Burckhardt’s Renaissance: 1860-1960

Today it is hardly possible to equate the Italian Renaissance with the modern world, as Burckhardt did a century ago. But, argues Denys Hay, his discerning study has helped to transform the Western attitude to the past, and its influence remains profound.

A century ago there appeared a solid, but reasonably sized, German book by the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was very different from earlier books on the Renaissance, which had dealt with various aspects of the period. For instance, G. Voigt had just written a large and still useful work on the scholarship of Italy called The Revival of Classical Knowledge (1859); scores of writers had discussed Italian painters and poets; and a number of writers had attempted to construct chronicles of Italian history from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, of which the best was the history of the Italian republics by another Swiss historian, Sismondi.

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