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In 1348, the Black Death, the most devastating epidemic in European history, swept across the continent. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75), at the beginning of his famous Decameron, describes its effects on his city, Florence. Many people just dropped dead in the street. Others died in their houses, often unattended by their families. Husbands and wives, fearing infection, sat and prayed in separate rooms. Mothers walked away from their children and closed the door. In the words of a new translation of the Decameron (Norton), by Wayne A. Rebhorn, a specialist in Renaissance literature at the University of Texas, the Florentines

carried the bodies of the recently deceased out of their houses and put them down by the front doors, where anyone passing by, especially in the morning, could have seen them by the thousands. . . . When all the graves were full, enormous trenches were dug in the cemeteries of the churches, into which the new arrivals were put by the hundreds, stowed layer upon layer like merchandise in ships, each one covered with a little earth, until the top of the trench was reached.

Shops stood empty. Churches shut down. An estimated sixty per cent of the population of Florence and the surrounding countryside died.

And so begins the Decameron. Seven young ladies, friends—Pampinea, Filomena, Neifile, Fiammetta, Elissa, Lauretta, and Emilia—meet after Mass. They range in age from eighteen to twenty-eight, and they are all of genteel birth. Let’s get out of here, Pampinea, the eldest, says. Let’s go to our country estates. The other women say that they’d love to, but they think they should bring some men along. Soon, they assemble three gentlemen linked to them by kinship or by affection—Filostrato, Dioneo, and Panfilo—and the ten young people decamp at dawn for the countryside.

They agree on a routine. In the morning and in the evening, they will take walks, sing songs, and eat exquisite meals, with fine wines, golden and red. In between, they will sit together and each will tell a story on a theme set for the day: generosity, magnanimity, cleverness, etc. They will stay together for two weeks. Two days must be devoted to personal obligations, and two to religious duties. That leaves ten days. Ten tales times ten days: at the end, they will have a hundred stories. That collection, with various introductions and commentaries, is the Decameron.

Boccaccio wrote the book between 1348 and 1352, when the values of the Middle Ages (valor, faith, transcendence) were yielding to those of the Renaissance (enjoyment, business, the real). The Middle Ages were by no means over. Boccaccio’s young ladies do not assemble in real meadows, where bugs might crawl up their dresses. They gather in ideal fields. Birds sing; jasmine perfumes the air. The animals don’t know to be afraid of humans: little rabbits come and sit with the young people. This is the locus amoenus, or “pleasant place,” of ancient and medieval pastoral poetry. It is a sort of paradise, and that is what it is based on: Eden.

Social relations, too, are idealized, and imbued with the conventions of medieval courtly love. The Decameron has not just one frame—the young people in the countryside—but two. In the outer one, Boccaccio speaks to the reader directly. He is writing this book, he says, for ladies afflicted by love: “Gracious ladies,” “amiable ladies,” the narrators begin. And, whatever the day’s theme, love figures prominently in perhaps nine out of ten tales. As in the songs of the medieval troubadours, love ennobles you. In one story, a young man known locally as “stupid ass” no sooner falls in love than he begins to dress elegantly and to study philosophy.

Boccaccio was not a noble; he was one of the nuova gente, the mercantile middle class, whose steady rise since the twelfth century the nobles feared and deplored. Boccaccio’s father, Boccaccino di Chellino, was a merchant, and he expected Giovanni to join the trade. Giovanni was born illegitimate, but Boccaccino acknowledged him. When the boy was thirteen, Boccaccino moved from Florence to Naples to work for an important counting house, and he took his son with him, to learn the business: receive clients, oversee inventory, and the like. Boccaccio did not enjoy this work, and so his indulgent father paid for him to go to university, to study canon law. Boccaccio didn’t like that, either, but during this time he read widely. (The Decameron is, unostentatiously, a very learned book.) He also began to write: romances in verse and prose, mostly. With those literary credits, plus his father’s contacts, he gained entry to Naples’s Angevin court, whose refinements seeped into his work. He later said that he had never wanted to be anything but a poet. In Naples, he became one, of the late-medieval stripe. These were the happiest years of his life.

When he was in his late twenties, they came to an end. Boccaccino had business reverses. He and Giovanni returned to Florence, which, at that time, was the capital of Italian mercantilism. And so, from the exalted realm of court manners and medieval allegory, Boccaccio dropped down into a milieu of calculation and ambition and realism—of merchants, after a day’s work, sitting around the fire at an inn, with their boots on the grate, talking business and trading stories. The young man no doubt recoiled, and then, eventually, he acclimated. Indeed, on the evidence of the Decameron, he came to love this rough-and-tumble world. The majority of the tales are about people of the merchant class, and the skill they most feature is the one most prized by that class, ingegno: cleverness, wit, thinking on your feet. Only on four of the ten days is cleverness the declared theme, but many stories told on the other days are also about that. Boccaccio still liked gentlefolk, especially highborn ladies, with cheeks like roses, but it is in their commentaries on the tales—and, for the most part, only then—that the Decameron becomes boring. The proles are what give the book its richness and humor and vital force.

A famous tribute to ingenuity is the story of Peronella, told by Filostrato. Peronella spins wool for a living, and her husband is a stonemason. She is pretty, and soon she has a lover, Giannello. One morning after the husband has gone to work, Peronella and Giannello are enjoying each other’s company when suddenly the husband returns. There is a barrel in the house, and Peronella tells Giannello to hide in it. When the husband enters, she begins loudly berating him:

What’s the story here? Why have you come back home so early like this? It seems to me, seeing you there with your tools in your hands, that you want to take the day off. If you carry on like this, how are we going to live? Where are we supposed to get our bread from?

Calm down, the husband says. We’ve had a windfall. See that barrel over there? Well, he just sold it for five silver ducats. Call off the deal, Peronella says. She has sold the barrel for seven ducats, and the man who bought it is right now inside the barrel, checking its condition. Out pops Giannello, claiming that the inside of the barrel needs to be scraped if he is to buy it. The husband climbs in and goes to work. Peronella leans over the top of the barrel and gives him orders: “Scrape here, and here, and over there.” As she bends over, Giannello, whose business with Peronella that morning had been interrupted, lifts her skirt from behind. After the three have finished, simultaneously, Giannello pays the husband the seven ducats and, in a lovely, tart last sentence, gets him to take the barrel to his house.

What Peronella and Giannello are up to as the husband cleans the barrel is Boccaccio’s other main theme: unfraught sex, of a kind that has probably not been wholly comprehensible to Western people since the Reformation. Today’s audience can perhaps understand the adultery that is rampant in the Decameron, especially since, at that time, most marriages were still arranged by the families. And modern readers can probably also sympathize with the young people in the Decameron who claim that they have a right, by reason of their age, to bed whomever they can. But many readers, however amused, have also been taken aback by tales like Peronella’s, and the Decameron overflows with such material. This is probably the dirtiest great book in the Western canon.

Some of the unchaste are punished. Tancredi, the prince of Salerno, discovering that his daughter is having an affair with one of his valets, orders that the man be strangled, and his heart cut out. He then puts the heart in a golden chalice and sends it to his daughter. She unflinchingly raises the bloody organ to her mouth, kisses it, puts it back in the cup, pours poison over it, drinks, and dies. There are other terrible conclusions—defenestration, decapitation, disembowelment—but they have a certain élan, as in Jacobean tragedy. Most important, the miscreants feel no guilt. There may be sorrows, but not that sorrow.

Even less do unpunished lovers feel remorse. They often live happily and, despite their former inconstancy, faithfully ever after, either meeting frequently or even, by some means, marrying. Boccaccio writes of one couple, “Without ever paying attention to holy days and vigils or observing Lent, the two of them had a jolly life together, working away at it as long as their legs could support them.”

The dominant notes of the Decameron are this realism and cheer and disorderliness, but, whatever you say about the book, something else arises to contradict you. Though Boccaccio insists on Renaissance earthiness, he makes room for elegant medievalisms. The young people often join hands and do the carola, a circle dance born of the Middle Ages. They also, now and then, between tales, deliver long, ornate speeches, full of medieval rhetorical flourishes. You may weary of these refinements and long to get back to the nice, rude tales, but the tension between the two modes is fundamental to the Decameron.

Another conflict has to do with religion. The young people sometimes make ardent professions of faith. Yet Boccaccio is not afraid of blasphemy—at one point, he refers to a man’s erection as “the resurrection of the flesh”—and there is almost nothing he insists on more than the corruption of the clergy. They are stupid and lazy. Your wives are not safe with them. They smell like goats. In one story, the merchant Giannotto di Civignì tries to get his Jewish friend Abraham to convert to Christianity. Abraham says that he must first go to Rome, to observe the clergy and see if they lead holy lives. This worries Giannotto. He fears that Abraham will discover how debauched the priests are. And that is exactly what happens. Abraham, returning home, reports that the Roman clergy are all sots, satyrs, and sodomites. Then he invites Giannotto to go with him to church, where he intends to be baptized. If the Roman church survives, he says, despite the debauchery of its representatives, then it must be endorsed by the Holy Spirit, and he wants to join the winning team.

Boccaccio’s message about the clergy is perhaps not truly double—faith is not the same as its representatives—but his attitude toward women is genuinely puzzling. Women are absolutely central to the Decameron, and they are resourceful, direct, and frequently saucy. In the words of the medievalist Thomas Bergin, woman as “victim of man’s lust, exploited, betrayed, and abandoned, who has contributed so many pathetic pages to world literature is simply not found in the Decameron.” These ladies have a long afterlife. To cite just the most famous of them, there would be no Rosalind in “As You Like It,” no Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing” without the precedent of Peronella and her sisterhood.

Yet women are also repeatedly defamed in the Decameron. They are “fickle, quarrelsome, suspicious, weak, and fearful.” (It is a woman, Filomena, who says this.) They are tirelessly lustful. Strong men may imperil their health by trying to fulfill their sexual demands. So, in order for life to proceed calmly, women must submit to men and, above all, be chaste—the very thing that Boccaccio’s heroines so seldom are. Those who do not obey their husbands should be beaten. (Again, this is a woman speaking.)

In support of that view, Boccaccio ends his book with what has become the famous story of “patient Griselda.” Gualtieri, the Marquis of Saluzzo, has no wish to marry, but his subjects pressure him. So he takes, as a wife, a peasant girl, Griselda. In time, Griselda gives birth to a daughter and a son. Both babies are taken away from her, with the strong suggestion that they will be put to death. Griselda makes no protest. So Gualtieri tightens the screw. He declares that he needs a noble wife, not a peasant. Stoically, Griselda returns to her father’s house, leaving even her dresses behind, since she feels that they belong to her husband. Soon Gualtieri calls her back, saying that he needs her to oversee the preparations for the wedding. “Gualtieri’s words pierced Griselda’s heart like so many knives,” but she agrees. On the wedding day, a boy and a girl appear whom Griselda does not know. Gualtieri introduces the girl as his bride-to-be. Griselda praises her. Finally, Gualtieri can go on no longer. He tells Griselda that the boy and the girl are her children (he had them brought up by kinfolk in Bologna), and that he is taking Griselda back, more beloved now: “I wanted to teach you how to be a wife”—that is, submissive.

Hearing this, Gualtieri’s courtiers all declare that he is “very wise,” if harsh. Yet the tale’s teller, Dioneo, finishes by saying of Gualtieri that perhaps “it would have served him right if, instead, he had run into the kind of woman who, upon being thrown out of the house in her shift, would have found some guy to give her fur a good shaking and got a nice new dress in the bargain.” Readers will no doubt agree, but what, then, does the story mean?

Such contradictions have led a number of critics to describe the Decameron as amoral. Erich Auerbach, the revered literary historian, says that, as soon as Boccaccio touches on anything tragic or even problematic, the book becomes “weak and superficial.” There is some truth to this. Many of the stories of day ten, featuring people who become famous for their magnanimity, are uninteresting and even ridiculous. Griselda is in this group. So is the story of two friends in ancient Rome, Titus and Gisippus, each of whom vies to be crucified in place of the other, for a murder that neither committed. Moved by this spectacle of altruism, the real criminal confesses, whereupon Titus takes Gisippus home and gives him half of everything that he owns, plus one of his sisters.

You could say that Boccaccio erred only when he ventured out of his home territory: realism. That was the opinion of Alberto Moravia: that Boccaccio’s values were those of an artist, not a moralist. The sheen on the Decameron, Moravia wrote, derives precisely from the book’s indifference to ethics, its exclusive focus on the facts. In Boccaccio’s tales, the world is

like the tiny natures mortes, corners of landscapes, and background-figures of some of our fourteenth-, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century painters. Action, pure action, without intended meaning or ethics, gains depth, lucidity and mystery from those details that no amount of serious moral intention could give it.

Think of the little towered cities, and the villages, with shepherds and sheep, in the far distance, behind the Virgin Mary or St. Francis or whomever, in Renaissance paintings. Love of the world: these painters had it, and so, Moravia says, did Boccaccio.

What if happiness, including sexual happiness, were itself a moral virtue? In the Middle Ages, acedia, spiritual torpor or gloom, was regarded as a sin. You were supposed to love God’s world. And the wealth of things and people and incidents in Boccaccio’s book—the flowers lifting their faces to the sun, the merchants’ ships flashing across the seas, the nuns taking turns having sex with the gardener in the tool shed—are a warrant of his love. Boccaccio’s characters, Moravia says, are so particular and lively, it’s as if he were jealous of them.

Happiness may also foster tolerance—toward Jews, for instance (see the story of Abraham), and women (most of the time). Such open-mindedness is a subdivision of a general spirit of good will in the Decameron. The duped husbands don’t suffer much. One example is the story of Ferondo, a wealthy peasant. The local abbot, finding Ferondo’s wife attractive, gives him a sleeping potion, claps him in a dungeon, and goes to woo the wife. When Ferondo wakes up, a monk instructed by the abbot tells him that he is in Purgatory, and then beats him to a pulp. This goes on twice a day for almost a year, at which point Ferondo’s wife becomes pregnant by the abbot. Ferondo must therefore be brought back. That is accomplished, and Ferondo tells the neighbors how he was in Purgatory, and what it was like. They all ask him how their relatives are doing there, and he makes up wonderful stories, which they believe. He is now an important man in his town. The wife and the abbot still get to rendezvous occasionally. Everyone is content.

Finally, the high spirits of the Decameron have political force. They help make the book proto-democratic. Boccaccio probably wasn’t trying to raise the humble. Yet, because he clearly liked these people, he did raise them. Most of Boccaccio’s compliments to ordinary folk are in the form of language—for example, his bright, piquant presentation of their slang. They seem to have a hundred lovely metaphors, with a donkey or a bucket or whatever, for everything in life. And, however improper the goings on in the Decameron, the language is almost never filthy. An instructive companion volume to Rebhorn’s Decameron is the recent “Fabliaux” (Liveright), translated by Nathaniel E. Dubin, and described by R. Howard Bloch, in the introduction, as the first substantial collection of fabliaux, in any language, for today’s general reader. Fabliaux are comic tales, in verse, composed between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries, typically in northern France. Most of them are anonymous. They are, Bloch writes, the “first important expression of European literary realism”; they tell us how the citizens of that period actually lived—how they ate and dressed and slept and did their hair. Most of the tales also describe, not politely, how people had sex, and dealt with bathroom matters. Glancing down the table of contents of Dubin’s volume, we find the following titles: “The Knight Who Made Cunts Talk,” “The Piece of Shit,” “The Mourner Who Got Fucked at the Grave Site,” “The Peasant’s Fart.” The words used here have not been adjusted to conform to modern immodesty; the translation is literal. In “The Piece of Shit,” a man actually eats one, though it’s his wife’s, and small.

This is fun, until you get tired of it. A fuck is always a “fuck,” regardless of what was presumably one episode’s difference from another. Likewise, the sentence structure is paratactic: ABCD. The knight said such-and-such; then the peasant said such-and-such; then his wife said such-and-such. To this, Boccaccio is like a castle to a cave. He is probably Western literature’s foremost master of sexual euphemism. His lovers grind at the mill; they give the wool a whacking; they make the nightingale sing. Boccaccio does this not because he is abashed by his material but because, as an artist of language, he would be ashamed to say “fuck” five times in one story. Even more intelligent is his syntax. Because the knight said such-and-such, the peasant said such-and-such, even though his wife had previously said such-and-such. This is the kind of sentence structure that was handed down to us by Latin, and that Western people, whether or not they ever studied Latin, recognize as their own.

Italians before Boccaccio had written prose in a sophisticated form. Dante was the first truly distinguished practitioner, but his monumental work, the Divine Comedy, is written in verse, not prose. “Art” fiction in prose took centuries to come of age, because medieval writers, like the ancients, considered prose inferior to verse for the purposes of imaginative literature. Today, it is the primary medium of literary writing: novels, short stories. In Italy, the pioneer of that change was Boccaccio. In the words of one critic, “It is no exaggeration to say that Boccaccio almost by himself established the Italian language as an effective and supple medium for prose.”

The other remarkable feature of Boccaccio’s language is that, while its structure may be inherited from Latin, the words are Italian. In his time, many educated people still regarded the language of everyday life as too rough a medium for an ambitious piece of writing. Most literary works were in Latin. In Italy, the banner-carrier in the campaign against this policy was, again, Dante. The Divine Comedy was written in the Florentine dialect. Boccaccio worshipped Dante—he gave the name “divine” to the poem that Dante called, simply, the “comedy”—and eagerly followed his example. Others, in turn, copied him. More and more books were written in the common tongue and (as was not the case with Dante) about commoners. From that seedbed grew the idea that the lives of ordinary people could be described in literary language, and thereby ennobled.

Rebhorn’s translation of the Decameron is a thoughtful piece of work, with populist intentions. He believes that Boccaccio’s Latinate syntax, with its cargo of subordinate clauses and phrases, cannot be reproduced fluently in modern English, so he sometimes breaks up a sentence. Again with a concern for the common reader, he has tried to make the slang sound natural, and he succeeds. His slang is dated, though (“muttonhead,” “tuckered out”). Also, he repeatedly runs into the problem of having to combine low language with high. Of a woman who is being pursued by a man she dislikes, he writes, “Finding his constant prodding an intolerable burden, the lady decided to get him off her back.” In literary English, or any English, no intolerable burden would be joined, in one sentence, with getting someone off your back. It should be said, though, that Rebhorn, in his endnotes, explains his decisions. He tells us a lot more as well. When Boccaccio describes a baker, Cisti, whose shop was next to the Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Ughi, Rebhorn tells us that in 1300 there was, in fact, a baker named Cisti, whose shop was situated there. He relays the going wisdom: Genoese are misers; Florentines are sly; Perugia is full of homosexuals. He explains the jokes. In one story, there is an ugly man named Scannadio. In the notes, we find out that the man’s name means “he slits the throat of God.” A lot of this information we didn’t need, but it is in endnotes, not footnotes. We don’t have to read them. We should, though. They are a secret message, about Rebhorn’s love of the Decameron, and the years and years of work he spent on it.
 1350, as Boccaccio was writing the Decameron, he met Petrarch, who at that time was the most famous writer in Italy and the foremost Italian representative of Renaissance humanism, the return to ancient values and ancient literature that in some measure unleashed the High Renaissance. Under Petrarch’s influence, Boccaccio became ashamed of the Decameron. Musa and Bondanella, in the abridged translation, reproduce parts of the two men’s correspondence. In one condescending letter, Petrarch says that he hasn’t had time to read the portions of the Decameron that had come his way. Actually, he writes, he hasn’t taken the time, because this book seemed to him a product of Boccaccio’s youth, and of a quest for popular readership. In other words, they weren’t worth his time. He did, however, like patient Griselda. He translated the story into Latin and showed it to friends of his. They wept, he says.

In the last period of Boccaccio’s life, the post-Decameron years, he lived on a small family property in Certaldo, a town outside Florence, which may have been his birthplace. Like his father, he never married, but he produced a number of illegitimate children. He complained of having no money—possibly with reason. He went on some diplomatic missions for the government of Florence, and he produced a number of reference books, in Latin. He never again wrote a substantial piece of prose fiction.

In the thirteen-fifties, just after the Decameron, he underwent a religious crisis. By 1360, he had taken holy orders. It is said that he wanted to destroy the Decameron—that he thought it was a frivolous and dirty thing. Yet, a few years before his death, he copied the whole manuscript out in his own hand. (This is the version used by all modern editors and translators.) So he seems to have had some residual pride in this book. Furthermore, he could never have taken the Decameron out of circulation. It was already famous.

Boccaccio is a premier example of that rare species, the one-great-book great writer. I see the Decameron as a picture, with the ten elegant Florentines, in their silk gowns and embroidered doublets, joining hands and dancing their lovely circle dance, the carola. And in the middle of the circle are monks and merchants and painters and prostitutes eating dinner and having sex and kicking one another into ditches. In other words, we see the Renaissance embraced by the Middle Ages, like a planet orbited by its moons. It is a beautiful sight, and also strange. We see it from afar. ♦

Donatello and Luca are two of the greatest sculptures of the early Renaissance.

1.       Donatello was arguably the most influential visual artists in Italy (not the greatest, the most influential). One of the most admired figures in the western art. 
2.       We know very little about his personal life.
3.       The range of emotion in his art is remarkable, he can be heroic, stern, sensual, enigmatic, and he can create deeply moving representations of religion, political.
4.       His ability to render the body in motion convinces us that these figures are of our world. All of this is part of the humanism of the renaissance.
5.       He conveyed the full measure of man.
Early Career:
·         Born in 1386.
·         He was apprenticed with Ghiberti. Donatello worked with him on the preparation of the north doors of the baptistery.
·         Orsanmichele
o   This structure is in between the two central buildings of renaissance Florence (the cathedral and the palazzo della signoria)
o   This building originally had open loggias and hosted a grain market. Later, these were closed and a church was built. The trade guilds had administrative offices here, in the upper floors.
o   The niches were designed to host sculptures. Each guild commissioned a work.
o   The exterior became one of the most important area of artistic creation in renaissance Florence.
o   Donatello produced a Saint George for a niche in Orsanmichele. The real sculpture is no longer there, what we see is a replica.
§  The statue of St. George also has a relief of St. George fighting the dragon.
§  This is the most significant work of Donatello’s early career.
§  Commissioned by armors guild. Each guild commissioned works that were appropriate so it comes to no surprise that they asked Donatello to highlight the armor of St George.
§  This statue was completed by 1415.
§  The heroic appearance was so striking and this sculpture became so popular.
§  The figure seems to be bursting out of the stone.
§  Donatello depicts St. George as contemplative, thinking. This is a beautiful head.
§  Originally, the sculpture included a real helmet and sword, both provided by the armors guild.

o   St. George Slaying the Dragon
§  This relief was under the sculpture.
§  Done after the sculpture was completed
§  The extremely shallow carving, especially in the background with an arcade and landscape on the right hand side, is called stiacciato, “flattened relief”. This had no precedent, he invented it. He imitated light and atmosphere in sculpture. 
§  You can see the princess that he is saving standing on the right side, and St. George fighting the dragon in the middle.
§  This relief is akin to a predella panel in an altarpiece
§  Ghiberti modelled his gates of paradise after what Donatello invented, stiacciato.
·         1420s, he was at work on two projects, statutes of prophets for the campanile of Florence, and the baptismal font for the cathedral of Siena:
o   The Prophet Jeremiah
§  He produced this figure as one of those figures that would go on the duomo
§  This project went on for about 20 years
§  These were meant to be put very high up
§  He had to design these so that they would be easy to read/view
§  Campanile designed by Giotto.
§  Statues were removed from niches and are now in a museum. What we see now is a copy.
§  The Jeremiah is voluminous. The drapery fills up the lower part of the figure. The head has prominent features because it was meant to be seen from below. When you stand in front of it, you don’t really see what Donatello intended, and would look out of proportion.
§  He was inspired by realism of roman busts and he infuses the prophets with this realism.
o   Relief in Siena
§  The siena cathedral authorities commissioned for the baptismal font six reliefs from 4 different artists. Donatello was asked to do one representing the Feast of Herod.
·         Still in the baptistery
·         Gilded bronze relief
·         Like Ghiberti, Donatello here follows medieval method of continuous narrative (several episodes from the story are shown within the same composition, but he organizes these episodes with linear perspective). He learned about linear perspective from Brunelleschi. Actually, Donatello went with Brunelleschi to Rome.
·         The receding lines move toward a single point, known as vanishing point. The vanishing point is in the center. If you follow the lines of the floor tiles, you get to the vanishing point.
·         The scene: there is a double arcade here with different scenes happening including the first appearance of the head, then a procession bringing it to the second space (middle space), and finally brought to Herod. Donatello shows the dramatic climax of the story… when the head of John the Baptist is presented to the king causing the king and the attendees to draw back in shock.
·         Notice that the center where we have the vanishing point is vacated (there is no figure). This creates a tremendous tension between the pull from the vanishing point and the figures moving away from it (they inhabit the left and right side), and all of this ultimately adds to the dramatization of the scene.  
·         There is so much emotion in this scene. Look at figures in foreground. We see Herod in shock, and little children fleeing from scene.
·         If we look at Ghiberti’s The Story of Jacob and Esau,  we can clearly see Donatello’s influence. Here Ghiberti, like Donatello, rejects the medieval form of storytelling (continuous cycle) and instead separates the scenes using architectural space.

·         Also considered one of the best artists of the day.
·         He made many glazed terracotta sculptures.
·         his work in stone is the true mark of his genius.
·         Cantoria, 1431-38
o   Cantoria= “Singing gallery“
o   This was for the Duomo, church of Florence
o   This was his most important works.
o   Now in the museum dell’opera del duomo.
o   Produced in competition w/ Donatello
o   It is a marble gallery, 17 feet in length. Placed in the north sacristy. Singers and instrumentalist would have performed.
o   We see 10 panels depicting children as dancers, singers, and instrumentalist.
o   Front panels separated by pilasters.
o   We also see an inscription… psalm 150 “praise him with dance, praise him with string instruments and organs, let everything that has breath praise the lord.”
o   Scene of trumpeters
§  Look at puffed out cheeks of the trumpeters
§  Wonderful composition within this block. We see children dancing.
o   Scene of signing and dancing boys
§  The figures are turning.
§  Shallow depth.
§  The legs are so three dimensional.
§  We get the impression that he has really looked at the children of Florence as models for his work. These are not just types, they are real individuals.
o   Scene of halleluiah
§  These boys are singing with music scroll
§  Look at the super low relief of the angel on the left. He is emerging from the stone. Then look at the furrow brows of the angels to his right.
§  This is not casual art. He has studied people to create this.
§  They are clothe in such a classical way.
§  He is so skilled at rendering the youth.
·         Donatello also made a cantoria for the opposite side of the cathedral.
o   Donatello’s is different from Luca’s
o   This one is longer

o   Instead of single panels, he created a continuous panel of dancing children with a mosaic background. He also added heavily elaborate decorations. He was clearly inspired by his visits to Rome. 
In a time when prostitution and female education were both considered unwholesome, professional courtesan Veronica Franco established herself a leader in the 16th Century literary arts. Although initially known among the Venetian literati for her iconic beauty and razor-sharp wit, Franco busted through the Venetian glass ceiling with her success in erotic love poems.
In 1565, Franco was publicly listed as a prominent prostitute in the Il Catalogo di tutte le principale e più honorate cortigiane di Venezia (a public document that recorded the names of prostitutes in the district) and in 1575 she published her most famous book of erotic poems, Terza Rime. Clearly, she's a star worth remembering.
It's hard to to imagine when Franco found energy to devote to her writing amidst her daily and nightly engagements. To be a courtesan in 16th Century Italy meant you were as charming and intelligent as you were beautiful. A true Renaissance woman, Franco, like other courtesans, attracted suitors through the art of conversation, music, dance, and painting. It was, in fact, this distinction that made Franco a Cortigiana Honesta, or "Honest Courtesan."
Venice was very careful to make class distinctions when it came to profession of prostitution. Just as there was a distinction between the merchant and the peddler, so was there a distinction between the Courtesan and the prostitute. A prostitute was considered a woman of low class, unsuitable for the company of the aristocratic families. However, a Courtesan was considered an escort—the intellectual and sexual counterparts of the aristocratic men. A prostitute was found roaming the thoroughfare, while the Courtesan lounged in the foyer of Venetian palaces. Franco herself was rumored to have many talents, including but not limited to playing the lute, playing the spinet, reciting poetry, writing her own poetry, and painting.
Portrait of Veronica Franco
Typically held at arms length from participating in the Renaissance arts, very few women were privy to education, reading, and writing. However, as the only daughter in a family of three sons, Franco took advantage of her brothers' tutors to become educated in Italian culture, Greek literature and Roman history. Weaving iconic Greek images, Italian parables, and classic literary tropes, Terza Rima is an incredibly complex delivery of high education unseen among women and men of her status and time.
In addition to anecdotal glimpses, aphoristic splendors, and rich and lyrical language, her reader will witness recurring references to Ovid's Metamorphosis, Greek philosophy and Christian Renaissance philosophy. Franco's poetry sweeps a range of topics, but the most predominant is female eroticism. Benefiting from an education in the classical and liberal arts, this literary starlette explored, in her writing, notions of Eros and the Erotic in a way far more complex than other women of her professional circle. In other words, Franco's profession heightened an interest in the erotic by necessity, while her education allowed her to see its significance in unique ways. Her poetry boasts about her sexual talents, laments lost love, indicts male brutality and scorns sexual repression. Nurtured by a civilization whose pride rested in classical arts, Terza Rima offers a compelling insight into the influences of 16th century thought.
In addition to her fearless expression of female sexuality, this Honest Courtesan used her financial and intellectual resources to educate other women of her station. Despite her complex admixture of altruism and egotism, Franco's success did not last more than a decade when she was forced to flee from the city to escape the plague outbreak.
Upon return to her native city in 1577, Franco was forced to publicly defend herself against an "Inquisition of Witchcraft."
Although she was exonerated, she lost her fortune and died in relative poverty. 
Renaissance symbols of feminine purity share a number of similarities. Namely, many symbols share their whiteness in color, their references to genitalia or fertility, and a perceived beauty and delicacy. By studying frequently depicted objects such as pearls, unicorns, and lilies in the context of women’s portraits of the time one can understand that patrons and artists were using symbols of purity to depict the faith, virginity, and chastity of the women involved and therefore protect and enforce the patron’s social status.
Virginity was important for the women of Renaissance families, as their sexual behaviors were viewed in Christian terms and thought of as reflecting the honor of the family as a whole. The concept of women’s purity being related to familial honor has been historically long lasting. According to feminist historian Sherry B. Ortner, there is an “ideological linkage of female virginity and chastity to the social honor of the group, such chastity being secured by the exertion of direct control over women’s mobility”.[1] By commissioning marriage portraits depicting daughters or future brides as being chaste through the use of symbols of purity, fathers, brothers, and husbands were merely displaying their control over the female members of their family and raising the social status of the family as a whole.[2] Marriage portraits are one of the most frequent types of paintings to include references to chastity.
Antonello da Messina, The Virgin Mary Reading
Antonello da Messina, The Virgin Mary Reading. Note the pearl jewelry used on her crown and brooch (on her shoulder). In addition to pearls, emeralds were said to shatter if a virgin had sex, sapphires protected chastity, and rubies provided strength and prevented lust and tristesse.
Pearls are one of the quintessential representations of female virginity and purity. It should be noted that pearls do not always carry deeper moral significance—many portrait subjects simply wish to display their sense of fashion and wealth. These precious stones expressed a multitude of meanings; in fact, the pearl was often used to represent vanity or lavishness. However, when pearls are depicted within the specific context of a marriage portrait or the depiction of a religious figure, a message of purity emerges.[3]
The pearl was imbued with many of its implications in the context of paintings of the Madonna. Through representations of the Virgin Mary pearls came to be associated with faith and chastity. The pearls used to adorn the Virgin were not necessarily the pearls one would see in everyday life. These were larger, perfectly round, and flawlessly white with a beautiful luster, while normal pearls may have irregular shapes and lack the Virgin pearls’ snow-white sheen. The perfection of the pearls served to mirror the Christian perfection of the Virgin Mary. Interestingly enough, they also mirror the impossibility of the Virgin’s standard. In order to be the perfect Christian woman one must be a virgin and yet a mother, fertile yet free from lust. As the ideal woman of Christianity, the Virgin’s impossible pearls mirror her impossible persona.[4]
Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, Beatrice d'Este, 1490
Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis,Beatrice d’Este, 1490
Mary’s virginity is one of her most frequently discussed attributes. Her purity was highly contested, and supposedly confirmed by Pope Pius IX in a declaration of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. Even Mary’s own conception was highly debated, in regards to whether she was immaculately conceived by Saint Anne and Saint Joachim.[5] In short, Mary’s virginity and purity are her main attributes, and the items used to adorn her serve to further this message. Theologians walked a fine line in discussing the Virgin; she could not be too human but also could not be too godlike. According to historian Robert Kiely, “all efforts to situate her precisely seemed unable to avoid letting her slip into an all too human condition or raising her to precarious heights of power and virtue”.[6] By creating an unattainable ideal in terms of the Virgin’s purity it discouraged women from pursuing power within the church. How could one become like the church’s most powerful woman when her main characteristics were impossibly conflicting?[7]
Additionally, the Virgin Mary’s beauty promoted comparison with the beauty of a pearl. As depictions of the Virgin became younger, more beautiful, wealthier, and whiter as time went on, so did comparisons between her visage and pearls. The Virgin’s beauty became inexplicably connected with her goodness. The majority of Renaissance portraits of her, even those depicting her son’s death, show her as a young woman in the prime of her life. At times Christ even appears to be older than his mother. The visual comparison between the Virgin and pearls began to encompass not only chastity and faith, but chastity and faith as connected to youth and beauty.[8]
Master of the Castello Nativity, Portrait of a Woman, 1450s
Master of the Castello Nativity, Portrait of a Woman, 1450s
In addition to the Virgin Mary, one saint in particular became associated with pearls. Saint Margaret—whose name is markedly similar to the Latin word for pearl, margarita—was known for her purity and chastity, as well as for being the saint invoked most frequently during childbirth. It’s notable that the two women of the church most closely associated with pearls were the women most well
known for their virginity and simultaneously with fertility. It is not a coincidence that the chaste saint is named for a pearl. Saint Margaret’s story is somewhat muddled, in fact. Earlier versions depict her as a heathen dancer and prostitute, who lavishly covered her body with pearls (one of the aforementioned alternative meanings of the gem). However, later versions present the saint as being ever chaste. Jacobus de Voragine described Saint Margaret as being “named after a highly refined white stone known as margarita, small and filled with virtues. Thus the blessed Margaret was white due to virginity”.[9]
Piero del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Woman, mid 1470s
Piero del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Woman, mid 1470s. Look at the elaborate pearl hairstyle used for this marriage portrait.
These references would be well known to wealthy Renaissance patrons. Male family members would commission portraits for the female members of their family, often as a marriage portrait. These images often used strands of delicate pearls to represent the wearer’s virginal status and piety. Marriage portraits were intended to elevate the status of the family of the bride and of her husband. By promoting the purity of the young women—one of the most prized feminine characteristics of the time—as well as the wealth of both families, their statuses would grow in esteem. The importance of the color of the pearls, being lighter, is enforced by the popularity of lighter hair colors and light skin in portraits of women. Women would dye their hair to be light and would have it painted even lighter. This emphasis on whiteness is due to its association with purity and faith as well as with historical preference.[10] The roundness and whiteness of the pearls also reflected the time’s preferred roundness and whiteness of the feminine form.
Another symbol of purity is the unicorn, which was frequently shown in portraits of women, though never portraits of men. According to legend, only virgins could tame unicorns (historically, the concept of virginity has largely been applied to women while men were treated more forgivingly and generally not in terms of virginity. Thus while there were undoubtedly many male virgins there were no depictions of male virgins with unicorns). Unicorns were consistently depicted as white in coloring, likely due to the association between the color white and purity. Renaissance women, for whom virginity prior to marriage was a requirement, would be depicted with unicorns in order to emphasize their chastity. Similar to pearls, unicorns were meant to exhibit the sitter’s virtue. However, unicorns were not meant as a symbol of faith or piety, in that they were mythological and not religious creatures. An excellent example of this phenomenon is Raphael’s painting, Young Woman with Unicorn. This piece emphasizes the sitter’s virginity by having the symbol of chastity—the unicorn—placed directly in her lap. Raphael was an apt reader of societal norms, and his portraits reflected his awareness of the sitter’s place in society. According to Stefano Zuffi, Raphael, “returned the artform to Alberti’s conception of it as a sign of the sitter’s role in society, in which identity was politically and, in the case of women, socially determined”.[11] As a gift to a young bride, this was particularly appropriate.
The Unicorn Tapestries, The Unicorn at Bay (left), The Unicorn is Tamed (right)
The Unicorn TapestriesThe Unicorn at Bay (left), The Unicorn is Tamed (right)
Unicorns are particularly interesting as a symbol of feminine purity because they are phallic in nature. The common scene of the unicorn and the maiden comes from the idea of the joining male and female. Unicorns represent masculinity, with many works depicting the hunt of a unicorn for the magical properties of its horn, while the maiden represents femininity. In the end, men are unable to tame the unicorn and it must be captured by a young maiden. An excellent example of this are The Unicorn Tapestries, created by unknown artists in the early 1500s. Men unsuccessfully chase the strong and swift unicorn, eventually using a young woman as bait. The young maiden tames the unicorn, calming male elements with her female ones.
Maestro delle Storie del Pane, Portrait of a Man, possible Matteo di Sebastiano di Bernardino Gozzadini, and Portrait of a Woman, possible Ginevra d'Antonio Lupari Gozzadini, 1485-95
Maestro delle Storie del Pane, Portrait of a Man, possible Matteo di Sebastiano di Bernardino Gozzadini, and Portrait of a Woman, possible Ginevra d’Antonio Lupari Gozzadini, 1485-95. There’s a unicorn in the lower right background of the bride’s side of the marriage portrait. She’s also holding a golden orb which may represent the apple from the Garden of Eden.
Raphael, Lady Holding a Unicorn, 1506
Raphael, Lady Holding a Unicorn, 1506
Moretto da Brescia, St Justina with Unicorn 1530
Moretto da Brescia, St Justina with Unicorn, 1530
Domenichino, The Maiden and the Unicorn, 1530
Domenichino, The Maiden and the Unicorn, 1530
Flowers have been associated with female sexuality throughout history. It’s unsurprising, given the ideas of growth and fertility flowers contain, as well as the obvious visual relationship to female genitalia. However, not all flowers represent the same aspect of sexuality. The lily flower is though to represent virginity particularly well and has roots as an attribute of virgin saints. The Virgin Mary and the lily have become closely associated, specifically for its indication of purity. Additionally, a lily flower among thorns frequently represents the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception.[12] Commonly present during scenes of the Annunciation, the lily serves as a metaphor for the conception due to its pure white petals and golden stamen, which acts as a visual reminder of beams of light.[13]Many believe that this particular flower symbolizes the Virgin Mary because of how perfectly white its petals are, as well as its sweet scent. Whiteness is one of the constant markers of female purity throughout the Renaissance.[14] The lily is interesting in that it is also used to represent male saints, including Saint Dominic, Saint Francis, and Saint Joseph. However, portraits of Renaissance men holding lilies were not common in the way portraits of Renaissance women with the flower were.[15]
Sandro Botticelli, The Cestello Annunciation, 1489-90
Sandro Botticelli, The Cestello Annunciation, 1489-90. The Archangel Gabriel holds a lily in his hand.
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Costanza Caetani, 1480-90
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Costanza Caetani, 1480-90
Lorenzi di Credi, Portrait of a Young Woman
Lorenzi di Credi, Portrait of a Young Woman
By studying depictions of the Virgin Mary and marriage portraits from the Renaissance one is able to better understand the moral symbolism behind common objects. While sometimes a pearl is just a pearl, in other contexts it can be a symbol of feminine purity, chastity, and even faith.