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The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  1,717 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
Jacob Burckhardt was born in 1818 in Basel, Switzerland. He studied history at the University of Berlin and taught art history and the Italian Renaissance in Berlin and Basel. His essay, as he called The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, was first published in 1860. Rich in its detailed account of the arts, fashions, manners, and thought of one of the most innovati ...more
ebook, 372 pages
Published November 1st 2000 by Modern Library (first published 1860)
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How could I express the sheer pleasure I have had in reading this book? It is not easy to find historians or writers of Burckhardt’s calibre. Published in 1860, this icon of a book deserves its place as a model of historiography of the highest quality. Not many have served as a double linchpin. Burckhardt took up Michelet’s term of “Renaissance” and provided an exhaustive and brilliant analysis of what the term embodied in the Italy of the 13th- 16th Centuries. That was the more specific contrib
Jun 15, 2013 Hadrian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly."

Even if Harry Lime was right, he was wrong. Burckhardt, the man who invented the modern history of the Renaissance, was S
Roy Lotz
This work bears the title of an essay in the strictest sense of the word.

I did not know what I was getting into when I opened this book. I assumed that it was simply a narrative history of the Renaissance, and thus I figured it would be mostly review. But there is no narrative to be found in these pages. Rather, Burckhardt gives us the pioneering work of cultural history, changing both our picture of the Renaissance and our ideas about how to write history.

A comparison with Gibbon is instructi
Apr 12, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014

“Thus what the word Renaissance really means is new birth to liberty—the spirit of mankind recovering consciousness and the power of self-determination, recognizing the beauty of the outer world and of the body through art, liberating the reason in science and the conscience in religion, restoring culture to the intelligence, and establishing the principle of political freedom.”
― Jacob Burckhardt, The History of the Renaissance

Often, when writing about the Renaissance there is tendency among ex
Dec 30, 2008 AC rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece. One has to be sure, of course, to find a copy that includes the photographic plates -- which are essential (the penguin edition includes only the text and so is incomplete). Worth whatever you pay.... If there were six stars available on this board, I would give it ten....
Justin Evans
Well, I guess that's what old history is like. Burckhardt piles up his anecdotes and, true to his word, gives you his own picture of the Italian Renaissance. Don't go looking for a narrative of events, or precise information. It's all allusion and generalities. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think I would've had a better time if I'd known that at the beginning.
The problem with this book is so obvious that it's almost silly to point it out: Burckhardt's picture of the Renaissance is,
Mike Hankins
Burkhardt's famous work on the Renaissance may seem difficult to read by modern sensibilities, but it truly started something very new. There are two main ideas at play here. First, the idea that the Renaissance is the first time that humanity starts to recognize and celebrate individuality. Secondly, Burkhardt is using a methodology very different from historians before him. He's not concerned with narrative of events, with politics or military developments. Instead, he is examining Renaissance ...more
Burckhardt's classic study is a great work stylistically; structurally, it's kind of a mess. I thought it would be a rewarding read because of its historiographical prominence and because I didn't know much about the Renaissance. After reading it, I still don't feel like I have a handle on the Renaissance.

I don't think it's fair to comment too much on Burckhardt's methodology by contemporary standards, but it's often unclear what his sources are and how he is using them. His dating of the Renais
Dec 30, 2008 Miles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'Ah, the old war-horse,' an English professor of mine said when I told him I was going through this book years ago in college. I have to say, its not quite Decline and Fall or Thucydides but its almost up there in the pantheon. This really is a great history, and a real eye-opener on one of our most valuable legacies in the heritage. Burckhardt opens up with a bang--the book is divided into two sections--with 'the State as a Work of Art,' which details the desperate evil of the multitudes of ill ...more
Jul 12, 2015 Nikoleta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Πολυ καλο βιβλιο! Δεν εχει αφησει τιποτα απ'εξω που να αφορα την ιδεολογία της Αναγέννησης στην Ιταλια! Πολύ ενδιαφερον. Υποψην μόνο, οτι δεν ασχολειται με ιστορικα γεγονότα, ασχολείται καθαρά με την ιδεολογια.
Bernardo Kaiser
Sep 01, 2016 Bernardo Kaiser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The civilization that Buckhardt describes in this book is one that slowly leaves the middle ages style of government in fiefdoms and burghs and centralizes it's power under a bureaucratic authority. According to him, this made possible for humanist and creative artistic and moral expressions to flourish and art to become freer and better able to capture the intricacies of human emotions.

Well I disagree. The portrait painted by Buckhardt in relation to the civilization of the Renaissance is not t
José Luis
Sep 12, 2016 José Luis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was looking for a book about the renaissance period in our modern history. Just to have an understanding of the context in which the Renaissance happened, without being much linked to dates. I just wanted to read and understand as much as possible. And this is the book I needed, I selected it by reading readers comments at It was a rich trip through XIV, XV, XVI and part of XVII centuries in Italy. The author, Jakob Burckhardt, carried out a very long and thorough research, the res ...more
Linus Williams
Burckhardt, in this massive tome, gives an overview of the major political, societal, and religious themes that occurred during the Renaissance. He starts off with the State as a work of out, then moves into a more individualistic perspective, and closes with the influence of (pagan) antiquity and morality. He clearly wants to cover all important aspects of Italian society during this time period, but his writing style prevents him from completing this task successfully. He shifts and flits arou ...more
Apr 29, 2011 Lizzy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wem, history
I read it.
Got to know a lot about Dante.
Dante is so important because he broke the mold of writing in Latin. He wrote in Italian, in the common language for the common people.

I did get a kick out of the macaroni poetry. It was written in such a way that the Latin endings sounded like slips of the tongue.

I didn't realize how many authors there were back then. My head was swimming with all those names and titles.

There was a section in there on paid assassins. Makes me wonder if that's where the Ma
Feb 02, 2012 DoctorM rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant piece of writing--- and the source for what so many of us in my generation believed about the history of the Renaissance. The prose here was celebrated in Peter Gay's (classic) "Style in History" for both its cool patrician detachment and deep aesthetic sense, and reading Burckhardt is a pleasure. I have a History PhD, and I've taught History at universities--- and while there are newer visions of the place and time that are more "scientific" and based on findings and techniques unav ...more
Aug 24, 2015 Shane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely amazing book, filled with information and brutal, awe-inspiring anecdotes. This book is the oration on the dignity of the Italian Renaissance as the sole great, pure, classical event of the earth after the fall of Rome. I only wish the author had supressed his rare yet bothersome moralistic comments.
Mar 24, 2014 Alex rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Superficial overview of life in Italy during the Renaissance. Doesn't hold up well several centuries after it was originally written.
Oct 16, 2016 Simone rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A Difficult Read
A dense book, written in high Victorian academic language. Certainly covers the topic comprehensively, but by no means succinctly. I found the lengthy sentences tedious, and this detracted from the content for me; it certainly required strong concentration. I also felt that the topics were somewhat disjointed, and a lot of prior knowledge concerning the basic political landscape and eminent cultural personalities was assumed. While I can appreciate this book for the amount of res
Данило Судин
Це, мабуть, єдина книжка, яку я читав 8 років. (Коротко поясню, як мені це вдалося: я її читав тільки протягом літніх відпусток, а тому більшість року просто не мав часу взятися зав неї.)

І тому моя рецензія не буде надто детальною, адже більшість деталей вже встигли забутися. Втім, Якоб Буркгард - "батько" Йогана Гейзінги (і своєрідний попередник Школи "Анналів"), а тому рухається від макро- до мікро-рівня історичної епохи. Спершу розглядає політичну історію і шукає в ній корені (чи радше соціал
Federico Salinas
This is a particularly beautiful edition, printed by Phaidon Press in 1944, translated from the original German in the mid-19th century by Middlemore. It is bound in red cloth and contains an appendix of black-and-white photographs of Renaissance art.

The English text is redolent of the grand 19th century British style (to my taste, but avowedly not to everyone else's), making the reading a little dense and leaving the reader to wonder whether the original suffers or benefits from the same baroqu
Charles Rouse
Sep 21, 2014 Charles Rouse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this once at about college age and then again recently for preparation for ministry in the Episcopal Church. It's a classic. I love the material, what we call the Renaissance. I've seen a lot of it, and it's amazing in person, the art and buildings of Florence, much or most of which is still there.
Burchhardt just about invented this genre. He didn't, I think, invent the name, the Renaissance, referring to the Renaissance of Arts and Letters, meaning the rebirth of the arts and literature
Katelis Viglas
Jun 25, 2009 Katelis Viglas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I came across this book when I read in Foucault's History of Sexuality about the art of living in Renaissance. Probably the half of the book is related with matters of Subject's developement, and not only the second part which has the specific title. A kind of new discovery of the world and man came about in this era. There are many references to matters of the way the subject was related with himself, the other people, his body, power, education, sexuality, language, beauty, nature, traveling, ...more
It's hard to see this work as a whole, despite Burckhardt's clear desire to create something that is exactly that, just because I took far too long to read it. I'm a quick reader, but the denseness of this (more in terms of facts than in terms of comprehensibility; it's not difficult) makes it move slowly. It improved, for me, as he began to get into things about which I know more, such as literature, and it's created a better picture for me of how artistic outlook evolved during the course of t ...more
Dan Geddes
Oct 31, 2013 Dan Geddes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

See review at The Satirist:

Jacob Burckhardt’s Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy has achieved its now classic status because of the importance of its theses and its readability as a narrative. Burckhardt’s argues that the Italian Renaissance was the birth of both modernity and of the individual as we know it. These are strong claims, which have now become accepted by many historians. Burckhardt fostered the impression that the Middle Ages was a time
Burckhardt seems to hinge most of the Renaissance and therefore the modern world on Dante. I guess I should actually read it. 14th century epic poetry translated into English is even more difficult to read than 19th century history translated into English! There are lots of other things...he links city states to more secular, individualistic thinking and of course the Italian love of text from Roman antiquity (see also The Swerve). He rally bypasses the visual arts altogether but it is rather re ...more
Al Maki
Jan 04, 2016 Al Maki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
It's not a chronicle of the events of the Renaissance. It's a kaleidoscope of different aspects of it - politics, warfare, poetry, art, clothing, festivals, beliefs about a variety of things - with the intention of illustrating where and how the modern European sensibility first manifested itself. I think it succeeds through a cascade of commentary on dozens and dozens of specific topics like the relative degree of respect accorded Scipio Africanus and Julius Caesar or how the introduction of hi ...more
Deborah Borges
Oct 28, 2012 Deborah Borges rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Quando comecei a ler este livro, achei que era ma coisa, porém é totalmente diferente do que pensei.
No começo me empolguei com os governos tirânicos da Itália e tudo o mais que o cercava naquela época. Porém, logo comecei a perceber que o autor dá suas opiniões sem tentar ser imparcial e acaba descrevendo a Itália como o melhor lugar da Europa, como se fosse o único lugar onde se tinha uma civilização e todos os demais países europeus fossem formados por pessoas sem cultura e sem pensamento próp
Dec 21, 2012 Libyrinths rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Burkhardt looks at Renaissance Italy in a topical fashion, starting with the various types of states/statelets and ranging through various aspects of the arts, thinking, clothing and other things. His most important theme is that this was the beginning in the West of the idea of the individual.

I was glad to have read other books about the Renaissance before reading this, because there were many names and some details which would have overwhelmed me otherwise. Still, for all the insights he provi
Aug 16, 2009 Vicki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
THis book nearly killed me. It was so so so so hard to get through. It was probably written originally on papyrus. ha. It was written so very long ago. There were so many prejudicial and racially charged statements and biases throughout it. I guess these reflected the era in which it was written . (the poor "orientals" took a beating...the author hated them)

On the good side....the reason I chose it in the first place and plodded through it, was due to our magnificent recent trip to Italy. I got
Sep 19, 2011 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though there are other, more recent, accounts of the italian renaissance, Burckhardt's book remains the touchstone of how we think about and talk about this remarkable moment in Western Civilization. This is about as Old School as you're going to get, and the writing is in High German Academic mode. i wouldn't call it dull, exactly, but effervescent it sure isn't. if you can get past that, the book provides some wonderful insights into the politics and philosophy that sparked this remarkable per ...more
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Carl Jacob Christoph Burckhardt was a historian of art and culture, and an influential figure in the historiography of each field. He is known as one of the major progenitors of cultural history, albeit in a form very different from how cultural history is conceived and studied in academia today. Siegfried Giedion described Burckhardt's achievement in the following terms: "The great discoverer of ...more
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