Italy in European History Part II

Italy in European History Part II

This is how the awareness of an Italian problem emerges in the face of the great European powers. And in the years when the contention of others was more bitter and the impact that the Italians felt more violent and the events more decisive, many thoughts turned to this problem. Means to remedy common evils were discussed; the lack of men capable of pulling all Italians with them was deplored; they also harbored illusions so much that these men would rise as well as that the Italians were willing and able to follow them; an attempt was made to identify the responsibilities of the present misfortunes and accused the principles of having all done everything to bring Italy to that point; the myth of a peaceful and happy Italy, balanced and harmonious, like a four-string instrument, prior to 1494, was created in contrast to the unhappy and turbid Italy present. And rising higher than the contingency, the debate opens on the Italian division and its causes: especially on the political consequences of the temporal power of the popes and on the value of the State of the Church in the relations of the peninsula. Between Machiavelli and Guicciardini – it goes without saying that this reflection on Italy and its political problems as a whole belongs above all to the Tuscans, that is, the Florentines, very open to those problems due to their very position and to the links with the State of the Church – indeed there is a controversy in this regard. In this debate, Guicciardini perhaps sees more deeply; and he sees well, in the development of the Italian autonomies, the condition of the intense and peculiar civilization of the Italians. It was the Guelph moment of our history that spoke in him. But he saw Machiavelli elsewhere that Guicciardini escaped. Beneath the fantasies of the liberator or redeemer, who is still somewhat the abstract individual conceived outside of Italy and its concrete forces, there is in him the quasi-national conception of the state. Since he not only yearns for it as a realization of the general interest, he seeks a broader and more homogeneous basis than that of the medieval republics, he subjects every person or class to him, he subordinates every ethical or religious activity to him, that is, the soul as well as the body, considers the prince as the state or the general interest made person; but he has before his eyes the nation, that is, the set of peoples who have the same language, religion, memories, and sees the coincidence between nation and state. Coincidence I will not say necessary for him, but possible and useful. According to him, it is a condition of happiness for a country to be entirely under a republic or a prince; as a condition of strength for the state, being able to give compact order to a whole nation and the being of a single nation all the peoples, regions and cities that compose it.

Thus the fruits of the new culture ripened, in that field which was closest to practical life, almost one with it. The new concept of man begins to live as a formed political thought and historiographical thought. The storm that shakes the peninsula promotes that and that. A new and vaster reality, powerful suggestions drawn from contacts with the great monarchies, painful experiences, all combine to fertilize that culture. It was in it, as a result of the study of the classics, that it was born from profound needs but also contributed to creating false images of things; there was something superficial, begged, fictitious in it. Idolatry of the ancients, imperfect fusion and almost dualism between old and new; false and inadequate concept, in politicians, of the forces that govern states; writers and artists aimed at mainly or exclusively aesthetic and cultural interests, unaware of what the world of their time really was, deluded about their superiority in the face of the “barbarians”. Now, the Italian spirit is refined, the Italians acquire greater awareness of themselves and things, others are demolished idols  such as that of the ancients and the Romans, some artists and writers are given a more intimate and tragic sense of life, the evolution of humanistic literature in Italian literature, of Livian or Plutarchian historiography in the new historiography with a political background, is accelerated. adhering to the Italian reality.

But other fruits were also ripening in the meantime, which seemed almost the opposite: that is, fruits of pure imagination, Ariosto’s Orlando furioso  and the  Last Judgment by Michelangelo. And then, already born or close to being born, the works of Raphael and Sodoma and Sansovino and Palladio and Tiziano. But if you look closely, they too were life and nature, observed, notomized, animated by the creative imagination. And then, another face of this culture, in the time that both political thought and art ascended. The new meaning of life, as Machiavelli’s realism produces with his search for things as they are, and the pure art of Ariosto with no other ends than art, thus also produces, in religious spirits, the yearning for a more pure religion, which is also a religion more respectful of rational needs, more divine and more human at the same time. Some elements of medieval heresy still survive, as a moral rather than a dogmatic requirement; there are still vigorous elements of Franciscanism and different veins of lively religiosity, of which the painting of the ‘400, the poetry, the Savonarolian movement are testimony; there is the Christian humanism of the Ficino and the Picos. On these bases, in Italy, an innovative current moves, between sec. XV and XVI, at the same time that Luther and Zuingli and Calvin were preparing themselves beyond the Alps. The bond with the hierarchical Church has been slowed down a little and the believer’s bond with God has been made more personal; moral and religious improvement seen as an individual thing; the religious ideal implemented not in asceticism but in active life, even in political life; great value recognized more than to the acts of worship, to the living and profound faith; repentance, the fruit above all of the pain of the believer for having offended God; the law of nature, written in the heart of man, and therefore also divine law; the authority of the pope tempered. There is no doubt that the worldliness of the Church, the widespread ecclesiastical bad habits, the poor correspondence of the hierarchy to the spiritual needs of believers played their part in determining these thoughts and moods. But they had a deeper source: that is, in the culture of humanism, and, at the same time, in veins of more lively religiosity that circulated widely. They represented a Christianity more confident in the strength of man and the individual, more alive in the heart of the believer. They were under the direction of the Italian spirit, before specific influences of the now maturing revolution beyond the Alps intervened: influences that presupposed predisposed minds and souls.

According to VAULTEDWATCHES, these are years of intense relationships in Europe. Political-diplomatic ties, alliances and wars, armies that cross and retaliate borders, men of practical activity and culture moving from one country to another or in the service of foreign princes, other Italians who migrate from the peninsula to the service of those same principles who were waiting to conquer Italy, a growing interest in Italy as well as in politicians as well as in the people devoted to studies and art, Italian books and works to which new doors are opened. In short, a wider and more rapid mobilization of men and ideas, a growing force for expansion and penetration of the most advanced cultures. Humanistic influences continue to radiate from Italy, while Italian artistic and literary ones become more alive. Remember the activity of a Fausto Andreolini, of a Paolo Emilio da Verona, a Polidoro Virgilio, a Sicilian Lucio Marineo, a Pietro Martire d’Angera, who in France, England, Spain, between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, were poets, men of letters, historians of those kingdoms, in the way that writing histories was common in Italy. Even where Italian scholars did not come in person, local scholars took them as a model, both for the subject, where ours had already dealt with those countries, and only for the method. In the first half of the 16th century, Leonardo Bruni, with his classic Florentine histories, and Biondo Flavio, a meticulous and precise investigator of antiquities, especially accredited among the Germans of Germany and Switzerland, hold the field. Thus the new courtly historiography and, due to its breadth and intonation, national and aimed at glorifying royal and dynastic power, it is born in almost every country under the impulse of Italians: even there where, by nourishing the intellectual life of those nations and indulging in local arrogance, it excites forces against Italy. Only Italian historiography leaves its places of origin and enters the great movement of culture.

Italy in European History 2