Italian Renaissance

Course No. 3970
Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
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Course No. 3970
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Course Overview

When you think of the Italian Renaissance, chances are you think of what it gave us. The extraordinary sculptures of Michelangelo. The incomparable paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. The immortal written works of Petrarch and Machiavelli. But have you ever wondered why there was such an artistic, cultural and intellectual explosion in Italy at the start of the 14th century?

Why did it occur in Italy and not another part of Europe, and why did it happen in certain Italian city-states, such as Florence?

Why did it ultimately fail in the middle of the 16th century?

Professor Kenneth Bartlett offers you the opportunity to appreciate the results of the Italian Renaissance and to probe its origins. You will gain an understanding of the underlying social, political, and economic forces that made such exceptional art and culture possible.

In this course, you will learn from two masters: Professor Bartlett himself, and the eminent 19th-century art historian Jacob Burckhardt, who created the scholarly model—cultural history—through which the Renaissance is still widely studied today. Burckhardt believed that the Renaissance was best understood by examining the culture from which it arose: its social relations, economic structures, political systems, and religious beliefs.

Dr. Bartlett believes that this approach is akin to creating a mosaic using tesserae, pieces that consist of questions about social, economic, and political history, and about the day-to-day lives of individuals and families of the time.

How did the city-states of Italy amass such enormous wealth, and why did states such as Florence invest so much of their capital in art and learning?

How people lived, worked, and learned

What was the relationship of parents to children, husbands to wives, and citizens to their community?

Who could hold political power, and why? How is it that the Renaissance manifested itself so differently in different political environments: in a republic like Florence, a despotism like Milan, or a principality like Urbino?

Even the geography and topography of Italy become surprisingly crucial pieces of the picture. How did the country's unique shape—a peninsula with a mountain range running up its center—help to spark the Renaissance? Would the Renaissance have happened had Italy's geography been different?

This course will teach you that the Italian Renaissance mosaic is incomplete without the large and small pieces, such as the sack of Rome or the French invasions of 1494, and the dowry that a woman's family had to provide so she could be married. In addition, you will learn that some pieces you may have associated with another genre of history—the Protestant Reformation or the Council of Trent, for example—are a part of an accurate Renaissance depiction.

You will gain a sense of how the Renaissance really looked through the eyes of the men and women who lived it. In addition, you will appreciate the Italian Renaissance as the moment in history when culture reached a point that is still with us in the way we view the world and structure our lives, and in the Renaissance cities of present-day Italy.

The Mind-set of the Renaissance: Man as the Measure of all Things

If you could learn only one thing from this course, it would be this: The Italian Renaissance was essentially a mind-set, a collection of powerful attitudes and beliefs.

Renaissance thinking enabled Italy to emerge from the feudal, Aristotelian, God-centered society of medieval Europe. The Renaissance mind—informed by the new philosophy of Humanism and the rediscovery of Plato—was far more secular and focused on the activities of human beings. The great invention of the time was the creation of the individual, the notion that human experiences and abilities should not be trivialized but celebrated—that man was "the measure of all things."

You will witness the creation of Renaissance attitudes and beliefs against a backdrop of the cultural circumstances that gave birth to it. You will see the origins of Humanism as largely rooted in the work of Francesco Petrarca, or Petrarch, who grew up in a family that had been exiled from Florence. Humanism's emphasis on the individual grew out of the fact that Petrarch was forced to seek his own identity, to literally "construct" himself, because he was separated from the homeland that otherwise would have shaped his identity.

You will understand Petrarch as an example of the theory that "geniuses do not drive history." Even the most powerful ideas cannot take hold unless they can connect with social, political, and economic realities—unless they are beneficial to a given culture's day-to-day needs.

The Life of Latin

For example, Petrarch's belief that the classical Latin of Cicero was superior to medieval Latin received support because it proved true in real life. Traveling notaries, who wrote contracts and letters in Latin for merchants, found that switching to the classical version made them more marketable. Similarly, Humanism became the philosophy of the Republic of Florence largely because it was seen as economically advantageous. Florence's rising business class saw Humanism as a useful rationale for charging interest, a practice forbidden by the Bible.

What is perhaps most striking is the way Renaissance Italians came to see their beliefs as not simply abstract but tangible. Florence transformed Humanism into civic Humanism—the belief that citizens should contribute their wealth and talent to the city's betterment—which it further transformed into an actual "built community": its architecture and landscaping, its immortal churches, sculptures, paintings, and frescoes.

Finally, you will examine how Renaissance ideals were embodied in the work of writers such as Baldassare Castiglione, Francesco Guicciardini, and Niccolo Machiavelli. They considered their era's values to be sacred, vital handholds to which civilization literally clung. Their works can largely be seen as an effort to adjust and protect these values, to preserve them against the assault of anti-Italian, anti-Renaissance barbarians of their time.

Renaissances of Florence, Venice, Urbino, Milan, and Rome

The city-states of the Italian peninsula were home to the money, intellect, and talent that were needed for the growth of Renaissance culture, especially in Florence.

In the Republic of Florence, you will find an enlightened society that reached its peak under Cosimo de'Medici the elder (il Vecchio) and his grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and that considered itself "the enemy of kings and tyrants." Fully 3 percent of its citizens were eligible to hold political office (a remarkable percentage for the time).

On the other hand, Florence's Renaissance history was one of political instability, of factionalism and political experiment that eventually descended into disarray and decline. At the end of the 15th century, under the overzealous Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola, Florence was a repressive theocracy that ruled through torture. Heretics risked having their tongues cut out, and specially trained groups of boys, called Bands of Hope, roamed the streets to enforce public piety.

This course will also show you how the Renaissance progressed in other Italian city-states that, due to circumstances of geography and history, had political and social structures that were very different from Florence's. In fact, most Italian Renaissance cities were principalities or despotisms, governed by princes or leaders of ruling families who could be either benign or cruel.

In Venice, you will see how this Republic's change from a maritime to a more land-oriented city more amenable to Renaissance Humanism, which affected the look of the city. Venetian visual arts and architecture changed from Byzantine to Classical, and a Venetian school of painting arose that gave us such giants as Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto.

Montefeltro, a Consummate Civic Leader

The tiny principality of Urbino and the powerful despotic monarchy of Milan produced several exceptional leaders. Sir Kenneth Clark described Urbino under Federigo da Montefeltro as the most civilized place on Earth at the time. Montefeltro, known as the Light of Italy, walked the streets of Urbino each morning to inquire about his subjects' well-being. His sense of fairness was so strong that he once insisted that a merchant sue him for nonpayment of a debt.

The Milanese despotic monarch Giangaleazzo Visconti built Milan's renowned cathedral, instituted postal and public health systems, and initiated an attempt to unite Italy that, had it succeeded, would have rewritten Italian and European history. His successors, Francesco and Lodovico Sforza (called il Moro, the Moor, for his dark skin) accomplished the Peace of Lodi, which sheltered the Renaissance in relative tranquility for 40 years. Sforza presided over a court—where Leonardo da Vinci resided—that made Milan a rival to Lorenzo de'Medici's Florence as a center of art patronage.

Rome, in an eerie reprise of the Roman Empire, rose and fell during the Renaissance. The Middle Ages had made Rome a deserted city, overrun by weeds and animals. But after the embarrassments of the Babylonian Captivity (1305–77), when the papacy moved to France, and the Great Schism (1378–1417), when as many as three popes ruled simultaneously, a succession of popes embarked on a rebuilding program designed to restore the papacy's dignity.

Martin V, Nicholas V, Sixtus IV, and Julius II made Rome a Renaissance city by instituting large-scale public works, and church buildings such as St. Peter's Basilica, the largest construction project in Rome since antiquity. Unfortunately, Rome's rebirth as a magnet for tourists and pilgrims ended in an orgy of violence during the sack of Rome in 1527. An army comprised largely of mercenary Protestant Germans committed wanton rape, slaughtered priests and nuns, and pried open the tombs of popes and cardinals to steal vestments and rings.

In the end, no more than 15,000 inhabitants remained in the city, and Italians lost significant faith in their Renaissance ideals of Humanism and the dignity of man.

The Renaissance in Daily Detail

  • The Italian Renaissance was the era that invented the concept of the state and the term "Middle Ages."
  • The last non-Italian pope until John Paul II served during the Renaissance. But Adrian VI was so unpopular that after he died, happy Romans carried his doctor through the streets because they thought he had helped to kill the pontiff.
  • In wars between Italian city-states, hardly anyone was hurt, let alone killed. Renaissance cities hired mercenary armies to do their fighting for them, and mercenary captains fought not to lose soldiers, whom they considered to be investments.

Professor Bartlett's presentation contains a wealth of details that will give you a feel and appreciation for the Italian Renaissance—its contributions to history, the ways it was similar and dissimilar to our times, and how it was experienced by the people, famous and ordinary, who lived it. For example:

  • To recover knowledge of classical antiquity, Renaissance scholars had to invent disciplines such as archaeology, numismatics, and methods to verify the authenticity and meanings of texts. Renaissance techniques proved that the document, the Donation of Constantine—through which the Emperor Constantine allegedly gave control of the Western Roman Empire to the church—was a forgery, and that the only full-size equestrian bronze statue to survive from antiquity, long thought to depict Constantine, was actually of Marcus Aurelius.
  • Florence invented several financial techniques now widespread in modern economics. In the 1340s, to finance a huge public debt, Florentines invented the Monte, or mountain. This functioned like a municipal bond, and paid a 5 percent rate of return. Florentines also created the Monte delle doti, which functioned like a modern college fund, to help fathers pay their daughters' dowries, and an income tax complete with personal deductions.
  • So that aristocratic boys and girls wouldn't feel too superior, many Humanist educators required some poor boys, selected for their intelligence, be educated with them. The poor students were taught for free, and their parents were compensated for the fact that the boys weren't working and contributing to family income.
  • Ironically, women's social and personal freedom was most restricted where political freedom was greatest, in Humanist republics such as Florence and Venice. Most Humanist authors advised that women not be taught classical languages, rhetoric, and other Humanist skills. But in principalities, noble fathers often found it beneficial to educate their daughters to make them more attractive to a suitor. In addition, duchesses or princesses often ruled when husbands were away at war, a role unimaginable in Florence or Venice.
  • In Renaissance cities, women had four life options: marriage, domestic service, the convent, or prostitution. Florence ran state-approved brothels so that "honest" women would not be assaulted. Many women, afraid of dying in childbirth, chose the convent.
  • Social rank and decorum required that boys and girls, young men and women, only play a stringed instrument or keyboard instruments. Brass instruments or woodwinds were forbidden because it was thought that playing these instruments distorted the face and was contrary to the dignity and natural beauty of the human form.
  • Trials were held secretly in Venice, and most sentences were carried out at night. If you were accused of a capital offense, of which there were many, you would often just disappear. You'd be sewn in a sack and, at midnight, dropped over the side of a boat.

In this course you will also study a time when popes tended to be truly extraordinary, both in their accomplishments and in their personal behavior. They include:

  • Sixtus IV, who probably did more than anyone to rebuild Rome, and for whom the Sistine Chapel is named. But he was also a conspirator to murder, plotting with the Pazzi family to kill the Florentine leader Lorenzo de'Medici and his brother Giuliano at Mass one Holy Week.
  • Innocent VIII, who presided over the marriages of his children in front of the high altar at St. Peter's.
  • Alexander VI Borgia, who had four children with his primary mistress, known as the Queen of Rome. His teenage mistress convinced him to make her brother a cardinal, who eventually became one of the great popes of the 16th century, Paul III.
  • Julius II, who built the current St. Peter's Basilica, commissioned Michelangelo to paint the vault of the Sistine Chapel, and was probably the 16th century's greatest art patron. He took his name to honor Julius Caesar, and was known as The Warrior Pope. In his sixties, he would walk with common soldiers through waist-deep snow and said he preferred the smell of gunpowder to the smell of incense.

In addition to the great popes, philosophers, writers, and political leaders of the Italian Renaissance, you will meet those whose names may not be as well-known, but whose impact was in many ways just as significant:

  • Poggio Bracciolini, whose handwriting was the model for italic type, and who perhaps did more to recover ancient literature than anyone else. Scouring monastic libraries, he discovered the lost forensic orations of Cicero, Vitruvius's complete manuscript on Roman architecture and building, and the complete text of Quintilian's Instituto Oratoria—the education of the citizen orator.
  • Coluccio Salutati, who as Chancellor of Florence institutionalized Humanism in the city by actively seeking Humanist scholars for positions in city government.
  • Marsilio Ficino, best known for introducing the philosophy of Plato to Europe. He served as the first president of the Florentine Platonic Academy, which attracted the leading citizens, thinkers, and artists of Florence.

The Power of an "Energizing Myth"

This course will impress you with the fact that the Italian Renaissance is one of history's most interesting periods as well as one of its most relevant. Its contributions made much of modern life possible.

Our concept of participatory government, our belief in the value of competition, our philosophy of the content and purpose of education, even our notions of love all have roots in the Renaissance period. Its loftiest ideals—the importance of the individual, the value of human dignity and potential, and the promotion of freedom—are ones we embrace as our own.

As Professor Bartlett stresses, the principal cause of the Italian Renaissance was simply the idea that it could be. The historian Federico Chabod proposed that the Italian Renaissance was really an "energizing myth." Italians, especially Florentines, became convinced that they could do anything—so they did.

As you will see, the Italian Renaissance failed as an era when Italians lost faith in their myth. In the face of invasion and violence, they succumbed to failure, humiliation, and fear, and abandoned the values through which they had accomplished so much.

Professor Bartlett stresses that this is an important object lesson for us. Our world is a mirror to theirs. Could we make the same mistakes they ultimately did? Yes. Can we afford to? No. Today, the stakes are simply too high.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Study of the Italian Renaissance
    This series provides a multifaceted image of Renaissance Italy that explains why that period remains fundamental to Western culture. Lectures on city-states are interspersed with those on philosophy, education, and other cultural elements relevant to Italy in general. x
  • 2
    The Renaissance—Changing Interpretations
    The Renaissance became visible at different times in different places. It was the first self-conscious period of European history, articulated by the Humanist writer, Giovanni Boccaccio, who recognized that a new world was being created. x
  • 3
    Italy—The Cradle of the Renaissance
    The Renaissance developed because of the unique circumstances of the Italian peninsula. Urban life had remained strong, a lay tradition of study and secular values had been sustained, and memories of the Roman Empire were everywhere. x
  • 4
    The Age of Dante—Guelfs and Ghibellines
    The Florentine poet Dante defined the transition from the medieval to the Renaissance. He was born into a period of dispute between papal supporters—the Guelfs—and adherents of the Holy Roman Emperor—the Ghibellines. The Guelf victory in Florence helped set the stage for the Renaissance. x
  • 5
    Petrarch and the Foundations of Humanism
    Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) can be described as the father of Humanism. His love of Latin classics and early Christian thinkers like Augustine drove him to investigate his own motivations and feelings. His desire to know himself recovered the genre of autobiography. x
  • 6
    The Recovery of Antiquity
    For Italians, ancient Rome was their national history. This rich tradition was increasingly regarded as an intellectual heritage to be mined for contemporary use so its wisdom could be applied to the circumstances of 14th-century Italy. x
  • 7
    Florence—The Creation of the Republic
    Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance. By the mid-13th century, huge fortunes were being made by men whose families had emigrated from the countryside. However, these wealthy merchants were largely excluded from government. The result was a bourgeois revolution in 1293, which established a republic founded on guild membership. x
  • 8
    Florence and Civic Humanism
    Florence's now-dominant mercantile classes were attracted to the ideals of ancient Rome. Romans were, after all, like them: urban, cosmopolitan, and secular. This adaptation of classical learning developed into "Civic" Humanism, where the citizen's responsibility to the community became a powerful ethic. x
  • 9
    Florentine Culture and Society
    Florentines believed they could rival the ancients. Public commissions—such as the baptistery doors—were determined by competitions judged by a citizen panel. Private citizens endowed public buildings to celebrate their wealth and values. Florence became an artistic and architectural monument to Humanism. x
  • 10
    Renaissance Education
    As Humanism matured, it became a system of secular education. Teaching correct, Golden Age Latin—and, later, Greek—became central. A Humanist education for boys became important as a way to improve their social status. x
  • 11
    The Medici Hegemony
    The guild republic did not end political tension in Florence. The Ciompi Revolt (1378) drove lesser guildsmen into an unpopular oligarchy with the great merchants. An unsuccessful war against Lucca galvanized the opposition, led by the richest man in Florence, Cosimo de'Medici, who assumed power in 1434. x
  • 12
    The Florence of Lorenzo de’Medici
    Despite the republican constitution of Florence, Lorenzo was, in effect, a Renaissance prince. He supported poets like Poliziano and philosophers like Pico della Mirandola; he discovered Michelangelo and patronized Botticelli. However, there was opposition, led by the Pazzi family, and Pope Sixtus IV. x
  • 13
    Venice—The Most Serene Republic
    Venice was not a Roman foundation and not originally an episcopal see. It also avoided the factional crises of the other Italian states, as the Guelf-Ghibelline struggle did not obtain. Consequently, Venice was stable and homogeneous, divided informally by wealth and occupation. x
  • 14
    Renaissance Venice
    Venice was isolated from Humanist values in the peninsula. Everything changed after 1380, when Venice decided to expand onto the mainland. Venice conquered Vicenza, Verona, and Padua, with its celebrated university, and began to adopt Humanist and Renaissance artistic values. x
  • 15
    The Signori—Renaissance Princes
    The Renaissance's most common political structure was the principality. Princes—in Italian, signori, or lords—received sovereignty from the Holy Roman Emperor or from the pope. Principalities often developed brilliant courts, and the glorification of the ruler became a recurring image in art. x
  • 16
    Tiny Urbino became one of the most celebrated sites of Renaissance culture under Federigo da Montefeltro. A great leader who never lost a battle and—uncharacteristically for a mercenary—never betrayed a client, Federigo was among the greatest patrons of culture in the Italian Renaissance. x
  • 17
    Castiglione and The Book of the Courtier
    In the later Italian Renaissance, the new model was the ideal courtier. Florentines grew interested in Platonic ideas that stressed the soul and the value of knowledge, including the mystical and the power of love. These elements are best exemplified in Baldassare Castiglione and his Book of the Courtier. x
  • 18
    Women in Renaissance Italy
    It has been argued that women did not have a Renaissance. They were largely subject to their fathers until marriage and thereafter to their husbands. Classical learning was seen as superfluous, and possibly dangerous to a female's virtue and reputation. Many women of high birth rose to great heights, but for most life was very difficult. x
  • 19
    Many dialogues of Plato only became available in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Renaissance Neoplatonism was institutionalized when Cosimo de'Medici commissioned Marsilio Ficino to translate the Platonic corpus into Latin. Ficino gathered around him such luminaries as Lorenzo the Magnificent, and the artists Botticelli and Michelangelo. x
  • 20
    Milan Under the Visconti
    Milan was the model of the despotic monarchy. Through warfare and brutal repression, the Visconti family made Milan the most powerful state in northern Italy. Wealth, combined with the Visconti desire for lasting fame, stimulated the patronage of art and literature. x
  • 21
    Milan Under the Sforza
    Francesco Sforza was a fine ruler who, with Cosimo de'Medici, ensured the stability of the peninsula through the Peace of Lodi and the Italian League. Francesco's son, Lodovico, il Moro; and his bride, Beatrice d'Este, presided over a brilliant court in which Leonardo da Vinci resided. x
  • 22
    The Eternal City—Rome
    Conflict damaged Rome during the 14th century. Violence among the great Roman families resulted in the Babylonian Captivity (1305–1377) during which the Pope abandoned Rome for Avignon. With insufficient funds to maintain the great churches and palaces, the population and number of visitors fell precipitously. The Renaissance, then, came late to Rome. x
  • 23
    The Rebuilding of Rome
    During the Great Schism (1378–1417) there were two and, finally, three competing popes. The return of a united papacy in 1420 required the rehabilitation of the neglected eternal city. Driven by a desire for grandeur, popes looked to ancient models. x
  • 24
    The Renaissance Papacy
    The story of the Renaissance papacy is one of ambition, a desire to increase the grandeur of Rome and the see of St. Peter while still increasing the power of the pope's family. Renaissance popes were most often seen by their neighbors as powerful princes. x
  • 25
    The Crisis—The French Invasion of 1494
    The Italian Renaissance flourished in part because of the protected space of the peninsula. But in 1494, King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, with the largest army then amassed, to assert his claim to the Kingdom of Naples. The peninsula would never again enjoy unmolested independence. x
  • 26
    Florence in Turmoil
    A casualty of the French invasions was the Medici hegemony. Lorenzo de'Medici's successor, his incompetent eldest son, Piero, yielded to all of the French king's demands. As a result, the Florentines drove him and his family from the city. But a power vacuum ensued that provided an opportunity for the millenarian Dominican monk, Girolamo Savonarola. x
  • 27
    Savonarola and the Republic
    Savonarola's puritanical theocracy banned simple pleasures, like cards and carnival. Bands of boys collected "vanities," parading them through the streets and setting bonfires. Diplomatic and natural disasters, however, alienated moderate Florentines who, in 1498, arrested Savonarola and burned him as a heretic. x
  • 28
    The Medici Restored
    The Medici returned in 1512. Cardinal Giovanni de'Medici took control, but was soon elected pope as Leo X. Thereafter, Florence was governed either by papal representatives or by lesser members of the family, who often were incompetent or insensitive to Florentine traditions. x
  • 29
    The Sack of Rome, 1527
    Italy was often the setting for disputes between the French and the Spanish-Imperial Habsburgs. Led by the Constable of Bourbon, an undisciplined imperial army that included many zealous German protestant soldiers breached Rome's walls on May 6, 1527. About 50,000 inhabitants fled or were killed, making this more brutal than the barbarian incursions of the Roman Empire. x
  • 30
    Niccolò Machiavelli
    Although best known for his political writing, Machiavelli was also a fine dramatist, letter writer, and diplomat. The Prince, written after the return of the Medici in 1512 removed Machiavelli from power, reviews Italy in an uncertain age. Using the ruthless Cesare Borgia as a model, it counsels harsh medicine and strong leadership to protect Italy from the northern "barbarians." x
  • 31
    Alessandro de’Medici
    The Medici Pope Clement VII made the recovery of Florence part of the treaty to end the sack of Rome. Clement sent 19-year-old Alessandro de'Medici, believed to be his son by a Moorish slave, to be duke of the city. After Clement's death, the duke ruled ever more tyrannically and showed signs of madness, especially in the company of his insane cousin, Lorenzo (Lorenzaccio). x
  • 32
    The Monarchy of Cosimo I
    When 19-year-old Cosimo I de'Medici became prince in 1537, many assumed that the architect of his victory, Guicciardini, would be his advisor. But Cosimo dismissed the influential politician, and set out to build a despotic monarchy on the ruins of the republic. The patrician families were offered titles and attached to his court. The Florentines lost their freedom but achieved stability in return. x
  • 33
    Guicciardini and The History of Italy
    Guicciardini was a remarkable, if flawed, genius. His advice was partly responsible for the sack of Rome. However, his monumental The History of Italy became the model for new Humanist historiography. This book has been called the most important work of history between Tacitus and Gibbon. x
  • 34
    The Counter-Reformation
    The Protestant Reformation that started in 1517 had a devastating impact. The Roman Church lost millions of adherents and responded by establishing the Roman Inquisition (1542) and the Index of Prohibited Books (1559). The principles that had stimulated the Renaissance, open debate and original thinking, were overwhelmed by forces that demanded uniformity and obedience. x
  • 35
    The End of the Renaissance in Italy
    Italy was a very different place in 1570 from what it had been in 1470. Particular events illustrate why: the French invasions of 1494; the sack of Rome in 1527; and the closure of free thought and debate by the Church. Moreover, the victory of despotic monarchical regimes in states like Florence ended the competitive, energetic world of the Renaissance. x
  • 36
    Echoes of the Renaissance
    The Italian Renaissance is a monument to human imagination. In some ways, it continued into the last century. Naturalism and proportion remained the foundation of academic art. The influence of antiquity continued in the architecture of public buildings. And the central place of the Greek and Roman classics was sustained in the education of elite groups in every Western nation. x

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Your professor

Kenneth R. Bartlett

About Your Professor

Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett is a Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He received his Ph.D. from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto in 1978. He was the first director of the University of Toronto Art Centre and founding director of the Office of Teaching Advancement at the university, a position he held until 2009. Much of Professor Bartlett’s career has been devoted to bringing...
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Italian Renaissance is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 72.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Italian Renaissance in Perspective As always, Prof. Kenneth Bartlett does an absolutely wonderful job in this course. In addition to scholarship, he brings a top-notch lecturing style with rapport with his audience, occasional humor, and ability to grab and hold your attention. Totally 5 stars!
Date published: 2020-08-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course Covers the subject very well and in an organized manner
Date published: 2020-06-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Foundation Material The course was taken to increase my understanding of this important period of Western Civilization. It did an adequate job of filling in details, and help me relate them to other events in Europe during that time. Bartlett had an excellent grasp of the time period, and wasn't afraid to insert his interpretation when it helped clarify a specific event. I appreciated his commentary on the interplay of "local" politics as it related to the broader historical activities. In the same vein he went to some pains to assure that events of the this time were judged within that framework, not overshadowed by our current activities. One big question for me was -- how could Leonardo be virtually ignored?? Bartlett's presentation was a bit of a monotone, one had to stay alert or be lulled into distraction. As a minor point his pronouncement of some words to my ears were odd, perhaps just Canadian English. Additionally, Great Courses should update the lecture, far more extensive visual presentations are definitely needed. Still, it is a course well worth taking, especially if you are not already well learned in this period of history.
Date published: 2019-09-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Italian Renaissance POLITICS The title is a misnomer - this is not about the Italian Renaissance in total, but about Italian Renaissance politics, which is a lot less interesting. Prof Barlett does not even try to make the case that Italian politics in the period was essential to the flourishing of humanist studies and art, which are the lasting contributions of the Renaissance, because no such connection can be made. In fact, Italian Renaissance politics was an utter failure, turning Italy into a backwater for the next 400 years. As far as format goes, rather than use illustrations to show things he is talking about, we get to look at Prof. Barlett's face. The illustrations are limited essentially to stock photos of the popes: this could easily have been a CD. Then for some bizarre reason the illustration on the cover of the books and DVDs is a classical Greek temple - it looks like the Temple of Poseidon (5th Century BC) on the tip of Attica.
Date published: 2019-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from essential though Professor Bartlett speaks quickly and often trips on his words, he delivers an absolutely riveting social, political, economic history of the Italian Renaissance, the subtext necessary to properly understand the great artists we're familiar with from that period, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphaël, for instance - essential for anyone interested in that era
Date published: 2019-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A second chance! We recently retired. No money for MA, or MFA though we would love to. These courses are a perfect solution. Thank you for this opportunity.
Date published: 2018-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent exploration of the Renaissance This is a great series of lectures on the Renaissance. The professor not only knew his subject matter well, but presented it in a way that was interesting and engaging. There is so much here that I want to listen to it several times over, just ot make sure I get it all.
Date published: 2018-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good political and cultural history This is a very nice survey of Italian Renaissance history. Bartlett focuses on political history, trends in culture and philosophical thought (such as humanism and Platonism), and the major thinkers: Petrarch, Machiavelli, Guicciardini and Castiglione. He says very little about art and artists, though he does a good job of placing artists like Raphael in their cultural context. I found his lecturing style to be somewhat dry, and he does get tongue-tied a bit in every lecture. He generally organized the lectures in a helpful way, sometimes following developments in one place before circling back to another. On the other hand, the lecture about the hitoriography of the Renaissnace should have been put at the end, not the beginning (if it was to be included at all). His big philosophical themes are sometimes poorly tied to the story he is telling: for example, we hear that it was thought in the Renaissance that "man could do anything he chooses" or "man can make himself to be anything". It is not clear that the events he describes show this to be true, or, at least, that very many people believed these things. I liked the fact that he brought the story down to about 1550 and the Counter-Reformation, so that we can clearly see the decline of Italian freedom. This is not a flashy course or teacher, but it is very informative. The bibliography in the course book is excellent, although a bit outdated now. With regard to humanism, a topic Bartlett covers well, I recommend reading Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve, (published after this course). This gives you a vivid sense of the drama of the rediscovery of ancient writers (like Lucretius) and how it affected the humanists.
Date published: 2018-03-14
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