Women, Family, and Society in Medieval Europe: Historical Essays, 1978-1991

By David Herlihy; A. Molho | Go to book overview

14
SOCIETY, COURT AND CULTURE IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY MANTUA

The splendid efflorescence of culture in the period of the Italian Renaissance has long intrigued historians. How can one explain this brilliant parade of masters who, in thought, literature, art and music, added immeasurable riches to the Western cultural inheritance? Why this society, this land, this time? To be sure, the deepest personal roots of human creativity may be closed to historical inquiry; perhaps only psychologists, perhaps geneticists, sociobiologists or theologians may ultimately explain them. Still, historians have the capability of examining the social foundations of past artistic or intellectual achievement. It is obvious that writers and artists do not live and labor in a vacuum. They consume resources; in the period of the Renaissance, masters of the arts were critically dependent upon the masters of power and property. "Those whose talents are obstructed by poverty at home," Giovanni Boccaccio once remarked, "do not easily make their mark." Writers and artists had therefore to please particular and discriminating audiences. They had to evoke within the idiom of their art and their times the delight, fear, wonder and, above all, the appreciation and gratitude of contemporaries. Societies as well as individuals inform the cultural history of an age, and societies usually acquire the kind and quality of culture they are willing to encourage and support.

In this paper, we shall limit our attention to the social history of one small Italian town--Mantua. Unexpectedly, in the light of its

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