Renewing Beauty and Terror

Tapestries were the artistic grandeur of the Renaissance age, requiring imagination, skill, patience, and frequently global alliance. These same qualities distinguish Catherine Fletcher’s The Beauty and the Terror, a closely woven panorama of the governmental, spiritual, socio-economic, cultural, and aesthetic developments of this exciting era.
Renaissance tapestries took just two unique kinds: the traditional Flemish arrangement, together with patterns and designs sprinkled across a decorative field, and also the Italian structure that burst with narrative scenes coming to existence amid the silken threads. If Dr. Fletcher’s novel have been a tapestry, it would belong to the Flemish class, together with myriad monuments, personalities, and occasions forming engaging patterns, such as many chapters that shine like gold threads. These patterns of war, politics, faith, technology, and artwork mesmerize the reader as each new detail comes to existence over her twenty five chapters, sweeping the reader from the Fall of Constantinople to the Battle of Lepanto.
Fletcher has undertaken a herculean job, mustering an amazing amount of research, ranging from contemporary chronicles and diaries to the latest scholarship, to recount the thickly populated political, economic, and cultural circumstances of 15th and 16th-century Europe.
To this remarkable variety, Fletcher includes painters, writers, scientists, preachers, explorers, and inventors strutting and fretting their minutes on the webpage. Each character sketch is equally pithy and memorable, however, it takes more than a little familiarity with the period to keep things straight. A couple of diagrams for the main dynasties, a listing of papal successions, along with some maps to orient the reader below the erratic patchwork of German autonomous nations, would be helpful to the general reader.
Fletcher’s obvious, goal prose shines here; her tone as she discusses the problematic papacy of Alexander VI Borgia is far more nuanced than that of other writers. She expands that subtlety to her traces of spiritual characters, distancing both Savonarola and Martin Luther from their typical caricature-like portrayals and at one point visually contrasting them with one another. Her approach is also distinguished by a willingness to entertain the idea that the piety of this era was sincere, at least at times, and that God played a vital part within this society, a notion frequently dismissed by scholars who a-critically proclaim the Renaissance because the complete triumph of secularism. As she describes the downturn of Savonarola, for example, she notes that”while the Florentines may have supported the rhetoric of moral renewal… heavy-handed policing of everyday lives sparked resentment.” Readers might note a parallel in the responses to restrictions through the 2020 pandemic.
Fletcher’s fast-paced tour occasionally pauses to present the reader to a number of the most popular artistic wonders of the era. She dedicates pages to the exquisite work of Pinturicchio in the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican Museums and her view will do much to rehabilitate this much maligned artist. Fletcher hence invites viewers to look at Italian Renaissance art differently, much less a record of tourism’s top ten, however, as varietals from various terroirs, each one with its premier cru –an approach much valued by this art historian.
Of the numerous fascinating chapters, several are as enthralling as 16″Battle of Words”, which influences the evolution, diffusion, and impact of the printing media. The thing brims with data that highlights the remarkable opportunities that this new medium offered girls. Fletcher introduces the reader to a parade of extraordinary female authors, Inspired by testimonies of the numerous men who admired and encouraged them.
Women are brought often to the fore during the publication. Readers encounter the forceful personalities of Caterina Riario Sforza and Isabella D’Este, in Addition to the meditative characters of Vittoria Colonna or Laura Battiferri degli Ammannati. Fletcher’s evaluation of the circumstances of women in this era is clear, clear-cut, and well documented, without the usual handwringing on a perceived”oppressive” and”patriarchal” society.
Since the title of this work suggests, the era that generated so much wonder was likewise marked by dread.   Fletcher’s precise, sensual descriptions of death, combat, along with the ever-evolving techniques of murdering in the chapter”Weapons of War” would have made her (from the day) the label of”virago,” a girl with combative characteristics usually associated with men. Her close examination of the growth of artillery, battle formations, as well as the etiquette vs. laws of guns drives home the often-forgotten truth that brutal and deadly battles were a constant backdrop to the achievements of the Renaissance. Fletcher retains the continuous fear of the Ottoman danger in the horizon, encouraging the reader to look at the Adriatic through Renaissance eyes to find a sun-speckled sea that might bring boats laden with riches, or vessels carrying out a fatal disease, or warships bristling with aggressive invaders.
The compression necessary for such a gigantic job creates occasional issues in the text, particularly when dealing with issues of religion. Readers will know less about the actual Council of Trent from the homonymous chapter in relation to the politics of its flaws and postponements, as well as the personalities in attendance. There are a number of errors regarding sacraments, as where Fletcher asserts that Protestants were basically in agreement on the sacrament of communion, when actually Luther and Calvin whined on the subject along with the Catholic Church dedicated much focus in Trent to strengthening the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This may seem a little point, but this issue would shape most of the artwork, design, and liturgical practice of these century in Italy along with other Catholic states.
Fletcher downplays the menace of Ottoman fleet, noting that for each Turkish atrocity, Christians need you to match, along with also the battle comes across as more of a publicity ploy for the Catholics compared to a real fear of a possible Islamic occupation of Italy. She gets much of this torture and death of Marc Antonio Bragadin at the hands of Ottoman commander Ali Pasha but neglects to remember that two of the sufferer’s brothers commanded warships from the battle. Nor doesn’t say –surprisingly, given her attentiveness to women– Maria”Bailiarola,” a dancer/warrior friend of Cervantes, whom history claims has been first to board the enemy flagship. Even the Roman Colonna household, though prominently featured throughout the novel, is barely accounted for in the context of this battle. Inside this battle where merchant ships flanked war vessels, along with economics, warcraft, technology, and religion were so closely intertwined, this sounds a missed chance to draw the numerous strands of her tapestry to a neat knot.
Instead, Fletcher brings the narrative to a close with an epilogue,”Hard Power to Soft,” which showcases the long term effects of the Renaissance during history, even to the present day. This makes for a smooth landing after the raucous ride through that turbulent era and shuts the book on a note of hope.
Back in 1860, Jacob Burkhardt sparked the creativity of Europe together with his masterpiece The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. The interdisciplinary approach of this Swiss theologian-turned-historian launched art history, galvanized tourism, also settled Italy firmly as the birthplace of contemporary Europe. Whether it was initially intended, The Beauty and the Terror marks the 150th anniversary of Burkhardt’s endeavor by renewing appreciation for this critical moment in history, at a time when lots of educational institutions are downgrading the humanities and relegated to political correctness.
Fletcher gives in just once to the lure of”wokeness,” in the case of corruption and race. In the chapter”Art of War,” she paints Francesco del Giocondo as a”ruthless” slave trader, even though the girls he brought were baptized, a sacrament that normally brought manumission. She also asserts (without proof ) that the African webpage in Titian’s portrait of Laura Dianti is a servant, based on a contemporary tendency to regard every person of colour in European art for a sign of”systemic racism.” But Fletcher also cuts against those contemporary tendencies, particularly as she shows that Catholic beliefs shaped the Origin of this implacable opposition to slavery, ” a moral view of humankind that finally caused abolition
The Beauty and the Terror comes at an opportune time in history, inviting visitors to recognize the way 16th century civilization impacts our world these days. The wondrous fruits of Renaissance art, science, literature, and technology climbed in a ferment of greed, violence, oppression, and panic. One closes this publication hoping that amid our current strife and terrors, modern society could create a worthy heritage of its own.