Italy Travels 2004


The cradle of modern science, once the church got out of the way

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia: Italy

In ancient times Italy had several other names: it was called Saturnia, in honour of Saturn; notria, wine-producing land; Ausonia, land of the Ausonians; Hesperia, land to the west (of Greece); Tyrrhenia, etc. The name Italy (Gr. Italia), which seems to have been taken from vitulus, to signify a land abounding in cattle, was applied at first to a very limited territory. According to Nissen and to others, it served to designate the southernmost portion of the peninsula of Calabria; but some authorities, as Cocchia and Gentile, hold that the name was given originally to that country between the Sele and the Lao which later was called Lucania. We find the name Italy in use, however, among Greek writers of the fifth and the fourth centuries B. C. (Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle, Plato); and in 241 B. C., in the treaty of peace that ended the First Punic War, it served to designate peninsular Italy; while in 202 B. C., at the close of the Second Punic War, the name of Italy was extended as far as the Alps.

Arts: In the first half of the Middle Ages, among the fine arts religious architecture reached a certain degree of perfection; the churches which it created reproduced the ancient Roman basilicas (Santa Maria Maggiore, San Clemente, and others, in Rome), and its baptisteries, octagonal in form, imitated cell of the Roman baths; in this way the Christian-Roman or neo-Latin style was developed. At the same time the Greeks brought the Byzantine style to Italy (San Vitale in Ravenna, 537, and San Marco in Venice, 876). Towards the year 1000 there appeared in Italy the Romanesque style, which substituted the vaulted roof for the plain ceiling (the cathedral of Pisa); while Arabic influence was felt in Sicily in the construction of the magnificent cathedral of Monreale and of its adjacent cloister. Towards the latter part of the Middle Ages, painting, through the impetus given to it by Giotto, produced true masterpieces. Among the painters who became famous at that time are Senesi, Buoninsegna, and Martini, the two Gaddi, Fra Angelico, and Masaccio, who was the true founder of the modern school of painting. Among the famous sculptors were the two Pisanos, Orgagna, Ghiberti, and most famous of them all Donatello (1386-1466), who may be called the Masaccio of sculpture. Finally, we should name Luca della Robbia, a popular sculptor who invented the terra-cotta process that is known by his name. The erroneously so-called Gothic style that was developed in France was brought into Italy, where, however, it was not fully adopted, except in the cases of the church of St. Francis at Assisi and of the cathedral of Milan; the churches of Santa Maria Novella and of Santa Croce in Florence, the cathedrals of Siena and of Orvieto and others are based upon it, as are, among other civil edifices, the Ducal Palace in Venice, the Orgagna Loggia, in Florence, and the communal palaces of Udine and Siena.

The Renaissance in the first decades of the sixteenth century led to the further development of the fine arts, and great masterpieces were produced. Here it is enough to mention the three great names of Leonardo da Vinci (1425-1519), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1474-1564), and of Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520), which have made that age immortal. In architecture Roman forms were adopted, and the first examples of Renaissance architecture were the churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Venice, San Lorenzo in Florence, etc.; and among civil buildings, the Pitti and the Strozzi palaces in Florence, the ducal palace of Urbino, etc. The best architects were Bramante, Giacomo Barozzi, called Vignola, Peruzzi, Palladio, the two Sangallos, Sansovino, and Buonarroti, who planned the cupola of St. Peter's. Sacred music reached its acme in the compositions of Palestrina (1529-1594). The straining after odd and exaggerated forms which were condemned in the literature of the seventeenth century also appears in the architecture and in the sculpture of that time. Bernini (1598-1680) and Borromini (1599-1677), men of great but bizarre genius, introduced the barocco style which was disfigured by their imitators. But painting remained free from the defects of that period, through the influence of Dolci, Sassoferrato, the two Carracci, Albani, Domenichino, and Guido Reni.

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