Search - Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance on DVD

Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
Empires - The Medici Godfathers of the Renaissance
Actors: Ross King, Mario Biagioli, Jerry Brotton, Marcello Fantoni, Dale Kent
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2005     3hr 40min

From a small Italian community in 15th-century Florence, the Medici family would rise to rule Europe in many ways. Using charm, patronage, skill, duplicity and ruthlessness, they would amass unparalleled wealth and unprece...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Ross King, Mario Biagioli, Jerry Brotton, Marcello Fantoni, Dale Kent
Creator: Richard Cox
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary
Studio: Pbs Paramount
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 04/05/2005
Original Release Date: 02/04/2004
Theatrical Release Date: 02/04/2004
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 3hr 40min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Better than average "Empires" entry
Center Man | Norwich, CT United States | 03/01/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"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."
Likeable but Lacking...
Timothy Walker | Orlando, Florida USA | 03/11/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"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."
A Rich Tapestry of the Renaissance Comes to Life!
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 02/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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!"
Missed Opportunity: More Art than History
J. S. Kaminski | Aberdeen, NJ United States | 12/09/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"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."