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Living on the Edge in Leonardo's FlorenceSelected Essays$
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Gene Brucker

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780520241343

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520241343.001.0001

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The Italian Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance

(p.1) Chapter One The Italian Renaissance
Living on the Edge in Leonardo's Florence

Jeff Mielke

University of California Press

According to Jacob Burckhart, the Italian Renaissance was the beginning of the modern world. The Renaissance marked the sharp, decisive, dramatic break of Italy with the medieval age that preceded it. This radical transformation occurred in the fourteenth century, though the seeds of this revolution had been sown earlier in the second half of the thirteenth century. The medieval world that preceded the Renaissance was characterized by an agrarian economy, by a society that was hierarchical and feudal, by a political system that was dominated by kings with sacral power, and by a culture that was pervasively Christian and other-worldly. In contrast, the Italian Renaissance was marked by an economy that was capitalist and mercantile, and by a culture that rejected its Christian heritage for the lure of classical antiquity. This chapter focuses on the emergence of the Italian Renaissance. It begins its discussion from the viewpoint of Burckhart, and in particular discusses its view of Renaissance secularism and individualism. It is argued in this chapter that the Renaissance was not a radical break from the medieval past. Instead, the Italian Renaissance was a gradual change and the mix of tradition was complex. Traditional Christian values influenced the secular life, the social order remained hierarchical, and the divisions between the rich and the poor were as great in the fifteenth as in the thirteenth century. While the chapter discusses the slow transformation of the Italian Renaissance, it also highlights the changes that occurred in these centuries, particularly in the field of culture and the education system, and in the palaces, churches, and lifestyles. Discussed as well is the maturity and decline of the Italian Renaissance.

Keywords:   Jacob Burckhart, Italian Renaissance, Renaissance, secularism, individualism

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