Manfredo Tafuri narrates a theatrical story of the Renaissance, a story of grandeur, power and intrigue in which architecture is implicated as a key protagonist. He employs formal analysis to explain how architecture plays a role in creating what Peter Burke described as a “theater-state” (102). After the execution of Girolamo Savonarola in 1498, the Medici began to carefully construct a new beginning for Florence, equipped with money and connections but with little tangible power. It was important to construct an image of power, clemency, and hope.
Architecture is systematically employed to create temporary (as in the celebrations of 1513) and permanent structures that reiterate a myth until it becomes reality. This new reality articulates a resolution of two opposing ideas: (1) religious devotion (and Savonarola’s more extreme ascetic version of this) and (2) a loyalty to the progress of the state and to the ideals of secular (and what Ruskin would call pagan and sinful) humanism.
Only in the grand and permanent forms of architecture can such a complex new reality be constructed. Architecture is the setting of this theater against which the drama unfolds. To a large extent, argues Tafuri, the Medici were successful:
No other prophets emerged to proclaim Florence the center of a new Golden Age. The Medici were victorious. They understood quite clearly the visions of religious renovation were intimately connected with dreams of civil liberty…. With unbending determination the Medici eradicated, in the decades that followed, the myth of Savonarola, offering in its place a new ‘Florentine idea.’ (154)
Of course, Leo X’s efforts to construct an idea of state and religion as one and the same culminated in his infamous sale of indulgences that elicited the Protestant Reformation, but not before it had achieved the creation of St. Peter’s. This, along with other Medici projects, left, or had the potential to leave “a lasting imprint on the collective imagination” (154).
Tafuri offers as a result an enormously positive and idealistic view of Architecture’s ability to shape politics and history, and to realize impossible social alliances, alliances that cannot be envisioned in our world unless an architectural intervention reforms the very backdrop against which we play out our daily lives.
It makes me think of Israel and Palestine.