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The way Italy used to be

Italy, Rinascimento, Renaissance, export

Time and history are, for their nature as mathematics,
totalities without solution of continuity and any subdivision in periods is a human artifice. However, the subdivision of the events in periods or eras is useful in history to try to understand. As a final point of reference for the ancient period it is generally considered the downfall of Rome in 476: this date then results to be also the beginning of the Middle Age which is concluded, always symbolically in 1453 with the downfall of Constantinopoli and of the Bisanzio Empire. At this point we can officially initiate the Italian Renaissance, while for the European one we have to wait from some decades to a century, with different attitude depending from State and subject of study.

But, first of all what is the Renaissance?

The Renaissance is a cultural and artistic period of the European history, placed between the end of the Middle Age and the beginning of the Modern Age, conventionally fixed around the middle of XV and the middle of XVI century. This period has seen the inception of a new ideal of life and a new flourishing of the humanistic studies and of fine arts.
The cultural and scientific renewal begun during the XV century in Italy, where one of main centre was Florence, and later was spread in the entire Europe. In the world of Science, theology, literature, art, the Renaissance begun with the re-discovery of the Greek and Latin texts kept in the Bizantine Empire and in the most important European monasteries, which encouraged a series of new studies and inventions that took place in the following century.

But why the Renaissance has arrived earlier in Italy than elsewhere. Here are some reasons:

Economic reasons The Renaissance begins in Italy because here, before or more than elsewhere, were existing favourable conditions for the beginning of a capitalistic economy. During the XIV and XV centuries, Italy was one of the richest and progressed country in the world. Even before, in the XIII century, the Italian towns had defended victoriously own independence in the fight against the German Empire. At the beginning of ‘400 Italy was very rich thanks to a flourishing economy based on the monopolies on the commerce, on banks, on the possession of money, that circulate among the courts. Aristocracy and bourgeois started the mecenetasim in favour of arts and of artists of any expression, who were requested in the different courts and that with their works brought culture progress in addition to economic progress, also to legitimate this last one.

Historical-political reasons Italy is inside an historical period in which any attempt to create a unified State (at least in the centre-northern Italy) had fallen; five regional states had imposed to the whole peninsula a political equilibrium through the division of the areas of influence (Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples).
The fragmentation of the Italian territory divided in small estates and governed by rich “Signorie” has made possible, paradoxically, a greater passion and motivation on the themes of historic and political researches (see Nicolò Macchiavelli with his book “Il Principe”), if compared to the other European States, united and pacified by long time.

A new cultural movement: Humanism
The Humanism is a cultural movement that establish itself in Italy in 1400. Humanism is a cultural movement that starts exactly because Italy had been cut off by the great process of the formation of the national States. Paradoxically enough, without having perception of it, the humanism takes the classic world as a model, whilst the bourgeois society of ‘400 was destined to decadency.

Religious reasons In clear contradiction with the teocentrical vision of the Middle Age, that still persisted in the rest of Europe, in Italy during the ‘400 started and developed itself a large multidisciplinary cultural movement (that studied fine arts, architecture, literature, history, politics, science, etc.)that wanted the rehabilitation of the man in the world: this was the passage from the centrality of the religious dogma to the centrality of the human being.
The Church and the Pope in Italy were put under discussion in that the temporary power was concerned, the Bible was no longer representing the book that supplies answers to the scientific researches and there was a new centrality of the “Homo” (Humanism), who wanted to break up with the power of the dogma and to count instead in the forces of reasoning and in the rationale of science for finding his answers. This movement in the beginning provoked polemics in other European nations.

Artistic reasons While in Italy the artists went back to the shape and taste of the classic art, with a strong desire to “break down” with the Middle Age and therefore there was a flourishing of new works in any field (for instance the study on the mathematical perspective and the work of Brunelleschi and Leonardo), in the rest of Europe it continued to dominate the medieval gothic style, that was abandoned very slowly and only thanks to the contribution of the Italian artists, that finally arrived also to the other European courts.

Weaknesses become strengths! Paradoxically, it is just a series of contradictions, i.e. the fact that there was in Italy at that time the need to overcome the medieval tradition and the local politics but there was not enough strength to realise a unified State, just this situation brought the Italian Renaissance to be a sort of continuous revolution, a challenge towards betterment in every field,

Finally, the Italian Renaissance is a movement that tends to overcome the Middle Age to connect directly with the Classic period, reviewed in a humanistic and rational way. Elsewhere in Europe the necessity of this “revolution” was not felt and there was instead a gradual evolution from the Middle Age whose characteristics continued to exist (a demonstration is the lasting of the gothic style in architecture). At the end this was overcome thanks to the same Italian artists and scientists when they went to work in the various European courts.

Today, we are not so far away from that situation, Italy is still recognised for being good at design, fashion, artistic manufacturing, ant it is really true: we still export our Rinascimento!
Published: 2007-06-05
Author: Elsa Bettella

About the author or the publisher
Field of specialisation:
Women entrepreneurship
Enterprise creation and SME development
Training to trainers and small entrepreneurs
Analysis of the entrepreneurial skills
Business plan analysis

Education: 1980 Graduate with distinction in Political Science - University of Milan, Italy (major in economic & social disciplines).
Professional Experience record:
Professional activity in two key areas:
1. Banking, from 1975 to 1988, employee /officer for three US credit institutions
2. Training and Counselling, as a free-lance consultant since 1990

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