Jacob Burckhardt's Renaissance

Alison Brown evaluates the life and scholarship of the great German historian of Renaissance Italy and his seminal influence on Western cultural history.

Jacob Burckhardt is not only the father-figure of Renaissance studies, he is also one of the great nineteenth-century cultural historians who is still read and admired. Although he is known today mainly for his Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), he enjoys an important place in the German historiographical tradition as an heir to Hegel, a pupil of Ranke, a colleague and friend of Nietzsche. Within this galaxy of talent the quiet unassuming Swiss professor might easily have been outshone. But his special combination of gifts - poetic imagination and a precise, documentary approach to history - made Burckhardt one of the most original and forward-looking historians of his day and, even now, though in some ways dated, he is still surprisingly relevant.

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