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.


Candice Brietz

I like the Ghost Series among other works created by Brietz, these remind me of what I was talking about painting over pictures. Here the artist seems to be making a statement on race, she is a berlin based south african artist and I think with these works she trying to show how the african culture was manipulated by colonial presences in africa. So much so that the tradition and the indigenous people became like ghosts within their own environment.


Mongrel’s most ambitious project of recent years was its social software development which began with the release of the “Linker” software system in 1999 and culminated with the release of “Nine(9)” in 2003. These works were among the first examples of multimedia authoring software designed by artists themselves for running collaborative arts projects that were sensitive to the cultural expressions of marginalised social groups. These two works alone resulted in invitations by arts organisations to run hundreds of workshops around the world and won numerous citations and awards.

“Nine(9)” is a “knowledge map,” which uses a grid of nine self-selected images to allow participants to easily create links to other images, sounds, video clips and text. Part of a larger grid of knowledge maps by up to 729 others (9 X 9 X 9), the networked maps become a communal knowledge map. As the critic Josephine Bosma has written about the project, ““Nine(9)”is kaleidoscopic and endless. The repeated maps of nine stories within nine images form a rhythmic visual metamap in which all borders meet like on a globe.” “Nine(9)” is designed for “people’s photos, memories, passions and politics.”

Nine(9) was developed over18 months of research at de Waag (the Society for Old and New Media) in Amsterdam. It was launched on 03.03.03 at ImagineIC and de Waag in Amsterdam. Since then Paul Keller and Jenny Wesley have been producing workshops continuously for ImagineIC, the main organisation in Holland highlighting the culture and identity of migrants. To date over 42 workshops have been conducted with 378 participants around the world.

Julius von Bismarck

This work gives user the ability to see themselves out with of their own bodies, an out of body experience. He talks about the soul floating away from the body when we die which reminded me of some of the stuff I was reading about Plato and his theory that the soul is immortal so thought I would post it.


Renaissance Humanism

The concepts of renaissance humanism were developed by many figures in various directions with a core set of characteristics that featured throughout. Most notably the advancement of the individual was encouraged, through methods such as the studying of classical greek and roman texts, as well as vigorous training in languages, oratory and writing. As noted previously, many humanists worked on behalf of religious organisations such as Leonardo da Vinci and George of Trebizond, although some rejected the notions of spiritual and divine matters which make up characteristics  of modern humanism.

The understanding of the self and of our place in the world promoted by humanism was strongly supported by greek philosophers such as Plato and Artistole, as well as Romans such as Cicero, this aspects relates to point 3 of my diagram – the revival of classic texts. The general term for this kind of education was called the studia humantis. Many tried to reconcile these classical ideals with Christianity as Brotton describes however a sort of individualism developed with the techniques of humanism serving as the tools for people to be “able to reflect on the moral and ethical problems that the individual faced in relation to his/her social world.”

The printing press also served as a vital tool in the spread of renaissance humanism, with the ability to mass produce books with ease, the humanists ideology could be distributed to a wide audience easily. This created a revolution with more people reading and writing, Brotton describes this:

At the beginning of the 15th century, literacy and books were the preserve of the tiny, international elite focussed on urban centres like Constantinople, Baghdad, Rome and Venice. By the end of the 16th century humanism and the printing press had created a revolution in both elite and popular apprehensions of reading, writing, and the status of knowledge, transmitted via the printed book.

I think that at this early stage of my research a better understanding of classical texts would aid my understanding of renaissance humanism which I will continue to build on, however there are a few similarities of things which I think are relevant to contemporary society. The first issue is the development of the individual and the ability to “to reflect on the moral and ethical problems” that are present in todays world. As we progress into the 21st century, the whole idea of the individual and identity are big issues, this can be witnessed in both cultural and social issues ranging from race and religion to sexuality and personal interests. The increasingly diverse and multi cultural world which we are living in is adapting to new identities as people are developing with the conditions of the modern society.

The internet could also be viewed as the 20th and 21st century printing press. In a similar way to the printing press in creating a “revolution in both elite and popular apprehensions of reading, writing and the status of knowledge”, so too the internet has provided a vast and global digital network where knowledge and information can be shared and distributed all over the planet, in multiple languages, almost instantly. Libraries and books have almost been replaced by websites such as Google and Wikipedia when people are looking to find information easily and fast. The ‘status of knowledge’ in todays world could be argued as being of a higher standard as a cause of this. The ideas of the individual and identity are also present when discussing the internet, with the ability to join social media networks, virtual worlds and communities, the internet has created the platform for us to develop multi layered identities, separate in some case cases, of our physical selves. The internet also allows us to research topics or join communities that we may not have had access to if the internet did exist, further developing and complicating our individual identities.

Scott Snibbe

Other examples of interactive wall works, the first one records the shadow of the viewer and the second is a projection that can be manipulated.

Taryn Simon

I really like this project by Taryn Simon who travelled to different locations around the globe and documented blood lines of different families. In some case certain members of the family had been declared dead for various reason and the photographs served as evidence of them existing, other bloodlines were strange as member of certain families believe that their sons were reincarnations of older family member who had passed away.