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BOOKS: The Feuding Families of Medieval and Renaissance Italy

BOOKS: The Feuding Families of Medieval and Renaissance Italy


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The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall

Author: Christopher Hibbert

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 19, 1999)

Summary

At its height Renaissance Florence was a centre of enormous wealth, power and influence. A republican city-state funded by trade and banking, its often bloody political scene was dominated by rich mercantile families, the most famous of which were the Medici. This enthralling book charts the family’s huge influence on the political, economic and cultural history of Florence. Beginning in the early 1430s with the rise of the dynasty under the near-legendary Cosimo de Medici, it moves through their golden era as patrons of some of the most remarkable artists and architects of the Renaissance, to the era of the Medici Popes and Grand Dukes, Florence’s slide into decay and bankruptcy, and the end, in 1737, of the Medici line.

Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici

Author: Miles Unger

Publisher: Simon & Schuster(May 6, 2008)

Summary

Magnifico is a vividly colorful portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the uncrowned ruler of Florence during its golden age. A true “Renaissance man,” Lorenzo dazzled contemporaries with his prodigious talents and magnetic personality. Known to history as Il Magnifico (the Magnificent), Lorenzo was not only the foremost patron of his day but also a renowned poet, equally adept at composing philosophical verses and obscene rhymes to be sung at Carnival. He befriended the greatest artists and writers of the time — Leonardo, Botticelli, Poliziano, and, especially, Michelangelo, whom he discovered as a young boy and invited to live at his palace — turning Florence into the cultural capital of Europe. He was the leading statesman of the age, the fulcrum of Italy, but also a cunning and ruthless political operative. Miles Unger’s biography of this complex figure draws on primary research in Italian sources and on his intimate knowledge of Florence, where he lived for several years. Lorenzo’s grandfather Cosimo had converted the vast wealth of the family bank into political power, but from his earliest days Lorenzo’s position was precarious. Bitter rivalries among the leading Florentine families and competition among the squabbling Italian states meant that Lorenzo’s life was under constant threat. Those who plotted his death included a pope, a king, and a duke, but Lorenzo used his legendary charm and diplomatic skill — as well as occasional acts of violence — to navigate the murderous labyrinth of Italian politics. Against all odds he managed not only to survive but to preside over one of the great moments in the history of civilization. Florence in the age of Lorenzo was a city of contrasts, of unparalleled artistic brilliance and unimaginable squalor in the city’s crowded tenements; of both pagan excess and the fire-and-brimstone sermons of the Dominican preacher Savonarola. Florence gave birpth to both the otherworldly perfection of Botticelli’s Primavera and the gritty realism of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Nowhere was this world of contrasts more perfectly embodied than in the life and character of the man who ruled this most fascinating city.

The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici

Author: Elizabeth Lev

Publisher: Mariner Books (October 16, 2012)

Summary

A strategist to match Machiavelli; a warrior who stood toe to toe with the Borgias; a wife whose three marriages would end in bloodshed and heartbreak; and a mother determined to maintain her family’s honor, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici was a true Renaissance celebrity, beloved and vilified in equal measure. In this dazzling biography, Elizabeth Lev illuminates her extraordinary life and accomplishments. Raised in the court of Milan and wed at age ten to the pope’s corrupt nephew, Caterina was ensnared in Italy’s political intrigues early in life. After turbulent years in Rome’s papal court, she moved to the Romagnol province of Forlì. Following her husband’s assassination, she ruled Italy’s crossroads with iron will, martial strength, political savvy, and an icon’s fashion sense. In finally losing her lands to the Borgia family, she put up a resistance that inspired all of Europe and set the stage for her progeny—including Cosimo de’ Medici—to follow her example to greatness. A rich evocation of Renaissance life, The Tigress of Forlì reveals Caterina Riario Sforza as a brilliant and fearless ruler, and a tragic but unbowed figure.

The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519

Author: Christopher Hibbert

Publisher: Mariner Books (September 16, 2009)

Summary

Acclaimed British historian Hibbert’s latest work focuses on three members of the notorious Borgia family of Spain, who came to power in Rome with the election of Alfonso de Borgia (1378–1458), the scholarly bishop of Valencia, to the papacy as Calixtus III. Calixtus’s nephew Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (1431–1503) was known for decadence as well as keen administrative skills. Cardinal Rodrigo played a key role in electing Pope Sixtus IV, had a lucrative career as vice chancellor under five popes, fathered several children and bribed his way to becoming pope himself, as Alexander VI, in 1492. His children were infamous, including the unscrupulous military leader and politician Cesare (1475–1507), who inspired Machiavelli’s The Prince and murdered his own brother and brother-in-law to achieve his goals, while his daughter Lucrezia (1480–1519) overcame an incestuous reputation to become a respected patron of the arts as duchess of Ferrara. The book is a heavily researched and generally engrossing account of a famous dynasty, but readers may wish Hibbert (The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici) had used a more assertive and analytical voice to accompany the detailed descriptions of Renaissance life.

Absolutism in Renaissance Milan: Plenitude of Power under the Visconti and the Sforza 1329-1535

Author: Jane Black

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (December 20, 2009)

Summary

Absolutism in Renaissance Milan shows how authority above the law, once the preserve of pope and emperor, was claimed by the ruling Milanese dynasties, the Visconti and the Sforza, and why this privilege was finally abandoned by Francesco II Sforza (d. 1535), the last duke. As new rulers, the Visconti and the Sforza had had to impose their regime by rewarding supporters at the expense of opponents. That process required absolute power, also known as “plenitude of power,” meaning the capacity to overrule even fundamental laws and rights, including titles to property. The basis for such power reflected the changing status of Milanese rulers, first as signori and then as dukes. Contemporary lawyers, schooled in the sanctity of fundamental laws, were at first prepared to overturn established doctrines in support of the free use of absolute power: even the leading jurist of the day, Baldo degli Ubaldi (d. 1400), accepted the new teaching. However, lawyers came eventually to regret the new approach and to reassert the principle that laws could not be set aside without compelling justification. The Visconti and the Sforza too saw the dangers of absolute power: as legitimate princes they were meant to champion law and justice, not condone arbitrary acts that disregarded basic rights. Jane Black traces these developments in Milan over the course of two centuries, showing how the Visconti and Sforza regimes seized, exploited and finally relinquished absolute power.

The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe (Modern Wars In Perspective)

Authors: Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw

Publisher: Routledge (April 26, 2012)

Summary

The Italian Wars of 1494-1559 had a major impact on the whole of Renaissance Europe. In this important text, Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw place the conflict within the political and economic context of the wars. Emphasising the gap between aims and strategies of the political masters and what their commanders and troops could actually accomplish on the ground, they analyse developments in military tactics and the tactical use of firearms and examine how Italians of all sectors of society reacted to the wars and the inevitable political and social change that they brought about. The history of Renaissance Italy is currently being radically rethought by historians. This book is a major contribution to this re-evaluation, and will be essential reading for all students of Renaissance and military history.

The Families Who Made Rome: A History and a Guide

Author: Anthony Majanlahti

Publisher: Random House UK (June 6, 2006)

Summary

Rome is famous for its buildings and architecture, but just who built its noted and beautiful structures? This distinctive account—part history and part travel guide—explores the families and individuals who built Rome from the ground up. Each of the districts dominated by the fabulously rich families of the Popes—including the Colonna, della Rovere, Farnese, Borghese, Barberini and others—are explored and paired with a vivid account of the family’s history, including their scandals and intrigues as well as their relationships with artists like Bernini and Michelangelo. An itinerary with maps and engravings provides a detailed guide to each family’s monuments. Famous sites such as the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and St. Peter’s Cathedral take on new significance as the history of the Roman nobles who placed their stamp on the city is unveiled.

Machiavelli

Author: Robert Black

Publisher: Routledge (September 18, 2013)

Summary

Machiavelli is history’s most startling political commentator. Recent interpreters have minimised his originality, but this book restores his radicalism. Robert Black shows a clear development in Machiavelli’s thought. In his most subversive works The Prince, the Discourses on Livy, The Ass and Mandragola he rejected the moral and political values inherited by the Renaissance from antiquity and the middle ages. These outrageous compositions were all written in mid-life, when Machiavelli was a political outcast in his native Florence. Later he was reconciled with the Florentine establishment, and as a result his final compositions including his famous Florentine Histories represent a return to more conventional norms. This lucid work is perfect for students of Medieval and Early Modern History, Renaissance Studies and Italian Literature, or anyone keen to learn more about one of history’s most potent, influential and arresting writers.

The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427-1527

Author: Leonie Frieda

Publisher: Harper (April 2, 2013)

Summary

From Leonie Frieda, critically acclaimed biographer of Catherine de Medici, comes The Deadly Sisterhood: an epic tale of eight women whose lives—marked by fortune and poverty, power and powerlessness—encompass the spectacle, opportunity, and depravity of Italy’s Renaissance. Lucrezia Turnabuoni, Clarice Orsini, Beatrice d’Este, Isabella d’Este, Caterina Sforza, Giulia Farnese, Isabella d’Aragona, and Lucrezia Borgia shared the riches of their birthright: wealth, political influence, and friendship, but none were not exempt from personal tragedies, exile, and poverty. With riveting narrative, Leonie Frieda’s The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427–1527 brings to life a long-gone era filled with intrigue, corruption, and passion.

The Medicean Succession: Monarchy and Sacral Politics in Duke Cosimo dei Medici’s Florence (I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History)

Author: Gregory Murray

Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 3, 2014)

Summary

In 1537, Florentine Duke Alessandro dei Medici was murdered by his cousin and would-be successor, Lorenzino dei Medici. Lorenzino’s treachery forced him into exile, however, and the Florentine senate accepted a compromise candidate, seventeen-year-old Cosimo dei Medici. The senate hoped Cosimo would act as figurehead, leaving the senate to manage political affairs. But Cosimo never acted as a puppet. Instead, by the time of his death in 1574, he had stabilized ducal finances, secured his borders while doubling his territory, attracted an array of scholars and artists to his court, academy, and universities, and, most importantly, dissipated the perennially fractious politics of Florentine life. Gregory Murry argues that these triumphs were far from a foregone conclusion. Drawing on a wide variety of archival and published sources, he examines how Cosimo and his propagandists successfully crafted an image of Cosimo as a legitimate sacral monarch. Murry posits that both the propaganda and practice of sacral monarchy in Cosimo’s Florence channeled preexisting local religious assumptions as a way to establish continuities with the city’s republican and renaissance past. In The Medicean Succession, Murry elucidates the models of sacral monarchy that Cosimo chose to utilize as he deftly balanced his ambition with the political sensitivities arising from existing religious and secular traditions.


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