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The Italian Renaissance Still Matters: A Compilation of Recent Studies (September 2022): Syntheses

By Brian Jeffrey Maxson


Syntheses of the Italian Renaissance in the past several decades have sought to move historical discussions beyond Burkhardt’s and Baron’s arguments while positing new ideas about what made the period distinct. A recent study by Guido Ruggiero, The Renaissance in Italy, emphasizes the new urban nature of the period, contrasting the growth of Italian towns and related changes with the medieval centuries prior. In this new Rinascimento (Renaissance), Ruggiero claims people prized the past while planting the seeds for the centuries after the 1700s. Taking a very different approach, Michael Wyatt’s edited volume The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Renaissance rejects organizational topics like politics, humanism, and gender. Instead, Wyatt and his contributing authors accept that such themes permeated all aspects of Italian Renaissance society. The book is thus arranged around themes of key interest in the current scholarship and in today’s own world: science and medicine, technologies, and languages, among other topics. In a third approach, Catherine Fletcher’s The Beauty and the Terror focuses on the latter half of the Italian Renaissance, offering an accessible narrative that includes aspects of the period often left out of such treatments.

Across two different books, William Caferro seeks to explain where the concept of the Renaissance came from, where it rests presently, and which direction future interpretations might take. In Contesting the Renaissance, Caferro devotes a chapter to tracing historiographical debates in the scholarship through the past several decades into the present. More recently, in his edited collection The Routledge History of the Renaissance, he brings together numerous scholars to write on themes central to current scholarship, especially the ways in which the Italian Renaissnace was situated within the broader world. Some scholars have focused even more on the origins and the enduring idea of an Italian Renaissance. The concept of a Renaissance has not always existed and certainly not in the form it took on during the late 20th century. Of the host of books focusing on this topic The Lost Italian Renaissance by Christopher Celenza and The Other Renaissance by Rocco Rubini deserve special mention for shedding light on this still not fully understood development.

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