architecture and painted together with Vincenzo Foppa, the first Renaissance painter of Milan. This creative talent was ruled by Ludovico il Moro, one of the most powerful men in Italy, a dark lord involved in all of the plots of these challenging times.

Lecture 7: Pienza, Rimini, Parma, Sabbioneta

This last lecture is dedicated to the smallest but no less precious Renaissance cities: the ideal city of Pienza, redesigned entirely by the architect Bernardo Rossellino for Pope Pius II, the perfect city of Sabbioneta, another example of Renaissance urban planning, and the absolute hidden jewels of the Room of the Abbess in Parma decorated by the great Correggio with mythological tales, and the Castle of Fontanellato with the Room of Diana and Acteon by alchemist painter Parmigianino.

Cecilia is an art historian and a native Roman with a Master's degree in Medieval and Renaissance art from the Sapienza University of Rome. Although her specialty is painting and decorative arts, she has a broad knowledge of the history of Rome and a personal passion for ancient history, which she shares on many antiquity-themed itineraries. Cecilia has worked actively in the past as a lecturer, teacher, and curator of exhibitions. She had been a staff member of the didactive service of the Vatican Museums, the Galleria Doria Pamphili and the Galleria Colonna where she still frequently consults. As a licensed guide for Rome and Florence and with a specialized teaching degree, she has more than 20 years of experience in leading highly-qualified tours.

How does it work?

This is a seven-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on this subject, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $245 for seven lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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