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Social Status and Renaissance Villas (1977)

Social Status and Renaissance Villas (1977)

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Published by michio@seifu
A scholarly essay describing the social forces that influenced the popularity and design of Italian Renaissance villas. The essay is an excellent survey of the extant literature on the topic as of 1977.
A scholarly essay describing the social forces that influenced the popularity and design of Italian Renaissance villas. The essay is an excellent survey of the extant literature on the topic as of 1977.

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: michio@seifu on Dec 28, 2010
Copyright:Public Domain


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Written in 1977. Unpublished. The essay is a good survey of the extant literature on the topicas of 1977. Author donated this essay to the public domain and reserves no rights. Scanned  from a photocopy, and thus may have some typos.
SOCIAL STATUS AND THE RENAISSANCE VILLA (1977) by XFor the student of the history of art who chooses to judge artworks by the degree to whichthey represent the culture of their age,* no Renaissance Italian building type could be moreworthy of study than the villa.
To justify that assertion I would propose that preoccupation withsocial status was a distinctive feature of Italian Renaissance culture and as such found itsexpression in the Italian villa.
Only the major villas—those of the rich and of the nobility, not of the poets or craftsmen— will be touched upon here, reflecting perhaps the cultural bias toward the upper classimplicit in nearly all historical studies. Large villas of the size of Lorenzo de Medici's Poggio a*By "culture" I mean the whole way of life: material, intellectual and spiritual.1.L. H. Heydenreich, "La Villa: Genesi e Sviluppi Fino al Palladio," Vicenza, Bolletino delC.I.S.A. AndreaPalladio , 1969, XI, pp 11 ff, calls the villa the most characteristic creation of the Renaissance.+Because the social and economic history of the Renaissance and of the Renaissance villa allawait systematic study, the conclusions I reach here can pretend to be no more thantentative. To my knowledge, the bibliography for this essay contains all the general studieson the subject of Italian Renaissance villas, with the exception of two works: J. B. Patzak,Die Renaissance und Barockvilla in Italien, (vol.'s I and II, 1912-13, III, 1908), K. M.Swoboda, R ö mische und romanische Pal ä ste , (1919). I have been less thorough in exploring potential sources in economics and sociology. My sources indicate however that suchmaterial is not extensive.
2Caiano, Federigo Gonzaga's Palazzo del Te or Paolo Almerico's Villa Rotunda, all entailedconsiderable outlays of wealth. W. K. Ferguson states that the wealth available for patronage inRenaissance Italy was the product of means for concentrating wealth, appearing for the first timein Renaissance Italy—in the new forms of taxation by princes and in the evolution of businessorganization.
 Coinciding with the advent of such concentrations of wealth were social circumstances that brought the issue of status to a head among the rich and noble. In Florence, competition amongfamilies had long been rabid, but in the later 15th century their jostling had become a contest for noble status, because "the merchant patriciate was crystallizing into a nobility." The merchant patriciate group led by the Medici was not accepting new members.
R. A. Goldthwaite, in hisstudy of the social context of Renaissance Florentine palaces, notes that competition was fierceto make public expression of one's nobility.
The same closing of ranks occurred in 15th century Venice and Vicenza, as well as in suchother cities as Lucca, Pistoia, Padua, and Brescia.
Alfred von Martin finds also within the clergy2.W. K. Ferguson, "The Renaissance in Historical Thought," in Anthony Molho, ed., Socialand Economic Foundations of the Italian Renaissance, New York, 1969, p 121.3.P. Burke, Culture and Society in Renaissance Italy, 1420-1540, New York, 1972, p 245.4.R. A. Goldthwaite, "The Florentine Palace as Domestic Architecture," in AmericanHistorical Review, 1972, 77, no. 4, pp 991-993.5.A. Ventura, "The Triumph of the Aristocracy in the Veneto," in Anthony Molho, ed.,Social and Economic Foundations of the Italian Renaissance, New York, 1969, pp 169 ff;Ventura states that the 15th century saw the closing of access to aristocratic ranks in theVeneto. L. Puppi, (Andrea Palladio, Boston, 1975, pp 7-8), proposed that the Vicenziannobility sought to distinguish themselves from a middle class of merchants and other  bourgeoisie. P. Burke, (op. cit., p 245), cites historical studies which show a closing of noble ranks in Lucca, Pistoia, Padua and Brescia.
3reflections of a concern with status. The upper class clergy were anxious to secure a considerabledistance between themselves, the ordinary laity and the lower class clergy, particularly after the"cheapening" effect the mendicant orders had had hobnobbing with the people on equal terms.
The growing political importance of courts (in place of republican governments), Burkesuggests, gave sanction and necessity to courtly life styles and noble values among the richmerchants aspiring to ruling class status.
The common set of values which typified the nobilityas a group, and which the aspirant merchant would have to adopt, revolved around the notion of honor, or esteem. "Honor" could be manifested in such qualities as courage (war), loyalty andgenerosity (conspicuous consumption). As Burke notes, it was also possible to be accepted asnoble in Renaissance Italy even if not so by birth, by living nobly. A noble life was characterizedin particular by a life of liesure.
We might then find a reflection of social aspiration in the factthat among the great Florentine and Venetian families, the 16th century saw a trend away fromthe active life of trade and toward the leisurely life of rentierships and conspicuousconsumption.
Among the most prestigious forms of rentiership was land ownership. While6.A. von Martin, Sociology of the Renaissance, New York, 1963.7.P. Burke, op. cit., p 236.8.Ibid., p 235.9.Ibid., p 282

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