Tuesday, March 05, 2019

"The House of Medici" by Christopher Hibbert - Insights Into Renaissance Florence and Beyond

Previously, I reviewed the book "The Medici Effect" by Frans Johansson.  In his work on innovation, Frans uses the Medici family of Renaissance Florence as template for the kind of enabling patronage that draws together talent from a variety disciplines, arts and sciences - with the ultimate impact of empowering extraordinary levels of creativity and innovation.

As I read Johansson's book, I was struck by the fact that I knew precious little of the history of the Medici and the story behind them emerging as the greatest patrons of the arts the world has ever known.  Despite the fact that I have visited Florence, Italy, I still felt that my knowledge of that world needed to be enhanced.  As someone who often alludes to Renaissance Men, I felt that it behooved me to learn more about the time and place that spawned the first generation of prototype Renaissance Men - Leonardo, Michelangelo and their ilk.

A quick Google search led me to Christopher Hibbert's classic book on the history of the Medici - "The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall."  Hibbert does a nice job of leading the reader through a Grand Tour of several generations of the Medici - bankers to the Papacy who investments a large portion of their largesse in supporting artists and scholars of many stripes.  A nice set of end notes provides a parallel tour through the architectural history of all of the sites mentioned in the body of the text.

While I will not take the time for a full review here, I do want to share some insight that I gleaned early in the book that shed important light on how Florence emerged as the haven for genius that turned it into the magnet that it remains today for people who want to experience the glory of its Golden Age.

In 1438, Cosimo Medici arranged for a Council to be convened in Florence that would attempt to repair the breech between the Roman Church and the Orthodox Church centered in Constantinople.  The Council ultimately failed to bridge that theological chasm, but had more salubrious effects on the reputation of Florence as a center for the arts and scholarship.

"Yet for Florence, as Cosimo had foreseen, the Council had happier consequences.  As well as profiting the trade of the city, it was an important influence on what was already being spoken of as the Rinascimento ["Renaissance"].  The presence of so many Greek scholars in Florence provided an incalculable stimulus to the quickening interest in classical texts and classical history, in classical art and philosophy, and particularly in the study of Plato, the great hero of the humanists, for so long overshadowed by his pupil, Aristotle." (Page 68)

This book helped me to fill in some missing pieces in my understanding of how the Renaissance emerged from the Dark Ages that had beclouded and adumbrated Europe for so many centuries.  I recommend it as a useful resource for those, who like me, are not serious students of history, but who desire to know more than "the average bear" about the intellectual history of Western Civilization.



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