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Life Arts    H4'ed 12/15/20

The 15th Century Renaissance and the Space Program Today

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Republished from Rising Tide Foundation

View of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.
View of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Bruce Stokes on Flickr)
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Today, a new system of alliances is emerging centered around China's Belt and Road Initiative which has brought together over 125 nations into a new paradigm of cooperation and long term thinking unseen for many generations. With Italy's recent joining in this new alliance, and the announcement of a Russia-China-European joint lunar base to be built in the coming decades, a potential for a new global renaissance is now emerging. This new potential for a renaissance is premised upon the awakening of something within humanity that has been forgotten. That forgotten principle is based on the knowledge that in order to thrive and prosper successfully as a species, goals that challenge our limits to knowledge and inspire future generations to awaken their greatest powers of creative reason is a necessary foundation for all political/economic/social policy. The absence of this organizing principle being at the heart of all dark ages.

It is with this spirit, that it is extremely important to take this opportunity to come to understand how the last great renaissance had occurred in Italy, such that those same forces which sabotaged its momentum half a millennium ago will not be able to do so again.

The Apollo Project of the 15th Century

To this day, over 550 years after its construction, the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral remains a proudly cherished national treasure of the Italians, attracting tourists from all over the world to gaze upon its magnificence in person. It is not only appreciated for its incredible beauty but also as the largest masonry dome ever to be built visible from any point within the city of Florence, almost as a second moon, which is fitting since it was in many ways likened to the Apollo Project of that time. However, many may not be aware of the incredible obstacles that stood in the way of its completion, and which many at the time thought made its success impossible. This is where the brilliant minds of Dante Alighieri, Filippo Brunelleschi and Leonardo Da Vinci come into play.

The Ushering In of the Dark Age

Before we can fully appreciate what was accomplished by the successful building of the dome, the state of not only Italy but most of Europe at the time needs to be understood. In 1345, the biggest financial crash in history hit Europe. The Venetian controlled Peruzzi and Bardi family banks had overextended themselves in loans, primarily to King Edward III in his cause against the French which would end up as the 'Hundred Years War', and already being neck high in the speculative financial bubble of the woollen industry, would be completely ruined after decades of bad gambles. With King Edward III repudiating his war debts in 1343 to all foreign banks, the already overly-extended Bardi and Peruzzi banks could not sustain themselves for much longer and in 1345 led Europe into what would become the peak period of the dark age.

Without a functioning banking system, the economy throughout Europe quickly decayed, closing down shops and trade. Food became increasingly harder to come by and water sanitation could not be maintained. It was not long after that the plague, carried by ships travelling from Asia, consumed a vulnerable Europe, at its climax from 1347 to 1351. During this time, many cities suffered up to a 50-70% mortality rate, killing much of the young and the old. With the spread of mass death, huge gaps in knowledge occurred, leaving untrained and under-educated youth responsible for overseeing European civilization's survival into the future.

Boccaccio, in his Decameron, chillingly describes the desperate situation in which the Italians found themselves within, in just a matter of years, when he wrote:

"Thus, adhering ever to their inhuman determination to shun the sick, as far as possible, they ordered their life, in this extremity of our city's suffering and tribulation, the venerable authority of laws, human and divine, was abased, and all but totally dissolved for lack of those who should have administered and enforced them, most of whom, like the rest of the citizens, were either dead, or sick, or so hard-bested for servants that they were unable to execute any office, whereby every man was free to do what was right in his own eyes."

Jan Brueghel The Triumph of Death.
Jan Brueghel The Triumph of Death.
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Jan Brueghel the Elder  (1568–1625)   )
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The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Younger, gives a good depiction of the degree of delusion prevalent during the time in resorting to merely 'living for the moment in Bacchanalian revelry' until death came for them.

Dante Alighieri launches a Vision of Exalted and Prodigal Magnificence

Dante was not only a great poet, who is credited with the founding of the modern Italian language and best known for his work The Divine Comedy, but also held public office in 1293, attaining the highest position in Florence of city prior in 1300. In 1296, Dante took part in initiating the project to knock down the Santa Reparata for the construction of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral. It was already known in its early stages to be a massive project, which to top things off, there was no plan at the time for how the large dome was to be built. It should be noted that cathedrals during this time very much took the form of city science centers, in that the skills, ingenuity and creativity that were required in order to successfully build these massive cathedrals were paramount. There was no actual specialisation at the time for 'architect', 'engineer' and so forth but rather the focus was on learning the 'basics' through various apprenticeships and the majority of the time those chosen to head such projects would often have no previous direct training or experience in architecture. In addition to cathedrals being incredible scientific feats, they were also large hubs for trade and thus were seen as something that would increase the standard of living of the people residing around it. Therefore, although it might seem strange to us in our day in age to put so much effort into the building of a cathedral after a massive banking collapse and amidst the plague, the Florentines understood that it was just such a project that would allow for an exit out of the poverty and despair that had enveloped all of Europe.

Included in the Florentine public records was an official statement describing the aspiration of Florence in setting out to accomplish this incredible endeavour, "as something of the most exalted and prodigal of magnificence, so that the industry and power of man are unable to invent or ever attempt to gain anything that is larger or more beautiful." It is clear from such a statement that the setting out on such a project was centered in something within the nature of man which participated in the divine, something truly remarkable and inspiring especially for what the Florentines would quickly find themselves in soon after , the 'Bacchanalian revelry or some other form of looking out for number one', as Boccaccio defined it, during the period of the plague. It is very fitting that Dante, a father to modern Italy's culture, would participate in the birth of its conception, a project that would come to inspire a Renaissance.

Dante and the Three Kingdoms by Domenico Di Michelino
Dante and the Three Kingdoms by Domenico Di Michelino
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Author Not Given)
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Dante and the Three Kingdoms by Domenico Di Michelino. This painting was completed in 1465 and displayed inside the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, where it remains to this day. The painting depicts Dante's inferno to the left, purgatory in the center and paradise to the right from his 'Divine Comedy', the book he is holding. The Santa Maria del Fiore is placed within paradise, as part of the heavenly city.

As construction was underway on the cathedral, undeterred from the increasing devastation wreaked by the plague, and the catastrophes in cathedral construction occurring throughout Italy and France indicative of the pessimism and despair that was running rampant at the time, the Florentines decided to actually make their dome bigger- a diameter of 143 ft. and 6 in. to be exact. The reason for this being, that up until this point, the largest masonry dome ever built was by the Romans, known as the Pantheon, with a diameter of 142 ft. If the Florentines were serious about accomplishing 'something that no industry or power of man would be able to invent anything larger or more beautiful', they would have to beat not only their modern counterparts but the illustrious Roman accomplishments in dome construction as well. All of this, while in the midst of a dark age.

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Cynthia Chung is a lecturer, writer and co-founder and editor of the Rising Tide Foundation (Montreal, Canada).  She has lectured on the topics of Schiller's aesthetics, Shakespeare's tragedies, Roman history, the Florentine Renaissance among other subjects. She is a writer for (more...)
 

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