It was one of the most concentrated surges of creativity in the history of civilization. Between 1390 and 1537, Florence poured forth an astonishing stream of magnificent artworks. But Florentines did more during this brief period than create masterpieces. As citizens of a fractious republic threatened from below, without, and within, they also were driven to reimagine the political and ethical basis of their world, exploring the meaning and possibilities of liberty, virtue, and beauty.
This vibrant era is brought to life in rich detail by noted historian Lawrence Rothfield in The Measure of Man. His highly readable account introduces readers to a city teeming with memorable individuals and audacious risk-takers, capable of producing works of the most serene beauty and acts of the most shocking violence. Rothfield’s cast of characters includes book hunters and book burners, devout Christians and assassins, humble pharmacists and arrogant oligarchs, all caught up in a dramatic struggle—a tragic arc running from the cultural heights of republican idealism in the early fifteenth century, through the aesthetic flowerings and civic vicissitudes of the age of the Medici and Savonarola, to the brooding meditations of Machiavelli and Michelangelo over the fate of the dying republic.
Lawrence Rothfield has written or edited books on literary realism, the Brooklyn Museum of Art “Sensation” show controversy, music scenes in Chicago, and the looting of the Iraq National Museum. Currently he is working on a documentary about the life and art of outsider artist Ralph Blakelock, America’s van Gogh. He teaches comparative literature at the University of Chicago.
Map of Renaissance Italy, c. 1500
Map of Florence
Chapter 1 Florence Rising
Chapter 2 The Work of Man
Chapter 3 The Age of Cosimo
Chapter 4 Magnificence
Chapter 5 New Jerusalem, New Republic
Chapter 6 The Twilight of the Republic
The Florentine Renaissance left a legacy of great works of art, but according to Rothfield that wasn’t all. As a self-governing republic, he writes, Florence would also shape “the civic stage on which the high drama of the Renaissance would unfold.” On that stage was a cast of characters that included politicians, priests, fanatics, and merchants, as well as painters, sculptors, writers, and their patrons. Machiavelli, Savonarola, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Donatello, Dante, and members of the Medici family including Cosimo and Lorenzo, are among those who make appearances in a sweeping story in which alliances are forged and broken and allegiances are pledged and tested. Rothfield traces the rise and fall of the city-state in a colorful and compelling history that brings Florence and its citizens and rulers to life. Numerous notes and a generous bibliography complete the presentation and offer opportunities for those wishing to delve deeper. Readers with an interest in Italy and cultural and political history will find much to discover and ponder in Rothfield's portrait of a profoundly influential city.
The Measure of Man is a riveting book that provides a detailed account of Florence’s decadent leaders, the intersection of politics and art at the time, and the Florentine “Renaissance spirit.”
This is just the book I wanted but couldn’t find when I first became interested in Renaissance Florence. It’s a delightful read, full of fascinating color and detail.
Larry Rothfield is one of today’s great minds and finest writers. In this elegant volume, he turns his attention to examining the creative, ingenious, complex, and fascinating history of Florence, from nefarious assassinations to masterful paintings, from courtly intrigue to wondrous inventions. Florence may have been small, but like its mascot, David, it packed a powerful punch and made an indelible mark on the history books.
Democracy, freedom, civic participation, prosperity, and social vigor battle tyranny, foreign interference, suppression, disparities of wealth, and pandemics in the rise and fall of the republic. Though the themes strongly resonate today, the setting is Renaissance Florence. Lawrence Rothfield provides a highly readable account of the shaping of this most influential of cities, wonderfully blending the republic’s political and economic tensions with tales of artistic creativity and innovation, and adeptly using such characters as the Medicis, Machiavelli, and Michelangelo to do so. — Richard Kurin, Distinguished Scholar, Smithsonian Institution
A vibrant chronicle of the political and artistic ventures of Renaissance Florence, whose citizens attempted to stave off encroaching tyranny as humanists delved into ancient texts to forge a new culture and painters and sculptors created glorious artworks. As Rothfield persuasively argues, we still have much to learn from the ways political struggle and artistic experiment intertwined in the scintillating and tumultuous Quattrocento.
The Measure of Man offers us the Florentine Renaissance as at once a political suspense thriller, a riveting intellectual adventure tale, a study in the character and complex motives of key Florentine personalities, and a lyrical reverie on the psychological and political meaning—as well as the tantalizing radiance and essential mystery—of the city’s astonishing works of art. In a remarkable achievement, Rothfield has combined all these riches into a brief, vivid, and unified story. Through his eyes, we see the Florentine Renaissance as most fundamentally a struggle over the nature and possibilities of liberty: a long tragic arc from the cultural pinnacle of republican idealism in the early fifteenth century, through the aesthetic flowering and civic vicissitudes of the age of the Medici and Savonarola, to the brooding meditations of Machiavelli and Michelangelo over the fate of the dying republic.