The 15th and 16th centuries were full of dynamic political and religious reforms, but they were also known for cultural changes throughout Europe. The medieval foundations started to crumble, and the early modern age emerged. One of the centers of change was Italy, a series of states with their rulers vying for power and prestige. These rulers would help finance masterpieces in art, literature, and architecture, but it was their rivals that threatened to tear the Renaissance society apart. In “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution,” Mary Hollingsworth explores the lives of the men and women who helped shape the Renaissance.
I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this book. This title was intriguing to me, and I wanted to learn more about Italian history. The Italian Renaissance has been an area in history that I have been interested in studying more, but I was unsure where to begin.
Hollingsworth takes the tales of some of the most famous families in Italy to tell the story of the Renaissance. Each chapter focuses on two or three dynamic figures that shaped the era. Men like Cosimo de’ Medici, Alfonso of Aragon, Francesco Sforza, Leonello d’Este, Ferrante I of Naples, and Doge Andrea Gritti knew how to change the political landscape of Italy while acting as patrons for the artists that would define this era. The artists that they would employ were masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian. We also saw powerful women like Lucrezia Borgia and Isabella d’Este, who impacted the Renaissance.
Although Hollingsworth mentions the works that the princes helped fund and did include stunning images of the masterpieces of art and architecture, the bulk of this book is looking at the drama behind the art. We see a complex political landscape of lords fighting each other, family members, and even papal authority for land and prestige. Things were bound to be complicated with famous families like the Estes, the Medicis, the Sforzas, and the Borgias. Still, it created a beautiful mosaic of different influences of colorful figures.
One thing that I wish Hollingsworth would have included would be family trees of the prominent families. As someone who is not that familiar with the significant Italian families and the individual states, I think it would have helped those who are not that familiar with Italian history.
Overall, I found this book an enjoyable and fascinating read. I think it provides gorgeous images of new aspects of the Renaissance with thrilling stories of love, jealously, and the desire for power. Suppose you want a great introduction to the Italian Renaissance and those who funded these masterpieces. In that case, you should check out “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution” by Mary Hollingsworth.
One thought on “Book Review: “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution” by Mary Hollingsworth”
I found in the recensions of Amazon.de something about family trees:
markr TOP 500 REZENSENT VINE-PRODUKTTESTER 5,0 von 5 Sternen Beautifully illustrated book – the politics and art of the Renaissance Rezension aus dem Vereinigten Königreich vom 1. April 2021
This is a truly beautiful book with 100’s of pages of colour illustrations of Renaissance art- paintings, sculpture and architecture. It is also the story of the princes and monarchs who commissioned ( and stole) the works of art, and of the wars and conflicts that raged as these princes battled for position. The fortunes of the Italian princes were closely linked with whoever was Pope, and this book also tells the story of the elections and leanings of the popes during the period, including of Julius II , the last pope to lead troops in battle , and of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI.
These pages tell of the famous renaissance families of Italy; the Medici, the Borgia, the d’Este, the Farnese, the Visconti, and Gritti, the Doge of Venice – they also contain much about the shifting alliances of these states with Francis 1, King of France, and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, as each prince sought to protect the independence of their fiefs and territories.
The book is well written, beautifully illustrated, and informative. The accounts bear careful reading – the recurrence of names can be confusing through the generations, particularly as dynastic marriages can make the narrative of family allegiances a little hard to follow at times.
‘There are very useful family trees at the end of the book which i found myself referring to on several occasions, and a cast of characters at the beginning of each chapter, which helped enormously’
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