Bettany Hughes: Amongst the Medici

September 24, 2010

 Bettany Hughes is distinctly communicative, her TV and audio broadcasts are always a special treat

Ever wanted to know what a classicist thinks of the Renaissance? I did! I recently came across these gems - recordings broadcast on BBC Radio 4 by UK historian Bettany Hughes. Whilst not a Renaissance scholar herself, Bettany's captivating style makes her easy to watch, or in this case listen to. I have gone to some length to present these recordings here in a more accessible format - which you can stream directly from the player below or download as .mp3

These recordings are freely available on the BBC Radio 4 site, but only as realmedia stream, requiring a specific player etc - not entirely convenient.

Bettany takes a deeper look into Florence and the Medici - swiftly debunking all the myths about the Renaissance and putting it into the context of a continuum of change. Writers from Petrarch to Ficino and beyond are largely responsible for the honeyed perception we have of this period.

Through the many experts that accompany Bettany Hughes in these recordings, we receive wonderful insights into what the Renaissance really was - more than an art movement, more than a rebirth of classical ideas, but an amalgamation of myriad factors which helped propel Europe toward a modern age, but also drew quite heavily on knowledge from the East - something which writers like Vasari, Voltaire, Burckhardt and Gibbon are quite dismissive of.

5 comments:

Hels said...

Thank you :)

This is an interesting line: "an amalgamation of myriad factors which helped propel Europe toward a modern age, but also drew quite heavily on knowledge from the East". Which East were they referring to, and what areas of knowledge?

H Niyazi said...

Hi Hels!

I'd recommend Bettany's description of this in part 2.

To give a hint - she was looking at a middle ages Arabic version of Ptolemy's ancient treatise on astrononmy, Almagest This amazing work from antiquity was lost to Western Europe at this time, yet only when it appeared in the 16th Century is seen to have 'emerged from the darkness' - we must be cautious to note that this darkness was quite localised to Western Europe!

H

M said...

Thanks for these links! I think this bit about the East is interesting as well. I'm always fascinated by the Eastern/Islamic connections with Venice during the 15th and 16th centuries, so I'll be interested to see what Bettany says in regards to the Renaissance in Florence.

Dr. F said...

M: In regard to Venice consider that the Turkish Sultan (50 years after the fall of Constantiniple) had to import Giovanni Bellini's brother, Gentile, to paint his portrait. However, the Sultan did make a contribution: he cut off a slave's head in front of the shocked painter in order to show him the correct way to depict a severed head!

H: The Almagest appeared in Western Europe long before the 16th century. Pope Nicholas ordered a translation in the mid-15th century but it was known even before then. I don't understand how Ptolomy, the great exponent of the geocentric theory and the favorite of the sterile Aristotelian academics, is responsible for the Renaissance art you love so much.

About your trip to Florence. Don't expect to stand in front of the Primavera in hushed silence. You will be jostled by crowds of tourists, many from the "East." Also, please have your hotel book a reservation for you or else you will have to wait hours on line.

Finally, I hope your planning to go to the restored Brancacci chapel, the source of much of the naturalism that characterized the Ren. It's in a nice neighborhood across the Arno with some nice outdoor restaurants.

Frank

H Niyazi said...

Cheers Frank :)

I was paraphrasing what is explored further in the programs. In this instance - Bettany Hughes was describing the perception of the Renaissance as the rebirth of classical ideas, and how due to writers such as Petrarch and Vasari the notion of the 'Dark Ages' seems to have spread and enveloped the whole of the world. As we are better aware of now, this was far from the case.

Arabic copies of Almagest have been sourced to the 8th Century, and the first copy appeared in Europe(Spain) in the 12th Century due to this Arabic connection. She also of course mentions the Byzantine and monastic traditions of preserving classical works, which were so actively pursued by the Medici in the 14th century onwards.

Carlo Ridolfi's apocryphal tale of Bellini's experience is useful as a caricature of Venetian perceptions of their Eastern rivals, but nothing much more than that. In many instances, his Vite is as crammed full of warped anecdotes as Vasari's work.

Still an interesting read though :)

@M - Sultan Mehmet II was singularly interested in Italian Art, which was quite atypical for an Islamic leader at that time. We are told he invited both Leonardo and Michelangelo to Istanbul on various occasions to work on artistic and architectural projects, but political circumstances prevented this from being realised.

It would have been amazing to have Michelangelo design a bridge to span the Bosphorous Strait, connecting the East and the West physically as well as symbolically!

H

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