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The Italian Renaissance Still Matters: A Compilation of Recent Studies (September 2022): The Vernacular and Print

By Brian Jeffrey Maxson

The Vernacular and Print

In the past, scholars viewed the Renaissance as a period focused on the revival of classical languages at the expense of the Italian vernacular. In fact, many lists of great literary works exclude much of the Italian Renaissance altogether, jumping, for example, from Petrarch in the mid-1300s to Machiavelli in the 1500s. Recently, scholars have reassessed vernacular productions from the period and how those sorts of texts became more accessible. For example, Andrea Rizzi illustrates the importance and popularity of vernacular translations of Latin works during the period in Vernacular Translators in Quattrocento Italy. Other works, among them Simon Gilson’s Dante and Renaissance Florence, explore how people during the Renaissance read and engaged with earlier vernacular writers like Petrarch or Dante, Additionally, great vernacular writers from the period like Lorenzo de’ Medici and Luigi Pulci have benefited from recent reassessments, for example Luigi Pulci in Renaissance Florence and Beyond, edited by James Coleman and Andrea Moudarres. Christopher Celenza offers a broad framework through which to understand this complicated relationship between languages. In The Intellectual World of the Italian Renaissance, he claims that Latin and the vernaculars interacted in changing ways between 1300 and 1500, with the use of different languages changing over time.

Whether a text was in a classical language or the vernacular, the introduction of print into Italy dramatically changed how people accessed and processed information. Recent studies balance inquiries into how and how fast print did and did not alter Renaissance society. Brian Richardson has been a pioneer at interpreting multiple aspects of the earliest decades of print in Italy, most notably through his books Print Culture in Renaissance Italy; Printing, Writers and Readers in Renaissance Italy, and Manuscript Culture in Renaissance Italy. Against common myth, people during the Renaissance did not immediately embrace printing. Instead, they continued to patronize manuscripts for decades after printing became prominent. Nevertheless, it is also clear that people quickly saw the potential for print as a means of spreading news and propaganda, as Margaret Meserve shows was the case in Rome in Papal Bull. Scholars are also increasingly recognizing that print and inexpensive paper led to an overload of information not too dissimilar to the one experienced today with social media and the internet, a comparison made clear in Paul Dover’s The Information Revolution in Early Modern Europe and Christopher Celenza’s The Italian Renaissance and the Origins of the Modern Humanities.

Works Cited