German-Italian Relations During the Renaissance

My dear friend and fellow reenactor, known to some as Herr Nicolas, portrays a Burgundian (of all things!).


We both love persona development and want to attend some event activities “in persona”. The following is what I have found so far during my recon research into how our respective personae would have thought of each other. As early as 1492 Italian superiority incensed and impressed arch-humanist Konrad Celtis. Oh, the shade that was thrown! No one from the Holy Roman Empire, not even Emperor Charles V, was safe 🙂


Even is something as simple as a recipe for salad a notable chef such as Scappi could not pass up that chance to warn against the uncouth eating practices of the Germans and the English:

“Of the most perfect mixed salad. Of all the salads we eat in the spring, the mixed salad is the best and most wonderful of all. Take young leaves of mint, those of garden cress, basil, lemon balm, the tips of salad burnet, tarragon, the flowers and most tender leaves of borage, the flowers of swine cress, the young shoots of fennel, leaves of rocket, of sorrel, rosemary flowers, some sweet violets, and the most tender leaves or the hearts of lettuce. When these precious herbs have been picked clean and washed in several waters, and dried a little with a clean linen cloth, they are dressed as usual, with oil, salt and vinegar. …Never do as the Germans and other uncouth nations do – pile the badly washed leaves, neither shaken nor dried, up in a mound like a pyramid, then throw on a little salt, not much oil and far too much vinegar, without even stirring. And all this done to produce a decorative effect, where we Italians would much rather feast the palate than the eye. You English are even worse, after washing the salad heaven knows how, you put the vinegar in the dish first, and enough of that for a foot bath for Morgante, and serve it up, unstirred with neither oil nor salt, which you are supposed to add at table. …And whosoever transgresses this benign commandment is condemned never to enjoy a decent salad in their life, a fate which I fear lies in store for most of the inhabitants of this kingdom. Source [Opera dell’arte del cucinare, Bartolomeo Scappi; Louise Smithson (trans.)]”

Late Quattrocento Map of Italy

Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter, writer, and historian gives us insight into the mindest of his time in his book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. It is likely that Giorgio Vasari’s (circa 1550) views and prejudices were popularly held. In his book he denounces the “German manner”. He writes of a “sort of work called German, which …is [not] adopted now by the best architects but it avoided by them as monstrous and barbarous and lacking everything that can be called order. … May God protect every country from such ideas and styles of buildings”. He wrote that their abominable and deformed architecting “sickened the world”. His pejorative use of the word ‘German’ is understood by Italians as being the ultimate insult. In Franz Irenicus’ Germaniae exegeseos of 1518 there is a lengthy refutation of Italian slander of the Germans.

Even when speaking of Durer, Vasari could not help the fact that as a foreigner the artist could not be praised as well as an Italian could be. This was likely to ensure that Durer’s skill not be used as evidence of national talent, but only seen as misplaced natural talent. Vasari laments, “[if only he] had Tuscany for his country…. he would have been the best painter of our land…”

The Italian claim to superiority begins on the issue of language, with Italian claims to primacy as direct heirs of Latin. The Tuscan language in particular, being the language used by Ariosto, Boccaccio, Tasso, and other artists of the Renaissance, was held prestige by learned men of Florence and established Literary Tuscan as the standard written language of the Peninsula.

“The destroyers of ancient Rome were also the ancestors of modern Germans and it is the destiny of the true descendants of ancient civilization to lead in the renewed quest for perfection in the arts and sciences” (Thomson 113).

This turmoil was likely fed by the conflicts those who spoke Germanic languages and those who spoke languages of the Italian peninsula. The conflicts were known as the Italian Wars, often referred to as the Great Italian Wars or the Great Wars of Italy and sometimes as the Habsburg–Valois Wars or the Renaissance Wars. They were a series of conflicts from 1494 to 1559 that involved, at various times, most of the city-states of Italy, the Papal States, the Republic of Venice, most of the major states of Western Europe (France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, England, and Scotland) as well as the Ottoman Empire.

Some major dates in the italian wars for my persona are:

1494 – Ferdinand King of Naples dies
1494 – Sforza of Milan sought ally against Venice, encouraged Charles VIII to invade
1494 – Pisans ousted Florence
1495 – France sacks Naples
1495 – League of Venice formed in March, Milan, Spain, Hapsburg, Papal, Florence, Venice, Mantua join to resist France
1495 – July battle of Fornovo with League vs. France
1496 – Maximilian I  invaded Italy to resolve Pisa vs Florence
1499 – Louis XII, successor, invades Lombardy and seizes Milan. Angry that pro-France Florence didn’t help.
1500 – Louis XII conquers Milan and then helps Florence take back Pisa. Forced to retreat in July.



Thomson, David. 1993. Renaissance ArchitectureCritics, Patrons, Luxury. Pages 111-113.

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