IntroductionIt is interesting to note how two great Italian cities, each legendary in its own right, reflect core cultures vastly different. This in turn goes to their evolutions in the past, as the spirit of the Renaissance spread throughout Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Both cities were important centers of banking, trade, and finance. Florence, however, which was essentially the birthplace of the Renaissance, expressed a culture intent on republican ideals and an insistence on the value of art and learning as humanity’s greatest pursuit. Venice, beautiful and arrogant, instead created a culture centered on commerce and wealth. Ultimately, the two remarkable cities of Florence and Venice developed cultures dominating the Western world, yet contrasting in values.
Before the immense difference between Venetian and Florentine cultures may be understood, it is necessary to appreciate that both cities shared in the past a high status as centers of commerce and banking. Florence was established as a great European banking capital by the 14th century, and families such as the Medici and the Ridolfis had interests throughout the continent. Florence was fiercely republican and the laws of the city banned any displays of personal wealth, because it was believed that any citizen with great means would be a threat to the state and seek to gain political power. Nonetheless, the banking families held immense influence, and it was largely the Medici who initiated what would become the Renaissance. In 1401, Cosimo de Medici established the competition to determine which artist would craft the doors to the Baptistry. The commission was awarded to Ghiberti, who spent over 40 years creating the legendary brass doors, and in the process taught and influenced other artists, such as Raphael. At the same time, the Medici sponsored learning; in 1439, Cosimo brought to Florence a council introducing the West to the Eastern learning of Constantinople (Young 61). While the influences of the Medici have generated controversy for centuries, the reality remains that this family’s wealth was directed to the development of art and learning, and this essentially defined the culture of Florence.
Conversely, Venice expressed and developed a culture largely based on acquisition. Situated on the Adriatic, the city was perfectly poised to become the center of trade between East and West, and Venice made the most of the opportunity. Throughout the Renaissance years, the city used its commercial wealth to capture neighboring cities, and proclaimed itself the most important city/state of the Western world. Only Constantinople rivaled Venice in terms of volume of trade, and Venice then conquered the city to expand its reach and opportunities for gain (Power 40). This, however, went to a single cultural focus: gain. As magnificent as Venice was, the culture was long noted as centered only on power and commerce, and the city actually produced no great artists or poets during the Renaissance (Young 9). Consequently, it is seen that the cities in question manifested very different cultural ideologies; as Florence insisted on using its wealth to promote art, Venetian culture was primarily devoted to acquiring power and a standing as the premier commercial capital.
That two Italian cities, emerging as vast influences in the Western world in the same era, could be so contrasted in culture seems strange. This, however, is the reality of Florence and Venice. The former is credited as being the birthplace of the Renaissance, while the latter’s prestige was based on trade as its primary concern. It is then seen that the two beautiful and powerful cities of Florence and Venice produced cultures dominating the Western world, yet contrasting in core values.
- Power, Eileen. Medieval People. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2012. Print.
- Young, C. B. The Medici. New York: Modern Library, 1930. Print.