The Renaissance was an era of great achievements in science and art that originated in the Italian states of the 15th century and lasted until the 17th century. It symbolized the transition from the Middle Ages to early Modernism, which began with the era of Enlightenment. This paper aims to examine the documentary Renaissance Italy by Phil Sheppard and give it a detailed, valuable, and comprehensive critical assessment.
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The main point of this educational documentary is to describe Renaissance Italy. It consists of several chapters, each revealing a specific topic. At the very beginning, in the “State Cities” chapter, the documentary introduces the phenomena of Italian State Cities, which had different types of governance. These were Venice and Florence with the Republican government, the duchy of Milan, the kingdom of Naples, and cities that obeyed the rule of the Catholic Church with its capital in Rome.
In the “Society” chapter, a brief description of Italian society is given. Authors note that the Catholic Church had the most considerable influence on the community. In contrast, the nobility and the Trade Guilds, whose heads were ambassadors to the city government, represented secular power. The Florentine Wool Guild, with more than 200 enterprises, was the most powerful. It is interesting to note that the phenomenon of Family Bonds is said to derive from these ages. It implied the creation and strengthening of the business ties between families through illegal but popular marriage contracts. It is also notable that the social status of a man of that time was determined by how well he was dressed, where he lived, what he ate, and how he made a living.
Then, in the “Political Structure and Conflicts” chapter, the protracted conflict between Venice and Milan named Lombardy Wars of 1423-1454 is represented, as well as the Italian Wars of 1494-1559. The next section, “Cultural Achievements,” speaks of Humanists, who collected and translated the works of the classics – Francesca Petrarca, Dante Alighieri, and Giovanni Boccaccio. Authors emphasize that the development of science, literature, art, and architecture was sponsored solely by the powerful.
The chapter “Significant Individuals” speaks of Galileo Galilei, Lucrecia Borgia, and Nicola Machiavelli, whose book “The Prince” depicted Italian politicians of the time. Finally, the last chapters are named “Art and Architecture” and “Spread of Renaissance Culture,” and review the conquest of Italy by Francois I and the spread of the Renaissance culture in France and throughout Europe.
It should be mentioned that the documentary has some weak points. Firstly, the Renaissance should have been displayed in the context of the preceding and following periods – the Middle Ages and the era of Enlightenment. The historical context makes it possible to realize the beauty of transition from the “darkness” of the Middle Ages, when art subordinated to the Church, to a “secular” period of the Renaissance.
During this period, arts were developing most actively, while the Middle Ages were characterized by the appearance of authentic literary and musical genres. The era of Enlightenment also gave rise to a galaxy of prominent philosophers, thinkers, and politicians, who proclaimed the triumph of an educated mind over the darkness of ignorance. Moreover, the Enlightenment period is widely considered as the “noon” of civilized humanity, while the Renaissance is often called the “dawn.”
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Additionally, the Renaissance architecture discussion in the “Art and Architecture” chapter was not persuasive enough. The most famous masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, which is the Doge’s Palace in Venice, was not mentioned at all. It was constructed between 1309 and 1424 and combined Moroccan mosaics facade decoration and open arcade galleries of the first and second floors built from Carrara marble. The palace amazes with the richness of interior design and accommodates many famous paintings of that period.
Besides, the directors did not represent the contribution of astrophysicists Copernicus and Galileo Galilei to the Renaissance heritage in relevant details. Indeed, Copernicus was not an Italian scientist since he was a Polish one. Nonetheless, Galileo Galilei heavily relied on Copernicus’ discoveries in his findings. Galilei and Copernicus made the first step in the direction of science from alchemy that substituted science in the Middle Ages. Copernicus was the first to suggest that the Earth revolves around the Sun, thus, presenting a heliocentric picture of the world as opposed to the geocentric views recognized by the Church.
Some attention was paid to the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci and the development of art. But directors provided insufficient arguments when speaking of the art of that period. Particularly, they did not mention that in the Renaissance era, the concept of “linear perspective” was introduced, which designated the shift from flat images of the Middle Ages to volumetric images of the Renaissance. Da Vinci also contributed to the development of art as the first artisan who mixed paints with olive oil.
This invention allowed him to obtain more delicate contours of human figures and made it possible to combine more colors enriching and widening the available color palette. Besides, it was not stated in the film that master experimented with the proportions of faces and exposure, showing incredible attention to detail and background, and worked on the emotional expressiveness of his characters.
Thus, a critical analysis of the Renaissance Italy documentary was presented. To summarize, the documentary exposed the main features of the Italian political and social structure of that time in great detail. However, the authors did not pay enough attention to the development of architecture, art, and science. Besides, they did not discuss the role of the Renaissance era with other eras and did not represent the contribution of Galileo Galilei and Leonardo Da Vinci in relevant details.