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“Phenomenon known as the renaissance is one of the standard stops on any tour through through the history of western culture it encompasses a roughly 300 year period in europe architects poets and philosophers reconnected with the style and ambitions of ancient greek and roman civilization the reasons for studying nthe renaissance. Nowadays are often left a bit unclear to the high minded and nrespectful the rationale may seem utterly obvious or to the more impatient or technologically focused the exercise can equally will appear a complete waste of time. We believe that the main reason to study history is to rescue certain good provocative and inspiring ideas that have been lost in the past in order to put them to use in relation to the dilemmas and problems of our own times. Our tour of the renaissance while nseemingly about some old long dead guys will hence really be about us.
Florence italy. 1469. A 20 year old nobleman from one of the grandest families of florence. Lorenzo de.
medici takes over the family business. The medici bank that s been going since 1397 and is the most respected financial institution in europe with flourishing nbranches in florence venice. Rome and geneva lorenzo like his uncles. And his father nbefore.
Him has a great gift for business during his lifetime. The bank will open new outposts in basel. Bruges avignon. Pisa and lend significant sums of money to royal courts.
Aristocrats and entrepreneurs lorenzo and his family are typical of nthe florentine upper classes of his age in honoring the business of making money without any of the traditional suspicion of trade found in most christian societies. But not only are medicies interested in making money. They are also extremely ambitious about nhow to spend money they believe that the express purpose of what we would now call. Philanthropy.
Is to promote beauty truth. And wisdom in nthe world. Lorenzo. De medici s grandfather.
Had nstarted. The collection of books. That became known as the medici library and lorenzo now expanded it decisively with his researchers scouring europe s nmonasteries courts and libraries for lost or overlooked. Text from antiquity lorenzo was a patron of many nphilosophers including marsilio ficino poliziano and giovanni pico della mirandola under his guidance.
These philosophers undertook pioneering researches into greek philosophy they absorb the ideas of epicurus cicero and aristotle and try to harmonize plato s theories with christianity lorenzo is perhaps best known as a patron of art. His court artists included nverrocchio. Leonardo botticelli. Ghirlandaio and michelangelo.
The patronage was extremely intimate and involved michelangelo. Lived with lorenzo and his family for five years dining at his table and participating in ndiscussions led by marsilio ficino. Although. The medici were quite rich by nmodern standards.
Their fortune was a relatively moderate one across four crucial decades from the 1430s to the 1470s. It s estimated that the medici family nspent the equivalent of around half a billion us dollars on intellectual npatronage architecture and art works which is a huge sum by comparison with average incomes..
But it s not very substantial by comparison with the nwealth of the richest people today. The medici family resources would be roughly those of rosa. Cafferata whose wealth from a fishery business in peru is naround 15. Billion us dollars.
She is at present 1200th richest person in the world lorenzo would seem economically nunimpressive next to giorgio armani 85. Billion and a nonentity next bill gates n79 billion money was important to what lorenzo and his family achieved. No doubt so in that respect the world is namazingly well placed to continue in his footsteps. There s no shortage of money to do the nsorts of things he did.
But what s holding us back. Today is a shortage of vision for the price of this yacht lorenzo fueled. The renaissance for 30 years. The secret to the medici s impact was that they didn t see themselves as there simply to hand over the cash to allow nartists architects and scholars to do whatever they wanted the medicies had a nvision a mission for the arts and for philosophy.
And we re extremely direct nand didactic and putting it forward usefully so guided by his philosopher nfriend ficino lorenzo. Thought of art the kind of education under his patronage artists were therefore asked to illustrate key philosophical truths. Nabout say the importance of kindness and compassion they promoted serenity and nglorified the best qualities of the state and of good leadership. The renaissance would never be remembered if its leading members that simply made piles of cash.
No one cares about that for any length nof time the real source of its glory. Was the imagination and intelligence with which its great bankers and finances set about spending their money monastery of fulda. Germany. January 1417.
An italian scholar and humanist poggio bracciolini is on a tour of germany and switzerland looking for lost greek and roman manuscripts. He is spending a few weeks in a nbenedictine monastery hunting around the dusty shelves of its great library. When in a forgotten nook. He makes one of the great discoveries of the whole renaissance he comes across what still remains the only surviving manuscripts nlucretius de rerum natura on the nature of things which gives us the most complete account.
We possess of the philosophy and worldview of the greek nphilosopher epicurus bracciolini and his circle are astonished epicurus has hugely valuable ideas about the human passions happiness religion communal life and science. This is only the highlight of a career nspent rescuing lost manuscripts in time bracciolini is to go on to discover key text by cicero quintillion and vitruvius when he couldn t by text. He wasn t averse to a little skulduggery to get what he wanted he famously bribed a monk to abstract a copy of livy. The roman historian from the library of hersfeld abbey in germany bracciolini was hugely ninterested in classical texts.
But he was not a scholar as we would understand the term that is someone who wants to investigate the past for its own sake and respects the inherent nobilty of old books. The renaissance attitude to history and philosophy was very different its intellectual leaders took a relentlessly practical view of things they wanted first and foremost to run their societies successfully to make their people wise and to build magnificent cities. The epicurean philosophy bracciolini dog up with its emphasis on friendship simplicity and the acceptance of limitations wasn t exciting to him because it was nold. But because its wisdom was still needed he wasn t looking for ancient idea so he could fill in missing details about how the past used to be perhaps in order to gain a professorship in a university bracciolini was urgently searching for help in creating better ways of thinking for the present central.
Florence 1484. Michelozzo di bartolomeo. One of cosimo de medici favorite architects completes the family home the palazzo medici just near the city s nnew cathedral michelozzo has studied roman antiquities closely and the building s tripartite elevation beautifully expresses the characteristic renaissance spirit of rationality order and harmony this is a golden age of construction in nflorence leon. Battista.
Alberti. Has done the nfacade of the church of santa..
Maria. Novella brunelleschi. Has put up the spedale degli. Innocenti and the city s new cathedral dome.
And many less well known nnames of completing squares fountains and thoroughfares. The same is true for the other great nrenaissance cities of siena venice urbino mantua and rome city fathers across nthe italian peninsula have fallen in love with a remarkable new idea that their cities should be the focus of an unparalleled attention to beauty. It s slightly embarrassing to contrast nthese efforts with our own mess. A sentimental view says that the nrenaissance city fathers made nice places because they were lucky.
They didn t need nto plan for cars. They didn t have the zoning laws and happen to have access to ngood quality building materials. Like lovely stone. You can get from quarries outside florence.
However successful urbanism is never an accident for the renaissance. It was a nphilosophical mission the renaissance built such great cities because of an idea that we are to a large extent shaped by the character of the buildings around us making sure that the public realm. Conveys dignity and calm is more than a luxury it can help to ensure the sanity. Vigor and happiness of a whole population.
What s more the urbanists and architects believed in rules. They didn t think. It was chance that a city looks good they wrote volumes codifying. What works and what must be avoided in their efforts to systematize and in their careful thinking about what makes a good street corner pavement or bench.
They put our own efforts and urbanism to shame they believed in ideal dimensions. Nfor squares that a square should be small enough that a mother can call from an upper window to her child playing at the other side. They thought that all good squares nshould have large elaborate fountains in the middle. But that the surrounding buildings nshould mostly be fairly plain.
They knew that building should be around five storeys in height. And there should be graceful covered arcades. So that citizens could amble in all nkinds of weather renaissance leaders like the medici were marked by the views of the ancient roman historian sallust who had been deeply hostile to a situation that are developed in the decadent periods of rome. Where they had been in his words public squalor and private nopulence sallust believed and the renaissance leaders hugely embraced his idea that in a healthy society.
The public sphere itself should be opulent nthat is beautiful refined and appealing that way the richer people in society nwill. Never be tempted to withdraw and concentrate exclusively on their own nprivate estates and comforts and all citizens will be uplifted by pleasing nvision of communal life. It s a tribute to these efforts that nthere are still very few cities on earth nicer than those created over a few nhundred years on the italian peninsula. But it s also testimony to our desperate nlack of ambition and vision that we can count on one hand the number of cities nconstructed since the renaissance that are prettier than say florence or nvenice ideally.
We wouldn t have to be so nimpressed by renaissance cities. We d be inspired to arrival and equal ntheir achievements in the architectural idiom of our own times frari church venice 1488 a 58 year old venetian painter giovanni bellini completes a triptych featuring in the ncentral panel baby jesus and his mother christian artists have been painting nthis scene for many centuries. But things have only become this powerful in convincing in the last hundred or so years hitherto mary and her little boy have nlooked stiff often gone and wooden. But with bellini jesus is just like a real nlittle boy a kind we might see looking at seagulls on the lido down to his stocky legs slightly swollen tummy and searching eyes marry feels equally alive.
Vibrant and ndeeply attractive and interesting we can imagine her melancholy thoughts and intuit her kind sympathetic and ndignified nature. If there was some childcare..
Available. You might be lovely to invite her out to nthe gelateria grom. Just a few steps away from the frari church. It s often been remarked.
How odd and nwondrous. It is that so many geniuses of art came to the fore in such a short nperiod in one place renaissance italy gave world civilization donatello frangelico nwhichello masaccio filippo lippi leonardo michelangelo raphael titan and so on how did it happen how do you get so much talent in one go. It s arguable that every age has roughly nsimilar amounts of latent talent. Among its artists.
What makes certain ages extraordinary one thinks of the golden age of athens holland 19th century france or 1960s america is that they know what to do with the talent they give artist a mission. They have a clear sense of what art is nfor and they therefore reward and invest in artist properly. What distinguishes the renaissance is nnot therefor. A freakish preponderance of artistic skill.
It s an intensely clear vision of what nart should be the renaissance could be described as a heroic age of advertising. Yet the focus was not on selling consumer goods. It was on selling beauty truth and nwisdom the energy. We still feel behind their art arose from a coherent ideological program.
The renaissance wanted to put painting in the service of ideas and to make these ideas palpable effective and life changing. One thing. The renaissance was constantly advertising. Is philosophy philosophers were in the minds of many then as now rather abstract and remote figures.
So the renaissance got one of its most talented artists rafael to lend them a bit of life on the walls of the vatican to shows aristotle and plato and others as belonging to a group of glamorous fascinating individuals for his part titian was employed to convey a central philosophical message about the brevity of life in his three ages of man existence is depicted as desperately fleeting. The child is soon an adult and the adult soon ages and in retrospect it all seems to have occurred incredibly fast. Which makes it essential that we nuse our time properly that we forgive one another for our frailties and focus on our potential. While there is still time titian and his patrons knew that nmost people don t care to think about how brief life is that s where art comes.
Nin and has a huge advantage over philosophy titian starts with things nthat everyone in the renaissance already liked sexy couples and cute baby angels the picture is designed to take you nwithout you even noticing. It s happening into an interest in hilosophy. So that you naturally start to engage with matters of life. And death.
The move is a bit like that made by the nbest adverts of today that hope to get you subliminally interested in buying a nchocolate bar or an suv while charming you with a beautiful couple or sublime nlandscape. Only in the renaissance. The philosophical end goal of art was nworth the effort. The renaissance concept of art as nadvertising for the great truths was underpinned by an ideology worked out by the philosopher marsilio ficino.
The figure. Who taught by renzo de medici and spoke to michelangelo at dinner every day for many years. Ficino argued that we are all ncreatures who love and love is attracted first to beauty so whatever we wish people to love we nmust first make beautiful and beauty is first encountered as sexiness so the path to the highest possible nhuman ideals tends to go down a complex root first to sex then to beauty and then to love with such a theory to hand and its impact on the art of the renaissance cannot be noverestimated ficino was able to use what we might nterm sexiness lust glamour and celebrity to serve the most noble and high minded intellectual ambitions rather than being relegated as they noften are in our own times to selling handbags or mobile. Phones.
Never before or since have so many big ideas been so beautifully and often sexually treated by great artists. Ficino and lorenzo..
De medici. Was fascinated by the idea of getting botticelli to engage nour sexuality. In order to excite us about ideas that they thought were most useful to humanity. That s why there are an awful lot of nvery cute people in botticelli s work.
The hugely alluring figures in his nprimavera are for example thoughtful. Kind and serious and sometimes rather sad. They re filled with tenderness ntowards human sorrows and failings and a keen to remind us of the need to nappreciate the cycle of life. They re also highly seductive.
You don t have to believe in the virtues to want to be like them. But because you ninstinctively want to be like them you will therefore aspire to be virtuous this genius move shared by philosophers like ficino nrich political leaders like lorenzo and artists like botticelli was to line up nour basic desire on the side of the good so that we become a kinder and sweeter and more intellectually ambitious. Not because we ve rejected all the charms of nthe world. Which hardly anyone ever can but with the help of all the charms of nthe world instead of abandoning beauty and sexiness to vanity and silliness.
The leaders of the renaissance. Deeply scholarly and earnest people cease. These and use them to their own ends. It s this move above all that helps to ngive the art of the renaissance.
Its mission driven coherence and means the artist still so charming to us today in our society. The renaissance has a lot of prestige. We think we re being true to it by going around its main cities memorizing dates and taking off key works. But this isn t really what paying tribute to the renaissance should mean.
It s not about looking at their world through our eyes. It s about using their eyes to look at nour world. We should be trying to generate a renaissance in our own societies with the help of these geniuses. Learning lessons from them nabout.
How to spend big money perhaps. Earned in finance. Wisely how to use the humanities to improve our lives rather than to impress. A scholarly community how to devote proper energy to creating livable beautiful cities and how to harness the power of art.
So is to make the good things in the world attractive and desirable if rather than being just dutifull tourist. We learn to absorb the ambitions of our nation s nleaders. We might come away from a study of the renaissance. Ready as all the great renaissance figures would have wanted us to be to do the thing that really matters.
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