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Against the background of an age that saw the rebirth of ancient and classical learning, Paul Strathern explores the intensely dramatic rise and fall of the Medici family in Florence as well as the Italian Renaissance, which they did so much to sponsor and encourage. Interwoven into the narrative are the lives of many of the great Renaissance artists with whom the Medici had dealings, including Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello as well as scientists like Galileo and Pico della Mirandola.
In his enthralling study, Strathern also follows the fortunes of those members of the Medici family who achieved success away from Florence, including the two Medici popes and Catherine de' Medici, who became queen of France and played a major role in that country through three turbulent reigns.
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By Matt Turner on 04-17-16
An Intriguing Lens on the Renaissance
The Medici are used in this book as an intriguing lens into Renaissance life and norms. Not only are the characteristics and personalities of the Medici family and their many relationships made the forefront of this book, but we also learn a great deal about the cultural origins Renaissance thought - and therefore in many ways of our own. The author seems generally fair, neither painting the Medici as total saints or total sinners (though he perhaps leans toward the latter viewpoint), although some of his personal feelings about the relative value of science and religion regularly seep into the book. Overall, I feel that I'm much better acquainted with Renaissance Europe because of this book, and the fact that it was an enjoyable and interesting read full of drama and intrigue makes it accessible outside of more academic circles - though it might be difficult to keep up with some elements of the book without a decent acquaintance with European history and geography.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
By Philo on 05-07-16
A smart story, amazing in scope and detail
In a continuous braid of sharply etched characters and well-lit scenes, this book knit together all sort of pieces of things, from many disciplines, I knew something about, and made great sense of it all. The Renaissance was a sort of funnel through which the ancient and medieval worlds flowed toward ours. Its figures at last make a coherent sense to me, and link clearly to our world today, and the ancient and medieval worlds that came before. I have long been into art history, but here it all linked (as I never perceived it before) to the currents of thought and history and personality in which it happened. The movement between ideas and people in this telling is graceful and seamless. The Medici provide a central prism through which all this can be viewed and appraised, and in an entertaining fashion.
The most shocking elements of this tale for me were in the brutality, venality, and rife sin to be found in popes in this period, Medicis and others. But unexpectedly, with help from Machiavelli (so well explained here), I came to see a sort of sense in many of these lurid acts. This duplicity punctuated with ruthless violence, does make a sort of sense -- as a necessity of survival in the jaw-droppingly competitive crucible of the times. I'd rather watch from afar, though! I will, in any event, never look at the history of the Church of Rome and Christ's Vicar on Earth (as the story goes) quite the same way. There are characters noble and depraved in spirit, here, and some as squalid as one will ever encounter. This is a tremendous canvas that takes in a huge swath of Europe's history, culturally, militarily, and in art and thought. We meet, in ideas and often in personality, everyone from Aristotle to Da Vinci to Savonarola to Martin Luther to Galileo to countless bit part figures illuminating life in these times. The story moves on every level one might be curious about. It is time well spent.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful