Italian Renaissance

This course explores the way three eminent figures of Italian Renaissance (Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Niccolò Machiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini) wrote about their own life and political experience in memoirs and historical works. Through the analysis of Piccolomini’s Commentaries, Machiavelli’s Prince and Guicciardini’s Counsels and Reflections (Ricordi) the students will have the opportunity to study and discuss many relevant topics such as self-fashioning in the Renaissance, the development of historiography from late XV to early XVI century, the birth of modern political philosophy, the changing attitude towards religion from late Humanism to the first years of the Reformation. The history of cities like Florence and Rome and institutions such as the papacy will also be introduced.
The three masterpieces of Italian Renaissance (the one by Machiavelli being a true world classic) whose pages will be close read in class are deeply connected with the very interesting lives of their authors. Enea Silvio Piccolomini (1405-1465), a trained humanist, became pope after a successful political career; Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) experienced both social rise and fall in the most turbulent years of the Republic of Florence; Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540) lead a relevant role in the first phase of the Italian Wars. They all reflected about their own life and experience adopting three different kinds of memoirs: the Commentaries being an adaptation of Caesar’s Commentarii, the Prince expressing Machiavelli’s ideals and the essence of his political know-how, Counsels and Reflections (Ricordi) representing a collection of maxims related to the author’s own life.
These three peculiar memoirs, which were not meant to be published, are deeply connected with other historical works their authors wrote before and after them: Piccolomini’s Historia rerum Frederici III imperatoris and Historia Bohemica, Machiavelli’s Storie fiorentine, Guicciardini’s Storia d’Italia. The analysis of the difference between the way Piccolomini, Machiavelli and Guicciardini wrote about their experience and about the history of their time will show how complex writing the self and writing the history could be in the Italian Renaissance.