Book Review: “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution” by Mary Hollingsworth

51601860The 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.