Guilds: the Growth of Italian City-States

The development of city-states throughout Italy came as a product of increasing wealth from commerce at various points along the Italian shoreline. The city-state of Florence often gets named as the birthplace of the Renaissance, as its multitude of guilds gave rise to an exciting cityscape. Growing wealth within the city, and deaths from the Black Death, eventually lead to a demand for labor in cities; Population shifted from the countryside toward the city as peasants sought greater compensation. While the Middle Ages that continued outside the cities consisted of a God-given hierarchy of Orders, Renaissance city-states inspired the creation of classes where upward mobility became possible.

Although upward mobility was made possible by the introduction of classes, such movement remained extremely rare as those in powerful roles held on to their status tightly. To them, their political or economic success came from the hard work of their respective families and could be seen from their well-established family name. Marriage, thus, became a tool in the growth of city-states as wealthy merchants and old nobility sought to maximize their influence through intermixing.

Often thought to be a product of the product of free thought, the Renaissance more precisely portrayed the influence of Italy’s wealthy class during this period of growth. Those with the means to act as patrons of artists, like Lorenzo de Medici, often directed the attention of great minds toward their own interests. Pieces like Machiavelli’s The Prince show this, as the region’s artists catered to the minds of leading politicians in order to gain attention and the patronage that resulted.

The Syndics of the Clothmakers Guild (1662) by Rembrandt depicts Amsterdam’s elected Clothmakers Guild. The piece indicates the growing influence of the middling ranks within a rapidly changing Renaissance society. Individualism shines through Rembrandt’s focus on each member’s unique position around the table and his overall attention to detail.





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