First Light: Tuscany and the Dawn of the Renaissance 2004
Distributed by Films Media Group, PO Box 2053, Princeton, New Jersey 08543-2053; 800-257-5126
Produced by Red Canoe Productions
Directed by Jeff Siberry
DVD, color, 88 min.
Architecture, Art History, European Studies, History, Religious Studies, Urban Studies
Date Entered: 08/09/2005Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA
Produced in association with Canadian Learning Television and VisionTV, a multicultural, faith-based television network, this four-part documentary series examines how events in the central region of Italy during the middle ages shaped western civilization. Changes in art, commerce, and humanism occurred in Tuscany and neighboring Umbria, an area smaller than the state of Vermont, during the period from 1200-1350, in notable and, in many cases, remarkable ways. Each of the four parts of this series depicts these developments.
In A New Saint: A New Art, the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi are linked to the developing naturalistic painting of Giotto and other early masters of fresco art. The Invention of Banking traces the evolution of trade and finance from a local barter system to a multinational one of money exchange and credit, and the role that the Catholic Church and several Tuscan banking families played in that story. The development and growth of cities, as characterized by Florence and Siena during this period, is the subject of The City: Building Reputations. The last segment, Cataclysm: The Black Death Visits Tuscany, looks at the effects that the 1348 bubonic plague epidemic had on the region.
Narrated by Canadian actor Colin Feore, the series includes scenery, live action, sculpture and paintings, and is beautifully photographed. Interviews with scholars, many of whom are on the faculty at the University of Toronto, provide erudite details to what is a visual textbook for the period. The message that momentous changes, shaping the future development of western thought occurred in this area of Europe, is an interesting one, particularly for students of history and art. There is, however, a noticeable amount of scenery repetition and a barrage of historical facts and figures. Although not obvious or heavy-handed, there is something of a religious flavor to the message. While the argument that the Renaissance began in Tuscany is certainly valid, mention of other developments throughout Europe during the same period are neglected.