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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rich Tapestry of the Renaissance Comes to Life!
THE MEDICI: GODFATHERS OF THE RENAISSANCE is a four-hour docudrama that is at once entertaining and educational. Using the technique of contemporary seated scholars in discussion with the viewer interspersed with actors playing the roles of the peoples of Florence and Rome and the famous Medici family that spanned three centuries of control and influence in Italy, this...
Published on February 19, 2004 by Grady Harp

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173 of 177 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than average "Empires" entry
This four-hour documentary on the Medici has all of the series' strengths (high production values, excellent cinematography) and its great weakness of substituting simple conflict for historical analysis. You might get weary, as I did, of the implicit comparisons of the Renaissance banking family with the Coreleones, but that's relieved by a truly diverse selection of...
Published on March 1, 2004 by Center Man


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173 of 177 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than average "Empires" entry, March 1, 2004
By 
This four-hour documentary on the Medici has all of the series' strengths (high production values, excellent cinematography) and its great weakness of substituting simple conflict for historical analysis. You might get weary, as I did, of the implicit comparisons of the Renaissance banking family with the Coreleones, but that's relieved by a truly diverse selection of talking heads and viewpoints.

There are other problems, though. Nearly every entry in the "Empires" series has had difficulties with characterization, and "The Medici" is no different. Lorenzo de Medici, for example, is portrayed as an enlightened ruler, a public-minded human being and an art patron whose career was sabotaged by religious fundamentalism. You'd never know he covered his debts by stealing from the public treasury. Savonarola is accurately depicted as a puritanical maniac, but his appeal to Florence is never fully explained. One minute the Florentines are sipping grapa and discussing Platonic forms, the next they're tossing their copies of "The Republic" on a bonfire. For "The Medici," it's enough to show Lorenzo as a patron of learning, and Savonarola as a fundamentalist, creating a black and white conflict that dehumanizes both and makes a mockery of the competing and often contradicting strains of piety and humanism found in many Renaissance figures. It also makes ordinary Florentines look like dupes: Savonarola was a fanatic, but his Puritanical, anti-Medici sermons had resonance with a city that was tiring of Lorenzo's abuses.

The third episode on the Medici popes moves in a similar direction. This is the weakest of the bunch. The narrative is little more than a society-page list of parties and paintings, mixed with random acts of violence and a barebones timeline of the two pontiffs' lives. Intervals with Michelangelo are enjoyable, but brief. And the series again simplifies the protagonists. Leo and Clement were wastrels whose excesses helped spark the Reformation. They lived large and often led their armies into impious war. That's all correct. But if Leo X lived it up, he was also sincerely religious. He wasn't unique, either: Many medieval and early Renaissance rulers saw no conflict between hedonism and piety. Given the chance to explore this odd trait, "Empires" shies away and opts for scenes of Leo killing off his enemies.

The documentary is worth a purchase, though. The first episode on Cosimo de Medici is one of the best explorations of Renaissance politics I've seen on television, and Brunelleschi is given his due in both raising his dome and inventing perspective. If Cosimo's failings are passed over, the overall assessment of his rule is fair. One wishes the film would point out that common families like the Medici rose to power because the Florentines abolished feudalism in 1290, but that's a minor nit to pick.

To be fair to the filmmakers, you can't fit everything about the family in a four-hour documentary, and "The Medici," at least, hits the basics and doesn't get anything wrong (unlike Empires' "Martin Luther," which told us the faith is a Freudian rejection of father figures). This is probably the best treatment of Renaissance politics television will ever come up with, so you might as well seek it out, and hope the next "Empires" film fixes the flaws of its predecessors.
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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Likeable but Lacking..., March 11, 2004
By 
Timothy Walker (Orlando, Florida USA) - See all my reviews
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With this four hour documentary, and others in the series, PBS hopes to expose a wide audience to culturally and historically significant people and ideas. The Medici family, whose artistic patronage brought into existence much of what we now call "the Renaissance", and whose abuses of power likewise contributed to the Protestant Reformation, are certainly a worthy subject... but in the quest for mass market appeal, the filmmakers cut too many corners, making what could have been a true work of art into little more than interesting television.
First, the positives: the cinematography is stunning, the narration clear and factually accurate (although the narrator's voice is, to me, somewhat jarring), and the pacing of the story is superb. Additionally, great care was obviously taken to cast actors who actually resemble the historical figures, and keeping them silent only adds to the realism.
Sadly, this review does not end here, and I must point out the film's significant flaws. The characters are one-dimensional - we see only Cosimo the enlightened ruler, Giovanni the power-hungry, and Savonarola the fanatic, while all these men were more complicated (and therefore more interesting) than they are presented. Also, while the spoken words are factual, some of the images they accompany are not: we see a Florentine skyline containing buildings not yet built, we see a peasant girl sitting on stairs reading Luther's theses in the Latin... if I can catch these inaccuracies, one wonders how many a serious scholar would notice!
Other pet peeves include the immediate passing from the reign of Cosimo the Elder to Lorenzo the Magnificent, with nary a mention of Piero (Lorenzo's father, who ruled the city for five years), and the perpetual recycling of footage to pad out the segments; it is not hard to imagine art students devising a drinking game around this film... take a shot when the artisan mixes the blue paint.
In short, The Medici is a beautiful and interesting documentary, recommended to students of history and lovers of the arts alike, but it is no substitute for serious scholarship. Three and one-half stars.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rich Tapestry of the Renaissance Comes to Life!, February 19, 2004
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THE MEDICI: GODFATHERS OF THE RENAISSANCE is a four-hour docudrama that is at once entertaining and educational. Using the technique of contemporary seated scholars in discussion with the viewer interspersed with actors playing the roles of the peoples of Florence and Rome and the famous Medici family that spanned three centuries of control and influence in Italy, this highly entertaining and beautifully photographed history lesson is a valuable addition to schools, historians, and lovers of history and biography.
The Medici family was a mercantile line that amassed enough wealth to be able to live (and even become) royally. The Medicis are attributed with the advent of the Renaissance, having been the patrons of the greats of Western Art and Science, not the least of which are Michelangelo, Botticelli, da Vinci, Vasari, Bruneschelli, and Galileo. But patronage of the arts was not their only forte: through sheer power they were able to produce two popes (Leo and Clement)and it was through the debauchery and power of Leo, bankrupting the papacy with his earthly appetites, that the use of Papal Indulgences (anyone could 'purchase' redemption for a price that fed the papal coffers) that was the immediate cause driving Martin Luther to initiate the Reformation.
Along the 4 hours of this DVD we are introduced to Savoranola, Machiavelli, Pope Julius II, and the various fighting factions of Florence Italy wherein the Medicis held court for over 200 years. Despite the recorded evils of this infamous family, they were enlightened (especially Lorenzo the Magnificent) to see the gifts of Michelangelo, da Vinci, etc and were it not for their patronage we may never have had the beauties of the statues David, Pieta, the Medici tombs, or the Sistine chapel frescoes to mention only a few. Nor would Galileo, the giant of Science, have been able to nudge his theories of the Universe, gravity, telescopic drawings of the moon, etc.
The filming is magnificent, especially the use of very Renaissance period costumes and actors with faces that seem to leap from the paintings of the era. Bloodshed is not spared: the period would not seem completely evaluated with out the atrocities of the Inquisition. At times the docudrama portion seems a bit pushed toward the Hollywood spectacle, but how else could this colorfully rich and historically important period be represented? The one flaw that is a constant is the atrocious music score: every moment of death or defeat is backed by a simplistically awful plagiarism of Wagner's "Gotterdamerung" and non-authentic vocal wailings by bad boy sopranos attempting to sound like folk music or plainsong. But these flaws are minor in evaluating the whole project. This is definitely a DVD that every home should own - for pleasure, for historical resource, and for appreciation of where we are as a civilization today. Excellent!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missed Opportunity: More Art than History, December 9, 2004
By 
J. S. Kaminski "j_s_k" (Aberdeen, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I wanted so much to like this program. The sets, costumes and even background music were excellent. The artwork was wonderful. The history, however, left a lot to be desired.

Sometimes the story is told correctly. Sometimes it was incomplete. Sometimes, it was downright misleading. In short, the show was mainly about some members of the Medici family and the artists they supported. However, there are long time periods not addressed or given a cursory mention.

Among the issues/problems I had with the program: the reform-minded monk Savonarola is mentioned prominently in episode two, but we are not told of his eventual fate (he was hanged and burned); the city of Florence enjoys ten years as a republic, away from the influence of the Medici, but it lasts barely minutes in the show; the sack of Rome in 1527, a horrible event motivated by greed, was portrayed as an act of "holy war" by Lutherans against Catholic Rome (incorrect - there were both Lutherans and Catholics in the ransacking army, and some fellow Romans took part as well); the break between Pope Clement VII (aka Giulio de Medici) and Henry VIII of England, resulting in the creation of the Anglican Church, is not even mentioned; Galileo is portrayed as the originator of the idea that the sun is the center of the universe, when in fact the theory had already been proposed, most notably by Copernicus; and finally, the show depicts Galileo as a broken man after his hearing with the Inquisition. In reality, although he was under house arrest, he was able to continue his work, and lived for nine more years before dying in 1642.

As I mentioned earlier, there was so much to like about this program, I am disappointed that some of the statements and accounts presented are just not accurate. Still, I would recommend it is a starting point to learn more about this fascinating period in history; there is much worthwhile information here.

Three stars. "The Medici" was good, but it could have been SO MUCH better.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining --- but there are big historical gaps, September 21, 2004
By 
chefdevergue (Spokane, WA United States) - See all my reviews
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One might more accurately title this series, "Some of the Medici and the Renaissance artists & thinkers who knew them," as the series at times seems to dwell excessively on the assorted artists that flourished within the Medici sphere of influence (while consigning the Medici themselves to the background). Anyone hoping to come away with a clear historical picture of the Medici family is out of luck. The narrative at times skips over entire generations and leaves the viewer with a somewhat blurry timeline, as though the producers had to edit the larger story in order to deal with time constraints. Fair enough --- nearly every producer in television has to deal with time constraints and something always has to be left out. However, when one watches this program & sees the time lavished on Brunelleschi & his dome (or on Michelangelo's "David" and "The Last Judgement"), one can be left feeling impatient with the rather slipshod treatment of history. Really, is their patronage of the arts the only reason that the Medici are important? One is left with that impression from this series.

Echoing other reviewers, I found the chapter on the Medici Popes to be particularly lacking in detail. All one sees is parties, parties, parties. Is that all these Popes did? Clement VII, among other things, excommunicated Henry VIII of England for divorcing Catherine of Aragon (we all know what happened next) and married his niece Catherine to Henri II of France (which helped lead to the French Wars of Religion a half century later). He also struggled to keep Hapsburgs at arm's length while simultaneously accepting financial support from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Pretty historically significant, I would think, but this series would have you believe that it was nothing but parties and commissions for Michelangelo that made Leo X and Clement VII historically important.

One need not even bother with the hereditary Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Aside from Cosimo I, the series can hardly be bothered to mention the Grand Dukes by name. Once the series is past Cosimo I, it is all Galileo, all the time. One really doesn't even find out what ultimately happened to the Medici Grand Dukes, even though the series ostensibly is about them and their family. Ahhh, picky picky picky. I guess that is what books are for.

If you want lots of lovingly framed camera shots of Renaissance artwork, then by golly you will love this series. If you are looking for a comprehensive historical treatment of the Medici family, then it's off to the nearest library with you, for you surely will not come away from this series knowing much more than you did beforehand.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable!, September 12, 2011
By 
Karen "Karen" (Portland, Oregon) - See all my reviews
In architecture school you learn about the Medici as a family who built some significant buildings with historic, cultural and architectural value. Never did I realize when I started listening to this series that there was so much more to their story!

What this series, so far in my watching, has done is capture the flavor of a time period or a group of people, brought them out of their historic, textbook bubble and really shown its viewers their character. What you get from this series on the Medici family is a real sense of their culture, their personalities, their determination so that you see them not as "those dudes who built that building in Florence" but as the patrons of an artistic, scientific and religous revolution (even if the religious revolution wasn't intentional).

These shows bring an anecdotal approach to educating its viewers - it doesn't just spout off facts about the Medici family, one after another, "This Medici was the patron of Michaelangelo who did this work and this work and this work and, by the way, they're all famous sculptures" which is the quickest way to forget everything you're told. Instead they put a more personal slant on things by telling you facts in terms of stories, making everything more personal and you really begin to understand how intertwined history really is. One of my favorite parts was talking about the Medici's patronage of Brunelleschi and his personality quarks and the kind of revolutionary engineer he was to conceive of the dome and its construction methods (but then you're talking to an architect...)

I will not attest to accuracy of facts and am more than willing to give artistic license to the creators of this documentary because it was so enjoyable. Frankly, I don't really care if the Florence Cathedral was completed in April or in October, I remember more about it from this documentary than I remember from my architectural history course in college.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This PBS series does not always keep its focus on the Medici, September 9, 2005
By 
Amazon Customer (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (COMMUNITY FORUM 04)   
This review is from: Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance (DVD)
Actually, what troubled me while watching "Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance," was the narration by Massimo Marinoni. It was not as bad as listening to Chico Marx's Eyetalian accent, but I did find it a bit heavy handed at times for this PBS documentary series. If this were for a part in a movie about the Medici it might work, but here it ended up being an annoyance far too often and made the silent actors who play out the historical episodes under consideration look good in comparison. Those re-enactments are mixed with the talking heads of historians and writers who comment on the history.

The focus here is on the Medici family of Florence during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century, and I should point out that my family cooked for them (and did some poisoning apparently). Their rise to power was as a political family was based on running a bank, which, in time, became the official bank of the Vatican. Two of the Medici even became Popes, but they are also remembered for being patrons of the arts and sciences. Such towering figures as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Vasari, and Galileo all worked for the Medici, and there are times when the documentary gets sidetracked by artistic and architectural accomplishments that push the Medici into the background. This is what justifies the series subtitle, since it suggests the Medici were operating the strings that allowed art to flourish. But you will end up knowing more about how Michelangelo's "David" served as a political symbol during this period than you will about some of the Medici who are supposedly the primary focus. The result is a general introduction to both the Medici and the Italian Renaissance, but not by any means a comprehensive examination of either.

"The Medici" is comprised of four episodes, which basically focus on succeeding generations of the Florentine family. "Birth of a Dynasty" follows the rise of Cosimo the Elder (1389-1464) as the family came to power in Florence in the early 1400s amidst political intrigue. This was when Cosmio established a balance of power between Florence, Milan and Venice. As a patron of culture, Cosimo was responsible for the Palazzo Medici and commissioned works by the likes of Donatello. "The Magnificent Medici" is centered on Cosmio's grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-92), who survived an assassination attempt by the competing Pazzi family and gathered the intellectual flower of the times in Florence. With great artists like Botticelli, Michelangelo and da Vinci around, this is probably the most familiar ground of the documentary. What becomes key here are Lorenzo's failures in the family banking business, because along with the rise of Girolamo Savonarola, who religious orthodoxy led to the celebrating Bonfire of the Vanities, that set the stage for the next generation of Medici where the Church becomes the stage for power politics.

"The Medici Popes" finds the Medici cousins Givoanni (1475-1523) and Giulio (1478-1534) ending up in robe as Pope Leo X and Pope Clement VII. This episode establishes the greatest impact of the Medicis on western civilization as Pope Leo X commissions the Sistine Chapel and other great works fo arts, but empties the coffers of the Church. As a way of raising money he starts selling papal indulgences, which is what outrages Martin Luther and leads to the Reformation. By the end of this one the question "How many battalions has the Pope?" is clearly not a rhetorical one. "Power vs. Truth" is centered on Cosimo I the Great (1519-1574), who restored the Medici fortunes as the First Grand Duke of Tuscany. However, this Cosimo is forgotten by the end of the episode as the Inquisition takes sway in Italy and the fate of Galileo is presented as not only the end of the Italian Renaissance but the final chapter of the Medicis as well. However, Galileo's "trial" was in 1633, decades after Cosimo's death, so the link is not as strong as that between the Medici Pope and Martin Luther in the previous episode.

So, on the one hand I certainly learned more about the Medici then I knew before. Certainly I have a better sense of the key generations in the family's history to go along with their resumes for patronage. But on the other hand I also have the feeling that there is so much more to learn about this family. Each generation gets its own episode, but there is a varying degree to which the focus stays on each of those generations. The makers of the documentary seem much more comfortable talking about the building of the Duomo, the magnificent dome built by Filippo Brunelleschi for the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, than about the machinations of Lorenzo and the other Medici. To find out more, we will just have to look elsewhere.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magnificent Medici, March 7, 2004
I was amazed that this was a PBS production. It depicts in sumptuous, photography and commentary the Medici influence on Renaissance Florence in its patronage of discovery, its appreciation for beauty, and its violence as well as you could expect in a 4 hour film. I particularly liked the actor portraying Cosimo "Pater Patrie". He managed to convey with facial expressions and without spoken lines, Cosimo's inquiring mind, his gravity and even his overwhelming sadness at the loss of his father Giovanni "di Bicci". Of course, a lot gets left out. Florentine Renaissance philosophy and poetry gets short shrift in favor of the political and artistic climate. A discussion of Neoplatonist philosophy and its effect on the art and writing of the period would have contributed to an understanding of the period. There is little mention of Lorenzo "il Magnifico's" academy, his poetry, and his patronage of philospher poets such as Agnolo Poliziano and others.
The series is gorier than most PBS productions, but Renaissance Italy was a gory place torn often by internal warfare. Giuliano di Medici, brother of Lorenzo "il Magnifico" was, after all, murdered at Mass, and when Bernardino di Bandino Baroncelli, one of the conspirators was summarily hanged from the magistrate's palace, Leonardo da Vinci down in the square was busily sketching the hanged man, almost like a news photographer. Art and violence were often juxtaposed in Renaissance Italy.
Unlike an earlier reviewer, I loved the background chants and wish it were possible to purchase a soundtrack CD.
My one carp is with the accents of the narrator and one of the talking heads, an Italian who sounds like he learned English from someone who had a brogue. His Italian/Celtic brogue is an jarring departure from the perfectly clipped British intonations of past PBS productions
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, informative and beautiful reenactments, February 16, 2004
By 
Glenn Reyes (Streamwood, Illinois United States) - See all my reviews
I just had the pleasure of watching this documentary on PBS and simply loved the show that I had to purchase the DVD. I only wished that I had watched this documentary before visiting Italy; I would have had a better appreciation of the city of Florence and the influence of the Medici Family. I knew the Medici Family was one, if not, the most influential family in Italy. With their patronage, they supported the arts supporting such artist as Bernini, Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Leanardo Devinci. But I had no idea how their influence had shaped how the world viewed the arts. The episode brought to life wonderful reanactments such as the building of the Duomo cathedral and the challange of building the dome. I'm looking forward to watching the other series offered by PBS.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Renaissance and reformation, December 5, 2011
This is an incredibly effective documentary in that it uncovers intriguing details of the very roots of both the renaissance and the reformation. Once you get started with the first episode you will likely be addicted and unable to go without the remaining episodes. The story of the Medici family and it's intrigues are more engrossing and unbelievable than any soap-opera plot. It is a story how one clan in history can so affect their world that the reverberations of their rise and fall continue to this day. Along the way you see the subtle themes behind some of the greatest works of art ever produced. And you will see the corruption and pride that ripped the unity of the church and bred the reformation. It is a complex tale that could fill volumes but this series gives it such life and such appeal that you will find it a joy to watch again and again. Only one minor misgiving about this series - and that is the treatment of the Galileo episode. It seemed to be tacked on to the end of the final episode and hurried so much that I fear it perpetrated the myth of that episode of history by failing to discuss the complexities of the situation. Perhaps time constraints affected this but after so much depth in complexity covered in earlier portions, it left me wondering why the final minutes was so shallow. A great followup to this video might therefore be Sobel's Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love
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Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
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