Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



The Italy of Popes and Princes



Between the 15th and the 18th centuries, Italy was contested by the rulers of France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. It disintegrated into interdependent political structures that quarreled with each other and maneuvered between the great powers. The popes and the northern Italian princes were united by ruthless power and family politics in their battle against municipal freedoms and fashioned their courts into shining centers of the arts and literature.


see also:






CLASSICAL MUSIC-The Middle Ages and the Renaissance, The Baroque Era



The Nobility and the Papal States in Northern and Central Italy

The numerous Italian princes' palaces became, despite their comparatively minor political importance, significant centers of the Renaissance and the baroque. They were matched in their displays of splendor by the confident noble families in the city-republics.


While the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily was ruled over by Spain or by Spanish collateral family branches into the 18th century, local ruling dynasties of varying origins  reigned in the north and center of the Italian peninsula. The Milanese Sforza family, descended from a mercenary soldier (condottiere), was ousted in 1515 when Francis I of France occupied Lombardy after his victory at Marignano.

Following success over the French at 1 Pavia in 1525, the Habsburg emperor Charles V then seized Milan as an imperial fief.

1 The Battle of Pavia. Tapestry in the Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte (Naples).



Battle of Pavia

(Feb. 24, 1525), the decisive military engagement of the war in Italy between Francis I of France and the Habsburg emperor Charles V, in which the French army of 28,000 was virtually annihilated and Francis himself, commanding the French army, was taken prisoner. Francis was sent to Madrid, where, the following year, he concluded peace and surrendered French claims to Italy.

The French army had been besieging the city of Pavia, 20 miles (30 kilometres) south of Milan, when the 23,000-man Habsburg army under Fernando Francisco de Avalos, marchese di Pescara, arrived to aid the 6,000-man garrison and lift the siege. The battle began as a night surprise attack by the Habsburg army with limited objectives and developed unexpectedly into a decisive battle. A hasty French attack was on the point of encircling Pescara when 1,500 Spanish arquebusiers opened fire on the rear of the French cavalry and riddled the ranks of the French and their allied Swiss infantry. The French attacks thereafter, made by German and Swiss mercenary infantry, were routed. The Spanish counterattack, supported by the Pavia garrison, which joined in the battle, completely swept the French from the field, destroying Francis’ army as a fighting force in the process. Spanish hegemony in Italy dates from this battle. The Battle of Pavia also marks the ascendancy of the arquebus, at least in Spanish hands, over mounted shock action (that is, cavalry charges).


The history of the 3 Medici family in Florence was eventful.

3 The Cathedral of Florence with the bell tower by Giotto di Bondone and the dome by Brunelleschi

They rose to become the unofficial rulers of the city and particularly distinguished themselves as patrons of the arts. Cosimo the Elder (Còsimo di Giovanni degli Mèdici), summoned the sculptor Donatello to his court in the 15th century.

Michelangelo  and Botticelli worked for his grandson 2 Lorenzo de Medici in Florence.

2 Lorenzo de Medici, painting by Vasari, 16th century

see also


"Lives of the Most Eminent Painters,

Sculptors, and Architects

After Lorenzo's death, however, the family was driven out by the monk 4 Savonarola, who established a form of theocratic republic in 1494.

4 Savonarola's execution in Florence, painting, ca. 1500

The Medici returned in 1513. After the murder of Alessandro de' Medici—who, as son-in-law of Charles V gained the title of duke of Florence for his family in 1532—Cosimo I, a distant cousin, took over the dukedom in 1537 and became a leading power in northern Italy. Cosimo established himself as absolute ruler, founded the famous collection of paintings in the Pitti Palace, and conquered Siena, which he absorbed into Tuscany in 1555. In 1569 he was elevated to grand duke of Tuscany. When the Medici line died out in 1737, the grand duchy was given to Francis Stephen (later Emperor Francis I) in exchange for Lorraine. His son Peter Leopold, the later Emperor Leopold II, transformed Tuscany into a model state of enlightened absolutism and a center of independent sciences through extensive social reforms.

The ancient royal house of Este was granted the imperial fiefs of Modena and Reggio by the emperor in 1452 and in 1471 was awarded 5 Ferrara as a dukedom by the pope.

5 Castello Estense in Ferrara

Ercole I laid out Ferrara as a modern city with wide, straight streets. His son Alfonso I was married to the pope's daughter Lucrezia Borgia. When the direct line died out with Alfonso II in 1597, the pope took back Ferrara as a papal fief in 1598, but Este relatives still ruled in Modena until the French occupation in 1796.

The main branch of the Gonzaga family reigned in Mantua.

Margrave Giovanni Francesco III was married to 6 Isabella d'Este, who made Mantua into an important cultural center.

Their son Federigo II gained the title of duke in 1530. The extinction of the direct line in 1627 led to the War of Mantuan Succession (1628-1631).
The emperor seized Mantua as an imperial fief in 1708.

Pope 7 Paul III of the House of Farnese made his illegitimate son Pier Luigi the duke of Parma and Piacenza in 1545.

6 Isabella d' Este, Duchesse of Mantua,

7 Pope Paul III and his nephews,
Titian, 1546

see also collection:   


However, the duke was murdered and the land was then occupied by imperial troops. His son Ottavio was able to regain the estates in 1538 through his marriage to Margaret, the illegitimate daughter of Emperor Charles V. Their son Alexander became governor of the Netherlands in 1578. The Farnese line died out in 1731, and Parma was initially seized by the emperor as an imperial fief, but eventually in 1748 through marriage came into the hands of the Spanish Bourbons, who also ruled Naples and Sicily.

Another papal family, the della Rovere, gained possession of Urbino. Here, the governor and condottiere Federigo da Montefeltro received the ducal title in 1474 and founded a dynasty, into which the nephew of Pope Julius II and great-nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco Maria della Rovere, married in 1508. Urbino was independent until 1631 when it reverted to the Papal States.

Andrea Doria, who fought against the Ottomans as an admiral for Emperor Charles V, put an end to the French rule of Genoa in 1528 and reintroduced the old constitution of the aristocratic republic with the election of a doge as head of state every two years.

8 Andrea Dona depicted as sea god Neptune,
Bronzino, ca. 1530

see also:


In compensation for having lost the Mediterranean trade to the Venetians and the Turks, the Genoese rose to become the most important bankers of the Spanish crown.

In contrast to 10 Venice, Genoa was able to maintain a leading position in commerce.

10 The doge of Venice's gondola, painting by Canaletto, ca. 1750

see also:


The Venetian republic had lost almost all of its territories in the Eastern Mediterranean to the Ottomans by the 18th century. The shifting of world trade to the Atlantic led to the gradual decline of the city. In 1797, the French occupied both Venice and Genoa, abolished the rule of the doges, and made both cities satellite states of the French Republic.

The most significant dynasty in Northern Italy was the house of Savoy.

From 9 Turin it ruled the Duchy of Savoy and Piedmont.

9 The Basilica of Supergra containing the House of Savoy mausoleum, Turin

It alternatively allied with the French and the Habsburgs in order to maintain its independence and expand its territories.

After the Spanish wars of succession it gained the island of Sardinia and 11 its crown.

11 Coronation of Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy,
marble relief, 1713

As in the other Italian states, branches of the Bourbons or respectively the Habsburgs ruled, it was able to lead the Italian independence movement in the 19th century as it was the only authentically "Italian" royal dynasty.



Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy