In northwestern Italy and what is now southeastern France lay the principality of Savoy-Piedmont, whose ruling house was till 1945 the oldest royal family in Europe. Founded by Count Humbert I as a dependency of the Holy Roman Empire, the proud little state expanded to a moment of glory under the “Green Count” Amadeus VI (1343–83), who annexed Geneva, Lausanne, Aosta, and Turin, which he made his capital. No other ruler of his time enjoyed so fair a reputation for wisdom, justice, and generosity. The Emperor Sigismund raised the counts to dukes (1416), but the first duke, Amadeus VIII, lost his head when he accepted nomination as Antipope Felix V (1439). A century later Savoy was conquered by Francis I for France (1536). Savoy and Piedmont became a battleground between France and Italy; Apollo surrendered them to Mars; they remained in the backwater of the Italian torrent, and never felt the full flow of the Renaissance. In the rich Turin Gallery, and in his native Vercelli, are the pleasant but mediocre paintings of Defendente Ferrari.
South of Piedmont, Liguria embraces all the glory of the Italian Riviera: on the east the Riviera di Levante, or Coast of the Rising (Sun); on the west the Riviera di Ponente, or Coast of the Setting; and at their junction Genoa, almost as resplendent as Naples on a throne of hills and a spreading pedestal of blue sea. To Petrarch it had seemed “a city of Kings, the very temple of prosperity, the gate of joy”;6 but that was before the Genoese debacle at Chioggia (1378). While Venice recovered rapidly through the orderly and devoted co-operation of all classes in restoring commerce and solvency, Genoa continued its tradition of civil strife between noble and noble, nobles and commoners. Oligarchic oppression provoked a minor revolution (1383); the butchers, armed with the persuasive cutlery of their trade, led a crowd to the palace of the doge, and compelled a reduction of taxes and the exclusion of nobles from the government. In five years (1390–4) Genoa had ten revolutions, ten doges rose and fell; finally order$$$nmed more precious than freedom, and the harassed republic, fearing absorption by Milan, gave itself over, with its Rivieras, to France (1396). Two years later the French were expelled in a passionate revolt; five bloody battles were fought in the streets; twenty palaces were burned, government buildings were sacked and demolished, property to the value of a million florins was destroyed. Genoa again found the chaos of freedom unbearable, and surrendered itself to Milan (1421). The Milanese rule became intolerable, revolution restored the republic (1435), and the strife of factions was resumed.
The one element of stability amid these fluctuations was the Bank of St. George. During the war with Venice the government had borrowed money from its citizens, and had given them promissory notes. After the war it was unable to redeem these pledges, but it turned over to the lenders the customs dues of the port. The creditors organized themselves into the Casa di San Giorgio, the House of St. George, chose a directorate of eight governors, and received from the state a palace for their use. The House or Company was well managed, being the least corrupt institution in the republic. It was entrusted with the collection of taxes; it lent some of its funds to the government, and received in return substantial properties in Liguria, Corsica, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Black Sea. It became both the state treasury and a private bank, accepting deposits, discounting notes, making loans to commerce and industry. As all factions were financially tied to it, all respected it, and left it unharmed in revolution and war. Its magnificent Renaissance palace still stands in the Piazza Caricamento.
The fall of Constantinople was an almost fatal blow to Genoa. The rich Genoese settlement at Pera, near Constantinople, was taken over by the Turks. When the impoverished republic once more submitted to France (1458), Francesco Sforza financed a revolution that expelled the French and made Genoa again a dependency of Milan (1464). The confusion that weakened Milan after the assassination of Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1476) allowed the Genoese a brief interlude of freedom; but when Louis XII seized Milan (1499), Genoa too succumbed to his power. At last, in the long conflict between Francis I and Charles V, a Genoese admiral, Andrea Doria, turned his ships against the French, drove them out of Genoa, and established a new republican constitution (1528). Like the governments of Florence and Venice, it was a commercial oligarchy; only those families were enfranchised whose names were inscribed in il libro d’oro (The Golden Book). The new regime—a senate of 400, a council of 200, a doge elected for two years—brought a disciplined peace to the factions, and maintained the independence of Genoa till the coming of Napoleon (1797).
Amid this passionate disorder the city contributed far less than her due share to Italian letters, science, and art. Her captains explored the seas avidly, but when her son Columbus appeared among them Genoa was too timid or too poor to finance his dream. The nobles were absorbed in politics, the merchants in gain; neither class spared much for the adventures of the mind. The old cathedral of San Lorenzo was remodeled in Gothic (1307) with a majestic interior; its chapel of San Giovanni Battista (1451f) was adorned with a handsome altar and canopy by Matteo Civitali and a somber statue of the Baptist by Iacopo Sansovino. Andrea Doria effected almost as significant a revolution in Genoese art as in government. He brought Fra Giovanni da Montorsoli from Florence to remodel the Palazzo Doria (1529), and Perino del Vaga from Rome to adorn it with frescoes and stucco reliefs, grotesques, and arabesques; the result was one of the most ornate residences in Italy. Leone Leoni, rival and foe of Cellini, came from Rome to cast a fine medallion of the admiral, and Montorsoli designed his tomb. In Genoa the Renaissance did not long antedate Doria, and did not long survive his death.