Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Category Archives: Durant, Will and Ariel

Verona in Petrarch’s Time

“Verona, in Petrarch’s time, might have been classed among the major powers of Italy. Proud of her antiquity and her Roman theater (where one may still, of a summer evening, hear opera under the stars), enriched by the trade that came from over the Alps and down the Adige, Verona rose under the Scala family to a height where she threatened the commercial supremacy of Venice.”


The Fragmentation of Italy Favored the Renaissance.

The snippets that follow are from Will Durant’s, The Renaissance. (Simon and Schuster, 1953, pages 44-48).


We have followed Petrarch and Boccaccio through Italy. But politically there was no Italy; there were only city-states, fragments free to consume themselves in hate and war…Partisans of the popes and partisans of the emperors not only divided Italy, they split almost every city into Guelf and Ghibellline; and even when the strife subsided the old labels were used by new rivalries, and the lava of hate flowed into all the avenues of life…The timid weakness of individuals, the insecurity of groups, and the delusion of superiority generated perpetual fear, suspicion, dislike, and contempt of the different, the alien, and the strange.

Out of these impediments to unity rose the Italian city-state. Men thought in terms of their city, and only a few philosophers like Machiavelli, or a poet like Petrarch, could think of Italy as a whole; even in the sixteenth century Cellini would refer to Florentines as “men of our nation,”and to Florence as “my fatherland.” Petrarch, freed by foreign residence from a merely local patriotism, mourned the petty wars and divisions of his native country…

The fragmentation of Italy favored the Renaissance. Large states promote order and power rather than liberty or art…Local independence weakened the capacity of Italy to defend herself against foreign invasion, but it generated a noble rivalry of the cities and princes in cultural patronage, in the zeal to excel in architecture, sculpture, painting, education, scholarship, poetry…

We need not exaggerate, to appreciate, the degree in which Petrarchan and Boccaccio prepared the Renaissance. Both were still mortgaged to medieval ideas…Petrarch properly and prophetically described himself as standing between two eras…he loved the classics with the troubled conscience at the close of the Age of Faith as Jerome had loved them at its opening…Nevertheless, he was more faithful to the classics than to Laura; he sought and cherished ancient manuscripts, and inspired others to do the same…he formed his manner and style on Virgil and Cicero; and he thought more of the fame of his name than of the immortality of his soul. His poems fostered a century of artificial sonneteering in Italy, but they helped to mold the sonnets of Shakespeare…

But again it would be an error to overrated the contributions of antiquity to this Italian apogee. It was a fulfillment rather than a revolution…Medieval men and women, despite an otherworldly minority, had kept, unabashed, the natural human relish for the simple and sensual pleasures of life. The men who conceived, built, and carved the cathedrals had their own sense of beauty, and a sublimity of thought and form never surpassed.

…And a revolution in art had begun when Giotto abandoned the mystic rigor of Byzantine mosaics to study men and women in the actual flow and natural grace of their lives.

In Italy all roads were leading to the Renaissance.




Meet Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico was an early Renaissance painter. The lovely prose and introduction to Fra Angelico is from Will Durant’s, The Renaissance. (Simon and Schuster, 1953, pages 101-104). I particularly enjoyed the third paragraph.


Amid these exciting novelties Fra Angelico went quietly his own medieval way…His talent ripened quickly, and he had every prospect of making a comfortable place for himself in the world, but the love of peace and the hope of salvation led him to enter the Dominican order (1407)…[where] in happy obscurity, he illuminated manuscripts, and painted pictures for churches…he practiced religion with such modest devotion that his fellow friars called him the Angelic Brother–Fra Angelico. No one ever saw him angry or succeeded in offending him…

Painting, with [Fra Angelico], was a religious exercise as well as an aesthetic release and joy; he painted in much the same mood in which he prayed, and he never painted without praying first…His aim was not so much to create beauty as to inspire piety…In each of the half hundred cells the loving friar, aided by his friar pupils, found time to paint a fresco recalling some inspiring Gospel scene…

No painter except El Greco ever made a style so uniquely his own as Fra Angelico; even a novice can identify his hand. A simplicity of line and form going back to Giotto; a narrow but ethereal assemblage of colors–gold, vermilion, scarlet, blue, and green–reflecting a bright spirit and happy faith; figures perhaps too simply imaged, and almost without anatomy; faces beautiful and gentle, but too pale to be alive, too monotonously alike in monks, angels, and saints, conceived rather as flowers in paradise; and all redeemed by an ideal spirit of tender devotion, a purity of mood and thought recalling the finest moments of the Middle Ages, and never to be captured again by the Renaissance. He was the final cry of the medieval spirit in art.





Will and Ariel Durant, “The Renaissance”

One of the books I enjoy rereading is “The Renaissance” by Will and Ariel Durant. I do so because of the humor, wit, and beautiful sonorous writing. It’s filled with funny and delightful well constructed sentences, like this:

“John’s successor was a man of gentler mold. Benedict XII, the son of a baker, tried to be a Christian as well as a pope; he resisted the temptation to distribute offices among his relatives; he earned an honorable hostility by bestowing benefices of merits, not for fees; he repressed bribery and corruption in all branches of Church administration; he alienated the mendicant orders by commanding them to reform; he was never known to be cruel or to shed blood in war. All the forces of corruption rejoiced at his early death (1342).”


Will Durant on Don Quixote

“Virtue ennobles the blood…Every man,” he tells Sancho, “is the son of his own works.”

Divided Italy

Said of Italy, before it became a nation of the Earth, that perhaps applies to our divided days: “The timid weakness of individuals, the insecurity of groups, and the delusion of superiority generated perpetual fear, suspicion, dislike, and contempt of the different, the alien, and the strange.” -Durant, The Renaissance

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