Italian Culture: An introduction

As the descendent of the glorious Roman Empire and the center of the Renaissance as well as the headquarters of the Catholic church, Italy has a vibrant culture befitting its rich history.

Italian culture at the Heart of the World

Although it lacks a large amount of political power, culturally Italy is much more prominent, and its art & architecture, literature, music, cinema, fashion, and food permeate western culture.

Art & Architecture

School of Athens by RaphaelFrom Roman mosaics to the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Roman and Italian visual art have always been prominent in Western culture. The Sistine Chapel in particular has a wealth of artworks by Michelangelo, including The Creation of Adam, that demonstrates delicate use of color and mastery of light and dark, showing the height of Italian renaissance painting. Meanwhile, his statue David shows the Italian mastery over sculpting the human form. However, the most famous painting of Italy, and possibly in the whole world, is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. With her mysterious smile, the woman depicted has been enrapturing viewers for centuries, and indeed the painting has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world”. Read more about Italian Art

brunelleschiWe all know about the glory of Rome and its architecture, of the Colosseum and other buildings. This was the beginning of Italy’s architectural greatness. Later on, the Leaning Tower of Pisa became famous for its tilt. However, it was the Renaissance that truly began Italy’s golden age, not only in architecture but in all the arts. Today, classical Roman and Greek architecture still influences the style of many government buildings. One of the most notable examples of the exquisite nature of Italian architecture is the Florence Cathedral, which features a dome 144 feet in diameter, unprecedented in size–several new engineering techniques had to be invented in order to build it! Another masterpiece of Italian Renaissance architecture is the Villa Rotunda, which sits on top of a hill, and is of such elegant design that many other buildings have used the same style, including the White House. However, the epitome of Italian Renaissance architecture is undoubtedly St. Peter’s Basilica, built over the grave of St. Peter. Built to replace the old Basilica that was by then ancient and about to collapse, the Basilica features a magnificent gallery and dome, and attracts millions of visitors every year.

Literature

dante_alighieriThe literature of Ancient Rome was highly influential, and has been studied by scholars up to the present day. The works of authors such as Ovid, Livy, and Virgil have endured the passing of the time. During the Renaissance, Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” and Machiavelli’s “The Prince” were written, which have also made a lasting cultural impression. Read more about Italian Literature

Music

la_scalaIf you have studied music, you know that musical terms use Italian. This is for a very simple reason: for centuries, the Italians wrote the most popular music in Europe. Although it may seem timeless, opera had to be invented, and by who else but the Italians? In addition to music meant for entertainment, Italy also has a rich history of religious music, owing to the presence of the Catholic church. The influence of Italy on music cannot be underestimated. Read more about Italian Music

Cinema

felliniThe first Italian motion picture was a clip a few seconds long showing Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing to the camera. Italy experienced a movement of Neorealism in the late 1940s and 1950s, showing the difficult conditions of poor working class Italians after WWII. One of the most notable films of this genre is “The Bicycle Thief.” Although Italian film has declined in prominence since the 1980s, there are still notable Italian films since then, including “Life is Beautiful”, showing a Jewish father using his creativity to protect his son in a Nazi concentration camp, which won 3 Academy awards. Read more about Italian Cinema

Fashion

men_women_fashionItalian fashion is famous worldwide, with brands like Diesel, Gucci, Prada, and Versace. Based in Milan, fashion is a major sector of the Italian economy. In addition to fashion, Italy is also a leader in industrial design, including the striking Salif juicer, which resembles an alien’s UFO. Read more about Italian Fashion

Food

pizzaFood is a fundamental part of the Italian cultural identity. As the origin of pasta and pizza, as well as the delicious desert Tiramisu, Italy has had a massive effect on how people all over the world eat. Of course, no discussion on Italian food is complete without mentioning wine. Wine is as integral to Italy as pasta. In 2011, Italy commanded a fifth of worldwide wine production. Read more about Italian Cuisine

Center of the World

Whether it is the canals of Venice, the red tile roofs of Florence, or Roma Aeterna, the eternal City of Rome, Italy and her people have commanded the attention of the world for thousands of years. It might not be the City of World’s Desire, but it undisputedly comes close.