Today's financial crisis nothing to Renaissance Florence
Monday 26 September 2011
Banks failing and states overwhelmed by debt - not the panicked headlines of newspapers around the globe today but events dating back to Renaissance Florence, the financial capital of its day.
"Money and Beauty", an exhibition in the Tuscan capital running until January 22, narrates the birth of the modern banking system and the roots of our economy during one of the most fertile artistic periods in Europe.
Featuring works by masters such as Botticelli and Hans Memling, the show in the Strozzi Palace looks back to Renaissance Florence for a key to present problems, from market risks to conflicts between economic and spiritual values.
"In the 14th century, the three major banks in Florence went bankrupt when the king of England was unable to pay his debts. England defaulted and there you are: these banks collapsed," exhibition organiser Tim Parks told AFP.
"So there is a connection with today, but the connection that most interests me is the way the church tried to ban any loans with interest," he said.
"They thought that to use obscure financial instruments was against God's plans for us and could only bring social chaos," he added.
To illustrate his point, Parks points to Dutch painter Marinus Van Reymerswaele's "The Moneychanger and His Wife".
"You see two completely ordinary people who have become obsessed by money... like a couple so obsessed with their mortgage payments they're not having sex anymore!"
"There was a time when this obsession with money seemed new and strange, unlike today," the British writer said with a wry smile.
Divided into eight sections, the exhibition explains the economic mechanisms which led Florence to become a leader in commercial transactions and finance the artistic treasures of the Renaissance with their resulting wealth.
"Florence was central in the European system after the launching of the first gold Floren in 1252," said art historian Ludovica Sebregondi.
"A number of banking terms today come from the Italian" such as bank, banker, profit and capital, she said. "At that time, Italian was the language of the banking world, a bit like English is today."
Italian bankers were often patrons of the arts - such as Benedetto di Pigello Portinari, who immortalised himself in a sumptuous portrait by Memling.
And the 100 or so works present in the collection - by Botticelli to Fra Angelico, Piero del Pollaiolo, Luca della Robbia and Andrea del Verrocchio - pay witness to the fact with an abundance of references to the world of finance.
This emphasis on money over spiritual aspects was not to everyone's taste.
"There was a conflict in Florence between emblematic figures such as Lorenzo the Magnificent," who came from a family of bankers, "and Savonarola," a powerful friar who preached against immoral art, Sebregondi said.
Visitors to the exhibition, who receive a token symbolically worth 1,000 Florens to invest as they please during their visit, will have to decide whose side they are on.
"Money and Beauty. Bankers, Botticelli and the Bonfire of the Vanities," runs at the Strozzi Palace until January 22, 2012.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Lucy Hawking: Stephen Hawking's daughter writes impassioned open letter to Katie Hopkins about rights of disabled people
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 3 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
- 4 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils