The period that unfolded in Florence from the second half of the XIV century until the XVI century, marking a veritable rebirth from a dark and materialistic past. This "rebirth" enjoyed an extraordinary diffusion and continuity. Not coincidentally, the concept of "fracture" between the modern and ancient worlds was formulated for the first time. The classical past was now studied in view of drawing an image as authentic and true-to-life as possible, one which served as example to produce new creations (and not as models for mere imitations).
The Renaissance brought to a head a new way of conceiving the world, one that for the first time also influenced the figurative arts, literature, architecture and science. This new perception led the individual to consider himself and fellow human beings as unique subjects capable of self-determination and cultivating ones own talents in order to obtain Fortune, in the sense of the term's Latin meaning of "destiny", to dominate and modify nature.
Florence and art in the Renaissance
The art of the Renaissance developed in Florence as of the early 1400s, and then spread to the rest of Italy and then of Europe, conventionally until the first decades of the 1500s. The grand objective of this period was to recover the classical canons which were to serve as example for new and original formulations. Like classical art, Renaissance art too, attained perfect naturalism: it indeed represented the beauty of reality, which is the perfect knowledge of the subject portrayed.
The greatest innovation attained in this period of art, a melting-pot of many innovations, was drawing, considered as a powerful tool to depict ideas. Drawing thus became the tool of planning in order to lend concrete form to ones ideas and to set them down intact. Admiring the drawings of Leonardo, we can understand how drawing became the Renaissance artist's primary tool, used to design or plan works of art, engineering, mechanics, hydraulics, architecture and military works. The artistic and pictorial techniques of the Italian Renaissance proved to be the most advanced and precise. Around 1430 in Florence appeared the first applications of perspective, used by Masaccio in painting and Donatello in sculpture.
In Florence, artists were trained in the so-called botteghe, that is to say workshops. Around 1460, there were 40 botteghe of "masters in perspective". This testifies to the fact that there was no such thing as the single artist who worked alone in the solitude of his studio.
Students at the Renaissance botteghe had to start from the bottom before earning the title of artist or master. In structure and organization, the botteghe of artists were no different from those of other craftsmen. Usually situated on the ground floor of a building and connected to the proprietor's house, the work conducted inside was laid out in a way that foresaw a clear division of tasks between the master, the assistants and apprentices.
Many botteghe were specialized in a particular genre of art manufacture: so it was that the Della Robbia bottega exclusively produced polychromous glazed terracotta, while the Benintendi bottega taught the art of wax working. In this manner, the bottega attained quite a high technical level and, at the same time, the management and administration of the activity was greatly simplified. Quite often, the trade was handed down within the family, which constituted a greater guarantee for the security of trade secrets, as with the Della Robbia, Benintendi, Ghiberti, Lippi, Rossellino, da Maiano and Pollaiolo families.
Both pre-Renaissance and Renaissance artists were born, so to speak, in Florence, artists of the caliber of Giotto, Cimabue, Brunelleschi, Arnolfo, Donatello, Botticelli, Ghiberti, Masaccio, Beato Angelico, Verrocchio, Andrea del Castagno, Lippi, Della Robbia, Michelangelo. The bottega of Andrea del Verrocchio, for instance, trained students like Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Francesco Botticini, and Francesco di Simone Ferrucci. Florence was also home to the greatest exponents of poetry of the time, important names in literature such as Dante, Boccaccio, Villani, Guicciardini, Poliziano and Machiavelli. The memory of the great Renaissance artists survives in their art but also in the names of a square, a palazzo, a bridge or a street. Many stone plaques bear witness on the streets, towers, churches and palazzi scattered throughout the historical centre.