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A Corretion For This Episode

Thank you, observant viewer... Smart Travels' viewer Janet Masson chided us appropriately for a mistake in the Renaissance episode. She notes that when the Spanish Steps in Rome were shown, a pop-up tip credited Michelangelo with their design. Dead wrong. We note: Michelangelo died 150 years before the Piazza Di Spagna was a gleam in the eye of Alessandro Specchi, the 18th century architect who designed the early phase of the Spanish Steps. Michelangelo's impressive 'steps' work is Piazza del Campidoglio which stands on the summit of Rome's sacred Capitoline Hill guarded by the imposing statue of Marcus Aurelius. I deeply regret the error.
S. L. Nisbet, producer / writer, Smart Travels—Renaissance Europe


Introduction top

DavidHi, I'm Rudy Maxa, marveling still at the layer upon layer of Europe's past You're never far from a reminder here—a "something" that says," pay attention, you're not the first." In this program, we look at that awesome transformation that hurled Medieval Europe into the Modern Age. Stay with us to explore the Renaissance on Smart Travels.


The Renaissance top

renaissanceEurope is famous for historic sites— the remarkable clues that let us speculate on how people lived centuries ago. In Italy, travelers can picnic in the shadow of a medieval tower and almost hear the clank of chains. In old churches, they see stunning frescoes and statues —figures geometrically grouped, rigid and symbolic. Medieval, flat.

And then, at some point, they're struck with a pronounced change in the art. They find themselves staring at a real likeness, a face filled with grief or joy, a figure stooped or a muscled torso, or a fresco drawing them into its depth. Such grace could be classic Greek or Roman, but more likely, if they are in, say...Florence, they've spotted a piece of the Renaissance. This time, we look at Renaissance masterpieces and explore a bit of the rich legacy behind them.


For details on the Renaissance artists, check out "Lives of the Artists" by Giorgio Vasari. You'll also find Giorgio Vasari's text along with images of the works of each artist at www.artist-biography.info.


Rome top

For a glimpse of that rich legacy, we start our tour in Rome. We'll travel north through Italy, first to Florence, then to Venice and Milan, crossing into France's Loire Valley, and we'll cap our Renaissance trip near London at Hampton Court.

Sight-seeing in Rome-what an experience. The city's copycat architecture and sculpture illustrates how the Romans 'borrowed' from the Greeks, but built larger. This is where the 'Renaissance' comes in. The word literally means 'rebirth' and refers to Italy's 15th century passion for reviving the ideals of 'the classical world'—ancient Greece and Rome from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. The art waited for almost a thousand years more to be lovingly "rediscovered.” No wonder the Renaissance artists trekked here by hook or crook to study these ancient ruins.


At rome.arounder.com you can take a virtual panoramic view of the Spanish Steps.


Michelangelo & the Vatican top

MichelangeloMichelangelo was one of them. He was the 16th century sculptor and pride of Florence, but the church in Rome could not resist calling on his talents...again and again and again.

Michelangelo's favorite tool was the claw chisel and only when coerced repeatedly by Pope Julius II did he reluctantly pick up a paintbrush and head for Rome to take on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Here, he worked for four years, creating what came to be the most revered single fresco in the world.


For a written account of the project by one of Michelangelo's students, go to www.eyewitnesstohistory.com.

MichelangeloThe Story of the Creation, God and Adam, the prophets and the seers — over 600 figures of incredible proportion are present in the awesome masterpiece. Recently cleaned and restored, the work's original color is believed to shine as vibrantly as it did in 1512.


To sign up for English-speaking tours of the Vatican, check with Vatican Tourist Information at St. Peter's Square. Scroll down for phone and fax numbers.


Florence top

Once the Republic of Florence, this city is where the Renaissance began and flourished for over 150 years.


At firenze.arounder.com you can take a virtual birds-eye panoramic view of Florence from the top of the Campanile di Giotto.

FlorenceIn Florence, at almost every turn you can run smack into the legacy of 15th and 16th century masterminds. Like never before in the western world, new ideas in science, literature and visual arts just sky-rocketed.. Against serious odds, the period was a gigantic experiment, a workshop, a festival of human achievement.

What propelled this new vision of the world out of the Middle Ages? A vision no longer mostly of saints and biblical figures and the trials of making it to heaven, but one that featured also human beings... people living earthly lives.

FlorenceFortunately, the Middle Ages were not all dungeons and gloom. In the 1300s, after a recovery from the bubonic plague, Europe's agricultural and technical progress accelerated, sea trade was booming and eventually, the spread of wealth on the continent was greater than ever. By the mid-1400s, with the progress of the printing trade, educated middle-classes had access to reading and writing. Students flocked to Italy to study the classics, and the big, wide world seemed smaller. The Church, the strongest and richest institution in Europe, was under fire. Voices uttered the question barely whispered 100 years earlier.. .should the Church have the power to govern people's civil lives as well as their spiritual lives?

By the 15th century, Florence was ripe for a cultural rebirth. Humanism was on the rise and the city was rich. It sprang for a revival of the ideals of ancient Greece and Rome. Individual curiosity, the study of the arts, science, math and philosophy—they all flourished.


For more insight into the Northern Italian Renaissance, check out the book "Eyewitness: Renaissance".


A Web Update To This Show

The Human Anotomy

In 1543, the book De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On The Fabric Of The Human Body) was published. Its author, 28 year-old Andreas Vesalius, detailed his personal observations of the dissected human body in more than 600 pages of illustrations and text; an effort that gave rise to the science of anatomy. In the text accompanying a series of human musculature illustrations, Vesalius expressed the hope that the figures would prove useful as models for 'the painter, the sculptor, and the moulder,' as well as for physicians.


You'll find 40 pages from De Humani Corporis Fabrica on-line, courtesy
The British Museum. Click on A Landmark In Medical History near the bottom right-hand side of the page.



The Baptistry top

BapistryThe Baptistry is the oldest building in Florence, breaking ground in the 11th century, and its treasures show us the shift from medieval to a modem view of the world. First, the medieval: walk in and look up at the mosaic ceiling. Behold the depiction of The Last Judgment, a chilling panorama started in the 1200s. The figures are symbolic and fairly rigid. There is no quibbling about the theme. Depending on how one stacks up, he or she is waved off to a peaceful heaven or straight down to the howling monsters of hell.


North Doors top

BapistryNow, step outside to the Baptistry doors and, viola, the Renaissance world awaits. The north doors of Lorenzo Ghiberti, were a revelation, a breakthrough in 3D perspective.


Ghiberti recounts his experience in the book "I Commentarii".

For more on the competition to build the north doors that ultimately pitted Lorenzo Ghiberti against Filippo Brunelleschi, visit www.theculturedtraveler.com.


East Doors top

BapistryHe began the work in 1403 and finished 20 years later. The critic Vasari called the doors "absolutely perfect... seemingly breathed into shape rather than cast and polished with iron tools." It was no surprise then that in 1425 Ghiberti landed the job of making the east doors, which took him another 27 years to finish. Michelangelo dubbed them "The Gates of Paradise" which they are called today.


At firenze.arounder.com you can take a virtual panoramic view of San Giovanni square by night.


Brunelleschi's Dome top

DomeThough not yet famous as an architect, Filippo Brunelleschi won the competition to invent and build a dome to cover the 150 foot octagonal span of the Florence Cathedral. No one else had any idea how to do this! But Brunelleschi's aptitude for precise calculation and his rampant imagination held the day. He would build an egg! He figured a way to use eight arches raised like ribs which held a network of smaller ribs and connecting arches, forming an almost vertical pitch. Thus, the risk-taking Filippo Brunelleschi became the first great architect of the Italian Renaissance. No visitor to Florence can miss the mighty landmark that soars 308 feet into the air, and tops one of Europe's largest cathedrals.


For more on Brunelleschi's remarkable achievement, read
"Brunelleshi's Dome" by Ross King.

To see how Brunelleschi got all that stone so high off the ground, visit the Science Museum.

At firenze.arounder.com you can take a virtual panoramic look inside the Duomo's entrance, central nave, and altar.


Donatello & the Bargello Museum top

BargelloDaring confidence was contagious in Florence's art scene. And yet, a visit to the Bargello Museum shows why the unpretentious sculptor Donatello was central to the Early Renaissance. He was amazingly original. If realism was a Renaissance battle cry, Donatello (or 'little Donate') was the first great Renaissance warrior. His most loved work is the small bronze David built in his older years. It stood in the courtyard of the Medici Palace, where a century later a young Michelangelo could gaze upon it day after day. It was a rare prize—nude male statues had been taboo for centuries. With his long ringlets and sun hat, to my eye this gentle David resembles a 1960s flower child—and yet he is Donatello's early Renaissance vision of the brave youth who only moments before had slain the giant Goliath.

These Renaissance headliners motivated each other—dead or live. They were driven, gifted workhorses and master craftsmen. They learned philosophy and the anatomy of the human form. They went off to Rome to study the ruins of antiquity. They could be secretive, moody, and competitive, but, mostly they learned from and inspired each other.


The Uffizi Gallery & Botticelli top

VenusFlorence’s treasure-packed Uffizi Gallery features a room of masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli, who for many people is the quintessential Renaissance painter. He was one of the first of the period who dared to use ancient mythology, playing down its paganism with his maidens. His images stay with you. Who could forget the Birth of Venus as she appears fully-grown, naked and newborn, standing on a clam shell, protected by the winds and her maiden-in-waiting. Or The Allegory of Spring in pastel colors, a romantic vision of classical Greece. All things in nature and legend are possible subjects.


For more on the Uffizi Gallery, go to www.polomuseale.firenze.it.


Leonardo Da Vinci top

Da VinciNext to the Botticilli Room are two paintings by a young Leonardo Da Vinci—the wunderkind himself. Here, we see his promise in an early painting The Annunciation, made when he was about 20. The Adoration of the Magi painted ten years later is unfinished but packed with human feeling.


For some of Da Vinci's thoughts on painting, visit www.artchive.com. An anthology of his writings can be found in the book Leonardo On Painting.


Raphael top

RaphaelFor pure beauty and grace, look no further than the exquisite frescoes of Raffaello Sanzio or Raphael. Raphael, born in Urbino, Italy died at 37 years old. For his relatively short career, Raphael's outpouring of work was phenomenal. His magnificent altarpieces and paintings usually include the Madonna and Child. They sum up a clear purpose in religious art—to inspire devotion and admiration for pure beauty.


The Medici Family top

MediciThe Renaissance in Florence was made possible in part by a grant from the Medici family. Actually, more than one grant. There was Cosimo, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Catherine...well, you get the idea. They made their fortune in banking, they invested in the arts, and they all loved nice things. Okay, are you ready for a Medici afternoon in the countryside outside of Florence?


Lorenzo Medici's Villa top

MediciLorenzo’s villa says it all. The Medici influence over 15th century Florence is inescapable—in paintings that featured family and acquaintances, in their lavish neo-Greek villas, and in breathtaking gardens and palaces. They commissioned whatever it took to fill their days with the magnificent, the new, and the classical world. Cosimo de Medici set the family goals based on the tenets of Plato. His grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent, was a brilliant scholar, and talented poet. The Medici wealth made Florence the cultural hub of Italy—in a way, gilding their thirst for power by nurturing the platonic ideal -to promote beauty, artistic genius, knowledge of the classics, and pride in their city.


Find out more about the Medici family at www.mega.it and www.pbs.org.


Michelangelo's David top

DavidMichelangelo grew up in Florence a teenage prodigy, already honing his potential as architect, sculptor, painter and poet. He lived for 89 years, and his influence on western art is unparalleled. Michelangelo chiseled out the sublime David—now in the Accademia—the ultimate Renaissance Man. Unlike the Davids of Donatello and others, this lad does not grasp a sword or stand over the severed head of Goliath. We gaze at a solitary 14 foot-tall Man about to hurl a stone. This marble giant appears to have un-restrained admiration for himself the Individual, and in sheer naked beauty and power he is absolutely liberated. At the end of his life fifty years later, Michelangelo told a friend, "I am dying just as I begin to learn the alphabet of my profession." Awesome, indeed.

The 15th century greats had cultivated a playing field for the 16th century greats" for multi-layered Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian and Leonardo. Leonardo da Vinci's epic talents must have left him dizzy. This painter of the famous Mono Lisa was reputed to be 'the one who did not finish his work.' No matter. Scientist, painter, architect -his brainpower still boggles the mind. And his innovations characterize the creativity of the High Renaissance.


To find the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, check out the directions on www.polomuseale.firenze.it.


Leonardo's Home Town top

LeonardoAs we leave Florence, we're taking one more daytrip, this time to the nearby town of Vinci, the home of—you guessed it—Leonardo da Vinci. The word genius, used frequently in talk about the Renaissance, is defined as "an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original works in science and art. " Perhaps nowhere does the Renaissance ideal and breadth live more than in the legacy of Leonardo da Vinci.

LeonardoHis life spanned the mid-1400s to the early 1500s, and his spirit of inquiry soared centuries ahead. His imagined machines were rendered exactly, almost as blueprints, Are you ready for battle, flight, or ocean sports? Leonardo's intellect readied him for anything.


You'll find The Leonardo Museum in the Conti Guidi Castle on the north end of Vinci. Three kilometers north, in the Tuscan countryside, you'll find Da Vinci's birthplace in the village of Anchiano.

To further explore Da Vinci's inventions for air, land, and sea, go to www.museoscienza.org, the official website of the national museum of science and technology leonardo da vinci in Milan.

For a hands-on exploration of some of Da Vinci's inventions, get the book Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself by Maxine Anderson.

To take an on-line look at Leonardo's personal notebook, visit the British Museum and click on Sketches by Leonardo near the top of the page. For Da Vinci's writings on his many interests, visit www.sacred-texts.com.


Venice top

VeniceReady for anything, we need no excuse to wend our way to watery, theatrical Venice. Stand in San Marco Square and the Venetian Renaissance surrounds you—Corinthian columns, arches, simple repetition, and classic balance. Buildings overflow with art—Veronese, Giorgione, Titian.


You'll find more on Venice and the Northern Italian Renaissance at www.metmuseum.org.

For a good read on the interrelationships of the artists of the Venetian Renaissance, look at Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting by David Alan Brown, Sylvia Ferino-Pagden, et al. The book accompanies the exhibition of the same name on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. from June 18 through September 17, 2006.


Titian top

TitianAnd in paintings, the Venetian Renaissance was about color...vivid, big, rich color. In the Campo dei Frari Church, Titian's “Ascension Into Heaven” illustrates the grandeur of his work. Venetians focused on blending colors rather than drawing clear outlines. This new freedom in grand brush strokes and coloring would refresh art workshops across Europe. Titian loved rich drapes and flowing garments. He drew the sensual human figure from all angles and made huge portraits. He became Italy’s most venerated portrait artist. Royalty eagerly sat still for Titian, knowing that at least on his canvas they would become bigger-than-life.


Chiesa dei Frari, houses two Titian masterpieces and the tomb of the painter. You can reach the church by Vaporetto. Check out routes and schedules at www.actv.it. Select stop: San Tomá.

We're heading west toward France's Loire Valley and on to London, England. But first a stop at Milan in northern Italy.


Milan & the Last Supper top

Last SupperThe high-tech, fashion-mad world of Milan bustles around an imposing Gothic Cathedral. And tucked away in the small church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a Renaissance gem—Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. After years of restoration, the famous painting is open again to the public, by appointment. Painted on the wall at the far end of the church, the faces of Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles seem dramatically alive, almost like guests at the Sunday service. You can see Leonardo's technique of blurring edges into the background for depth and realism. And this richly detailed painting, he finished!


Reservations are mandatory for a 15 minute visit. Go to www.cenacolovinciano.org to book your visit up to 2 months in advance.

At milano.arounder.com you can take a virtual panoramic view of both the exterior and interior of Santa Maria delle Grazie.


France & the Loire Valley top

It was a spirit of doubt and a Rebirth-a spreading wave of change that, in time, created the Renaissance. Over five centuries later, we travelers stand in awe of that Rebirth. We go looking for the art, architecture and vitality of Europe's Golden Age in its timeless places-the cities of Italy and the countryside of France.

Loire“The countryside of France"... just say it, and you begin to relax, to smile, to plan your next chateau visit or daydream about a hunt. Well, anticipating the hunt was the case with Renaissance royalty and nobility. This is where they headed to the verdant, slightly hilly, breezy and sunlit Loire Valley where at every turn in the road they were confronted by a medieval fortress. With royal comrades to impress and money to bum, the high-rollers bought up or took over the 12th century fortifications which waited silently to be made-over into extravagant 15th century Renaissance chateaux.

Originally, they looked like Sully, one of dozens of fortresses in the Loire Valley.


For an examination of the French Renaissance, go to wikipedia.org.


Amboise Chateau top

ChateauFrancois the First, King of France, was a major renovator of medieval castles. He grew up in this one, the Amboise Chateau, accustomed to the princely life...dancing, festivals and lively hunting parties. Then, he fell in love with Italy! After getting a taste of Italy's Renaissance spirit. King Francis brought Leonardo da Vinci himself and other Italian artists to the Loire, luring them to enhance the art and architecture of his many chateaux.


Also in the town of Amboise, you'll find Da Vinci's last residence, Le Clos Luce, now a museum.


Chambord Chateau top

ChateauChambord is by far the largest chateau with over 400 rooms in elaborate Renaissance style. Reminiscent of Greek stability and 15th century luxury, the acres of structures were built to last.


For some interesting reading on the spiral staircase at Chambord, as well as other double helix designs used in staircase architecture, open this technical paper (pdf format) and scroll down one page to 328.


Chenonceau Chateau top

ChateauChenonceau Chateau is also part of Francois's family domain with Catherine di Medici, the king's daughter-in-law, playing a role in building it. Visitors can learn all about generations of romantic romps and revenge, political betrayals, lavish parties and the power struggles rampant in this opulent world. Or they can wander quietly, breathing-in the glorious Renaissance setting.


Take a 3D animated look at how Chenonceau Chateau has changed from 1515 to 1576 at www.chenonceau.com.


England & Hampton Court Palace top

Hampton CourtThe dynamics of progress and the desire to excel were epidemic. Eventually, the Renaissance spread like honey throughout Western Europe and England. A thirty-minute train ride from London will land you at a favorite retreat of King Henry VIII. Hampton Court Palace has stood on the north bank of the River Thames for over 500 years and has housed famous figures including 12 English monarchs. A grand palace built with awesome detail and elaborate spaces, its six acres of stately buildings are surrounded by 60 acres of garden. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey of York began building the Tudor palace in1514 and by the 1520s he had 'gifted it' to an insistent Henry VIII, but Wolsey was indicted for treason anyway.

During his time here, Henry managed to find time to remodel. He replaced part of the elaborate Great Hall, and it's said his Tudor kitchen could serve 1000 meals a day. The Wolsey Room holds some of Europe's finest Renaissance paintings. And the elaborate mazes in the garden are famous.


Since this show aired, the Hampton Court Maze underwent an "audio upgrade." Find out more at www.visitbritain.com.

In 1889, author Jerome K. Jerome vividly captured an adventure through Hampton Court Maze in Three Men in a Boat. You can find his account on-line at www.authorama.com. The account begins near the bottom of the page with the sentence "Harris asked me if I’d ever been in the maze at Hampton Court."

Need a little help navigating Hampton Court Maze yourself? Check out
Jo Edkin's Maze Page.


Eyes Wide Open top

The Renaissance legacy we can see–the art and architecture—lives on magnificently today, evidence of a tornado of creativity that is maybe unmatched in human history. Five hundred years after the Renaissance we still marvel at the magnificent work of artists like Leonardo & Michelangelo. Whatever inspired Europe's Renaissance it was a period of artistic growth that forever changed the Western World.

For over 200 years one astounding individual after another brought rare ideas and splendor to the arts. They created a glorious legacy that we still seek out. Could there be another Renaissance around the corner? I'm Rudy Maxa, keeping my eyes wide open.


Ready to personally explore the art and architecture of Renaissance Europe?
Start your trip at



To sign up for
English-speaking tours of the Vatican, check with
Vatican Tourist Information at St. Peter's Square.

At firenze.arounder.com you can take a virtual panoramic view of San Giovanni square by night.

For some of Da Vinci's thoughts on painting, visit www.artchive.com.

At milano.arounder.com you can take a virtual panoramic view of both the exterior and interior of Santa Maria delle Grazie.