Lecture 1: Merchants and Magnates: Medieval Florence
The City of Florence emerged from the Middle Ages as one of the richest and most populous cities in Italy. In our opening lecture, we’ll explore this growing city at a moment of social change, as the clash between its newly enriched merchants and its old aristocratic families lead to a dramatic coup and the establishment of a republic in 1293.
Lecture 2: Republican Virtue and Civic Strife: The Renaissance Comes to Florence
The new republic fostered a more secular society that saw ancient Rome as a model for its art and politics. As portraiture, linear perspective, and complex characterization were applied to the ideals of art and building, Florence became a cradle of humanism – the cultural principles of the Renaissance – expressing a new vision of the individual, society, the state, and culture.
Lecture 3: The Rise of the Medici
In the 1400s, as the republic became more divided by factions and financial instability, a popular faction, led by the very rich banker Cosimo de’ Medici, assumed authority and managed the republic with skill. The Medici, who would hold power for generations, became the major patrons of art and culture and the symbols of a new, confident administration that helped bring peace and security to the Italian peninsula and sustained the wealth of the city and its elite citizens.
Lecture 4: Lorenzo the Magnificent and Savonarola
Cosimo de’ Medici’s grandson Lorenzo, known as the Magnificent, was one of the great figures of Italian history: a superb diplomat, a talented poet and popular leader, and great patron of culture. His circle included poets, such as Poliziano, and painters, such as Botticelli, as well as architects and philosophers. But in the final years of his life, an apocalyptic Dominican friar name Girolamo Savonarola unseated the Medici and started a theocratic republic which attacked the very principles on which Florentine humanism had been built.
Lecture 5: The Medici Monarchy
After the fall of Savonarola, and against a backdrop of French and Spanish fighting over Italy, the Medici were reinstalled in 1530 as rulers of the city until the extinction of the family in the 18th century. First as dukes and then grand dukes, the Medici built a monarchical regime and used the patronage of art and architecture to celebrate the family, glorify the ruler and compete with the royal houses of Europe.
Lecture 6: Florence in “The Forgotten Centuries”
Although Florence under the later Medici grand dukes increasingly settled into obscurity, there were still wonderful artistic, intellectual, and cultural traditions, and the city remained a work of art in itself. Revolutionary thinkers like Galileo emerged from the city and it became a magnet for American and British writers and artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In our final lecture, we’ll explore the complex, yet still wonderful, reality behind the romantic vision of the city popularized in books and movies like A Room With a View—and assess the enduring influence of this beautiful and mythic place in the world’s imagination.