Niuna impresa, per minima che sia, può avere cominciamento o fine senza queste tre cose, cioè: senza potere e senza sapere e senza con amore volere.
STATUTES OF THE PAINTERS' GUILD OF SIENA*
" ITALY," said Fra Bernardino, during his first course of sermons in Florence in 1424, "is the most intelligent country in Europe, Tuscany the most intelligent region in Italy, and Florence the most intelligent town in Tuscany" -- but he went on to say that she was also the most corrupt, "for where noble gifts are allied to malice, you get the most evil men."1 In his own terms, he was right. Since the Athens of Pericles, there had not been another town holding within its walls so many active minds, so much knowledge and taste and talent, so lively a curiosity for what was both old and new -- and also, to the eyes of a man like Fra Bernardino, so much that was deplorable.
What can have been the effect of this busy, seething little town, so full of new riches, new treasures, and new ideas, upon the mind of a man dedicated since his early youth to the monastic life? It is, of course, quite impossible to describe the society he saw in the compass of one short chapter; all one can attempt is to catch a glimpse of a few facets which seemed important to him, and which affected his teaching. It was a world in which changes of outlook were rapidly taking place in almost every field, but custom had not yet quite caught up with them; in which his congregation was made up of men who were by temperament both sceptical and ironic, and in whose minds the new ideas of the Renaissance were already taking root, but who were mostly still closely bound to Christian tradition and practice. It was a society in which, as we have seen, a mystical cult of poverty could exist side by side, not only