It’s well known that Florence is the central hub for Early Italian Renaissance Art. But what exactly led up to Florence gaining this significance within the Renaissance Movement? There were many cities that played a large role in this movement, but these places competed against each other to be the center of all things Renaissance Art. The following competitions happened in a variety of different facets of society, but they all lead to Florence coming out on top when it comes to Renaissance Art.

Who Will Be Pope?

Believe it or not, there was once a time when there were two Popes. And that time was the end of the 14th century. Throughout the 14th century, the Roman Catholic Church called the shots. Then came “the Great Schism of West”, a time during which there was a French Pope in Avignon and an Italian Pope in Rome. To make matters even more complex, these Popes had rivalling political allies. To a pious believer, having two Popes was blasphemous. In 1409, a conference was called that would supposedly resolve all this. However, the result was a third Pope! In 1417, a pope was finally chosen and the tithing to the Church all went to the Papal bankers in Florence. This wealth began Florence’s long journey to becoming the Early Italian Renaissance Art capital!

Problems With Surrounding Cities

The Black Death led to a huge wipeout of half of Florence’s population, setting Florence back as a city. Two banks went bankrupt and there was a good deal of civil unrest as a result. During this time of weakness for Florence, two surrounding cities tried to annex Florence. Those two cities where Milan and Naples; Milan even tried twice! Florence fought the advances of Milan and Naples and ended up being even stronger than it had been before the plague. It even gained Pisa as its port. Having this port increased Florence’s ability to partake in the exchange of goods and ideas. Perhaps artistic ideas?

The Emergence Of A New Philosophy

The large schism due to the popes was not the only divide. Soon there became a conflict of ideology as well: the humanists versus the pious believers. Humanists were of the belief that a Judeo-Christian God had given humans the ability for rational thought for a reason. This idea that people could choose autonomy was in conflict with the faith of the Church. This is largely because humanists tended to prefer individual thoughts and empirical evidence over established faith or other doctrines. The humanism of the time was largely secular humanism, meaning it strayed away from believing everything that religion dictates.

Humanists began to write their beliefs in large quantities, and with the new technology of the printing press, these ideas were disseminated rapidly, thus leading to a dramatic increase in humanist thought in the 15th century. Because Florence had already been considered a great center for philosophy and the arts, humanist thinkers flocked to Florence. There, scholars and artists exchanged ideas, thus affecting the art of the time.

One way that humanism affected art was the way that saints were portrayed. People were depicted as large as saints and saints looked more like ordinary people. The halos that had previously been found on saints in paintings from the Middle Ages were much for faint in pictures from the Renaissance.

The Medici

The Medici were a wealthy family who had come upon their wealth from their family members gaining enormous success as wool merchants. However, they decided to move to the world of banking, a profession they knew would be lucrative. The Medici wanted to rule Florence, either as royalty or as governors. The only problem with this was that Florence was a republic.

But they had another way of coming to power. They spent enormous amounts of money of the artistic and architectural rebuilding of Florence. Everyone who lived there loved the aesthetic beauty that the Medici family had created. Florence got its first public library since the period of antiquity. One of the most beautiful Florentine works of the time period was Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore. Because Florentines were so happy with these changes, Medici became unofficially in charge of Florence. As a result of the Medicis wonderful transformation of florence, artist travelled from far and wide to Florence.

In many ways, the Medicis set off the popularity of Renaissance Art in Florence. However, Florence’s climb to the top economically, intellectually and culturally also contributed largely to the art.

You can’t talk about Italian Renaissance Art without mentioning Florence. Florence was an extremely significant center for all things Italian Renaissance Art. It is fascinating to think how many aspects of a city’s success can turn it into a cultural hub that is talked about in art history classes and discussions today.