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The Italian Renaissance

Reveal the secrets behind the Italian Renaissance—the most successful artistic and intellectual explosion the world has ever seen—in this comprehensive introduction to the art, architecture, history, and politics of this extraordinary era.
Italian Renaissance is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 78.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was disappointed. This course seemed to me to drag a bit (36 lectures) and the speaker was not particularly engaging. Since the Italian peninsula was deeply divided politically at the time, Dr. Bartlett approaches his subject city-by-city. This is probably necessary since the city-states were so fundamentally different, but it does make it challenging to get an overall sense of the age. I was surprised by how little attention is given to the arts. Similarly, little time is devoted to the “common folks.” Rather, Dr. Bartlett focuses on the politics, primarily the republican experiment and its conflict with the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. Even the religion of the Holy See takes a back seat to the politics of the Holy See. As one might expect, he begins in Florence and he returns there frequently. I was surprised how little attention is given to Rome and the Papacy, but that editorial decision is probably warranted. Dr. Bartlett’s speaking style is formal and remote rather than conversational. It is monotonic and humorless. The course guide is average by The Great Courses (TGC) standards. It is written in outline format with no graphics. It averages about six pages per lecture, a little lower than average by TGC standards. In the appendix are family trees for leading Italian families, a map of the Italian peninsula, a timeline, a glossary (particularly useful for those of us who do not speak Italian), biographical note (necessary in a course with such a huge cast of characters), and a bibliography. I used the audio-only version. I doubt that the DVD version would have added much. It is not offered in video streaming. The course was published in 2005.
Date published: 2024-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely the best lectures so far, both content and presentation. Amazing lecturer!
Date published: 2023-10-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent but not truly disinterested. The good Prof. certainly is in love with the Italian Renaissance. Along with a romantic attraction to the fatal flaw of the Italian Renaissance. Which was the Classical desire to be the great man other men are measured against. Along these lines was the lecture on Petrarch. It is true Petrarch was a great poet. So great the modern Italian language rests on his foundation. But Petrarch's greatest accomplishment was the spark that ended the pointless intellectual tail-chasing of out-of-control scholasticism. Which shifted the Northern European Renaissance Scholastism to more practical or applied inductive Platonic logic. Which resulted in Wycliff and the other church reformers stressing individualism. Thus the need for general education so all could read the Logos for themselves. With this, the Northern Europeans became more economically productive. Along the lines of Hayek and his Use of Knowledge in Society. Which resulted in large gains in practical technology and labor productivity. Which is a long-winded way of getting to my real point. This lecture series is very worthwhile and informative. But the student should always keep in mind it is presented from the viewpoint of an academic cultural elite. Reading all the classics, fully mastering many languages and viewing masterpieces of art are of greater value than the practical innovation and resulting productivity of the common people. This is exactly why the highly stylized elite humanism of the Italian goldfish bowl Renaissance would be ended. By the more productive, larger population and battle-tested armies of the north. In this regard, the Italian Renaissance Roman church left us great masterpieces. As a function of the great excesses of the likes of the Borgias Pope. While it was reformers like Luther who realized stated sponsored general education of boys and girls was more valuable than all the guns and gold of the state. Which won out in the end. Petrarch set this in motion.
Date published: 2023-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Immense intellectual pleasure There are no words to describe the immense intellectual pleasure this course gave me. THANK YOU PROFESSOR BARTETT.!!!
Date published: 2022-09-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from LONG, but well-organized Having thoroughly enjoyed Prof. Bartlett's excellent course on "Italians Before Italy," I decided to try this one as well. Overall, however, this course did not match up. Bartlett is always a well-organized and clear lecturer, but I found that this 36-lecture course was simply too long. For me, it became bogged down in the minutiae of Renaissance politics, especially in Florence, to the point of becoming mind-numbing. I also thought that when Bartlett sought to extract larger trends from the period, his comments were abstract to the point of being almost useless. Still, there is a lot of information in these lectures for anyone seriously interested in the politics and culture of Renaissance Italy.
Date published: 2021-08-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very boring I am returning this product as I have tried to watch it a few times and I just fall asleep. It is very boring. The quality of the picture is also not very good. We watched Dr. Bartlett's Tour of Italy and we loved it, that is why we bought this one. But this course is a very different animal. Just lecturing at a podium.
Date published: 2021-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Italian Renaissance in Perspective As always, Prof. Kenneth Bartlett does an absolutely wonderful job in this course. In addition to scholarship, he brings a top-notch lecturing style with rapport with his audience, occasional humor, and ability to grab and hold your attention. Totally 5 stars!
Date published: 2020-08-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course Covers the subject very well and in an organized manner
Date published: 2020-06-19
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When you think of the Italian Renaissance, chances are you think of all that it gave us: the sculptures of Michelangelo. The paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. The writings of Petrarch and Machiavelli. But have you ever wondered why there was such an artistic, cultural, and intellectual explosion in Italy, beginning in the 14th century? Why did it occur in Italy and not some other part of Europe? Why did it happen predominantly in certain Italian city-states, such as Florence? In The Italian Renaissance, Professor Kenneth Bartlett will answer these questions and more.


Kenneth R. Bartlett

In short, and in almost every way that matters, historical Europe was the laboratory in which the world you now live in was conceived and tested. And you'll be living with the consequences of those experiments for the rest of your life.


University of Toronto

Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett is a Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He received his Ph.D. from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto in 1978. He was the first director of the University of Toronto Art Centre and founding director of the Office of Teaching Advancement at the university, a position he held until 2009.

Much of Professor Bartlett’s career has been devoted to bringing the culture of European history into undergraduate and graduate classrooms. He has taught regularly in the University of Toronto Summer Abroad programs in Europe. He has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards, most notably, the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, awarded by the Canadian Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the inaugural President’s Teaching Award from the University of Toronto. In 2007, Professor Bartlett was one of the 10 finalists in TVOntario’s Best Lecturer Competition, which pits students’ favorite instructors against one another in a battle of charisma, clarity, passion, and conviction. That same year, the professor was recognized with an inaugural Leadership in Faculty Teaching Award by the government of Ontario.


Professor Bartlett is the author of The English in Italy, 1525–1558: A Study in Culture and Politics; The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance: A Sourcebook; and most recently, A Short History of the Italian Renaissance. He is also coeditor or translator of five other books, including Humanism and the Northern Renaissance (with M. McGlynn), and author of more than 35 articles and chapters on European history and culture. He has been the academic consultant and occasional on-camera commentator for the Illuminated Filmworks videos about the Vatican Library and for such television series as The Naked Archaeologist and Museum Secrets.


Together with his wife, Gillian, who herself holds a Ph.D. and is the author of seven books, Professor Bartlett regularly leads tours to Europe for major museums, universities, and cultural organizations.


Professor Bartlett’s other Great Courses include The Development of European Civilization, The Italian Renaissance, and The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean

By This Professor

The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe
The Development of European Civilization
The Study of the Italian Renaissance

01: The Study of the Italian Renaissance

This series provides a multifaceted image of Renaissance Italy that explains why that period remains fundamental to Western culture. Lectures on city-states are interspersed with those on philosophy, education, and other cultural elements relevant to Italy in general.

33 min
The Renaissance—Changing Interpretations

02: The Renaissance—Changing Interpretations

The Renaissance became visible at different times in different places. It was the first self-conscious period of European history, articulated by the Humanist writer, Giovanni Boccaccio, who recognized that a new world was being created.

30 min
Italy—The Cradle of the Renaissance

03: Italy—The Cradle of the Renaissance

The Renaissance developed because of the unique circumstances of the Italian peninsula. Urban life had remained strong, a lay tradition of study and secular values had been sustained, and memories of the Roman Empire were everywhere.

30 min
The Age of Dante—Guelfs and Ghibellines

04: The Age of Dante—Guelfs and Ghibellines

The Florentine poet Dante defined the transition from the medieval to the Renaissance. He was born into a period of dispute between papal supporters ("the Guelfs") and adherents of the Holy Roman Emperor - the Ghibellines. The Guelf victory in Florence helped set the stage for the Renaissance.

30 min
Petrarch and the Foundations of Humanism

05: Petrarch and the Foundations of Humanism

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) can be described as the father of Humanism. His love of Latin classics and early Christian thinkers like Augustine drove him to investigate his own motivations and feelings. His desire to know himself recovered the genre of autobiography.

30 min
The Recovery of Antiquity

06: The Recovery of Antiquity

For Italians, ancient Rome was their national history. This rich tradition was increasingly regarded as an intellectual heritage to be mined for contemporary use so its wisdom could be applied to the circumstances of 14th-century Italy.

30 min
Florence—The Creation of the Republic

07: Florence—The Creation of the Republic

Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance. By the mid-13th century, huge fortunes were being made by men whose families had emigrated from the countryside. However, these wealthy merchants were largely excluded from government. The result was a bourgeois revolution in 1293, which established a republic founded on guild membership.

30 min
Florence and Civic Humanism

08: Florence and Civic Humanism

Florence's now-dominant mercantile classes were attracted to the ideals of ancient Rome. Romans were, after all, like them: urban, cosmopolitan, and secular. This adaptation of classical learning developed into "Civic" Humanism, where the citizen's responsibility to the community became a powerful ethic.

30 min
Florentine Culture and Society

09: Florentine Culture and Society

Florentines believed they could rival the ancients. Public commissions (such as the baptistery doors) were determined by competitions judged by a citizen panel. Private citizens endowed public buildings to celebrate their wealth and values. Florence became an artistic and architectural monument to Humanism.

30 min
Renaissance Education

10: Renaissance Education

As Humanism matured, it became a system of secular education. Teaching correct, Golden Age Latin (and, later, Greek) became central. A Humanist education for boys became important as a way to improve their social status.

30 min
The Medici Hegemony

11: The Medici Hegemony

The guild republic did not end political tension in Florence. The "Ciompi" Revolt (1378) drove lesser guildsmen into an unpopular oligarchy with the great merchants. An unsuccessful war against Lucca galvanized the opposition, led by the richest man in Florence, Cosimo de'Medici, who assumed power in 1434.

30 min
The Florence of Lorenzo de’Medici

12: The Florence of Lorenzo de’Medici

Despite the republican constitution of Florence, Lorenzo was, in effect, a Renaissance prince. He supported poets like Poliziano and philosophers like Pico della Mirandola; he discovered Michelangelo and patronized Botticelli. However, there was opposition, led by the Pazzi family, and Pope Sixtus IV.

31 min
Venice—The Most Serene Republic

13: Venice—The Most Serene Republic

Venice was not a Roman foundation and not originally an episcopal see. It also avoided the factional crises of the other Italian states, as the Guelf-Ghibelline struggle did not obtain. Consequently, Venice was stable and homogeneous, divided informally by wealth and occupation.

30 min
Renaissance Venice

14: Renaissance Venice

Venice was isolated from Humanist values in the peninsula. Everything changed after 1380, when Venice decided to expand onto the mainland. Venice conquered Vicenza, Verona, and Padua, with its celebrated university, and began to adopt Humanist and Renaissance artistic values.

30 min

15: The "Signori"—Renaissance Princes

The Renaissance's most common political structure was the principality. Princes "signori" received sovereignty from the Holy Roman Emperor or from the pope. Principalities often developed brilliant courts, and the glorification of the ruler became a recurring image in art.

30 min

16: Urbino

Tiny Urbino became one of the most celebrated sites of Renaissance culture under Federigo da Montefeltro. A great leader who never lost a battle and (uncharacteristically for a mercenary) never betrayed a client, Federigo was among the greatest patrons of culture in the Italian Renaissance.

30 min
Castiglione and

17: Castiglione and "The Book of the Courtier"

In the later Italian Renaissance, the new model was the ideal courtier. Florentines grew interested in Platonic ideas that stressed the soul and the value of knowledge, including the mystical and the power of love. These elements are best exemplified in Baldassare Castiglione and his "Book of the Courtier."

30 min
Women in Renaissance Italy

18: Women in Renaissance Italy

It has been argued that women did not have a Renaissance. They were largely subject to their fathers until marriage and thereafter to their husbands. Classical learning was seen as superfluous, and possibly dangerous to a female's virtue and reputation. Many women of high birth rose to great heights, but for most life was very difficult.

30 min

19: Neoplatonism

Many dialogues of Plato only became available in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Renaissance Neoplatonism was institutionalized when Cosimo de'Medici commissioned Marsilio Ficino to translate the Platonic corpus into Latin. Ficino gathered around him such luminaries as Lorenzo the Magnificent, and the artists Botticelli and Michelangelo.

30 min
Milan Under the Visconti

20: Milan Under the Visconti

Milan was the model of the despotic monarchy. Through warfare and brutal repression, the Visconti family made Milan the most powerful state in northern Italy. Wealth, combined with the Visconti desire for lasting fame, stimulated the patronage of art and literature.

30 min
Milan Under the Sforza

21: Milan Under the Sforza

Francesco Sforza was a fine ruler who, with Cosimo de'Medici, ensured the stability of the peninsula through the Peace of Lodi and the Italian League. Francesco's son, Lodovico, "il Moro" and his bride, Beatrice d'Este, presided over a brilliant court in which Leonardo da Vinci resided.

30 min
The Eternal City—Rome

22: The Eternal City—Rome

Conflict damaged Rome during the 14th century. Violence among the great Roman families resulted in the Babylonian Captivity (1305-377) during which the Pope abandoned Rome for Avignon. With insufficient funds to maintain the great churches and palaces, the population and number of visitors fell precipitously. The Renaissance, then, came late to Rome.

30 min
The Rebuilding of Rome

23: The Rebuilding of Rome

During the Great Schism (1378-1417) there were two and, finally, three competing popes. The return of a united papacy in 1420 required the rehabilitation of the neglected eternal city. Driven by a desire for grandeur, popes looked to ancient models.

30 min
The Renaissance Papacy

24: The Renaissance Papacy

The story of the Renaissance papacy is one of ambition, a desire to increase the grandeur of Rome and the see of St. Peter while still increasing the power of the pope's family. Renaissance popes were most often seen by their neighbors as powerful princes.

30 min
The Crisis—The French Invasion of 1494

25: The Crisis—The French Invasion of 1494

The Italian Renaissance flourished in part because of the protected space of the peninsula. But in 1494, King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, with the largest army then amassed, to assert his claim to the Kingdom of Naples. The peninsula would never again enjoy unmolested independence.

30 min
Florence in Turmoil

26: Florence in Turmoil

A casualty of the French invasions was the Medici hegemony. Lorenzo de'Medici's successor, his incompetent eldest son, Piero, yielded to all of the French king's demands. As a result, the Florentines drove him and his family from the city. But a power vacuum ensued that provided an opportunity for the millenarian Dominican monk, Girolamo Savonarola.

30 min
Savonarola and the Republic

27: Savonarola and the Republic

Savonarola's puritanical theocracy banned simple pleasures, like cards and carnival. Bands of boys collected vanities parading them through the streets and setting bonfires. Diplomatic and natural disasters, however, alienated moderate Florentines who, in 1498, arrested Savonarola and burned him as a heretic.

30 min
The Medici Restored

28: The Medici Restored

The Medici returned in 1512. Cardinal Giovanni de'Medici took control, but was soon elected pope as Leo X. Thereafter, Florence was governed either by papal representatives or by lesser members of the family, who often were incompetent or insensitive to Florentine traditions.

30 min
The Sack of Rome, 1527

29: The Sack of Rome, 1527

Italy was often the setting for disputes between the French and the Spanish-Imperial Habsburgs. Led by the Constable of Bourbon, an undisciplined imperial army that included many zealous German protestant soldiers breached Rome's walls on May 6, 1527. About 50,000 inhabitants fled or were killed, making this more brutal than the barbarian incursions of the Roman Empire.

30 min
Niccolò Machiavelli

30: Niccolò Machiavelli

Although best known for his political writing, Machiavelli was also a fine dramatist, letter writer, and diplomat. "The Prince," written after the return of the Medici in 1512 removed Machiavelli from power, reviews Italy in an uncertain age. Using the ruthless Cesare Borgia as a model, it counsels harsh medicine and strong leadership to protect Italy from the northern "barbarians."

30 min
Alessandro de’Medici

31: Alessandro de’Medici

The Medici Pope Clement VII made the recovery of Florence part of the treaty to end the sack of Rome. Clement sent 19-year-old Alessandro de'Medici, believed to be his son by a Moorish slave, to be duke of the city. After Clement's death, the duke ruled ever more tyrannically and showed signs of madness, especially in the company of his insane cousin, Lorenzo (Lorenzaccio).

30 min
The Monarchy of Cosimo I

32: The Monarchy of Cosimo I

When 19-year-old Cosimo I de'Medici became prince in 1537, many assumed that the architect of his victory, Guicciardini, would be his advisor. But Cosimo dismissed the influential politician, and set out to build a despotic monarchy on the ruins of the republic. The patrician families were offered titles and attached to his court. The Florentines lost their freedom but achieved stability in return.

31 min
Guicciardini and

33: Guicciardini and "The History of Italy"

Guicciardini was a remarkable, if flawed, genius. His advice was partly responsible for the sack of Rome. However, his monumental "The History of Italy" became the model for new Humanist historiography. This book has been called the most important work of history between Tacitus and Gibbon.

30 min
The Counter-Reformation

34: The Counter-Reformation

The Protestant Reformation that started in 1517 had a devastating impact. The Roman Church lost millions of adherents and responded by establishing the Roman Inquisition (1542) and the Index of Prohibited Books (1559). The principles that had stimulated the Renaissance, open debate and original thinking, were overwhelmed by forces that demanded uniformity and obedience.

30 min
The End of the Renaissance in Italy

35: The End of the Renaissance in Italy

Italy was a very different place in 1570 from what it had been in 1470. Particular events illustrate why: the French invasions of 1494; the sack of Rome in 1527; and the closure of free thought and debate by the Church. Moreover, the victory of despotic monarchical regimes in states like Florence ended the competitive, energetic world of the Renaissance.

30 min
Echoes of the Renaissance

36: Echoes of the Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance is a monument to human imagination. In some ways, it continued into the last century. Naturalism and proportion remained the foundation of academic art. The influence of antiquity continued in the architecture of public buildings. And the central place of the Greek and Roman classics was sustained in the education of elite groups in every Western nation.

30 min