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Stating the Issue

The cathedral dominated the medieval town, Each spire and buttress swept the eye to the heavens to emphasize to man his eventual destiny. The vast interior of the cathedral was called a nave, a word which derived from the Latin for boat. To medieval man this language symbolized that the church was a ship to help men cross 11 fe's tempestuous seas to their heavenly reward. In the Middle Ages men's lives focused mainly upon religion and the hereafter.

In 1492, an Italian mariner named Cristoforo Colombo launched three tiny ships on the face of the broad, unknown Atlantic. H18 goal was very much of this world: the riches of the Indies. His guide was not the word of God but man-made instruments and charts. His ships, instead of being symbols like the nave of the cathedral, were small wooden sailing vessels crowded with men and supplies. Columbus was of a new age; the Renaissance had begun.

What caused this dramatic period of European history to develop? The Renaissance covers several centuries. Its roots stretch well back into the Middle Ages when a number of forces working together began to transform traditional society. In this unit, we will be concerned with two major 188ues, the causes of the Renaissance and the major character. 18tics of Renaissance society. As you read, keep the following questions in mind: What caused the Renaissance? What were the personal characteristics of typical Renaissance men? What did these men value? How should a historian investigate these questions?



The Renaissance began in Italy sometime during the late Middle Ages. Like other periods of history, this one cannot be given a precise starting date, The characteristics of Renaissance society and the activities typical of Renaissance man developed slowly and at different rates of speed in different cities. The excerpts in Reading XIX present evidence which may reveal the reasons for the emergence of this dramatic period in western history.

The interpretation which a student makes of this unit of work will result partly from two major causes working together. One will be the selection of source materials by the authors of this book. If they chose "representative" materiale, then a student will have a chance to develop an "unbiased" account. If their selection of materials was unrepresentative, however, the interpretation will be unrepresentative in turn. The second will be the frame of reference of the student. As we have already learned, people oftea perceive events in keeping with their language, their culture, or their opinion of the nature of history. Study questions precede each excerpt from source materials in this reading. Keep them in mind as you read.


The document which follows is a translation of a letter
written in 1432 by Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini who later
became Pope Pius II. The letter describes the city of
Genoa and the life of her citizens. 1/

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York: F. S. Crofts & Co. : 1928) 51-53.

Piccolomini begins his description of Genoa by stating that it is "a city with no equal anywhere on earth." He goes on to describe the merchant activity, the characteristics of the men and women, the customs of the society, and the dwellings of the inhabitants.

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Milan, Genoa, Venice and Florence were the four most important
commercial and industrial centers in Europe during the late
Middle Ages. Venice never disappeared during the so-called
Dark Ages; the other three declined seriously after the fall
of Rome but began to revive in the eleventh and twelfth
centuries. Florence had the most remarkable history of all.
In a mere century-and-a-half she rose to the heights of
economic, political and artistic excellence. The authenticity
of the following account of the city by Giovanni Villani has
been well established.

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.We find after careful investigation that in this period there were in Florence about 25,000 men from the ages of fifteen to seventy fit to bear arms, all citizens. . . .From the amount of bread constantly needed for the city, it was estimated that in Florence there were some 90,000 mouths divided among men, women, and children, as can readily be grasped (from what we shall say) later; and it was reckoned that in the city there were already about 1,500 foreigners, transients, and soldiers, not including in the total the citizens who were clerics and cloistered monks and nuns, of whom we shall speak later. It was reckoned that in this period there were some 80,000 men in the territory and district of Florence. From the rector who baptized the infants--since he deposited a black bean for every male baptized in San Giovanni and a white bean for every female in order to ascertain their number-we find that at this period there were from 5,500 to 6,000 baptisms every year, the males usually outnumbering the females by 300 to 500. We find that the boys and girls learning to read (numbered) from 8,000 to 10,000, the children learning the abacus and algorism from 1,000 to 1,200, and those learning grammar and logic in four large schools from 550 to 600.

The workshops of the ARTE DELLA LANA (guild of wool merchants) were 200 or

and they made from 70,000 to 80,000 pieces of cloth, which were worth more than 1,200,000 gold florins. And a good third (of this sum) remained in the land as (the reward) of labor, without counting the profit of the entrepreneurs. And more than 30,000 persons lived by it. (To be sure) we find that some thirty years earlier there were 300 workshops or thereabouts, and they made more than 100,000 pieces of cloth yearly; but these cloths were coarser and one half less valuable, because at that time English wool was not imported and they did not know, as they did later, how to work it.

Translated by Edwin Fenton.

The FONDACHI of the ARTE DI CALIMALA (guild of importers, refinishers, and sellers of Transalpine cloth), dealing in French and Transalpine cloth, were some twenty, and they imported yearly more than 10,000 pieces of cloth, worth 300,000 gold florins. And all these were sold in Florence, without counting those which were reexported from Florence.

The banks of money-changers were about eighty. The gold coins which were struck amounted to some 350,000 gold floring and at times 400,000 (yearly). And as for deniers of four petty each, about 20,000 pounds of them were struck yearly.

Merchants and mercers were a large number; the shops of shoemakers, slipper makers, and wooden-shoe makers were so numerous they could not be counted. There were some three hundred persons and more who went to do business out of Florence, and .(so did) many other masters in many crafts, and stone and carpentry masters.

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There were then in Florence 146 bakeries. And from the (amount of the) tax on grinding and through (information furnished by) the bakers we find that the city within the walls needed 140 MOGGIA of grain every day. By this one can estimate how much was needed yearly, not to mention the fact that the larger part of the rich, noble, and well-to-do citizens with their families spent four months a year in the country, and some of them a still longer period.


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(Florence) within the walls was well built, with many beautiful houses, and at that period people kept building with improved techniques to obtain comfort and richness by importing designs of every kind of improvement. (They built) parish churches of friars of every order, and splendid monasterles.

And besides this, there was no citizen, whether commoner or magnate, who had not built or was not building in the country a large and rich estate with a very costly mansion and with fine buildings, much better than those in the city--and in this they all were committing sin, and they were called crazy on account of their wild expenses. And yet, this was such a wonderful sight that when foreigners, not accustomed to (cities like) Florence, came from abroad, they usually believed that all of the costly buildings and beautiful palaces which surrounded the city for three miles were part of the city in the manner of Rome--not to mention the costly palaces with towers, courts, and walled gardens farther distant, which would have been called castles in any other country. To sum up, it was estimated that within a six-mile radius around the city there were more than twice as many rich and noble mansions as in Florence.

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The Medici of Florence became one of the most notable families
of Europe in the fifteenth century. The family fortune was
made in trade, manufacturing and banking, beginning in the
fourteenth century. In 1429, Cosimo de Medici fell heir to
a vast store of wealth at the age of forty. Cosimo's grand-
son was Lorenzo the Magnificent; among his other descendants
were two popes and two queens of France.

Cosimo was a devoted businessman. He increased the family
fortunes through loans to the popes and to kings. For
thirty years he was the dominant figure in Florence, having
complete control of the city although he held no public
office. A notable patron of the arts, Cosimo helped to set
the tone which was soon to make Florence famous forever.

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From Vespasiano da Bisticci, THE VESPASIANO MEMOIRES, William George and Emily Waters, trans, (New York: Dial Press, 1926) 213-231 passim.

This selection describes the character of Cosimo de Medici and his activities. Bisticci devotes his attention to de Medici's attempt to collect a worthy library and to patronize a number of artists. He also describes de Medici's political savvy in ruling Florence.



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Benvenuto Cellini--goldsmith, sculptor, lover, braggard,
writer-chas left us in his autobiography one of the best
known works of the Italian Renaissance. Through his words
we can see much of Renaissance culture come to life.
Cellini lived from 1500 to 1571 at the very height of the
artistic outpouring for which the Renaissance is so well
known. The following passages are all taken from the

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