Role Of Art And Politics In The

Italian Rennaissance Essay, Research Paper

Greg Murphy


Paper 1

The Relationship Between Art and Politics During the Italian Renaissance

During the Renaissance, art and politics were two very powerful and celebrated arenas of Italian culture. Art at this time was seen as a connection that was being established between the surreal and everyday life. Art was the most obvious sign of the awakening that was occurring to pull these people out of the Dark Ages. People, such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Cellini were celebrating this awakening through magnificent paintings and sculptures. Politics and political structure were also taking on great changes. This is evident through the excessive warring and violence that was so prevalent during the Renaissance. In Italy, the Pope came to assume a great amount of political power, which he used to influence other leaders and conquer neighboring lands. While these two areas of Italian culture seem to be very different, it is through the individuals that were the leaders of these respective fields that made them come to be very similar. Artists and politicians, during the Renaissance, were seen by people of the time to be almost mythological figures capable of greatness. Artists were hailed as saints for the beauty they were able to create. Politicians were worshiped because they were able to display power over the people they ruled. It is when these two very powerful groups of people get together that this relationship is fully understood.

Artists, during the Renaissance, were often very poor and could only survive on how good their work was. This became irrelevant when we talk about the greatest artists of the time who could command a great amount of money for any of their works. In many cases it was the politicians or wealthy families who would pay these artists to create a work of art specifically for them. The Medici family was famous for this towards the end of the fifteenth century. The Popes of this time were also known for patronizing artists to produce works for them. When the Pope would commission an artist to do something for him, this was considered a great honor no matter how famous an artist was. In many cases, the artist would have to make many sacrifices in his work in order to please the Pope. Artists were willing to make these sacrifices because through the prominence of their name and the Pope?s the exposure and praise would be limitless. ?Michelangelo at times complained that because of the haste the Pope imposed on him he was unable to finish it (ceiling of the Sistine chapel) in the way he would have liked; for his holiness was always asking him importunately when it would be ready? (CR, 10). As is evident even the most famous of artists had to endure this abuse. In many cases, the artist would put up with the patrons demands for fear of physical harm or even death. The artists were paid very well for their work and were treated as gods by the common people.

Politicians during this period were rulers who were becoming practiced in getting what they wanted and by any means necessary. They were also very aware of wanting to insure that their rule is not soon forgotten. This is where the artists are so beneficial to these rulers. Most of the rulers that we have discussed have been Popes. This is evidence of the growing power of the church, politically, that was seen during the Renaissance. The Pope was the most powerful man in the church and in time became the most powerful man in politics as well. What the rulers wanted from the artists were beautiful artworks that were created in honor of them so that generations to come will be able to see the beauty of the era and associate that with the greatness of that particular ruler. ?The King tuned in great animation to the noblemen who were with him- the King of Navarre, the Cardinal of Lorraine, and the Cardinal of Ferrara- and said: ?He certainly knows how to win the love and friendship of everyone who knows him? (Cellini, 261). In this case, the King is so impressed with Cellini?s work that he wants to share it with other noblemen. All of these rulers were in competition with each other to see who could have the most beautiful art so that their stature would increase. They cared very little about the artists and really only saw them as temporary tools that created gorgeous work for them to reap permanent rewards.

The relationship that existed between these two groups of people is a direct reflection of what was happening in Italy during this time. The rulers of these states were either becoming very powerful because they were able to maintain control in their state or they were quickly defeated because they couldn?t maintain control. Those that did establish themselves oftentimes used great force and violence to preserve their position. As a result of this great show of power these rulers became very self-absorbed and very concerned with surrounding themselves with the most lavish of items. This is when the artists are called upon. Because these artists are the benchmark for the cultural revolution that comes with the Renaissance, they too see themselves as very important. This attitude is enhanced with the amount of public praise they receive. It is when these two great egos come together that there is oftentimes friction. The artist does not feel that the ruler is fully appreciative of how difficult it is to do their job. The ruler does not think that the artists are anything special unless they are one of the top ones in their respective fields. Even then the artist, such as Michelangelo, is threatened with death because he is not fitting into the ruler?s timetable. All the politician wants is the finished product as fast as possible so they can begin to show it off to everyone they can. The artist is concerned with finishing the piece so that he will feel that it is completed. This relationship between art and politics is one that is best understood by examining what the artists and politicians are looking to gain out of it. Both parties are in it for selfish reasons, leading them to butt heads. Cellini says, ?All the same, I worked at the vase very diligently, day and night, till it reached the stage where I could show it to him. As a result the Bishop grew so impatient to have it finished that I regretted having let him see it? (Cellini, 35). There are instances when the artist will have the courage to stand up to the ruler, but in most cases they simply do as they are told. At this point it is the politician who has the upper hand because he can and will use force to get his way and the artist has no choice in the matter. There is a chance that these two groups could have gotten along had they not both been so worshiped by the masses. Once they brought their collective egos to the table there wasn?t nearly enough room for the both of them and it was the art that was first to be sacrificed.


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