Martines, Lauro 1927–
Martines, Lauro 1927–
PERSONAL: Born November 22, 1927, in Chicago, IL; married Ruth E. Wray, 1950 (divorced, 1954); married Julia O'Faolain (a writer), 1957; children: Lucien Christopher. Education: Drake University, A.B., 1950; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1960. Politics: Liberal independent.
ADDRESSES: Home—8 Gloucester Cres., London NW1 7DS, England. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: Reed College, Portland, OR, assistant professor of history, 1958–62; University of California, Los Angeles, professor of European history, 1966–92. Visiting professor, Warburg Institute, University of London, 1985; distinguished visiting professor, University of Washington, 1990; visiting director of studies, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, spring, 1992, 1994. Military service: U.S. Army, 1945–47.
MEMBER: American Historical Association, Renaissance Society of America, Mediaeval Academy of America (fellow), Dante Alighieri Society of Florence (Italy).
AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowships from American Council of Learned Societies, 1962–63, Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, 1962–65, Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1964–65, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1971, 1978–79, and the Rockefeller Foundation, 1990; awards from American Philosophical Society and Ford Foundation; citation for distinguished achievement from Society for Italian Historical Studies, for The Social World of the Florentine Humanists.
NONFICTION, EXCEPT AS NOTED
The Social World of the Florentine Humanists, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1963.
Lawyers and Statecraft in Renaissance Florence, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1968.
(Editor) Violence and Civil Disorder in Italian Cities,1200–1500, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1972.
(With wife, Julia O'Faolain) Not in God's Image: Women in History from the Greeks to the Victorians, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.
Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.
Society and History in English Renaissance Verse, Basil Blackwell (New York, NY), 1985.
An Italian Renaissance Sextet: Six Tales in Historical Context, translated by Murtha Baca, Marsilio Publishers (New York, NY), 1994.
Strong Words: Writing and Social Strain in the Italian Renaissance, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2001.
April Blood: Florence and the Plot against the Medici, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Loredana: A Venetian Tale (novel), Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2004, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Also editor of Riti e rituali nelle societa medievali, 1994. Contributor of articles and reviews to professional journals in America and Italy. Member of board of editors, Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
SIDELIGHTS: Lauro Martines is generally regarded as an expert on the Italian Renaissance. In the preface to his Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy, the author notes that the book's title "is my way of referring to, and altering, the more conventional distinction between 'society' and 'culture.' In telling a story which courses across five centuries, I was driven to pursue a central theme, a thread more easily visible than 'society.' I chose to center attention on the fortunes of 'power' because, in tracing the movement of political authority, I was also compelled, all the way along, to track the direction of social and economic change. And I chose 'imagination' over 'culture' because my supreme concern is with relations between dominant social groups (power) and the articulated, formal, refined, or idealizing consciousness of those who speak for the powerful. In this interplay, the workings of imagination tend to be foremost."
Martines's theory, according to Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, is "that nothing about Renaissance art and culture is anything more than the reflection of the needs and concerns of the period's ruling elite. Even the weakness of the culture is reflected in that art and scholarship. And at the very high-water mark of the High Renaissance … this weakness of the culture had already begun to undermine it." Peter Burke likewise found that the author "looks at the arts with the eye of a politician." In his New York Review of Books article about Power and Imagination, Burke quoted Martines as stating: "Before we daze ourselves with notions about the period's universal love of art, let it be remembered that popes Julius II and Leo X used artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo to glorify themselves personally, their families and their office." "Martines discusses the arts primarily as propaganda, ideology, self-assertion," continued Burke. "He sees portraits as designed to reflect flattering self-images. He looks at palaces as embodiments of the desire of the political elite to dominate the space within the walls of their city. Like the towers built by the warring nobles of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Renaissance palaces are 'affirmations of power.'"
Burke, however, stated that Martines's argument is one-sided. The author "sees that art was used by the rich, the well-born, and the powerful as a mode of self-assertion, and illustrates this point with some vivid examples. The trouble is that he sees little else," commented the critic, who also noted: "It is easy enough for [Martines] to quote examples of humanists who made successful careers in government and of rulers who were interested in ideas, but the less successful intellectuals and the less cultivated members of the ruling class escape his attention." In the Times Literary Supplement, John Larner gave qualified praise for Power and Imagination, observing: "There is much of interest here both for scholars and a more general audience. Yet how far the reader will be convinced by the detailed interpretations of the relations between art and the social order will probably depend on how far he accepts the credibility of any detailed sociology of culture." Ultimately, though, Larner suggested that "even those who may be skeptical of the author's general theses will still find here a great deal to instruct and entertain them."
Lehmann-Haupt also recommended the book, finding that "much of what is stimulating about the theory lies in how Professor Martines employs it as a tool to analyze the art and culture of the period." The critic, furthermore, was "especially impressed with [the author's] organization of history. For example, when confronted by a series of differing items—be they constitutions or dukes or voting systems—instead of describing each one of them by turn, he first extracts what is typical in them and then summarizes their variations." "To the writing of history," concluded Lehmann-Haupt, "we welcome Professor Martines's sense of order."
In Strong Words: Writing and Social Strain in the Italian Renaissance Martines undertakes a complex analysis of Renaissance society through the writings of the time. The author takes samples of poetry, prayers, letters, and other written documents to form a portrait of the era. The result is an "elegant and potent book," in the estimation of Daniel Bornstein in the Renaissance Quarterly. Strong Words is a book that "should become required reading" for students of the period, according to Thomas Kuehn in the Journal of Modern History. Nevertheless, he warned that "this is not a book for beginners."
More accessible to the general reader is April Blood: Florence and the Plot against the Medici, published in 2003. It is a "vivid, dramatic account of conspiracy and murder" in Renaissance Florence, according to a Kirkus Reviews writer. Focusing on the Medici family, who had built a considerable fortune over a period of a few generations, the author uncovers various plots by and against the Medici clan. Warning that the story is typical of the "hideously violent era," the Kirkus Reviews writer nevertheless recommended it as "lively, thrilling, and hugely entertaining."
The author has also tried his hand at fiction with the novel Loredana: A Venetian Tale. As with his scholarly work, it is set in the Italian Renaissance period—specifically, in Venice of the late 1520s; the novel reflects the author's extensive knowledge of the era. The plot concerns Orso, a Dominican monk, and Loredana, a widow from the upper classes. Presented in the form of letters, it is written "with grace and force," and full "of passion and duplicity, of revolution and repression," stated David Keymer in a Library Journal review. A Publishers Weekly reviewer credited Martines with skillfully using the epistolary form, and "bringing to life the opulence and grandeur" of the period. A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised the author for "moving brilliantly" between the wealthy and lower-class cultures in Venice in a "fast-paced and exciting" tale.
Martines told CA: "Several reviewers misunderstood my claims regarding historical relations between high culture and social structures. I have never held that art, literature and ideas are 'reflections' of social realities. Such a view, if it makes any sense at all, strikes me as mechanistic and wrong.
"My brief is, instead, that high culture (elaborated forms of consciousness) is rooted in the social order. To say is, however, is to raise immense problems, for the claim next requires that we enter a jungle of particulars, in the effort to identify and tease out the devious, slanted, or hidden ties between society and culture, or between power and imagination—ties that often go through a subtle process of idealization. In short, to do serious work of this sort, running it along the cusp between society and consciousness, is likely to require a lifetime. My 1985 book, Society and History in English Renaissance Verse, is a theoretical statement about this.
"I have come to believe that we do not truly understand matters of any importance until we sit down and write about them. At that point, surprising things sometimes happen, such as the emergence of unexpected connections, of new insights, or even of flummeries.
"In the 1970s, I began to realize that most academic historians write for other mandarins. Power and Imagination, therefore, was my first sustained attempt both to direct a book at a larger (lay) audience and at professional historians as well. However, for writers who have been shaped by graduate school and by the habitual effort to produce specialized scholarship, the task of breaking with academic jargon, and of learning to write classic English, may take years. My last two historical books, April Blood and Fire in the City, are, I hope, ventures of the sort that any intelligent reader can pick up and go through with relative ease.
"Strong Words: Writing and Social Strain in the Italian Renaissance turns out to have been, of all my books, the trickiest to write, but also the most satisfying. It rests on many years of reflecting on the process of charting relations between society and high culture.
"I suppose I want my oeuvre to demonstrate that works of art and ideas always belong to a time and place. They may of course be transcendent—say Plato's dialogues speaking to the fifteenth or to the early twentieth centuries; but they acquire this feature only when they speak to persisting existential needs. Living men are then able to breathe a new vitality into them.
"My one experience of writing and publishing a novel persuades me that it is exciting to write fiction. At least I found the experience a heady tonic. Writing history, serious history, may also be exciting, but it is dauntingly mingled with meticulous, rational work; and though the play of the imagination is extremely important here too, it must be more carefully and sparingly used."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Martines, Lauro, Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.
Contemporary Review, May, 2003, review of April Blood: Florence and the Plot against the Medici, p. 317.
English Historical Review, June, 2003, George Holmes, review of Strong Words: Writing and Social Strain in the Italian Renaissance, p. 771.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, autumn, 1997, William J. Bouwsma, review of An Italian Renaissance Sextet: Six Tales in Historical Context, p. 283.
Journal of Modern History, September, 2003, Thomas Kuehn, review of Strong Words, p. 702.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2003, review of April Blood, p. 287; September 15, 2005, review of Loredana: A Venetian Tale, p. 997.
Library Journal, November 15, 2005, David Keymer, review of Loredana, p. 63.
New Yorker, April 16, 1979, review of Power and Imagination, p. 159.
New York Review of Books, October 11, 1979, Peter Burke, review of Power and Imagination, p. 35.
New York Times, April 11, 1979, Christopher Lehman-Haupt, review of Power and Imagination, p. C23.
Publishers Weekly, February 24, 2003, review of April Blood, p. 62; October 24, 2005, review of Loredana, p. 37.
Renaissance Quarterly, winter, 1996, James Wyatt Cook, review of An Italian Renaissance Sextet, p. 859; summer, 2003, Daniel Bornstein, review of Strong Words, p. 449.
Times Literary Supplement, July 25, 1980, John Larner, review of Power and Imagination, p. 856.