A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

PART IV
ITALY

CHAPTER I
PRELIMINARY

WHEN Charles VIII of France and his nobles and his men-at- arms entered Italy in 1494, they entered what was to them a world strange and new. Florence must have been a revelation to them. We know with what wonder and delight they beheld, there and elsewhere, the gardens and the palaces, the churches, and statuary of the day, and the vestiges of a remote antiquity. Hardly had they returned home before gardens in the Italian manner were being laid out at Amboise. In Florence they saw Brunelleschi's dome and the palaces of Michelozzi and Alberti and those gates of Ghiberti that Machiavelli described as worthy to be the gates of Heaven. They had finer things at home, palaces at least as superb and incomparable churches, but nothing that resembled these things. Still less had they at home anything like Ghirlandajo's frescoes or the altar-pieces of Botticelli or the sculpture of Donatello. It was a stranger world that they had entered than they at all realized. They saw pride of life, sumptuousness and luxury, they saw symmetry and completeness, a strange system of decoration, glowing colour and movement, new artistic effects produced by a technique that to them was new; and they saw, perhaps, little more. Behind all that was a mental world unknown to them or but barely suspected; a world of neo-paganism and of Neoplatonism, a world of scepticism and materialism, of mockeries more audacious than those they knew of and of enthusiasms to them still stranger. They had stepped into the flood-tide of the Renaissance and did not know where they were. All about them in that Italy of Laurentius Valla and Leonardo, of Luigi Pulci and Aretino, of Michelangelo and Marsilio Ficino, of the Sforza and the Malatesta, the traditional and conventional Christianity they knew of, lay in a ruin almost as complete as that of the monuments of old Rome. Theology had vanished from Italian universities; law,

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