Although it attracted little attention when it was first published in 1860, Burckhardt's essay became the most influential interpretation of the Italian Renaissance, and it is now regarded as one of the classics of 19th century historical writing. Burckhardt saw the Renaissance, from Dante to Michelangelo, not only as an age in which art and literature flourished but also as a period with its own political, social and even psychological characteristics. He was drawn to the republics of Florence and Venice, city-states like his native Basel; attracted by the small courts of Ferrara, Mantua and Urbino, where social life became a work of art; and both fascinated and repelled by the worldliness and violence of Renaissance Rome. What he through most important in Renaissance Italy, however, was its 'individualism'--the competition for fame, the need to achieve and the self-consciousness expressed in autobiographies such as Pope Pius II's and Benvenuto Cellini's. This self-consciousness, together with its complementary opposite, the 'discovery' of nature and society, suggested to Burckhardt that Renaissance Italy was the beginning of the modern world.
For nineteenth-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, the Italian Renaissance was nothing less than the beginning of the modern world - a world in which flourishing individualism and the competition for fame radically transformed science, the arts, and politics. In this landmark work he depicts the Italian city-states of Florence, Venice and Rome as providing the seeds of a new form of society, and traces the rise of the creative individual, from Dante to Michelangelo. A fascinating description of an era of cultural transition, this nineteenth-century masterpiece was to become the most influential interpretation of the Italian Renaissance, and anticipated ideas such as Nietzsche's concept of the 'Ubermensch' in its portrayal of an age of genius.
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Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) intended to join the Church, but lost his faith while studying theology. Thereafter he studied history at the University of Basel, gaining his doctorate in 1843 and becoming a lecturer. He moved to the Zurich Polytechnic as Professor of Architecture and History in 1855, which is where he wrote The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. In 1858 he returned to Basel, where he lived for his work as a teacher at the University.
“The greatest single book on the history of Italy between 1350 and 1550.”—Hajo Holborn
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