HST3085/3086: Art, Power and History: Ideals and Reality in Renaissance Florence

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Dr James Shaw



A pass in at least two history modules at level two.


Module Summary

Renaissance Florence was renowned for its rich artistic and material life, financial innovations, and vibrant humanist culture. This module uses the exceptionally rich visual and documentary sources available to historians (and in translation) to explore the complex interrelations of social, cultural and political history. Our particular focus will be on the understanding of the way that Florentine identity was constructed through a strong sense of their place in history, expressed through texts and images. In doing so it provides the essential context for the understanding of key figures such as the political thinker Niccolò Machiavelli, the humanist ideologue Leonardo Bruni, and the radical preacher Girolamo Savonarola. Throughout our aim is to explore the tensions between the ideals that Florentines proclaimed as central to their identity and the practical realities of social and political power and hierarchy.


Teaching and Assessment

The module is taught through a series of thematic seminars that focus on primary sources to explore key historiographical issues. Students will analyse a wide range of documents (including paintings, sculpture, architecture, diaries, memoirs, sermons, histories, literature, moral and political tracts). The course structure is designed to give students a high level of freedom to define their own research topics for presentation in class, for example taking studies of individual families, artists and buildings, in order to create a more active learning experience. Students will also be required to lead seminar teaching activities in small groups, developing key skills in communication and organization.

Course Outline

The module is taught through 44 x two-hour seminars, taking place twice per week across the teaching year.

01. Introductions
02. Burckhardt and the Renaissance
03. Texts
04. Origins
05. Panegyric
06. Civic Humanism and the Baron Thesis
07. Economy and Society
08. The Emergence of Oligarchy
09. The Rise of the Medici
10. Marriage Alliance and Dowries
11. Networks
12. Patriarchy
13. Births and Weddings
14. Dress and Sumptuary laws
15. Avarice
16. The Renaissance of Art (1)
17. The Renaissance of Art (2)
18. The Production of Art
19. The Period Eye
20. The Cult of Images
21. Possessing the Past: The Cult of Antiquity
22. Portraits
23. Tombs
24. Magnificence and Architecture
25. Buildings
26. Ricordanze – Books of Memory
27. Chronicle
28. The Republican Tradition
29. Humanist History – Leonardo Bruni
30. Civic Ritual and the Theatre Society
31. Propaganda and History – The Pazzi conspiracy
32. On Liberty
33. Education and Youth
34. Sexual Morality
35. The Jews of Florence
36. Savonarola and Moral Reform
37. Monks and Nuns
38. Savonarola and Political Reform
39. Heroes
40. Machiavelli – The Prince
41. Machiavelli – Discourses
42. Machiavelli – The History of Florence
43. Revision
44. Revision

Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3


Selected Reading

I strongly recommend for purchase as a course textbook:
Najemy, John M., A History of Florence 1200-1575, (Oxford, Blackwell, 2006), available in paperback at ca. £21.95.

Introductory Reading

On Florence, Najemy is the best thing to start with. Brucker is also an excellent introduction, although only covering the early period. On art, I recommend starting with Johnson and Welch. Burke for broader cultural developments. Martines is a very accessible narrative of the Pazzi conspiracy that also provides a good general background. Origo is a classic, highly-readable story of urban life in late medieval Italy which will give you a good flavour of the period. Baldassarri and Saiber is a collection of source extracts, to be used only once you have a general framework in place.

  • Baldassarri, Stefano Ugo, and Arielle Saiber, eds., Images of Quattrocento Florence: Selected Writings in Literature, History, and Art, (New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2000). 945.5105 (I)
  • Baxandall, Michael, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style, 2nd edn. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988) 759.505 (B) (recommended)
  • Brucker, Gene A., Renaissance Florence, (New York, Wiley, 1969) E-Book & 945.51 (B) & PEARCE /3952 (recommended)
  • Burke, Peter, The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy, (Revised edn, Cambridge, Polity, 1986) [1972] 945.05 (B)
  • Goldthwaite, Richard A., The Building of Renaissance Florence: An Economic and Social History, (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980) EBook & 338.479 (G)
  • Johnson, Geraldine A., Renaissance Art. A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005) 709.024 (J)
  • Machiavelli, Niccolò, The Prince, ed. Quentin Skinner, (1988)
  • Martines, Lauro, April Blood: Florence and the Plot against the Medici, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003) 945.5105 (M)
  • Origo, Iris, The Merchant of Prato. Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City, (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1992) [1957].
  • Welch, Evelyn, Art in Renaissance Italy, 1350-1500, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000) [1997] 709.45 (W)

You might also listen to the 3-part radio series "Amongst the Medici", available to download from the BBC (realplayer format), which briefly touches on many of the themes of the course: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/amongstthemedici.shtml


Intended Learning Outcomes
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