Friday, March 07, 2008

Dante's Florence Week 4


Florence was a city of innovations. The Florin was first minted in 1252 and became a kind of medieval Euro. It was stamped with the symbols of the city – the lily, the secular symbol on one side with St John, the patron saint on the other side. Bills of Credit and the double entry system of book keeping were invented in Florence. The Bardi and Peruzzi families were the main banking families with agents right across Europe. Their money came from the textile industry – wool from as far away as the Cotswolds in England was imported and processed by the thousands of people employed by the Humiliati Order of monks. The Wool Guild was in the heart of the city with barn sheds for drying the wool, with loggia below so that the air could circulate. There was even a fortified wool factory further up the Arno.

The Guilds – Patrons of Art

The Bankers Guild was established in 1206, St Matthew being the Patron Saint of Bankers. Membership of a guild was a necessary qualification to take part in the government of the city and Dante was enrolled in the Guild of Apothecaries, which included artists, doctors, musicians and writers. He entered politics in 1295 and became the Superintendant of Roads and Planning. The Bargello housed the civic government and the head of police. It was built in 1255 before Dante was born, was the place of execution and is now the National Museum.

References in The Divine Comedy to finance and commerce

Dante’s audience had a mercantile background and his father was said to have been a notary/money lender. The question of trading for profit was a difficult issue as usury was considered to be a sin. Dante describes Hell in The Divine Comedy as being full of people who had profited from the corruption and abuses of the use of money. To avoid this wealthy families donated money to found chapels as a means of expiating their sins.

Art of the Period

There were also great innovations in art during this period, with a move away from the rigid hieratical Byzantine style to a more natural, expressive style - for example Cimabue’s Madonna is a huge work, showing angels at the sides of the throne still in the Byzantine style but showing the move away to more naturalism. Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna of 1310 shows a more natural portrayal of the mother and child and there is a greater sense of mass and solidity with greater depth and perspective. The angels look as though they really are looking up at the Madonna and child

In The Divine Comedy Dante refers to artistic arrogance in his conversation in Purgatory with Oderiso, an illuminator from Gubbio. He talks of the transient nature of fame and the penalty of pride. Oderiso was supposedly friendly with Giotto and at that time Giotto was greatly praised and had taken precedence over Cimabue:

'Brother' he said, the sheets coloured by Franco
The Bolognese, are more brilliant than mine:
The honour is now all his, and mine is less.

Certainly I should not have been so polite
When I was alive, because of my great desire
To excel in this, my heart was engrossed with it.

The penalty of such pride is paid here;
And I should not be here yet, if it were not
That, while I could still sin, I turned to God.

O empty glory of human endeavour!
How little time the green remains on top,
Unless the age that follows is a dull one!

Cimabue thought he held the field
In painting, and now the cry is for Giotto,
So that the other's fame is now obscured."
Purgatorio XI 82-96

The Death of St Francis by Giotto in the Bardi Chapel, in the church of Sante Croce shows the move towards much greater realism in painting such as in the range of emotions shown on the monks’ faces as they surround St Francis on his bier.

Development of the city
Arnolfo Di Cambio(born 1240 –1250 died early 1300s)

Di Cambio was an architect, sculptor and painter. He trained in Sienna under Nicolo Pisano and worked on the marble pulpit in the Sienna Duomo. In 1284 he was called to Florence by the city officials to design the new city walls. The walls made from used materials from the old walls and the lopped towers (as a result of the height restrictions on the towers). When completed the walls were 5 ½ miles long, 7 feet thick and 47 feet high, with massive iron- studded gates (a few of these remain). The gates were closed every evening. The walls were of course for defence, but they also gave the city shape and a sense of belonging to the citizens; were a way of regulating taxes and tolls and were a symbol of the strength, power and prestige of Florence.

He brought both classical and gothic styles of architecture to Florence. He designed the loggia of Orsanmichele, then a corn-market; was involved in work on the Badia, and the design of the fa├žade of Santa Croce is attributed to him.

More about Di Cambio, art, and Dante's exile in week 5.

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