The disintegration of the Roman Empire, and the gradual dissolution of the ancient world gave birth to Europe during the Middle Ages. This development was accompanied by the movement of tribes and populations around the continent. The Huns arrived from Asia, extending their dominion over a large part of eastern and central Europe in the fifth century. Successively, these areas were taken over by various other tribes. Beginning in the fourth century, and over a period of several centuries, Christianity progressively replaced the original religions in all parts of Europe; moreover, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, three major expeditions of Christian crusaders travelled to the Near East to conquer Jerusalem. Worship of relics was characteristic, especially of early Christianity, and crusaders were no exception: European churches received quantities of relics (such as remains of saints, objects, or simply 'holy soil'), often recognized as furta sacra, and provided with a certificate of 'authentication' (Geary, 1990). In the Mediterranean area, Islam remained dominant, with a foothold even in Europe - especially in Spain and Sicily. In the south of Europe, existing settlements continued to evolve, but, with population growth, new settlements and cities were founded from south to north, and from west to east. Gradually Europe found a new identity, different from antiquity, which was expressed in the diversity of its cultures and city states (Benevolo, 1993).
During this millennium of constant movement, change and growth, there was also
much destruction; ancient monuments were modified for new uses, or their material was reused in new constructions. (Such practice can, in fact, be found in all parts of the world.) Classical heritage, however, was not extinct, but remained a continuous presence and reminder in the ancient monuments and ruins. It also remained a reference for the evolution of building methods, from late Roman to Romanesque and Gothic. Besides, in the Middle Ages, there were conscious renascences of classical ideals finding expression in arts and literature, as can be seen in the fine, classically spirited sculptures of Naumburg, Chartres, or Reims. The study of classical authorities, especially Aristotle, continued in various monastic centres and universities around the emerging Europe (Panofsky, 1970) and there were several important personalities who founded their authority in the past. Charlemagne (742-814), who resided at Aachen, spoke Greek and Latin, and was surrounded by learned men; the buildings of his time clearly
reflected the continuity of classical tradition. Emperor Otto I (912-973) placed the capital of the Holy Roman Empire in Magdeburg, where he had architectural elements and marbles brought from Italy as ancient, sacred relics. Frederick II (1194-1250) resided in the south of Italy; he founded the university of Naples, and patronized art and literature. He is considered the most enlightened man of his age, speaking all the principal languages of his empire, and writing poems in Italian; he received learned men from all cultures, tolerated Jews and Muslims, and anticipated the later humanistic movement. At the same time, he persecuted heretics, and represented the absolute princely power of this era.
Continuity was relevant in the mediaeval construction of cathedral churches, such as Durham Cathedral. Mediaeval workshops had rules whereby elements prepared by a mason should be used in the construction, and not thrown away, even if the person died. In most cases, construction was continued in the manner that was prevalent at the moment. It has occurred, however, that the initial building 'manner' could be continued in periods with completely different 'stylistic' intentions, as in Kotor Cathedral in Dalmatia, or in some churches in France or England, only completed in the time of full classicism as a 'mediaeval survival'.9 In Siena, the principles of thirteenth-century design guidelines were applied in successive centuries due to a
conscious conservative policy - as a reinforcement of the city's identity in rivalry with Renaissance Florence. This is clearly expressed in the design of the buildings facing the famous Piazza del Campo; the city hall itself was enlarged in a period when Classical ideals were already flourishing, but with full respect for the previous, mediaeval design principles. Through its renowned artists, such as Simone Martini, Siena became instrumental in the revival of Gothic into an international movement in the fourteenth century.
There was a long wait until antiquity ceased to be seductive and menacing; only after it was perceived as fully 'terminated' in its pagan dimension, could it be revived through a renascence of the ancient ideals. Christian consciousness was based on the stabilization of interiority through its reform movements, of which Francis of Assisi was the most significant. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) conceived the physical world as the visible result of God's action, which was realized through the constitution of political states. In the Divina Commedia, he animated personalities of all times in a dialogue in virtual, atemporal space, opening the scene for the timeless revival of the ideals of the ancient world.
Francesco Petrarch (1304-74) established a similar, imaginary dialogue with Augustine, whom he elevated to a humanistic ideal, and with whom he interrogated the state of his own soul. Like Augustine a thousand years earlier, he was painfully conscious of the desperate state of the world in which he lived. Only, this time, instead of a generic condemnation, Petrarch focused on his immediate period. He did not refute the world as a whole, but found his ideals in classical antiquity rather than in an eternity beyond the present. While expressing a new type of nostalgia for the lost grandness of this antiquity, he also believed in the possibility of its regeneration. He placed the painful millennium, the Middle Ages, as it were 'in parentheses' and visualized a vigorous start for a new age founded directly on the experience of antiquity. By ascending Mount Ventoux, the highest mountain near Avignon (1909 m), from where he looked nostalgically towards Italy and Spain, he symbolically elevated his spirit over his own time, and, at the same time, discovered the concept of landscape. Moreover, the event became symbolic, being completely noncon formist for mediaeval culture, and it opened up new horizons, giving Petrarch himself internal strength to overcome his mediaeval convictions. He opened the way to the Italian Renaissance, and to the development of a new way of looking at history.
Horst Günther has written: 'Since religion no longer refutes the world in its totality - in the name of a better world, but accepts its existence, religiosity has become the destiny of the individual. Hence, it is linked with artistic production, scientific knowledge, and political charisma, which are subject to laws of immanence, even though there may be a wish to infringe or to break such laws' (Günther, 1995:103). The replacement of the universal, religious history by an interest in the history of Rome, and Petrarch's example of searching for truth in one's own self, marked the start of a new approach to historiography, and, at the same time, an interest in the archaeological study of ancient monuments and works of art.
In Italy, while major attention was given to the analysis of the work of ancient historians, there also began a new study of local histories. The first of these was Leonardo Bruni's (c. 1374-1444) Historiae Florentini populi, the history of Florence, followed by Flavio Biondo's Historiarum ab inclinatione Romanorum imperii decades (1439-53) covering the period of the Roman Middle Ages from the sack by Alaric to the writer's own time. Unlike the mediaeval historians, Renaissance writers were conscious of the process of historical change, and, following Petrarch, they also began to study the lives and works of ancient and recent personalities with new eyes; Bruni's Vita di Dante is an invaluable early source book, while Giorgio Vasari's Vite dei piu eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti ('Lives of Painters, Sculptors and Architects', begun in 1546) has become a classic. For the northern people, classical antiquity remained literal and more distant than for the Italians, but they started discovering their own national past in the same Middle Ages that were rejected by Petrarch. From the sixteenth century onwards there was an increasing interest in national histories. Among the first publications were the Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555), a history of the northern people, by Bishop Olaus Magnus, George Buchanan's History of Scotland (1582), and William Camden's Britannia (1586).10
In terms of ancient monuments, the Renaissance marked a turning point. The memory of ancient Rome had always persisted even in its ruins, although these had been abandoned, vandalized and scavenged for building material. Now, with the insistence of Petrarch, new humanism saw the ancient monuments as relics of the past grandeur of ancient Rome, Christian and Imperial, and they acquired an important political significance. Although the impact of pagan Rome was still strong, attention was given particularly to the Christian aspect of this heritage, and, for example, there were studies on the role of Christians in the construction of Diocletian's thermae, and the sacrifice of martyrs in the arena of the Colosseum. Furthermore, ancient monuments provided lessons: artists and architects could learn about art, architecture and technology; humanists could learn about history and the Latin language and literature. We can see the roots of modern archaeological consciousness in the attempts to relate literary history with the actual sites. Consequently, there was a new beginning of collections of antiquities for purposes of study, as well as for the sake of a social status. The role of Rome as a cultural centre was revived, and the number of visitors grew. Since the fifteenth century, there also appeared protective orders, and Raphael was the first to be nominated responsible for the protection of ancient monuments in the papal administration.
Another important impact of the Renaissance was on the concept of art. Although still in the Neoplatonic tradition, the idea of the work of art was promoted in contrast with the mediaeval artisan tradition. As a result of the comparison with ancient artists, the growing interest in collections, and the implied political value, the concept of the work of art emerged in its aesthetic dimension, instead of having a principally functional significance as in the Middle Ages. The artistic aspect was now considered together with the meaning of antiquity, and a fashion for the restoration of the ancient ruins and fragments of statues was initiated in the work Donatello undertook for his patrons. The conflict of the value of an ancient object as a work of art and its value as antiquity, became an issue in the dialectics of restoration, and was debated by artists and humanists from the sixteenth century onward. This new apprecia tion of the work of art also gave a new status to artists; Raphael was the first to be socially accepted at the same level as the aristocracy. There was a growing admiration of his work, and, since the seventeenth century, this led to a debate on the restoration of his paintings, especially in the Vatican.
These beginnings in Italy soon influenced other countries; the acquisition and restoration of antiquities, works of art, and entire collections became a fashion that spread through the 'grand tours' to many European countries. Antiquarian studies were promoted in Sweden since the sixteenth century, resulting in a decree to protect national antiquities in the seventeenth century. In Spain, well-known painters were appointed as caretakers of painting collections. Later on, many countries started enacting legislation to control the export of significant works of art. In the seventeenth century, literary descriptions of tours to the Mediterranean, and paintings of classical ruins and landscapes, became a fashionable reference to dilettanti and antiquarians, contributing to the creation of the English landscape garden in the eighteenth century. The concept of 'picturesque' was soon transferred to national antiquities and the remains of ancient abbeys and castles. These became a popular subject for water-colourists and a reference to conservative criticism of classically conceived renewals of mediaeval cathedrals and churches.
Was this article helpful?