One of the first writers of the early Renaissance, Giovanni Boccaccio, a Florentine, is most noted for writing the Decameron, a series of 100 stories set in Florence during the Black Death that struck the city in 1348. Boccaccio explores, in these stories, the traditions and viewpoints of various social classes, greatly based on actual observation and study.
One of the Few notable women of the Renaissance, Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who used her as a pawn in his attempts to gain political power. He married her first to the duke of Milan, then to the illegitimate son of the King of Naples, and finally to the duke of Ferarra, where she became an influential member of the court.
A well-known painter of the Renaissance, Botticelli was one of a circle of artists and scholars sponsored by the Medici in Florence. He was fascinated by Neoplatonism, and many of his works are seen as great examples of applied Neoplatonism.
Brunelleschi was one of the great sculptors and architects of the early Renaissance. His most famous contribution was the design of the dome of the cathedral of Florence, which still dominates the Florentine skyline today.
Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor during the early sixteenth century, was, by genetic good fortune, heir to Spain, Burgundy, the Netherlands, Austria, and Naples, as well as being claimant to Milan by imperial right. His forces harassed the Italian city-states for years, finally gaining dominance over much of Italy in the settlement of Bologna, in 1530.
Isabella d'Este was perhaps the most powerful and most intelligent woman of the Renaissance. She mastered Greek and Latin and memorized the works of the ancient scholars, all the while excelling in the arts of singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments. As the duchess of Mantua, she exerted a great amount of influence over the politics, social life, and economics of the city, even ruling by herself when her husband had been captured in battle.
Perhaps the greatest single figure of the Renaissance, Leonardo excelled in painting, sculpting, engineering, biology, and many other fields. He traveled around Italy, and eventually France as well, making observations on nature and seeking commissions. Many of his contributions were ideas for inventions which were not built until long after his death. His most famous completed work, the Mona Lisa, is the most famous portrait ever painted.
The greatest sculptor of the early Renaissance, Donatello was born Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi. Donatello studied under both Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, and went on to create several masterpieces for Cosimo de Medici in Florence. His most important work is the David, which depicts the Hebrew king in the classical style of a Greek god. David was the first freestanding nude figure sculpted since the Roman era. Donatello went on to create the first bronze statue of the Renaissance, showing an incredibly realistic soldier on horseback.
In 1423, Francesco Fosari became doge of Venice. He ruled with excessive grandeur and exercised far greater power than had past doges, aggressively pursuing a policy of western expansion. To torment and control the doge, the Venetian Council of Ten falsely accused his son, Jacopo, of treason, and began a long process during which Jacopo was exiled, readmitted, tortured, and exiled again. Finally, when the Council of Ten forced Fosari to resign, affirming its power over the monarch.
Ghiberti was one of the earliest sculptors of the Renaissance. He developed techniques for showing perspective that greatly influenced his followers throughout the Renaissance. Ghiberti sculpted a pair of bronze doors to a church in Florence which remain one of the greatest-admired treasures of the Renaissance.
Giotto was one of the first painters of the Renaissance. He did groundbreaking work in the realm of perspective and realism. Giotto's techniques were instrumental in pursuing the goals of Renaissance art, and they greatly affected the artists who followed.
Gutenberg is credited with inventing the printing press in Germany in 1454, and printing the first book, the Gutenberg Bible, ushering in the age of the printed book, during which books became cheaper and more accessible to the general population.
Niccolo Machiavelli may be the most famed writer of the Renaissance. His most well known work, The Prince is a political handbook arguing that it is better for a ruler to be feared than loved.
Masaccio, a nickname meaning 'Messy Tom', was born Tomasso Guidi. Masaccio is credited with mastering perspective, and was the first Renaissance artist to paint models in the nude, often using light and shadow to define the shape of his models rather than clear lines. Masaccio's best known work is a scene from the Bible called The Tribute Money.
In 1434, Cosimo de Medici consolidated the power of Florence in his and his family's hands, beginning the reign of the Medici that would last in Florence until the end of the Renaissance. Cosimo built up strong connections throughout Italy and Europe in his capacity as a banker, and applied the wealth of Florence in patronage of artistic and intellectual endeavors.
Lorenzo de Medici, known as 'Il Magnifico,' was Cosimo's grandson. Lorenzo lived more elegantly than had Cosimo, and enjoyed the spotlight of power immensely. Under his control, the Florentine economy expanded significantly and the lower class enjoyed a greater level of comfort and protection than it had before. During the period of Lorenzo's rule, from 1469 to 1492, Florence became undeniably the most important city-state in Italy and the most beautiful city in all of Europe.
Michaelangelo was one of the greatest artists of the High Renaissance. At a young age his talent was spotted by Lorenzo de Medici and he was brought up in the Medici palace. He went on to create some of the most famous works of the Renaissance, carving the Pieta and painting the walls and ceilings of the Sistine Chapel.
Francesco Petrarch is often referred to as the founder of humanism. As one of the first humanist writers he explored modern life through the lens of the ancient Romans and Greeks, influencing with his works the later renaissance writers and the spirit of the times.
Pico was a philosopher and writer of the Renaissance. His most famous work is a collection of 900 philosophical treatises in which he expresses his belief in the free will of man and the ability of individuals to commune with God without the medium of a priest. Pico was declared a heretic, and only saved from demise by the intervention of Lorenzo de Medici.
Rodrigo Borgia, who took the name Alexander VI upon rising to the papacy in 1492 and ruled until 1503, was a corrupt pope bent on the advancement of his family through the political ranks of Italy. While pope he turned many away from the church with his actions, and his reign is considered by some to be the darkest era of the Papacy.
Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) ascended to the papal throne in 1523, following Pope Leo X. He arose during troubled times and proved a moral man but a poor administrator, and his lack of political skill eventually led to the sack of Rome.
Pope Julius II (1503-1513) ascended to the papal throne in 1503, and presided over the beginning of Rome's Golden Age. He ended the long string of highly corrupt pontiffs and began the massive project of rebuilding St. Peter's basilica.
Pope Leo X (1513-1521) was the son of Lorenzo de Medici. A truly enlightened leader and patron of the arts, he followed the reign of Julius II, ascending to the throne in 1513. Pope Leo X continued the work begun during Julius II's pontificate, rebuilding all of Rome, and most specifically, St. Peter's basilica. His one grave error was to authorize the sale of indulgences to finance this project, an action which prompted the beginning of the Reformation movement.
Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) ascended to the Papacy in 1447 and took the first steps necessary in resurrecting Rome. He began the rebuilding of Rome as a Renaissance city, supporting the arts and reviving the city's economy.
Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) is known for both the great steps taken under his rule to rebuild Rome and his great corruption. Pope Sixtus IV instituted nepotism as a way of life in Rome, and ran the Papacy as a family operation.
Hailed as the greatest painter of the Renaissance, Raphael, born Rafaello Sanzi, worked in Rome under papal commissions from Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X, decorating much of the Vatican. The most widely known of the series of murals and frescoes he painted is the School of Athens, which depicts an imaginary assembly of famous philosophers. He was considered so important by his contemporaries that when he died at the premature age of 37 he was buried in the Pantheon.
Savonarola attracted a following starting in 1491, when he began preaching against the worldliness and paganism of the Renaissance. He led the ousting of the Medici from Florence in 1494, and assumed power, drafting a new draconian constitution, and attempting to revive the medieval spirit. He ordered burned many books and paintings he considered immoral. In 1495, Savonarola called for the deposal of Pope Alexander VI, was declared a heretic, and burned at the stake.
Ludovico Sforza played the part of the archetypical Italian Renaissance prince, surrounding himself with intrigue and corruption. Though Ludovico was not the rightful duke of Milan and was known to use coercion and manipulation to achieve his political goals, for a time the city of Milan flourished in his care. Under Ludovico, known as 'Il Moro," Milan became extraordinarily wealthy and its citizens participated in a splendid and excessive social culture.
Titian was the most famous Venetian artist of the Renaissance. Born Tiziana Vecellio, in the Italian Alps, he moved to Venice early in life to study. Titian distinguished himself through the use of bright colors and new techniques that gave those colors greater subtlety and depth. Between 1518 and 1532 he served as court painter in Ferrara, Mantua, and Urbino. In 1532, he became the official painter to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in which role he dabbled mainly in portraiture.