Hi 203 European World Lecture: “The Renaissance” Rosa Salzberg



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HI 203 European World Lecture: “The Renaissance” Rosa Salzberg
Inventing the Renaissance (C19th)

  • “Renaissance”, term coined by C19th French historians, especially Jules Michelet

  • Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), Swiss historian and author of highly influential The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy (Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien; 1860); promotes idea of Renaissance as a unified period, distinctly different from the Middle Ages, characterised by rise of individualism, birth of the modern state, revival of antiquity etc.

  • Critiques of Burckhardt’s model eg. Joan Kelly, 1970s feminist historian: “Did Women have a Renaissance?”


Rebirth and Renewal (C14-15th)

  • ideal of cultural rinascita (rebirth) in Italy from C14th

  • Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch; 1304-74), poet, scholar and early humanist, wrote of the recent past as the “dark ages”, looked back to classical antiquity

  • Humanism: an educational movement; humanists seek to restore classical culture, especially literature, by searching for manuscripts, reviving perfect Latin, emulating ancient script, promoting educational reform to focus on the studia humanitatis (the humanities)

  • The problem of paganism eg. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, ca. 1486

  • C15th Florence: humanism flourishes in the context of Republican government, commercial economy; humanists promote an active contribution to society: vita activa over vita contemplativa

  • Humanists drew on classical literature to answer pressing social issues like the family (eg. Leon Battista Alberti’s On the Family (c. 1432)) and the ideal state (eg. Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (ca. 1513); Thomas More’s Utopia (1516))

  • Patronage of artists inspired by antiquity becomes fashionable eg. Donatello (ca. 1386–1466), Florentine artist and sculptor; Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), Florentine architect and engineer

  • Humanism bolsters power? eg. patrons praised as a new Augustus (Roman Emperor) or Maecenas (Roman patron of Horace and Virgil)

  • Federigo da Montefeltro (1422-1482), Duke of Urbino, patron of humanist culture and art

  • Humanist popes Nicholas V (reigned 1447-55) and Pius II (r. 1458-64)

  • Humanist (and pagan) culture enters the Vatican eg. Raphael, School of Athens and Parnassus (c. 1510-11), Papal apartments


Dissemination of the Renaissance (C16th)

  • How far did Renaissance/humanist culture spread throughout society?

  • Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), Tuscan painter and art historian, promoted the idea of a cultural rinascita reaching its peak in Florence in the early C16th; helped to raise the status of the artist

  • Printing helps to disseminate humanism eg. Sweynheym and Pannartz, first printers in Italy, mid 1460s, print classical works; Aldus Manutius (ca. 1450-1515), printer in Venice from mid 1490s, prints classics in original Greek and Latin

  • Vernacular translations in the C16th spread humanist ideas further down into society

  • Spread of humanist ideals to other parts of Europe eg. in England, Henry VIII employs humanists like Thomas More in government

  • Christian humanism applies the ideal of restoring ancient texts to the bible and church fathers to get back to the original purity of the early church => desire for a “Renaissance of Christianity” influences Luther and Protestant Reformation; key advocate was Dutch humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536)


Reconstructing the Renaissance

  • New attempts to rejuvenate the idea of the Renaissance as a crucial period in human history (not just a European cultural movement)

eg. as the birthplace of consumer culture; as an example of globalisation, not just about western Europe; as the site of a communications revolution and intensified cultural exchange


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