The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

by Jacob Burckhardt

Second edition; translated by S. G. C. Middlemore, 1878

Guide's Introduction

Jacob Burckhardt was a pioneer in the field of cultural history. A professor at the University of Basel, Switzerland, Burckhardt traveled through Europe, especially Italy, studying the art of the past and developing a keen insight into its cultural significance. In his writings he evinced a particular affinity for the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, and his first work, The Age of Constantine the Great, explored the transitional period from the ancient to the medieval.

In 1860 Burckhardt wrote his most important work, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.

Through the use of long-overlooked primary sources, he analyzed not only the political situation but the personalities of the day, the philosophical trends, and the material culture of Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries. Burckhardt perceived a unique society of Renaissance Italy, with characteristics peculiar to the time and place that came together to form a "civilization" or era distinct from the medieval centuries that preceded it.

Though virtually ignored when published, Burckhardt's work grew in popularity and influence until it became the standard introduction to the history of Renaissance Italy. For generations, the western approach to Medieval and Renaissance history was highly colored by its premises. The influence only began to wane when fresh scholarship conducted into the subject in the last 50 years or so superseded some of Burckhardt's facts and assumptions.

Today, Burckhardt's argument that the concept of individuality was born in 15th-century Italy is challenged by a new understanding of 12th-century European intellectual history.

His thesis that the Renaissance is an era separate from the Middle Ages is largely overruled by fresh evidence that supports an earlier origin and gradual evolution of certain aspects of Renaissance culture. Still, his conclusion that "the Italian Renaissance must be called the leader of modern ages" remains an attractive if not altogether universal idea.

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy stands as a fascinating exploration of Italian thought, culture and society during the Renaissance movement. It is also important because it was the first modern work to give just as much weight to the social and cultural features of the time period examined as it did to the progression of political events. Though some of Burckhardt's assertions and phrasings will strike sensitive readers as "politically incorrect," it remains an engaging and highly readable work.

Transcription Note
The electronic text I acquired was peppered with scanning errors. I have done my best to correct them with the help of a spell-checker and comparison to a print edition, but when it comes to proper names and Latin text, all but the most blatant of errors may have escaped my notice. If you discover an error, kindly email me with the correct information.

Your Guide,
Melissa Snell


Table of Contents


Part One: The State as a Work of Art

  • 1 - Introduction
    2 - Despots of the Fourteenth Century
    3 - Despots of the Fifteenth Century
    4 - The Smaller Despotisms
    5 - The Greater Dynasties
    6 - The Opponents of the Despots
    7 - The Republics: Venice and Florence
    8 - Foreign Policy
    9 - War as a Work of Art
    10 - The Papacy
    11 - Patriotism


    Part Two: The Development of the Individual

    • 1 - Personality
      2 - Glory
      3 - Ridicule and Wit


    Part Three: The Revival of Antiquity

    • 1 - Introductory
      2 - The Ruins of Rome
      3 - The Classics
      4 - The Humanists
      5 - Universities and Schools
      6 - Propagators of Antiquity
      7 - Epistolography: Latin Orators
      8 - The Treatise, and History in Latin
      9 - Antiquity as the Common Source
      10 - Neo-Latin Poetry
      11 - Fall of the Humanists in the Sixteenth Century


    Part Four: The Discovery of the World and of Man

    • 1 - Journeys of the Italians
      2 - The Natural Sciences in Italy
      3 - Discovery of the Beauty of the Landscape
      4 - Discovery of Man
      5 - Biography in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance
      6 - Description of the Outward Man
      7 - Description of Human Life


    Part Five: Society and Festivals

    • 1 - Equality of Classes
      2 - Costumes and Fashions
      3 - Language and Society
      4 - Social Etiquette
      5 - Education of the 'Cortigiano'
      6 - Music
      7 - Equality of Men and Women
      8 - Domestic Life
      9 - Festivals


      Part Six: Morality and Religion

      • 1 - Morality and Judgment
        2 - Morality and Immorality
        3 - Religion in Daily Life
        4 - Strength of the Old Faith
        5 - Religion and the Spirit of the Renaissance
        6 - Influence of Ancient Superstition
        7 - General Spirit of Doubt



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