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An illustrated history of the Renaissance told through the lives of its most influential patrons.

From the late Middle Ages, the independent Italian city-states were taken over by powerful families who installed themselves as dynastic rulers. Inspired by the humanists, the princes of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy immersed themselves in the culture of antiquity, commissioning palaces, villas and churches inspired by the architecture of ancient Rome, and offering patronage to artists and writers.

Many of these princes were related by blood or marriage, creating a web of alliances that held society together but whose tensions sometimes threatened to tear it apart. Thus were their lives dominated as much by the waging of war as the nurture of artistic talent. Mary Hollingsworth charts these developments in a sequence of chronological chapters, each centred on two or three main characters with a cast of minor ones - from Ludovico Sforza of Milan to Isabella d'Este of Mantua, from Pope Paul III to Emperor Charles V, and from the painters Mantegna and Titian to the architect Sansovino and the polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

Princes of the Renaissance is a vivid depiction of the lives and times of the élite whose power and patronage created the art and architecture of the Renaissance. In a narrative that is as rigorous and closely researched as it is accessible and informative, Mary Hollingsworth sets their aesthetic achievements in the context of the volatile, ever-shifting politics of a tumultuous period of history.

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Mary Hollingsworth has a B.Sc in business studies from the University of Manchester and a Ph.D. in art history from the University of East Anglia. Her thesis dealt with the role of the patron in the development of Renaissance art and architecture, a subject she taught to undergraduates and postgraduates at UEA, and which firmed the basis of two books.

Her subsequent work on the papers of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, preserved in huge quantities in the Italian state archives at Modena, broadened her horizons and expertise well beyond the confines of art history and into the everyday world of Renaissance Europe - not only the art and the fripperies and baubles we associate with pomp and prestige, but also the soap, the candles, the shoelaces, the cooking pots and the drains, the stuff of everyday life.

She has published widely on all these topics in academic journals and was one of the senior academics on the Material Renaissance Project, a collaborative venture funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Board and the Getty Grant Program, which investigated costs and consumption in Italy 1300-1650.

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