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The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty
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The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  480 ratings  ·  107 reviews
A fascinating and counterintuitive portrait of the sordid, hidden world behind the dazzling artwork of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and more 

Renowned as a period of cultural rebirth and artistic innovation, the Renaissance is cloaked in a unique aura of beauty and brilliance. Its very name conjures up awe-inspiring images of an age of lofty ideals in which
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Doubleday (first published September 26th 2013)
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3.35  · 
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 ·  480 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣
Frankly, I am not nearly as impressed with Michelangelo's broken nose as the author seems to be. What's so shocking about it? It's not like artists have to be celibate pacifists to create things. They can but don't have to. Same thing applies to Benvenuto Cellini and Giotto and Leonardo and Pico della Mirandola and the rest of them. They were human and as such were susceptible to pretty much all the vices and weaknesses and making mistakes or enjoying, well, ill-advisable or frownable upon thing ...more
Phillip W.
Jul 26, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not recommended--there are much better and far more insightful books on Renaissance history. Actually, this may be one of the most poorly executed, banal books of history I've ever read, which is saying a great deal, as I read a great deal of history.

This book doesn't deserve a long review. It was pedantic, suffering from ghastly editing. The author's analysis and insights were superficial and totally unoriginal. He never found a false dichotomy he didn't like and a complex matter he couldn't r
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.

The popularity of the Renaissance to the modern mind can’t be overstated. Whether it is due to the works of Shakespeare, the romance of star crossed lovers, sweaty men astride horses, certain Showtime series, or the sense of fashion, something about the Renaissance captures the imagination of people.

Of course, there is the art. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael. They have press everywhere. Even Disney World, so the Renaissance arrived in the modern mythos a lon
Steven Peterson
Sep 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Yawn. Believe it or not. The Renaissance had sordid episodes and had a seamy underside. As if this is unusual in human history. To be honest, I was disappointed in what I thought was a rather shallow critique of the period.

The author, early on, noted the import of this book (page 5): "And by the end of the journey [of the book], the Renaissance will not just appear to have been populated by angels and demons; it will never seem the same again." Sorry. I don't see anything that one would not have
Jan 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Dr. Lee pulls off a small miracle. He has written a book that is at once scholarly and deeply researched, while still being very enjoyable to read. In this book he takes us on a tour of the Renaissance world of the Italian city-states, with a notable emphasis on Florence. Using many of the famous pieces of art from that time, Dr. Lee dispels the myth that the Renaissance was simply a time of high-minded ideals and beautiful art. He shows us a world of sex, scandal and suffering. The great city-s ...more
Al Bità
Jul 25, 2019 rated it liked it
In his introduction Lee mentions his concerns that the emphasis by some historians and others on “the beauty and elegance of the art and literature of the Renaissance” has made many “succumb to the temptation of viewing it as a period of cultural rebirth and artistic beauty during which men and women were impossibly civilised and sophisticated”, that this view has become widespread, and that this tends to make us overlook and forget about the uglier side of the period.

For Lee, it becomes importa
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
There is a curious propensity of humans, back to the dawn of time, to appreciate beautiful things. There is a certain beauty in antiquities from cave paintings at Lascaux to the hieroglyphs of Egypt, even incorporating newer forms from street and graffiti artists. While much of the earlier forms were also communicating or signifying important messages in the imagery, their decorative appeal is not to be missed. But one can also think in terms of this imagery being a contrast to the realities of ...more
Jo Walton
I can't disagree with the conclusion -- that things on the Renaissance were far from perfect but at least beautiful things were being produced, whereas now we still have power imbalances and injustice without even getting the art.

This isn't a bad book, but there wasn't much in it that was new or surprising for me -- it might be a good introduction. It tends to focus on a work of art and bring together information about the creator and the time and place of creation, sometimes forcing the narrati
Nov 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
omg horses! shitting! in teh very streets! I HAVE TOTALLY CHANGED MY STARRY-EYED PICTURING OF THE RENAISSANCE NOW gee thx Alexander Lee!
Peter Mcloughlin
The Renaissance was an ugly period the author contends in his title. Well I can't argue with him. I don't think I could live in an era before air conditioning. Eras before the twentieth century people's lives tended to be nasty, brutish and short. Our era which I would argue is the most comfortable of all has its own problems. The fact that life was precarious and violent with much squalor for ordinary and not so ordinary people should be no surprise to us. Getting these pedestrian truths about ...more
Jan 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
I didn't get very far in this book before putting it down. I was hoping for either an exploration of the paradoxical nature of renaissance art and the corrupt and brutal politics or a gleeful look at some of the lurid lives of the famous people at the time. However, the author spent the entire first chapter trying to convince me that the Renaissance was full of brutality, hypocrisy and and depravity. I already know that. It's not a secret. In fact, that's why I picked up the book. I would think ...more
Sep 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
By no means an academic work. Lee's entire work is a straw man argument for which he provides no counter argument apart from "modern historians" and the random reference to Burckhardt who has been dead for almost 200 years. This work is a collection of ideas which were relevant to the field in the 50's, but in a more palatable presentation. Works as designed, intended to be a pop history book which gives the reader a few bits of interesting trivia for their next book club meeting.
Aug 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Being a fan of the Renaissance period I couldn’t wait to read this book. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish this it. I so wanted to like this book but I found myself trying to convince myself that it would get better but in never did. I felt as though I was back in high school staring at the clock, I was waiting to be sucked in and entertained but I wasn’t.
Gave up after just a few chapters. Disorganized and selective historical presentation.
May 07, 2017 rated it liked it
This book has a huge scholarly apparatus and is full of interesting information about various aspects of Renaissance art and society in Italy. It was fine to listen to. However, I have several quarrels with it.

First, if it has a theme it's the rather banal one that notwithstanding producing lots of great art, the Renaissance in Italy was full of lust, greed, violence, and gluttony. Hardly a surprise, that.

Second, there was no organizing principle, neither chronological nor analytical. It seeme
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I picked this one up at my local library. While I am not sure why Lee considers it a major revelation that people in the past behaved badly - the depravity of the Renaissance was certainly taught when I was in school - it is an excellent tome on the subject, even if there are no revelations that should shock the reasonably educated reader. Good, solid scholarship/
Lulu (the library leopard)
i got the DIRT on the renaissance now
Maud Van Keulen
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I liked this book so much! My next city trip is booked to.... Florence!
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't recommend this book too highly. I picked it up knowing what I thought was quite a bit about the Renaissance, but the author succeeded in completely changing how I think about the whole period. From the first page, it was a great read. It's clear that Lee has done a huge amount of research, but he has an immediately accessible and engaging style, and has a real talent for making complex scholarly arguments comprehensible and fun.

His basic argument is that the art of the Renaissance ca
I can't say I liked this book. I don't think I like Lee's writing style in the least - he tended to be needlessly verbose - never used one word if it was possible (not necessary, but possible) to say it in five or more. It's pop-history, but, despite the fact that I willingly subject myself to dense texts on the regular, I found it a slog of a read.

My biggest complaint, besides overall writing style, was the lack of on-page citations. In general I hate hate hate flipping back and forth from an
Arjen Taselaar
I mostly enjoy reading about the Italian Renaissance, but this book about the 'Ugly Renaissance' was really disappointing. That the author knows his subject is clear enough, but why scream your moral rectitude from every page? If you use the word 'ugly' five times on every page, everything gets ugly indeed. But it explains nothing. Michelangelo was ugly, because of his broken nose (with which the book starts of course), the patrons of the arts were ugly - merchant bankers were ruthless and greed ...more
Nov 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-heard
Eh, sort of boring if you are reasonably well-read in Italian Renaissance history or literature (particularly Boccaccio's Decameron bc it's often quoted) or familiar with the life of Michaelangelo. I wish the author would have pulled wider and looked at some other country's goings on during the Renaissance, rather than just Italy, and a great deal of Florence in particular.

The end of the book is actually the more interesting when Lee got into the details of how the Catholic Church and Papal Bull
Daniel Kukwa
Dec 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I picked this up because I had a sudden craving for some down-and-dirty, salacious history. The cover blurb promises something along these lines...yet it's actually a more sedate and thoughtful analysis of the seamier side of the Renaissance. It does reveal some interesting deprevaties and degradations along the way, but it also alternates between the obscure and the very well-known. The end result is a book with chapters I rushed to devour...and chapters that left me thinking "same old, same ol ...more
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
This was a free book through Goodreads' First Reads giveaway.

First off, I enjoy art and architecture from the Renaissance period, and I have an interest in history of crime and criminal justice. I was expecting this book to show the seedier side of the Renaissance...and it did. Who would have thought that behind the creative art and architecture that was made during this time period there was greed and depravity, and not just in the day to day life of the commonfolk but also among those in power
Jonathan  McGaha
Aug 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This book was terrifically dense with information. I'm a massive fan of history, Renaissance history especially, and found this book to be a great addition to what I knew of the time.

Too many authors seem leery to set the Renaissance in its realistic, historical context. It's not unreasonable, we owe the Renaissance a great deal for our social evolution.

It's equally undeniable, however, that many of western civilization's great sins and failings bloomed in this time period.

It's very important
Frank Summers
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic is the best way to describe this book. Couldn't put it down. A clearly written, well argued and deeply researched book, filled with interesting (& often very entertaining) details that really allow you to see the realities of life behind the great paintings of the Renaissance. I particularly liked the way the author used particular artists or paintings as a way of exploring much bigger themes and casting them in a fresh light. I was given this book as a gift, but it's definitely on ...more
Emma Kroy
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book, very clear and well written. I have never read a book so accurate and interesting on the subject. I cannot wait to know what will be the next book written by Alexander Lee !
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good read. Very interesting to read about the Renaissance. Seems as if the issues they had then have not changed much. Greed, corruption, violence, bigotry.
Feb 13, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
Unfortunately, I just couldn't get through this. Seemed painfully repetitive, and disjointed. There were a few gems but too cumbersome to keep going.
I read this book as part of a broader project of mine to understand just how art became separated from craft beginning - I feel - in the Renaissance. I found this book in a used bookstore and it looked interesting enough, so I bought it.

For the most part it was an interesting read, but I did tire a bit of the author's constant upping the ante of awfulness. He basically kept saying, over and over, "oh, do you think this is bad, wait, it gets worse" and that wears after a while. He seems addicted
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