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.