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The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,533 ratings  ·  84 reviews
For nineteenth-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, the Italian Renaissance was nothing less than the beginning of the modern world - a world in which flourishing individualism and the competition for fame radically transformed science, the arts, and politics. In this landmark work he depicts the Italian city-states of Florence, Venice and Rome as providing the seeds ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published June 28th 1990 by Penguin Classics (first published 1860)
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3.94  · 
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 ·  2,533 ratings  ·  84 reviews

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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
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing

"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
Jun 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.”
― John Addington Symonds, Renaissance in Italy

Often, when writing about the Renaissance there is tendency among exper
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 instruct
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
Michael Finocchiaro
This is THE reference book about the Renaissance in terms of the view held up to Panofsky and 20c art criticism by the venerable Jacob Burckhardt. Required reading for students of art history, it is an interesting study of the world during the Renaissance. Highly criticized nowadays for its obsession with Italy and its bashing of the Middle Ages, I still found it interesting - especially since I read Panofsky and others beforehand. I felt that Burckhardt definitely had a thing for Italy and thus ...more
Bernardo Kaiser
Sep 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Mike Hankins
Sep 26, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
'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
Feb 16, 2014 rated it liked it
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
This is not your typical modern history book. It's more like a huge, chaotic essay where Burckhardt eulogizes the Italians of the Renaissance era. His style is labyrinthine and there's a lot of personal opinion and value judgements, which are not only expressed as such, but play an essential role in Burckhardt's argumentation or narrative line. There's a lot of detail and examples (probably thousands of Italian names - priests, writers, princes and whatnot), which really bogs down the reading. I ...more
Masterful. The 'state as a work of art' is fucking fantastic, conceptually and rhetorically, very fertile, &c. Plenty else.
Linus Williams
Mar 09, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
José Luis
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
May 04, 2015 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 rated it did not like it
Superficial overview of life in Italy during the Renaissance. Doesn't hold up well several centuries after it was originally written.
Elizabeth S
This is an excellent scholarly work. However, it's also one I'd recommend readers approach with caution if they're not coming in with a background on the Renaissance period.

Burckhardt's book is rather more an essay, split into sections. Some of the sections are concise and easy to follow. Others span tens of pages and seem to get a little lost in themselves.

I have to give leeway for his structural challenges because I can't imagine the author expected quite so wide an audience to delve into this
Kiely Marie
Nov 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: grad, nonfiction
Burckhardt makes a lot of wild accusations and statements (like: Pietro Aretino was the father of modern journalism! Renaissance Italians didn’t think of themselves as defined by their race! Umm... how about no? Let’s not say things like that?) and most of the opinions, coming from a Swiss historian written 140 years ago, seem ridiculously outdated. Most of the book is easy to read, though I did not particularly enjoy how the book hit the ground running with a long discourse on despots in govern ...more
Kari Trenten
This book gives readers a skeleton overview of Renaissance Italy, delivered in beautiful prose by one whom shows true devotion to his subject. It offers a picture of the politics, the change of thought, the revival of interest in Graeco-Roman classics, and some of the larger than life individuals whom contributed to this period of history. At the same time, the author’s opinions often cloud and obscure the picture he’s trying to paint with words, making it difficult to sift fact from prejudice. ...more
Dec 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ma
Commonly viewed as THE authority on the Renaissance in Italy, Burckhardt offers a definitive take on the birth of the Renaissance. While his thinking is intriguing and he makes reasonable connections between events and changes in thinking, politics, social changes and the rise of extraordinary individuals of singular talent, his work is just as interesting for what he gets wrong. The subject of many critical works, Burckhardt's nineteenth-century love letter to the Italian Renaissance is neverth ...more
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
it's surprisingly readable for a book from 1860, but that's just not good enough for the modern reader.

Jacob Burckhardt is definitely very smart and probably one of the first and most major renaissance historians, but the book is too scattered, full of anecdotes which you better have background in Italian history to understand, and the number of random characters and events that comes and goes are just too big to grasp or really make any sense of.

The book is written as if aimed for a very well e
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it
A history book published in 1860. What's probably most remarkable is that it was as readable as it was. But for those who love history, it is a pretty good look at both Reneissance Italy and the worldview of a nineteenth century Swiss man.

You'll get more out of this if you have at least a basic understanding of the major players in the Italian Reneissance. When I started I did not have that and I was lost. But after reading a couple books about and set in the time period, things made far more s
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"In the Middle was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation - only through some general category. In Italy this veil first melted into air; an objective treatment of the state and all the things of this world became possible. The subjective side at the same time asserted itself with corresponding emphasis; man became a spiritual individual, and recognized himself as such."
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is written by a very erudite man to an audience of scholars. For me, many of the people, events, and even places he references in passing as illustrations were totally unknown to me. This made the content a little hard to follow which made me lose interest/concentration at times. I did appreciate the chance to be introduced to perspectives on a wide range of topics from this era.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book if considered in context

Assumes a substantial background knowledge, including people, events, literature, even works of art. Yet- its a must for a student of historiography and of the renaissance.
Vicky P
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Illuminating as to how a lot of scholars still think about the renaissance today, although many ideas have very obviously been completely reversed since the middle of the nineteenth century. Very readable.
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Comprehensive, detailed, interesting but also quite a challenge to complete. Burckhardt knows the subject matter inside out and can introduce new connections to any reader.
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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
“most honourable alliance which he could form was with intellectual merit, without regard to its origin. The liberality of the northern princes of the thirteenth century was confined to the knights, to the nobility which served and sang. It was otherwise with the Italian despot. With his thirst for fame and his passion for monumental works, it was talent, not birth, which he needed. In the company of the poet and the scholar he felt himself in a new position, almost, indeed, in possession of a new legitimacy.” 0 likes
“Between the two lay a multitude of political units—republics and despots—in part of long standing, in part of recent origin, whose existence was founded simply on their power to maintain it.” 0 likes
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