North Carolina

The Beautiful and the Powerful of the Italian Renaissance

The Medici’s, Mona Lisa and St. Peter’s Basilica are Italian icons, but how did they come to be? Explore and discuss the origins, artists and legacy of the Italian Renaissance.
Rating (5)
Program No. 22994RJ
6 days
Starts at

At a Glance

The serene Blue Ridge Mountains provide the perfect backdrop for a journey back to a time of extraordinary artistic achievement and cultural resurgence. Scholars and art experts paint a portrait of life of the artists of the Italian Renaissance, whose rise and fall were controlled by powerful benefactors. From the 14th to the 17th centuries, cities including Florence, Siena and Venice thrived and wealthy financiers sponsored some of the world’s greatest masterpieces. In this course, discover how cultural forces come together to create paintings, sculpture and architecture which not only symbolize the power of their time; they have become icons of western civilization.
Activity Level
Easy Going
Long periods of sitting during lectures. All facilities are in one building, with approximately 300 yards walking required; a few stairs. Outside areas are mountainous, with inclines and uneven terrain.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Examine the wealth and power of the Medici family — believed to have been the wealthiest family in Europe — and their influence as patrons.
  • Compare and contrast the different artistic schools of Florence, Siena, Venice, Naples and Rome.
  • Discuss the influences, techniques, designs and styles of the Renaissance’s most prominent artists including Botticelli, Brunelleschi, da Vinci and Michelangelo.

General Notes

The Retreat Difference: This unique, often basic and no-frills experience at a Road Scholar Retreat includes opportunities for early morning exercise, interaction with the local community for insight into local life, an authentic farm-to-table or locally sourced meal, a live performance or event, and a value-priced single room. Opportunities are available for traveling companions to attend a different program at Montreat during the same week. Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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Laura Johnson
Laura recently returned to her hometown of Chicago after living in Florence, Italy for nearly 20 years. She organized Road Scholar’s independent study program and served as an instructor for other Road Scholar programs. A former director of education, Laura combined her master’s degrees in museum studies and early Christian and Byzantine art history to tell the history of humankind through art and artifacts. Her passions are the influences of the Italian Renaissance in Russia and traditional and contemporary South African bead work and music.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Tracy Bailey
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Laura Johnson
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Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
The City of Falling Angels
by John Berendt
It was seven years ago that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil achieved a record-breaking four-year run on the New York Times bestseller list. John Berendt's inimitable brand of nonfiction brought the dark mystique of Savannah so startlingly to life for millions of people that tourism to Savannah increased by 46%. It is Berendt and only Berendt who can capture Venice--a city of masks, a city of riddles, where the narrow, meandering passageways form a giant maze, confounding all who have not grown up wandering into its depths. Venice, a city steeped in a thousand years of history, art and architecture, teeters in precarious balance between endurance and decay. Its architectural treasures crumble--foundations shift, marble ornaments fall--even as efforts to preserve them are underway.
The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance
by Peter Murray
Heavily illustrated, this classic presents the architectural life of Italy from the 13th through the 16th century.
History of Italian Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture
by Frederick Hartt
Fully indexed. Extensive glossary and updated bibliography. 833 illustrations, including 105 in full color.
by John T. Spike
Notorious bad boy of Italian Baroque painting, Caravaggio (1571–1610) is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Though his name may be familiar to all of us, his work had been habitually detested and forced into obscurity. Not only was his theatrical realism unfashionable in his time, but his sacrilegious subject matter and use of lower-class models were violently scorned.
Medici: God Father's of the Renaissance
by 4 part PBS video series
this is not a book... but a 4 part PBS video series that you may enjoy
The Agony and the Ecstasy
by Irving Stone
Always a good read. His time—the turbulent Renaissance, the years of poisoning princes, warring Popes, and the all-powerful de'Medici family. His loves—the frail and lovely daughter of Lorenzo de'Medici, the ardent mistress of Marco Aldovrandi, and his last love, his greatest love—the beautiful, unhappy Vittoria Colonna... His genius—a God-driven fury from which he wrested brilliant work that made a grasp for heaven unmatched in half a millennium... A masterpiece in its own right, this biographical novel offers a compelling portrait of one of the greatest artists the world has ever known.
The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall
by Christoper Hibbert
This enthralling book charts the family's huge influence on the political, economic and cultural history of Florence. Beginning in the early 1430s with the rise of the dynasty under the near-legendary Cosimo de Medici, it moves through their golden era as patrons of some of the most remarkable artists and architects of the Renaissance, to the era of the Medici Popes and Grand Dukes, Florence's slide into decay and bankruptcy, and the end, in 1737, of the Medici line.
The Origins of the Platonic Academy of Florence
by Arthur M Field
Founded by Cosimo de' Medici in the early 1460s, the Platonic Academy shaped the literary and artistic culture of Florence in the later Renaissance and influenced science, religion, art, and literature throughout Europe in the early modern period. This major study of the Academy's beginnings presents a fresh view of the intellectual and cultural life of Florence from the Peace of Lodi of 1454 to the death of Cosimo a decade later.
The Stones of Florence
by Mary McCarthy
McCarthy applies wit and keen observation to produce a quirky, impressionistic investigation of Florence and its history.
In The Shadow of Vesuvius
by Jordan Lancaster
With this engaging history, Lancaster, a professor of Italian, seeks to restore honor to Naples, which many Italians and prospective visitors see as a city of little more than pickpockets and pizza. As she stresses, for most of its history, Naples was a preeminent European city, a thriving home for music, philosophy, painting and science. Her book is organized into sections by epochs and ruling governments; at times, the compression of such a long history into this short space makes it hard to digest, but Lancaster stops often to recount captivating legends and anecdotes.
Young Michelangelo. The Path to the Sistine.
by John T. Spike
We are accustomed to viewing Michelangelo as the old master of the Sistine Chapel ceiling without considering the long evolution of his genius. Drawing on his ample correspondence and banking records, this ground-breaking new biography explores the first 33 formative years of his life. Both erudite and entertaining, it charts the development of a charismatic and tenacious young artist utterly convinced of his own exceptional talent, against the turbulent, dangerous backdrop of Renaissance Florence and Rome.

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