The Renaissance in Northern Europe

Peter Burke considers the various works dealing with the Renaissance

Where studies of the Italian Renaissance tend to be controversial and to cluster fairly tightly around a few major themes, those concerned with the Renaissance outside Italy tend to be dispersed. They do not often make contact with one another, let alone spark off arguments. If there is a central theme to these studies, it is surely that of the so-called 'reception', or diffusion of the Renaissance, which has been discussed by scholars for a very long time. These discussions have all too often assumed that while the Italians were active, creative, and innovative, the rest of Europe was passive, a mere recipient of 'influence' from the other side of the Alps, or – to use another metaphor favoured by cultural historians – a 'borrower', eternally in debt to Italy. One common feature of a number of recent accounts of aspects of the European Renaissance is that they all express a reaction against this assumption and in its place stress either the conscious adaptation of Italian models to suit different environments, or the unconscious process of what might be called 'creative misunderstanding'.

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