Quattrocento Italy:  Rome and Central Italy

This is a short list, mostly because the 1400s was a long time ago.  Few documents exist; even fewer letters that might shed light on the lives of artists we’ll be looking at.  But lots of beautiful art, thank goodness!

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt is best book I know of for explaining the Renaissance. While a distinguished academic, Greenblatt has written this book for a non-academic readership, and it is absolutely compelling, insightful, and an exciting journey.  By the end I felt that I, like Thomas Jefferson, could honestly say, “I am an Epicurean.”

Much has been written about the Borgia family and, in particular, Roderigo Borgia who, in 1492, became Pope Alexander VI and a driving force during in Renaissance Rome.  The television series—and there are two of them—are fun and sexy and riveting.  That said, I prefer the 2011 production with John Doman (Borgia:  Faith and Fear) to the better-known production with Jeremy Irons (The Borgias).  Both made, oddly, in 2011.   For a good book on this ruthless family, try Christopher Hibbert’s The Borgias and their Enemies.  Like all her historical fiction, Sarah Dunant’s Blood and Beauty: the Borgias; A Novel is first rate.  (We’ll be visiting the recently restored Borgia apartments in the Vatican. Artist: Pinturicchio, the artist of the beautiful.) More recently, G.J. Meyers, a best-selling author, attempts to right some of the wrongs history has done to the Borgia family in his book The Borgias: The Hidden History.

 After Hannibal, by Mann Booker Award winner Barry Insworth, is a quirky little book set in the heart of Umbria. Lots of scenes and sites will resonate with our trip. And it is a fun read even if I think he comes down a bit hard on both the Italians and the expatriates colonizing this part of the world.

Guilty Pleasures:

Over the years I have collected nearly the entire series of books on Italian frescoes published by Abbeville Press. Three are relevant to this trip:


Italian Frescoes:  The Age of Giotto by Joachim Poeschke has excellent reproductions of frescoes from the cathedral in Assisi, an unparalleled treasure trove of the early Renaissance.  Sort of like listening to an opera ahead of time, looking at the reproductions before visiting Assisi makes the whole thing that much easier to make sense of.  

Italian Frescoes:  the Flowering of the Renaissance by Steffi Roettgen contains excellent reproductions of fresco cycles we will be seeing in Rome (Santa Maria Sopra Minerva), Umbria and Spello.

And if you have deep pockets, Italian Frescoes:  the Early Renaissance, also by Steffi Roettgan, includes reproductions of the beautiful life of St. Francis by Benozzi Gozzoli in Montefalco, which we will visit. 

Note:  all three Abbeville books are available on Amazon—both new and used.