Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy Paperback – 1 Mar 1988
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[A] brilliant study... of the extraordinary explosion of expression in art and scholarship which made Italy the model for Europe.(Los Angeles Times)
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I'm an art historian and am myself involved in research project myself, that's why I needed Lauro Martines` book so badly!
I'm glad I was able to find it through Amazon and am enjoying it a lot.
It's a powerful and very well written book, that's the reason for my rating!
Martines’ book is an impressive work. He draws heavily on a variety of primary sources and he has an impressive command of the canon law, poetry, literature, and art of Renaissance Italy. He cites several secondary works, most of which are in Italian. The problem of his book, then, is not factual; it is theoretical. By limiting his book to discussions on power and imagination rather than culture and society, Martines’ book rests upon a dark view of human nature that emphasizes conflict theory, power politics, selfishness, and Nietzchean acts of the will. As a result of his theoretical assumption, Martines neither explores the positive role of religion in Italian city life nor provides a less ideologically-driven understanding of humanism.
The first half of the book is a solid and well written history of the emergence of republican city states in Nothern Italy. Martines covers the Medieval background, the struggle of city based elites to establish control over the cities from the feudal nobility and other traditional actors, the emergence of more republican forms of government, and the eventual emergence of powerful oligarchies. This part is a generally well balanced combination of overview and specific examples which gives an idea of the diversity of events in different city states. Martines gives some idea of how the civic and republican oriented attitudes engendered by the city states generated something new in Western culture.
The second half of the book is primarily a social history of Renaissance high culture, examining its relationship to the status of elites in the city states. For example, he sees humanism as primarily a program for the oligarchic elites of the city states. Fifteenth century art, with its emphasis on realism and human activities is seen as an extension of the self-confidence and sense of mastery of city state elites. The political and social disaster that followed the French/Spanish invasions of the Italian peninsula are shown to provoke be reflected in a variety of intellectual changes. These include the flight to fantasy on the part of poets like Tasso and Ariosto, the emphasis on uncontrollable forces (fortuna) in the work of Machiavelli and Guicciardini, and the emergence of the Mannerist style in art. Martines is an astute critic and the social history of high culture is the best part of the book.
While this book is not really intended as a comprehensive overview of the Renaissance, there are a number of deficiencies. While Martines does mention the importance of changes in population and trade, there is little discussion of demographic or economic history per se. Addition of even a small amount of data would have been useful. There is really no discussion of the effect of the great 14th century Black Death and subsequent plagues. I find it hard to believe that this demographic catastrophe didn't have something to do with the emergence of seignorial rule in approximately the same period. Martines's discussion of high culture doesn't touch on science at all and an expanded discussion of political theory would have been appropriate.