In what ways, if at all, was the Renaissance in Rome different to that in Florence?
The Italian Renaissance marked an era of intellectual and historical discovery; an era that was to signal the re-birth of many forgotten ideals, but also the instigation of new values, laws and principles. Artists and architects flourished, cities became aware of their heritage and history, restoration and renewal became important and valuable ideals. Although every Italian city is said to have undergone a period of Renaissance, Florence was seen as the representative of the whole. Its ideals and aspirations were so important and revolutionary that they were to influence the whole of Italy, and for that matter, the Western world. It is my aim within this essay to compare the Renaissance in Rome to that in Florence in order to ascertain whether the Romans simply became passive recipients of Florentine Renaissance or instigated a unique Renaissance of their own pertaining only to the city of Rome.
Florence is regarded as the daughter of Rome, due to the fact that she had been founded by Roman settlers in 1 BC. However, at various points throughout the Renaissance, she surpassed the city of Rome in many respects. Scholars have asserted that her primacy over Rome in the early Renaissance period was primarily due to her pre-Renaissance success as a trade capital of the West. With the arrival of the fourteenth century, Florence was the leading financial centre in Italy, perhaps partly due to the high intellectual capacity of its inhabitants. As a democracy, Florence was far superior than any contemporary Italian city. All inhabitants had the right to be involved in politics; many partook in some form of governmental office. It is also important to note that as Florence was expanding as a city of trade and finance, she was at the same time enveloping other nearby townships. Florence was beginning a process of conurbation and of rapid growth, which naturally increased the power of government within Florence. With its dependant colonies, the Florentines made known their desire to become an independent and self-governed State in Italy; a concept that was extolled in the twelfth Century, and was to be vehemently proposed by the Florentines throughout the Renaissance.
Rome, however, was not experiencing the prosperity and expansion that was all too apparent within Florence. Its temporal power was decreasing rapidly, and with the removal of the Papacy to Avignon, its spiritual influence was no more than titular; Rome was in general decay. C. Stinger has asserted that the lack of prosperity and wealth within Rome was due to the fact that it had been unnecessarily involved in feudal and civil warfare, and was overly concerned with ‘factional politics, [a] parochial outlook, and [had] recourse to armed violence’; indeed the area immediately surrounding Rome was barren, scarred and desolate as a consequence of the aforementioned wars. Although Rome was to finally surpass Florence in terms of Renaissance art, culture and restoration, it is obvious that economic, political and cultural differences that were apparent immediately before the Renaissance within Rome would have a profound effect on the reasons for its instigation.
We have already recognised that Florence was aware of the advantages of becoming an independent city-state, a notion that was further reinforced by the actions of Giangeleazzo Visconti. Florence resisted his threats of invasion and his attempted and eventually emerged victorious. Naturally, the victory of the city over the tyrant Giangeleazzo instilled within the Florentines an overwhelming sense of patriotism, and in turn an eagerness to re-discover the history of Florence. Many scrutinised long forgotten texts and manuscripts - such industrious research led the Florentines to believe that their city was a direct descendant of the ancient and noble Roman Republic; an ideal that was to form the political and cultural beliefs of the Florentines throughout the Renaissance.