Transformation Archetypes — Part 3
The Renaissance is typically associated with great works of art and architecture. As noted in Part 2, Filippo Brunelleschi was an early Renaissance artist and architect. His dome of the Florence Cathedral was a major engineering feat. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a scientist, engineer, painter, and sculptor, with works ranging from The Last Supper and Mona Lisa to military weapon systems and civil engineering projects. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) was a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, whose greatest works include the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the design of St. Peter’s Basilica. Leonardo and Michelangelo epitomize the notion of “the Renaissance man.”
Lorenzo de Medici (1449-1492) is often credited with serving as a primary catalyst of the Renaissance in his role as a patron of arts. He is recognized as the best example of a second critical ingredient of the Renaissance. The commerce-oriented nature of Italian city-states such as Florence, Milan, and Venice created wealth that provided the means for the wonderful art and architecture of the Renaissance. Thus, there were both creative, inventive people and those who were inclined and able to invest in their creations.
There was a third ingredient – a political landscape that was open to change and aggressive in pursuing it. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, during a crucial period, was Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503). He took corruption to new levels, fathering four children while Pope, and doing his best to assure dominance of the Borgia family, hopefully long after his reign as Pope ended. His son, Cesare Borgia (1475-1507), was a key element of this strategy, serving as a military general and statesman in the unification of the Romagna region in Italy. Many citizens welcomed Borgia’s often-harsh arrival because his subsequent political and administrative practices were great improvements over those of the tyrants preceding him.
The sweep of political change, of which Borgia is just one example, was chronicled and studied by the political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527). His understanding of the behavioral and social nature of politics, and his writings on this, have led many to term him the father of political science. He understood how to facilitate political change and played a central role in Florentine politics. The overall result was a much more flexible political environment, compared to traditional monarchies or traditional conservative Papal rulers. This flexibility often results in somewhat chaotic progress, but it provided an avenue for new ideas to emerge and succeed or fail on their own merits.
So the ingredients of transformation during the Renaissance included creativity, resources, and flexibility, all enabled by a political and social context that encouraged change, at least much more so than in preceding eras. In Part 4, I will consider the extent to which it can be argued that these ingredients and context currently prevail and whether we are now in the process of transformation.