The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee
There is a curious propensity of humans, back to the dawn of time, to appreciate beautiful things. There is a certain beauty in antiquities from cave paintings at Lascaux to the hieroglyphs of Egypt, even incorporating newer forms from street and graffiti artists. While much of the earlier forms were also communicating or signifying important messages in the imagery, their decorative appeal is not to be missed. But one can also think in terms of this imagery being a contrast to the realities of life: bleak, barren, violent, or smelly, the art can provide a lasting visual for generations, where often the reality is long forgotten.
When people today hear Renaissance, they often think of Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Botticelli and the other masters so prized today. Alexander Lee has presented a work that is ostensibly based in fact, but his lack of clear premise, a penchant for poor application of today’s beliefs and approaches to situations some 500 years earlier, and an inability to convincingly present his information in a way that proves his premise made this a difficult read. Complex and nuanced situations are reduced to trivialities with vague and often conflicting pieces of “fact’ twisted to suit his own premise, which loses in both bite and believability as the story continues.
What is most striking about Lee’s story is his tone: which felt to me very condescending. This is not a ‘for pleasure’ read for many, people drawn to this title would already understand the ‘realities’ of the Renaissance era: plague, disease, superstition, religious overreach, power struggles, political unrest and poverty that was rampant in most of the population. As a matter of curiosity and some gobsmacking overreach, the Medicis and Borgias are somewhat familiar to many with their devious manipulations for power. Unfortunately, Lee brought forth no new information, and when there was a nugget of interest his poor use of extrapolation and inability to find a clear link to his premise served only to show his lack of belief in his premise.
I had great hopes for this story, and can only wonder where the editors were to challenge some of the glaring inconsistencies and wandering prose that did nothing for reader’s understanding of the story, and did not serve the author’s intent, however muddled that may be. I expected a far more academic tone, with some new information that encouraged my reading elsewhere for more information, but I got a clearly unfocused 448 pages with spates of pedantic conclusion, conflicting arguments to prove the same premise and slovenly bordering on sloppy research.
Title: The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction, Non Fiction
Published by: Doubleday
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 15 Hours: 15 minutes
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About the Book:
A fascinating and counterintuitive portrait of the sordid, hidden world behind the dazzling artwork of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and more
Renowned as a period of cultural rebirth and artistic innovation, the Renaissance is cloaked in a unique aura of beauty and brilliance. Its very name conjures up awe-inspiring images of an age of lofty ideals in which life imitated the fantastic artworks for which it has become famous. But behind the vast explosion of new art and culture lurked a seamy, vicious world of power politics, perversity, and corruption that has more in common with the present day than anyone dares to admit.
In this lively and meticulously researched portrait, Renaissance scholar Alexander Lee illuminates the dark and titillating contradictions that were hidden beneath the surface of the period’s best-known artworks. Rife with tales of scheming bankers, greedy politicians, sex-crazed priests, bloody rivalries, vicious intolerance, rampant disease, and lives of extravagance and excess, this gripping exploration of the underbelly of Renaissance Italy shows that, far from being the product of high-minded ideals, the sublime monuments of the Renaissance were created by flawed and tormented artists who lived in an ever-expanding world of inequality, dark sexuality, bigotry, and hatred.
The Ugly Renaissance is a delightfully debauched journey through the surprising contradictions of Italy’s past and shows that were it not for the profusion of depravity and degradation, history’s greatest masterpieces might never have come into being.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.