The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty
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The Ugly Renaissance is a delightfully debauched tour of the sordid, gritty reality behind some of the most celebrated artworks and cultural innovations of all time.
Tourists today flock to Italy by the millions to admire the stunning achievements of the Renaissance—paintings, statues, and buildings that are the legacy of one of the greatest periods of cultural rebirth and artistic beauty the world has ever seen. But beneath the elegant surface lurked a seamy, vicious world of power politics, perversity, and corruption. In this meticulously researched and lively portrait, Renaissance scholar Alexander Lee illuminates the dark and titillating contradictions that existed alongside the enlightened spirit of the time: the scheming bankers, greedy politicians, bloody rivalries, murderous artists, religious conflicts, rampant disease, and indulgent excess without which many of the most beautiful monuments of the Renaissance would never have come into being.
dramatic impact on the balance of power in Italy. As a matter of course, the pope was a major player in international politics, and his influence overshadowed the calculations of every other state. Any alliances into which he entered or any campaigns he undertook could threaten the stability of communes, kingdoms, and signorie throughout the peninsula. But the pope could also have a serious effect on the internal politics of individual states by directly interfering in the fortunes of individual
passersby nosed their way in for a peek. On top of this, there were the inescapable dinners with Lodovico and his brothers, family matters to attend to, or servants with whom to talk. Michelangelo’s workshop in the period 1501–4 provides a snapshot of the daily life of the Renaissance artist in the raw. It’s a dimension of artistic production that is perhaps easy to forget when familiar conceptions of the “Renaissance” are called to mind. When we plunge into this social whirl, the worries and
many found themselves hitched to much older men. At the average Florentine wedding, the groom could be expected to be twelve years older than his bride. If anything, a woman’s legal status actually deteriorated after marriage. Like those of virtually every other city in Italy, Florence’s municipal statutes deprived a married woman of the right to enter into contract, to spend her own income, to sell or give away property, to draw up a will, or even to choose a burial place without her husband’s
odds and ends could be a chore when you had to carry around bundles of heavy coins and argue with the stallholder about the value of the strange collection of foreign coins you had in your purse. High-value business across larger distances could be even more complicated. Obliged to carry cumbersome chests of coins or stacks of bullion on long journeys, a tradesman ran the risk not only of being robbed en route but also of being slowed down by the sheer weight of the money he was carrying. Even if
SHADOW WHAT SORT OF city did Michelangelo encounter before his fateful fight on that summer’s day in 1491? Although the documentary evidence for this early part of his life is comparatively sketchy, his day would certainly have started at Bertoldo di Giovanni’s school in the gardens of the Piazza San Marco. Arriving there in the early morning, Michelangelo would have found it already buzzing with activity. Among the rich collection of ancient statues and the higgledy-piggledy blocks of