Renaissance book ideas – Despotism

From reading the new book I got “The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy” by Jacob Burckhardt I have been thinking over the idea which the author discusses in the first chapter – Despotism – and how this could be reflected into the context of the 21st century.

Found this definition of Despotism on wikipedia – Despotism is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. That entity may be an individual, as in anautocracy, or it may be a group,[1] as in an oligarchy. The word despotism means to “rule in the fashion of a despot” and does not necessarily require a singular “despot”, an individual.

During the 14th and 15th centuries there were many of these despot states within the Renaissance world, where leaders and families would fight for control of their territories, often with conflict and betrayals ending one rule, beginning a fresh one and repeating often. The inevitable violence that ensued from the way these states were run produced revolt and Tyrannicide, where groups of people would plot to overthrow the existing tyrant in power. Giovanni Boccaccio, and Italian author and poet famously stated:

Shall I call the tyrant king or prince, and obey him loyally as my lord? No, for he is the enemy of the commonwealth. Against him I may use arms, conspiracies, spies, ambushes and fraud; to do so is a sacred and necessary work. There is no more acceptable sacrifice than the blood of a tyrant.

In the context of the 21st century, similar events around the globe, mainly in the middle east could be compared to the events of these despot states in the Renaissance era. The Arab Spring beginning in 2010 witnessed the people of countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Bahrain rise up against the ruling government of these states who often displayed characteristics of dictatorships. The violent overthrowing of the current regime to form a new one draws parallels with the events of the Renaissance states, the wars in Iraq and the situation developing in Iran are also good examples of “regime change”.

The role of technology on the ground is also an aspect to think about in relation to this subject, would these revolutions have taken shape the way they have done without the coverage of global television reporting or without the use of Twitter and Facebook, the Egyptian government restricted access to the Internet during the trouble there in an effort to stop the protestors communicating.

I have not completed the full chapter of the book where Burckhardt discuses these characteristics in relation to the Renaissance yet, but the books has definatly got me thinking about how our countries are run, how we interact with other nations and how technology is used as a tool for the people of the countries to communicate as opposed to the governments speaking for them.


Cao Fei

Project undertaken on Second Life, the artist created a virtual city called rmb city.

Methods of advertising

Following on from the idea of creating animated gifs I have been interested in the situations in which we views, their presence in cyberspace and increasingly I have been thinking about the power of advertising. Not so much into the message or the images, as I would create my own, but the presence of form advertising takes and how the public interact with it. Working in the agency I am in just now has helped me to develop a new way of looking at these issues.

As well as website advertising, I am beginning to notice the amount of adverts situated in bus stops and train stations, increasingly videos are being used along with the rollover over boards, that switch between several adverts. Would be quite interested in developing ideas around this.

Sound Artists – Jorgen Larsson

Another artist who works with sound albeit within an installation environment,



Planes is an installation with swinging speakers.

The speakers are placed in molded plastic ellipses which hang like pendelums from steel tubes. The sound is generated from the electromagnetically controlled movement and consists of synthetic and recorded material. The recorded material is from Cockpit Voice Recorders of plane crashes or near-crashes.
Screaming Room
Screaming Room

Screaming Room (2009) is a place to scream. A row of glasses are placed on a shelf in a small room.

When the visitors scream, the shelf vibrates violently and some the glasses fall off one by one. The vibration stops if the visitor is quiet, leaving the glasses to sing by themselves:

The Global Renaissance

The Global Renaissance section in the very short introduction book is similar to the humanist section as it gives an excellent starting point to research these topics in greater detail and has also provided me with several points which I can relate back to the Digital Renaissance idea. Two paintings that I have included in previous posts are analysed in relation to the idea of the global renaissance, Hans Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’ and Gentile and Giovanni Bellini’s ‘St. Mark preaching in Alexandria’. In both examples Brotton discusses the attributes of the works that support the theory that the renaissance was not simply a European, but a global development.

In ‘The Ambassadors’, situated over the top half of the table underneath numerous things is a rug of eastern design, objects such as globes and a merchant arithmetic book suggest that these ‘renaissance men’ had a broader understanding of the world and trade outside of Europe, or at least were attempting to achieve this. Travel, discovery and trade, all symbolised in this image were important factors of the renaissance and all of them, in some respect, touched by cultures out with European influences.

In the Bellini’s work the idea of a multi cultural society is suggested. The story of St.Mark dates back to the 1st century A.D. however has been reworked by the Bellinis into a modern setting for the time. Renaissance artists often reworked old stories and myths into their own contexts, which Brotton describes as them “dressing the contemporary world up with clothes from the past as a way of understanding the present.” If we look at this painting with that in mind we could say that this scene may have been common place in market places throughout the renaissance world. It depicts a multi religious, multi cultural marketplace that represents a broad scope of peoples including Venetian noblemen, Egyptians, Moors, Ottomans and Persians. The architecture of the scene is also mentioned; during the renaissance many cultures appropriated and reworked styles from each other and incorporated them into their own art and architecture. A key example that Brotton describes is that of Michelangelo, who whilst designing the domes for St.Peters, was influenced by Eastern architecture, in particular palaces and mosques.

When comparing St.Mark preaching in Alexandria and The Ambassadors, the concepts of trade becomes important, the former depicting the marketplace with the latter, the merchants books and goods from the market. The value of trade from the East within Europe can be witnessed by the fact that foreign goods were seen as luxurious and highly sought after. I have not research this that much but will keep going with it.

With these points, I think there are a few similarities which I can relate back to the Digital Renaissance. The issues I have highlighted, in particular multi culturalism, I feel are highly important topics within contemporary society which I will continue to build upon within my own project as my research continues.

Online Identities

I uploaded a copy of a paper discussing identity within Second Life that has came back into my head from ready the body and identity section in Digital Art by Christiane Paul. One line that stand out for me is:

Online identity allows a simultaneous presence in various spaces and contexts, a constant ‘reproduction’ of the self without the body.

In our daily lives we play different characters depending on the situation we find ourselves in, for example the way we behave in work isn’t the same as if we were with our friends or at a family gathering. In essence we ‘play’ different roles according to the different restraints of the situation we find ourselves in, it’s not that we’re being different people but simply adopting different parts of our personality as a whole depending on what we’re doing.

With the development of the Internet along with social media and other community based websites and environments this idea is magnified with the ability to change and even conceal our identities.  Different websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Myspace, 4chan, Second Life etc. offer us a platform to display ourselves, our thoughts and opinions to a wider community; on each we can potentially behave differently which fits in with the above quote, a constant reproduction of ourselves in various spaces and contexts. For example, Tumblr allows users to create a url where someone could express views about something that they feel would be unacceptable on Facebook where people who know them can what they are writing. The ability to be anonymous or to change identity can be witnessed in contemporary projects such as ones by, Electronic Disturbance Theater and RTMark, but also dates back to artists like Marcel Duchamp, who famously created artworks using the pseudonym Rrose Selavy, his female alter ego.

Overall I think that a persons identity online could be seen a consisting of many personalities, the idea of ‘playing’ a role appears again depending on what website someone is using, who is using the website and how they are presenting themselves within it. A persons overall Internet identity becomes a form of digital multiple personalities that exist in several places at different times.

Liminal Identities

I like these kind of projects, this one by Rebecca Allen, that cross the boundary of the real and the virtual. In the case the physical object will capture the faces of the exhibition users and transfer them into the installation digital counterpart. There is also the ability to breathe on the installation, capturing different senses and transferring them into the virtual realm.