Renaissance Florence stands among the great flowerings of genius in world history. We associate the city’s eminence with its artists, perhaps Michelangelo and Leonardo above all. Yet just as we think of each as a “renaissance man,” so too did the Florence they knew excel in a variety of fields. Their contemporary Machiavelli invented nothing less than modern political philosophy. And their close heir Galileo laid cornerstones for our sciences of physics and astronomy.
This seminar will explore the ideas of these four world-making figures both on their own terms and for what they reveal together about their city’s greatness. Beginning with works by Michelangelo and Leonardo, we will study how their social, economic and political milieu shaped their struggle to eclipse one another as the leading artistic interpreter of Florence’s civic identity. In turn, understanding how their feud informed their works will allow us to see more deeply into the harsh but decidedly realist vision Machiavelli offers of Florentine and Italian politics in The Prince and other writings.
Then, a short century later, we will take up some of Galileo’s most important papers in physics and astronomy. Like his predecessors’ works, Galileo’s are at once models of enticing clarity and beguiling complexity, requiring only close reading and discussion to follow. All four figures together will allow us to steep ourselves in the heady confrontation between ideals and reality that defined Florence from the late quattrocento to the early seicento and continues to shape our world today.
For more about Stuart’s seminar, read his blog post Genius and Cultural Kitchens: Savouring the Flavours of Renaissance Florence.
“Who indeed will set bounds to human ingenuity? Who will assert that everything in the universe capable of being perceived
is already discovered and known?”
– Galileo Galilei, letter to the Grand Duchess Christina