Destination Florence: 1. Brunelleschi’s Dome and Architecture

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Achievements – The lasting contributions of a civilization.

The Use of Math to Create an Architectural Genius

The humanistic scholars of the Renaissance were greatly influenced by ancient Roman and Greek ideas. The classic buildings and structures of classical Rome and Greece led to major advances in Renaissance design. Geometrically designed  Palazzi, or Palaces, were commissioned by rich Italian families. Public buildings were also rebuilt or improved with the Greek and Roman classical influences of columns, domed roofs, and arches. Public areas such as plazas and churches were also influenced by these ancient ruins.

The development of mathematics and engineering also lead to the development of plans for such buildings as the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The city’s citizens started construction on this eight-sided cathedral in 1296, but were forced to leave the ceiling open because they couldn’t figure out how to create a dome top that wasn’t too heavy for the walls they’d already built.

Architect Fillipo Brunelleschi’s study of ancient Roman architecture and recent studies of engineering mathematics lead to his perfect solution for the Great Cathedral’s dilemma of how to support such a large dome. He used a two-layer design for the arches. He had builders lean their tops together for support and then had giant rings of iron, brick, and wood looped around them to hold them in place. He also designed a hoist, a pulley system that raised building materials, food, and water to the workers as they completed the dome. The Duomo di Santa Maria Del Fiore was completed in 1436 and still stands today, a great Renaissance Era piece of history.

Destination Florence: 2. The Medici Family - Powerful Patrons

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Leadership/ Government – How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.

Economy – How a Civilization makes money by the buying and selling of goods and services.

Banking on Interest

Florence became a hub of Renaissance society, housing artists, poets, and scholars alike. Florence’s location on the network of trade routes that led to the Silk Road made it a major trading post, hosting merchants from as far as Asia and Africa. Since many of these traders had different types of coinage, they traded them out for the florin, the golden coin used by Italians. Large families of Florence took advantage of this need, becoming wealthy off the money exchange and later, the interest fees from loans.

The most powerful banking family in Florence were the Medici Family. With their wealth from banking, the Medicis built great government buildings, public works of art, and their own Palazzi (palace). They also commissioned artists (paid artists) to create many works of art, writing, and music. Their home was a gathering place for forward thinkers and creators of the Renaissance. They became patrons, or financial sponsors, for famous Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Sandro Botticelli. They also built a great army to defend their wealth, city, and power.

The Medici Family are notorious for the ruthless ways they maintained their power. They often killed off any threats or competition. At the height of their rule in Florence, they were more wealthy than most European Kings, and they eventually owned multiple branches throughout Europe of the Medici Bank, which serviced the Catholic Church of Rome.

Destination Genoa: 3. Trade that Supported the Renaissance Economy

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Economy – How a Civilization makes money by the buying and selling of goods and services.

Social Classes – How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities, and privileges.

From Barter to Coinage

During the Middle Ages, economy was sustained by trading of goods. At the onset of the Renaissance, the downfall of feudalism and  swell of foreign trade between Europe, Asia, and Africa led to cash-driven economy. Merchants and customers used coins to pay for goods rather than bartering for trade.

Trading Routes Create Bustling Cities

As money and banking became more prevalent, cities along the trade routes grew wealthier. Genoa’s prime location along the Mediterranean Sea connected it with Eastern Europe and Asia, and made it one of the wealthiest Italian cities. This shift made craftsmen, merchants, and bankers rise in social status, and allowed this class to mingle with nobles via marriage and public favor. Guilds of craftsmen could demand and maintain higher prices and make a decent living on the prices merchants would pay for goods to take abroad and sell. Genoa was especially known for their fine offerings of gold and ivory from Northern Africa. This was due to the settling of colonies on the Island of Sicily and Muslim territories on the north African coast.

Destination Venice: 4. The Queen of the Adriatic

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Economy – How a Civilization makes money by the buying and selling of goods and services.

Achievements – The lasting contributions of a civilization

Waterways of Trade

Located on the Adriatic Sea, the Italian city-state of Venice is best known for its complex waterway transportation system. This lavish and navally patrolled maritime stop on the  sea became well known for its fine glass, but also boasted spices, perfume, and silks from Eastern Asia. Emerging Renaissance architects utilized Venice artisans glass to build elaborate windows for their public projects and private jobs for wealthy families such as the Medici of Florence. Venice was also home to the famous merchant Marco Polo, benefiting from his exclusive business with the Mongol Empire in modern China.

Venice’s Contribution to “Renewed” Art

In addition to trading glass and other goods, Venice boasted its housing of many forward thinking artists and musicians. The most famous of these artists was Titian, who painted right onto the plaster of buildings, including biblical scenes on church walls and mythical scenes for public buildings. He was proclaimed the official painter of Venice in 1516, and also painted many portraits of royalty and noble families.

Destination Venice: 5. Marco Polo Inspires Trade with Asia

Key concepts you will learn about at this station:

Economy – How a Civilization makes money by the buying and selling of goods and services.

Connecting with a Khan

The Polo family originated from Venice, a major Italian city-state of the Renaissance era. A famous jewel merchant, Niccolo Polo traveled with his brother Maffeo Polo and son Marco Polo to China while it was still ruled under the Song Dynasty. When the Mongols overtook the Song dynasty, Marco and other foreign merchants were given special  trade privileges under Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Empire. Kublai Khan especially took to Marco Polo,  enjoying his accounts of his travels through Persia and tales of his home country.

How Marco Polo Increased European Trade with China

In the 17 years Marco Polo spent in China, he observed many wonders, and was especially impressed with how massive Chinese cities were and how the Grand Canal moved the economy by transporting enough food from the agrarian south to the north to feed all China’s citizens. In 1298, three years after he returned from his famous journey, Polo was captured after leading a Venetian galley into battle against the rival Italian city-state of Genoa. While in prison, he encountered Rustichello of Pisa, a fellow captive who was known as a talented writer of romances. He dictated his stories to the writer, who published the work entitled The Travels of Marco Polo in 1299. The circulation of this book throughout early Renaissance Europe lead to the interest and eventual bolstering of Asian trade.

Destination Rome: 6. The Sistine Chapel

Dedicating Artistry to The Papacy

One of the most famous pieces of art from the Renaissance is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican in Rome. It’s painter, Michelangelo, spent over four years completing the massive masterpiece. He worked from high platforms, risking the fall to paint over 300 figures from biblical stories. What makes it so unique is that the techniques used were iconic to humanism. Depth and realistic looking physique of the human body, are represented in the art pieces.

Michelangelo’s Other Famous Work: David

In addition to the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo also created a 17-foot (base included) marble statue of the biblical hero David. The expression on David’s face tells of a young man’s mental struggle during battle, and this statue is sometimes referred to as the perfect male form. Michelangelo had been commissioned to create this statue for a niche in the Cathedral of Florence, but due-to the Romanesque style of the statue convinced Florence’s city council that it need to be placed in a more prominent site. It was set up in the Piazza (Plaza) della Signoria instead. Today, a replica stands where David stood in Florence. He has been moved to a museum in Florence to preserve his integrity.

Destination Milan: 7. Leonardo Da Vinci - Dissecting The Last Supper

The Supreme High Renaissance Work of Art         

Of all the art that has survived since the Renaissance, Milan houses perhaps the most valuable and well-known Christian masterpiece. The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is a depiction of the moment Jesus Christ tells his disciples that one of them will betray him. The painting occupies a 15-foot by 29- foot section of the dining room wall in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Unlike the wet fresco (applying to wet, freshly spread lime-based plaster) painting common on most murals of this time period, da Vinci sealed the convent’s wall to dry it and used layers of tempura paint instead. This made the painting victim to nearly immediate flaking and fading. Restoration projects over the years have kept it viewable.

Secrets in the Last Supper

Speculation on symbolism and Renaissance code have followed The Last Supper into modern times.  The number three, perhaps alluding to the Holy Trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit), is ripe in the painting. The disciples are grouped in threes and Jesus himself is very triangular (three sided).  Another interesting fact is that the entire painting’s  architectural invisible lines point to Christ. The table also offers  some of the Renaissance’s still life art techniques  perfected in northern Europe, specifically the Netherlands.

Perhaps even more interesting are the secrets some believe to be housed within its paint layers.  Researchers have revealed significant, non religious figures when a mirror image of the painting is overlaid. An Italian musician has also claimed that the disciples’ hands and loaves of bread are positioned like musical notes of a composition. More recently, the food scattered across the table has been scrutinized as symbolic for anti-Christian statements.

Destination Florence: 8. The Uffizi Gallery

Lavish Beginnings

As Florence grew in power due to its banking as a central trade stop during the Renaissance, the wealthy Italian families that lived there began to “renew” public buildings and build their own. In 1560, the Medici family commissioned Giorgio Vasari, one of their favorite architects and artists of the day, to design the Uffizi, Italian for “Offices”, to house the Florence government officials. This was the jewel in the crown of the Medici family, solidifying their power. In addition, the Medicis also had Vasari design the secret corridor that  connects the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace where the Medicis lived. This corridor also ran by the church of Santa Felicita so the family could attend mass without going out into Florence’s streets.

In 1581, a private gallery of the Medicis statues and other precious art collection was established on in the Uffizi’s east wing’s upmost floor.  The last Medici, Anna Maria Luisa, signed the Family Pact so the three centuries of art and treasures would always remain in Florence. The gallery opened to the public in 1759, and today its 45 halls house some of Italian Renaissance’s finest masterpieces by artists such as Titian, Botticelli, and Michelangelo (see DONI TONDO to the above.)