Note: To help our scholars familiarize themselves with their host country, we asked each to watch a different 25-30 minute youtube video about a particular region of Italy. Each video stars Rick Steves, a foremost expert on European travel. After they watched their assigned videos, Scholars were asked to provide a summary of its contents and highlight a topic it covers that especially interests them – this could be anything from a moment in history to a place or a person. In addition to explaining their personal interest in the topic.
Italy has always had a unique relationship with modernity and religion. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the power of the pope increased considerably. Although Italy’s political structure changed drastically, the influence of the Catholic church stayed prominent throughout Italy. From the Florence Cathedral to the Vatican City, the presence of religion on the Italian peninsula is indisputable, and yet Italy also played a large role in the Renaissance. We have all heard of Donatello and Di Vinci, Italian natives whose artwork helped shape the Renaissance.
Located about 273 km (around 168 miles for my fellow Americans) from Rome, Florence is called the “home of the Renaissance, birthplace of the modern western world” by Rick Steves . The Florence Cathedral features the famous Dome, a common architectural feature of the Renaissance. That Dome was, in fact, the first great dome to be built in a thousand years, and the first dome of the Renaissance. The city’s location allowed it to flourish financially, as it was the center of trade between the East and the West. Money was invested in creative genius, so numerous talented artists made their way to Florence during the 13th and 14th century.
The Renaissance is often viewed as a time period in which religion took a back seat, and all of Europe became focused on celebrating the achievements of humans rather than praising God. Too some extent, I agree. Advancements in science were encouraged, and the Church could no longer put a limit on learning. But I think an important distinction must be made: a decrease in the influence of the Church doe not necessarily mean a decrease in the influence of religion. There was a definite shift in the mindset of individuals about how to worship God. Whereas following the word of the Pope and spending hours in prayer were the accepted ways of showing your commitment to religion during the Medieval ages, it became common to use art as a form of expressing religious devotion during the Renaissance. Painters used realism to draw scenes from the life of Jesus. Sculptures embraced the idea of creating nude sculptors to celebrate how perfectly God had designed the human body. Artists wanted to showcase the wonders of being human by adopting a more realistic form of art, but much of their artwork was inspired by stories from the Bible. For example, in one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, David, the nude David’s considerably large right hand symbolizes the hand of God. Donatello also created a sculpture of Mary Madeline, highlighting her deteriorating body through her hollow eyes, but also her strong spirt as she stands straight and tall.
I think it’s strange that I identify with this city. Its history of balancing religion with modern ideas parallels my own efforts to stay devoted to Islam while embracing progressive ideas. All of this just makes me even more excited to visit Florence, cross the Ponte Vecchio bridge, admire the doorway of the Baptistery, and of course devour the food.