intellect.gif (9933 bytes)

Renaissance Resources

school_of_athens.jpg (6004 bytes)Raphael's famous fresco in the Vatican, The School of Athens, painted between 1508 and 1511, is one of the most revealing masterpieces of High Renaissance art. It shows the Greek philosophers arranged in different positions and groups according to their philosophical inclinations. In the center stands Plato, pointing upward to confirm his commitment to his theory of ideas, and Aristotle, pointing downward to indicate his empirical orientation. The left side of the painting is filled with metaphysical thinkers (Socrates and others), and on the right side are the physical scientists.

This painting is a tribute to Greek philosophy which played such an important role in the Italian Renaissance. But, it goes further. Raphael belonged to a group of thinkers and artists who met to discuss philosophy -- but, both the Platonic and Aristotelian points of view were respected. The artists, architects, sculptors, philosophers and writers who served as models for the figures in this painting knew and communicated with one another. Thus, this fresco displays the many interconnections of the cultural elite in northern Italy, particularly in Florence. Even this fresco's location in the Vatican is revealing for on the opposite wall is Raphael's Disputa, which depicts the great Christian theologians of various times. The placement of the two frescos symbolizes the values characteristic of the Renaissance glorification of pagan culture without rejecting Christianity.

In the 19th century, it was fashionable to assign transcendent importance to the Renaissance in the development of modern European civilization. Jules Michelet, John Addington Symonds and Jacob Burckhardt, for instance, developed the thesis that the Middle Ages were a period of uniform stagnation, and that the paralyzing "shell" of medievalism was burst sunder by potent forces associated with the new appreciation of classical literature and the remarkable developments of plastic arts between 1350 and 1550. During this cultural and intellectual springtime, Europe emerged from one thousand years of desolate medievalism. To this cultural "rebirth" were assigned the most diverse results, including the rise of natural science, rationalism, and the nation-state.

The historical record shows how erroneous is such a view of European intellectual and cultural development. Nearly all aspects of European culture steadily improved from the middle of the twelfth century (the aptly called 12th Century Renaissance) onward. There was perhaps more of an advance from 1200 to 1350 than in the century which followed 1350, the dawn of the so-called Italian Renaissance. In fact, not until the expansion of Europe following the late 15th century did there emerge novel forces of relatively sudden and overwhelming significance.

More information
Jacob Burckhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (UToronto)
Petrarch Selected Correspondence (Hanover)
Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture
Sixteenth Century English Literature
(Luminarium)
The Vatican Exhibit

Bibliography

Barolsky, Paul. The Faun in the Garden: Michelangelo and the Poetic Origins of Italian Renaissance Art. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.
Baron, Hans. From Petrarch to Leonardo Bruni: Studies in Humanistic and Political Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.
Bishop, Morris. Petrarch and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963.
Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Baltimore: Penguin, 1990.
Burke, Peter. The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Cassirer, Ernst, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and John Herman Randall, Jr. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.
Dempsey, Charles. The Portrayal of Love: Botticelli�s Primavera and Humanist Culture at the Time of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. 
Fallico, Arturo B. and Herman Shapiro, eds. Renaissance Philosophy: The Italian Philosophers. Selected Readings from Petrarch to Bruno. New York: Modern Library, 1967. 
Fallico, Arturo B. and Herman Shapiro, eds. Renaissance Philosophy: The Transalpine Thinkers. Selected Readings from Cusanus to Suarez. New York: Modern Library, 1969.
Hale, John. The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance. New York: Touchstone, 1993.
Hall, Marcia, ed. Raphael�s "School of Athens". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Harbison, Craig. The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art in its Historical Context. New York: Abrams, 1995.
Hollingsworth, Mary. Patronage in Renaissance Italy: From 1400 to the Early Sixteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
Howarth, David. Images of Rule: Art and Politics in the English Renaissance, 1485-1649. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Jardine, Lisa. Worldly Goods: a New History of the Renaissance. London: Macmillan Press, 1996. 
Kerrigan, William and Gordon Braden. The Idea of a Renaissance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
King, Margaret L. Women of the Renaissance. New York: SUNY Press, 1983.
Krailsheimer, A. J., ed. The Continental Renaissance 1500-1600. Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1971.
Kraye, Jill. The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Kristeller, Paul Oskar. Renaissance Concepts of Man and Other Essays. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
________. Renaissance Thought and the Arts: Collected Essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. 
Larner, John. Italy in the Age of Dante and Petrarch: 1216-1380. London and New York: Longman, 1980. 
Lemaitre, Alain J. and Erich Lessing. Florence and the Renaissance: The Quattrocento. Paris: Terrail, 1993. 
Levey, Michael. High Renaissance. Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1975.
Manchester, William. A World Lit Only By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.
Ross, James Bruce and Mary Martin McLaughlin, eds. The Portable Renaissance Reader. New York: Viking, 1953.
Seigel, Jerrold E. Rhetoric and Philosophy in Renaissance Humanism: The Union of Eloquence and Wisdom, Petrarch to Valla. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Strand, Kenneth A., ed. Essays on the Northern Renaissance. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ann Arbor, 1968. 
Tinagli, Paola. Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation, Identity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997. 
Turner, A. Richard. Renaissance Florence: The Invention of a New Art. New York: Abrams, 1997. 

| Return to the Lecture |

| The History Guide |

copyright � 2000 Steven Kreis
Last Revised -- April 13, 2012
Conditions of Use