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In 1300 Pope Boniface VIII joked that there were in fact five elements because "wherever you find Earth, Water, Air and Fire you also find Florentines". Boniface's comment reflects the enormous political, commercial and artistic power and prestige of Florence throughout the Renaissance period. Generations of art critics have located the city as the engine of the Italian Renaissance, home at different points to artists of the stature of Leonardo, Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, Andrea del Verrocchio and Pierodel Pollaiuolo. Designed to accompany the National Gallery exhibition of the same name in London, Patricia Rubin and Alison Wright's extraordinary Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s reassesses this view of the city in an exquisite and extremely accessible piece of cultural history. The 1470s are chosen as a particularly dynamic artistic moment in the city which reflected "the death of Piero de' Medici in December 1469 and the rise to ascendancy of his gifted son Lorenzo, whose power was dramatically challenged by an assassination attempt in 1478 and confirmed in 1480 by constitutional changes intended to secure his regime."
Rubin and Wright seek to offer a more complex understanding of Lorenzo's deliberately fashioned "golden age" of artistic creativity and the relationship between Renaissance politics and aesthetics. Examining the extraordinary range of paintings, frescoes, murals, public buildings, sculptures and ceramics produced throughout the 1470s, they analyse creative output through the guild structure of the city, which "took flexible and exploratory approaches to compositional problems" and "tested the boundaries between two and three dimensions." The result is a fresh and fascinating approach to iconic Renaissance images such as Antonio and Pierodel Pollaiuolo's Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, Lippi's Adorationof the Magi and Botticelli's Venus and Mars. This is a magnificent piece of cultural history, wonderfully illustrated and written with great erudition and clarity. --Jerry Brotton [via]