The Ugly Renaissance

  • by Alexander Lee
  • Narrated by Arthur Morey
  • 15 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A fascinating and counterintuitive portrait of the sordid, hidden world behind the dazzling artwork of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and more....
Renowned as a period of cultural rebirth and artistic innovation, the Renaissance is cloaked in a unique aura of beauty and brilliance. Its very name conjures up awe-inspiring images of an age of lofty ideals in which life imitated the fantastic artworks for which it has become famous. But behind the vast explosion of new art and culture lurked a seamy, vicious world of power politics, perversity, and corruption that has more in common with the present day than anyone dares to admit.
In this lively and meticulously researched portrait, Renaissance scholar Alexander Lee illuminates the dark and titillating contradictions that were hidden beneath the surface of the period’s best-known artworks. Rife with tales of scheming bankers, greedy politicians, sex-crazed priests, bloody rivalries, vicious intolerance, rampant disease, and lives of extravagance and excess, this gripping exploration of the underbelly of Renaissance Italy shows that, far from being the product of high-minded ideals, the sublime monuments of the Renaissance were created by flawed and tormented artists who lived in an ever-expanding world of inequality, dark sexuality, bigotry, and hatred.
The Ugly Renaissance is a delightfully debauched journey through the surprising contradictions of Italy’s past and shows that were it not for the profusion of depravity and degradation, history’s greatest masterpieces might never have come into being.


What the Critics Say

"Lee...lays bare the base tendencies and avaricious impulses that undergirded much of the Renaissance's artistic splendor.... Focusing progressively on the lived experiences of the period's artists, the designs of their patrons and the broader political tendencies reshaping the continent, Lee provides an entertaining frolic buttressed by serious scholarship.... An illuminating look at how the flowering of human imagination celebrated in the Renaissance was fertilized by the excesses of human nature." ( Kirkus Reviews)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Incredible Depth and Insight

Very important to note: this overview isn't for beginners. It's assumed going in that the reader knows the important names of the time, as the goal here is to weave these names together into a larger tapestry. If you're not up on your who's who of Renaissance Italy, Wiki will likely be your friend. And even if you are, it might be worth having it on standby every now and again. Even so, names aren't thrown at you without some context. It's just helpful to know who these people are other than to say "this one's a pope, that one's a warlord," and so on. The more you already know about the basics, the better positioned you'll be for getting the most out of what this book has to offer.

That said, this is a wonderful overview of the Italian Renaissance and all of the terrible things that defined it. The scope of this is astounding. It intertwines the worlds of art, merchant banking, politics, religion, and warfare so as to present everything as an inseparable whole. Add in the obligatory additions of disease, cultural differences, and taboos of every kind, and the end result is an amazingly insightful book. If those classic artworks could talk, what stories they could tell.
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- Troy

Author falls into the pit he digs for others

I picked up this book because it showed some promise of revealing truths about the Renaissance that few today want to admit. Our modern culture grew out of that period and most of our failings can be traced to that era. Yet, I was disappointed. From all I have read and studied, the author makes some good observations about the dissonance between art of that time and the artists and their benefactors... but he goes over board with his attribution of motives. He is very free with his application of the words "hate" and "bigot" or "bigotry" as if he could see in the souls of these people at such a distance of time. What is more, he himself seems to fall into this pit as his writing reveals a certain hate all that came from our Christian heritage. This is seen most especially in his believing and repeating every bad thing he has read and heard about the Popes, priests, and various other prelates of that time (many of which have been proven to be false and spurious or not worthy of belief). At the same time he gives nearly everyone else (namely the Jews, the Muslims, and various native tribes) a free if they were all victims. So typical of modern historians!! This is the reason I cannot recommend this book and gave it only a single star. If you listen to this book, I urge you to listen to some other more balanced views of history of this era, most especially G.J. Meyer's "The Borgias" and Diane Moczar's "Seven Lies about Catholic History" , both available on Meyer's book on the Borgias book alone shows the lie to many of the conclusions found in this book.
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- Sean

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-07-2014
  • Publisher: Random House Audio