The name Italy evokes history and splendor. Toga-clad Romans, sweeping vistas of vineyards and olive groves, the majesty of a Papal mass, Dante’s Comedia, and Leonardo’s haunting Mona Lisa. Few nations can boast as rich an artistic and cultural legacy, and yet, the concept of Italy as a single, autonomous political entity is a young one, dating back a mere 125 years. Fragmented both by North-South rivalries and foreign invasions, the peninsula struggled for nearly 1500 years after the fall of the Roman Empire to become a cohesive whole.
Now, in The Oxford History of Italy, two millennia of political turmoil and artistic glory are brought to life. Written by twelve leading scholars, this attractively designed volume paints a vivid portrait that ranges from the first hints of a nascent Italian consciousness (which often clashed with Rome’s authority in the first century), to the Fascist struggles of the twentieth. We discover how the sack of Rome in 410 by the Goths created an enormous power vacuum, filled only by the proliferation of city-states and the ascendancy of the Pope. The book examines the artistic explosion of the Renaissance, illuminates the legacy of the Medici family and the great Italian masters–Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael–and visits ports such as Venice and commercial centers such as Milan, which prospered in the aftershock of the Black Death and the Great Schism. And the contributors explore the succeeding economic and political troubles of the following centuries: sharp depressions, inter-state wars, foreign invasions first by Spain, then by Austria and France. Not until the 19th century upsurge in nationalist fervor, fueled by Garibaldi’s victorious war against the Habsburg overlords, was Italy’s future as an independent nation guaranteed. Yet even today, Italy’s political atmosphere is stormy: from the lingering Fascist sentiments, to the growing Northern separatist movement, to the rampant corruption that rocks the government and topples Prime Ministers with shocking regularity, Italy remains in a state of flux.
Lavishly illustrated with hundreds of pictures–including 24 pages of color plates–this attractive volume is an essential history for anyone interested in Italy. From the grandeur of Rome to the contentious politics of modern times, The Oxford History of Italy provides an authoritative and unforgettable journey through this remarkable land.