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Renaissance and Humanism from the Central-East European Point of View. Methodological Approaches, ed. by Grażyna Urban-Godziek, Jagiellonian University Press, Kraków 2014

This publication was inanced by the Department of Polish Studies, Jagiellonian University
in Kraków
Anna Czarnowus
David Schaufler
Teresa Bałuk-Ulewiczowa
Katarzyna Spiechlanin
Shaun O’Neill
Caterina Squillace
Guy Torr
Kevin Martin
Monika Kozub
Prof. dr hab. Mirosława Hanusiewicz-Lavallee
Anna Sadowska
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Table of Contents
Grażyna Urban-Godziek, Introduction. The Polish Golden Age – Current
State of the Arts and Challenges ............................................................................... 7
From the History of the Renaissance Idea
Riccardo Fubini (Firenze), Old Trends and New Perspectives
in Renaissance Scholarship ........................................................................................ 15
Ryszard Kasperowicz (Lublin), A Portrait of Renaissance Man in the
Writings of Jacob Burckhardt .................................................................................... 35
Barbara Kaszowska-Wandor (Katowice), The Renaissance and Humanism
in the Light of the New Historicism ........................................................................ 49
The State of Research on the Renaissance Humanism (Poland Case Mainly)
Tadeusz Ulewicz (Kraków), The Earliest Harbingers of Polish Humanism
in the Golden Autumn of the Jagiellonian Middle Ages ................................. 59
Sante Graciotti (Roma), The Renaissance and Non-Renaissance in Polish
Renaissance Literature. ................................................................................................ 75
Andrzej Borowski (Kraków), Major Currents in the Renaissance and
Humanism Studies in Poland in the Last Fifty Years ....................................... 101
Jerzy Starnawski (Łódź), Aleksander Brückner as a Scholar and the
Publisher of Mikołaj Rej’s Works............................................................................. 117
Maciej Włodarski (Kraków), Mikołaj Rej as a Reformation Writer .................. 131
Piotr Wilczek (Warszawa), The Radical Reformation in Poland: Research
Models in the Second Half of the 20th Century ................................................... 145
Jerzy Axer (Warszawa), Latinitas Polonorum or Pedantry à la polonaise...... 153
Martin Faber (Freiburg im Breisgau), The Formation of European
Nationalism during the Renaissance ...................................................................... 165
Wacław Walecki (Kraków), Remarks on the Foreign Primary and Secondary
Bibliography of the Polish Renaissance ................................................................ 171
Noémi Petneki (Kraków), The State of Research of the Polish-Hungarian
Contacts during the Renaissance. An Outline ..................................................... 177
6 Table of Contents
Editing of Primary Sources
Janusz Gruchała (Kraków), Problems in Editing Renaissance Texts ............... 187
Jeanine De Landtsheer (Leuven), Iusti Lipsi Epistolae after Half a Century:
Status Questions and Prospects ............................................................................... 197
Old and Contemporary Translation Studies
Elwira Buszewicz (Kraków), From the Renaissance through to Our Times:
The Reception of Neo-Latin Poetry in Polish Translation ............................. 221
Emiliano Ranocchi (Udine), Some Remarks on Translation in Old Polish
Literature: The Kochanowski Case.......................................................................... 233
The Renaissance Genres
Maria Maślanka-Soro (Kraków), The Concept and Form of Tragedy from
the End of Antiquity to the Renaissance ............................................................... 247
Grażyna Urban-Godziek (Kraków), Two Polish Renaissance Elegiac Cycles
(by Klemens Janicki and Jan Kochanowski) in the Light of the
Contemporary European Practice ........................................................................... 261
Roman Krzywy (Warszawa), Jan Kochanowski and Epic Poetry – an Attempt
to Reorganize the Current State of Knowledge .................................................. 277
Magdalena Ryszka-Kurczab (Kraków), The Role of Literary Genetics in
the Research into Renaissance Dialogue .............................................................. 293
Aneta Kliszcz (Kraków), In Search of the Renaissance Genre and Its
Theory ................................................................................................................................. 305
Index of Names ..................................................................................................................... 313
The Polish Golden Age –
Current State of the Arts and Challenges
Similar to all of Latin Europe, the Renaissance period marks the begin-
ning of the modern history of Polish culture. This period is fundamental
to shaping the Polish identity – initially the political system (the republic
of the gentry with an elected king), ultimately the mentality, customs
and culture. It is also the irst literary period whose works have been
preserved in such great magnitude, allowing us a comprehensive picture
of the literary and intellectual life of the epoch.
The above remark is necessary, as the beginnings of Polish literature
seem to be lost in the oblivion of history – only a minor part of Medieval
literature has survived, thus failing to render a complete picture of the
epoch and its language. The beginnings of literature in Polish (one might
just jokingly risk to compare it here to the one in Greek) are marked with
two oeuvres both with a complex artistic form; this proves the very high
literary culture and educational status of their authors who were famil-
iar with the Latin tradition (and also, in the irst case, the Greek one).
These two works are: a hymn devoted to Saint Mary, Bogurodzica, a work
with Latin and Byzantine roots, dated somewhere between the 10th and
13th centuries, and the collection of sermons, Kazania Świętokrzyskie,
written according to the principles of ars dictandi, at the turn of the 13th
and 14th centuries, although only discovered as late as the 19th century.
Only these two irst works allow one to assume that Polish Medieval lit-
erary output was much larger and older than its preserved manifesta-
tions. Such a supposition would also explain the unlikely ascendency of
Renaissance literature, which, since the 1430s, had begun to adapt Eu-
ropean humanistic philosophical trends to reach its full potential in the
middle of the 16th century.
The Renaissance period is the Golden Age of Polish culture. Human-
ism, which touched upon the senses of the entire European continent,
fell here upon very fertile ground; this was also the outcome of the polit-
8 Grażyna Urban-Godziek
ical and economic situation of the great1 republican federation known as
the Commonwealth of the Two Nations (i.e. Polish and Lithuanian – and
in fact Ruthenian, although many other ethnic minorities and religious
groups were coexisting there). Poland lies on the great plains between
the West and the East – this was a land which was good to domesticate
and develop, and even easier to conquer, plunder and defeat. The Union
with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (comprising the territories of con-
temporary Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, and then temporarily some
parts of Latvia, Estonia and Russia), made in 1385, strengthened both
state organisms, allowed them to ight away and defeat the threat of the
Teutonic Knights, and then for three more centuries enabling them to
shield the territory from the growing powers of the East: Turkish-Tatar
and Muscovy (the idea of antemurale Christianitatis the defence of
Latin Europe against the Muslim inlux was part of the identity of Polish
society). In the 16th century, military conlicts were carried out rather in
the border areas of the state, fortunately sparing the centre of country,
whilst the religious wars during the period of the Reformation seemed
to have the character of inter-religious disputes rather than conlicts
causing persecution and victimisation.
The literature of the Polish Renaissance is, similarly as in other coun-
tries, a lowering of literary creativity both in the humanistic Latin and
the vernacular – the Polish language (the time for the languages of other
nations was still to come much later – although the Ruthenian language
had a long tradition in Orthodox Christian literature, it did not take over
the spirit of the Latin West). The Polish language of the works created
at that time is surprisingly well developed in comparison with its scarce
representations dating back to the preceding century and managed to
meet the challenges of the epoch, by creating a set of terms and topoi
equivalent to the classical ones. This was also the language in which the
great humanistic poetry was created – mainly thanks to Jan Kochanow-
ski, who, in this way, created the idiomatic language of the Classicistic po-
etry for the entire Slavic cultural sphere. Also, the writings in humanistic
Latin were developing very well (though still insuficiently researched
today) serving science (in particular the perfectly developed math-
ematical-astronomical school, e.g. Copernicus’s De revolutionibus), his-
1 In 1466 the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth covered a territory of ca. 260 000 km2,
and in 1580 – 865 000 km2. It reached its largest surface area in 1634 covering ca. 990 000
km2 – as much as contemporary France and Germany together. Cf. Historia Polski w liczbach
[Polish History in Figures], vol. 1: Państwo, społeczeństwo [State, Society], edited by Fran-
ciszek Kubiczek et al.; the publication was worked out by Andrzej Wyczański et al. (Warsza-
wa: Główny Urząd Statystyczny, 2003).
9Introduction. The Polish Golden Age – Current State of the Arts and Challenges
toriography (Kromer), ethics and political thought (e.g. Frycz Modrzew-
ski, Goślicki) and oratory or lyrical poetry (e.g. Krzycki, Dantyszek, Jan-
icki, Kochanowski). The attachment of Poles to Latin was to become
even stronger in the second half of the 16th and 17th century when Latin
gained the status of the second language of the Polish-Lithuanian and
Ruthenian nobility.
This quite paradoxical aspect of the culture of the discussed period
deserves some emphasis. In the period of the Renaissance, the Polish
national consciousness was created and in spite of being identiied
with the nation’s gentry, having more of a social layer nature than an
ethic one; it was centred around the Polish language, yet, at the same
time, around Latin as well (as this was the language of the gentry and
of the democracy of the gentry with its ideological references to the
Roman republic, and to take a closer example – the Venetian Repub-
lic). And at the same time, like in no other period, Polish culture had a
pan-European dimension. Almost all Polish humanists who graduated
from the Cracow Academy (founded in 1364 and restored in 1400 as
a university), left to continue their studies in Italy (Padua, in particular,
was a real Mecca for the Poles), also in Germany, the Netherlands and
France. The contacts and friendships made there with the luminaries
of Humanism were continually sustained by travels, correspondence,
book exchange and following European novelties in publications. This is
also the character of the literature created there – open to novelties and
meeting the challenges posed by them – in both languages. And although
the signiicant development of the Polish language in the 16th century
can be attributed to great individuals such as Mikołaj Rej and, irst and
foremost, the ingenious Jan Kochanowski, they are undoubtedly the chil-
dren of their epoch.
This feature of Renaissance culture was manifested, in particular,
when contrasted with the next century, with the mentality, customs,
ways of dressing and also artistic creation that gradually acquired more
and more local traits. In the 16th century, the cultural centre was focused
around the royal court and the courts of bishops and also, more and
more, within the progress of time, around magnate’s courts which were
in permanent contact with the rest of Latin Europe (the majority of Pol-
ish humanists performed royal and diplomatic services). A signiicant
role is played also by the presence of print media – only in Cracow, in the
second part of the 16th century, were twelve printing presses in opera-
tion (the irst one being founded in 1473), publishing texts in Polish, Lat-
in, also in Greek, Hebrew and Cyrillic. In the following century, however,
when the country was stigmatised with the destructive wars against the
10 Grażyna Urban-Godziek
Cossacks, Tatars, Muscovians and the Swedish, culture was strongly de-
centralised, closed and focused around small manors of the gentry in the
countryside. And although a large number of the gentry, having obtained
their education mostly in Jesuit colleges, and sometimes in protestant
ones, produced some literary output, quite frequently of good quality
mainly in Polish and also in Latin – the circulation of such texts was
only local and the authors did not strive to have them published. This
phenomenon was also the outcome of the signiicant destruction of the
country’s infrastructure, including printing presses which were once
proliferous all over the Commonwealth, and also of the economic crisis
after these wars.
This apparently obvious statement on the universal character of Hu-
manist culture, should, however, be emphasised, given the story of the
research of the literature of the Polish Renaissance, in particular, of its
Latin part, which, in fact, comprises, the majority of the literary output
of that period.
Polish academic research of Renaissance heritage, commenced in
a methodological way in the second half of the 19th century, was able to
develop more freely as late as the twenty-year period between the two
world wars. The outbreak of the war stopped the research, rendering
it impossible: many specialists perished and the libraries and archives
were burned down, causing irretrievable destruction to the signiicant,
yet still unused, documents of the period; many important objects of cul-
ture and science after the war ended up in the hands of the soviet state
doomed to be destroyed furthermore.
The revival of post-war science came under strong ideological pres-
sure, but contrary to the presumably “clericalised” Middle Ages and
Baroque period (for example in the study of the Polish Reformation as
an anti-Catholic movement) the period of Renaissance was believed to
be “politically correct. This was the price of regarding this epoch as
the formative period of the native, Slavic language as opposed to Latin,
which was then being pushed into the role of the language of the Church
at the time of the “dark Middle Ages.
State ideology was interested in tearing Poland away from its west-
ern cultural roots and therefore the Polish Renaissance was being de-
prived of its universality and Latin roots – constructive for this cultural
formation. The Iron Curtain also separated Polish studies from the west-
ern equivalents which resulted in the pauperisation of both sides. On
the one hand, the contacts of Polish academics with the works of their
western colleagues were largely impeded; Polish works were carried
out frequently in separation from western indings; on the other hand –
11Introduction. The Polish Golden Age – Current State of the Arts and Challenges
the western scholars studying the Renaissance did not know the Polish
studies of the old literature and hardly ever considered, in their studies,
this large part of Europe, whose cultural and political life at that time
was lourishing and which strongly affected its neighbours, especially
eastern and southern, transmitting those humanistic ideas into their
Today, such a mutual opening is by all means necessary for both
sides. The purpose of this volume is, at least to a limited degree, to ill in
the lack of scientiic analyses of the Polish Renaissance in western lang-
uages and also to invite foreign scholars to a debate about Polish human-
istic literature. The articles of the Polish and foreign authors collected
here, show a central European perspective on the view of the European
Renaissance. At the same time, another important aspect of the volume
is to outline the methodology of Renaissance studies – the history, cur-
rent state of research as well as the newest trends and needs.
The beginnings of this volume were marked by an international con-
ference, organised in 2005 by the Chair of Old Polish Literature, led by
professor Andrzej Borowski in the Faculty of Polish Studies, Jagiellonian
University in Cracow. The Cracow centre, which has for many years been
developing Renaissance studies, is currently the most active Polish sci-
entiic entity in this area of studies. The organisation of the above named
conference became also the starting point of the Renaissance Studies
Centre currently the Renaissance Literature Laboratory (www.rene-, led by Grażyna Urban-Godziek PhD, created
at the Chair. The Laboratory focuses its activity on the study of the clas-
sical and European sources of the Polish Renaissance, in particular of
the Latin poetry of Jan Kochanowski (see; it is also
the meeting point of Renaissance scholars acting in many speciic ields,
who gather at lectures and debates every month in the beautiful rooms
of the Renaissance palace of the great humanist, bishop Erazm Ciołek,
which currently houses a section of the National Museum in Cracow, dis-
playing early modern Polish art.
Grażyna Urban-Godziek
From the History
of the Renaissance Idea
Riccardo Fubini (University of Firenze)
Old Trends and New Perspectives
in Renaissance Scholarship1
A collection of synthetic essays by international scholars on the topic of
“Interpretations of Renaissance Humanism” was published some years
ago.2 The editor, Angelo Mazzocco, states in his Preface that he is hard
pressed to provide an overview of the historical outlook of these essays,
so different are they in their very nature and assumptions; indeed, it
is even hard to specify the topic they deal with.3 This is exactly, so to
say, the state of affairs in generation following the death of the scholars
who had dominated research on Humanism in different but interrelated
departments, such as the philosophers Eugenio Garin and Paul Oskar
Kristeller, the historian Hans Baron (to whom Mazzocco dedicates the
volume,) or, as far as speciically Italian scholarship is concerned, the phi-
lologists Alessandro Perosa, Giuseppe Billanovich, Augusto Campana,
and the literary scholars Carlo Dionisotti and Vittore Branca. But unlike
my friend Mazzocco, I think that now is precisely the time for a thorough
analysis and critique aimed at a new in methodical approach. As far as
Italian historiography on 15th century Humanism is concerned, one is
struck by the absence of relevant studies in the trend of national tradi-
tion.4 This constitutes a real cutting off in the historical tradition from
1 This article was irst published with the title: “L’Umanesimo italiano. Problemi e studi di
ieri e di oggi,” as a section of the collection of essays by different authors: L’Umanesimo in Eu-
ropa. In ricordo di Franco Simone, published in Studi francesi LI (2007): 504–515. The present
text is sometimes adapted and updated. Warm thanks to my friend and colleague, prof. Daniel
Stein Kokin, who has revised with insight and generosity my – so to say – tentative English.
2 Interpretations of Renaissance Humanism, ed. by A. Mazzocco (Leiden, 2006).
3 Mazzocco, Introduction..., 1–18: “The interpretations of Renaissance Humanism pro-
vided by the scholars included in this volume, like those of their predecessors in the 19th
and 20th centuries, are varied to the point of being contradictory” (p. 17). See also on this
topic Palgrave advances in Renaissance historiography, ed. by J. Woolfson (Houndmills–New
York, 2005).
4 I refer here to my books: R. Fubini, L’umanesimo italiano e i suoi storici. Origini rina-
scimentali – critica moderna (Milano, 2001); idem, Humanism and Secularization. From Pe-
Riccardo Fubini16
its roots. There are essentially two fundamental moments in this story.
The irst and oldest is intrinsic to Renaissance culture itself. I refer here
to the failure to transmit basic Renaissance texts in printed editions, or,
in other words, to transmit these texts as a public cultural legacy. Be-
ginning with Petrarch’s Latin works and continuing among the greatest
of the humanists – from Poggio Bracciolini to Lorenzo Valla, from Enea
Silvio Piccolomini to Marsilio Ficino, not to mention Leonardo Bruni,
whose works were rediscovered in the 18th century, or Leon Battista
Alberti, whose literary writings were published in their entirety in our
times – all these writers were edited almost exclusively outside Italy, in
Paris, Cologne, Strasbourg, Basel, etc. In other words the circulation of
these works whether in handwritten or printed form was alive as
long as the public sovereignty of the Italian states was effective. Sub-
sequently the curtain of implicit censure was lowered, even before the
advent of the Index of prohibited books.5 Amid the literary lowering of
the 16th century, humanist traditions were reduced to classical rules
of rhetoric, thereby resurrecting authoritarian principles. Particularly
deceptive is the fact that some major 15th century works following ra-
tional criteria were superseded by new texts similar in subject, but op-
posed in terms of method, thanks to either strict scholastic specialism,
or uncritical encyclopaedic compilation. I offer here the two most sig-
niicant examples. First, we can observe how Valla’s empirical, rational-
ist stance in the Elegantiae latinae linguae in which linguistic usage
is analysed, in terms of grammar, meaning, and style, as a basis for rhe-
torical elaborationwas superseded by the rhetorical rules of Cicero’s
speech (the so-called “Ciceronianism”).6 In the second case, the critical
attitude pervading Biondo Flavio’s outlook on historical change in the
chorographic descriptions of the Italia illustrata (1453) was substituted
a century later by the Descrittione di tutta l’Italia of the Dominican friar
Leandro Alberti (1568). Alberti acknowledges no debt to Biondo, and
rightly so, because, unlike him, he pays homage to the sense of tradition
and therefore includes local legendary tales.7
trarch to Valla, transl. by M. King (Durham–London, 2003); idem, Storiograia dell’umanesi-
mo in Italia da Leonardo Bruni ad Annio da Viterbo (Roma, 2003).
5 Cf. Fubini, “Pubblicità e controllo del libro nella cultura del Rinascimento. Censura
palese e condizionamenti coperti dell’opera letteraria dal tempo del Petrarca a quello del
Valla,” in Humanisme et Église en Italie et en France méridionale (XVe siècle–milieu du XVIe),
sous la direction del P. Gilli (Roma, 2004), 201–237.
6 Cf. V. De Caprio, “Le Elegantiae di Lorenzo Valla,” in Letteratura italiana. Le opere, vol. I:
Dalle origini al Cinquecento, ed. A. Asor Rosa (Torino, 1992), 647–679.
7 Cf. Fubini, “Note su Leandro Alberti e l’ Italia illustrata di Biondo Flavio,in L’Italia
dell’Inquisitore. Storia e geograia dell’Italia del Cinquecento nella “Descrittione” di Leandro
Alberti, a cura di M. Donattini (Bologna, 2007), 137–143.
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 17
Carlo Sigonio, one of the prominent heirs of the critical attitudes of
Humanism, wrote in 1559 to dissuade students still coming from North-
ern countries to Italian universities. This young people – he writes – did
not realise that “this human education, in past times proper to Italy, now
for our own carelessness, not to say sloth, had migrated to your coun-
tries, as if to the most noble colonies” (“[…] humanitatem illam […], quae
propria quondam Italiae fuisset, nunc demum nimia nostrorum facili-
tate, ne an ignavia hominum dicam, ad vos et vestri similes quasi in colo-
nias nobilissimas migrasse”).8
With regard to the second historical circumstance I alluded to, there
is another story quite different in terms of subject matter and time
but equally relevant. At the end of 1868 the second revised edition of
Jacob Burkhardt’s famous book Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien
was published in Leipzig (the irst edition appeared in Basle in 1860).
From this edition spread the European success of this work, whose
main thesis is that the very beginning of “modernitycan be recog-
nised in the Italian Renaissance. The historical debate concerning this
claim lasted almost half a century, especially in the context of the Ger-
man “history of culture” (Kulturgeschichte.) In Italy, by contrast, where
a translation was still being planned in Florence, Burckhardt’s Renais-
sance encountered strong opposition from Francesco De Sanctis. Ac-
cording to him, Burckhardt’s ambiguous vision of the Renaissance,
that is of “modernity” itself, in which mankind was ready as never be-
fore for knowledge, action, and art, but no longer supported by the old,
no longer replaced moral certitudes, ought not to be exposed to the
young Italian nation, at the time seeking her redemption. This is pre-
cisely the meaning of the famous 1869 essay, L’uomo del Guicciardini
[The individual according to Guicciardini’s morality]. Referring to, and
reversing Burckhardt’s image of the Renaissance, De Sanctis instead
portrays it as “a civilization reaching an ultimate degree of perfection,
that results in luxury and elegance,but that for this very reason re-
veals its own decadence. Obviously hinting at Burckhardt, De Sanctis
rejected “the thesis of some northern historians,that were to be re-
moved from national history. The opposite pattern was furnished by
De Sanctis himself in his subsequent Storia della letteratura italiana,
destined to become a basic school text for Italian students, where he
insists on depicting the Renaissance as “the century that some people
8 Cf. W. McCuaig “Andreas Patricius, Carlo Sigonio, Onofrio Panvinio, and the Polish Na-
tion of the University of Padova,” History of Universities 3 (1983): 93.
Riccardo Fubini18
deine as a revival (risorgimento,) while actually being the principle of
our decadence.9
As a consequence, Burckhardt’s ideas, though widely debated
throughout Europe, in Italy were almost ignored. In Renaissance schol-
arship literary criticism and erudition prevailed, and, on the other hand,
Latin Humanism became a topic of classic philologists, such as the justly
famed Remigio Sabbadini. The widely inluential philosopher, historian
and literary critic Benedetto Croce, while entirely neglecting the begin-
nings of Humanism, devoted extensive attention, as he says, to “the au-
thors of the ripe and late Renaissance,beginning with Neapolitan his-
tory in the times of the kings of Aragon.10
The only path reconnecting Italian scholars with the cultural history
of the Renaissance was pursued by philosophers of the so-called neo-
Hegelian school, from Bertrando Spaventa to the highly inluential Gio-
vanni Gentile. They emphasised the “primacy” (primato) of Italy in the
development of modern philosophy, since the days of Giordano Bruno,
whose assumptions about “immanent” truth (in opposition to medieval
faith in a transcendent world) were now coming back to Italy along with
Hegelian philosophy. It must be noted that this nationalistic attitude,
while drawing generically upon Burckhardt, was in fact, in its philosoph-
ical and inalistic assumptions, in contradiction with his disenchanted,
anti-Hegelian and individual stance. This is a topic worth emphasising,
as it is the source of much historiographical inconsistency.11
For these reasons, until the post-war years, the historical-philosophical
arguments on the imprint of Giovanni Gentile’s school, on one hand, and
philological erudition on the other, were dominant. In particular, in the
1940s and 50s some specialised scholars emphasised erudition against
the literary criticism inspired by De Sanctis and Croce, that was actually
losing its strength. On the other hand, the historian Federico Chabod de-
nounced the gap between cultural and political history in Renaissance
studies, both closed in their own sphere, “where little light or none at all
comes from the other.12
9 “[…] secolo chiamato del risorgimento, e che fu pur quello della nostra decadenza.”
Fubini, “L’uomo del Guicciardini tra De Sanctis e Burckhardt,” in idem, L’umanesimo italia-
no..., 230–238.
10 Cfr. B. Croce, Poeti e scrittori del pieno e del tardo Rinascimento, 2 vol. (Bari, 1945).
11 See especially G. Gentile, Studi sul Rinascimento, 3a edizione riveduta e corretta (Fi-
renze, 1968) (the original edition was of 1937). The most signiicant chapter is the third,
“Il concetto dell’uomo nel Rinascimento,that goes back to 1916. On Burckhardt, see my
article: “Origini e signiicato del Die Kultur der Rennaissance in Italien di Jacob Burckhardt,”
in Fubini, L’umanesimo italiano..., 211–229.
12 F. Chabod, “Gli studi di storia del Rinascimento,” now in Chabod, Scritti sul Rinasci-
mento (Torino, 1967), 147–148.
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 19
We must now come back to cultural and philosophical history. In the
years after the war, a new professional historian of philosophy was ac-
quiring the inluence previously enjoyed by Gentile. Here I am obviously
referring to Eugenio Garin, a most perceptive and erudite scholar, how-
ever dificult and elusive his theses were.13 He had written a monograph
on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in 1937, still beholden to the Italian
idealistic and spiritualistic climate. Furthermore, Garin was the editor of
a series of collected texts drawn from unedited or dispersed humanistic
authors: from the collection of the Filosoi italiani del Quattrocento, to the
compendious and well-argued synthesis, Il Rinascimento italiano, until
he came, in the years after the war, to conclude this kind of congenial
achievement with the inluential anthology, Prosatori latini del Quattro-
cento.14 Incidentally, in this regard it is noteworthy that despite the vari-
ety of nuances that so large a panorama suggests, individual characters
scarcely appear: this is a shortcoming proper to the die-hard paradigm
itself, of the “Humanists.” On the other hand, in the writings of Garin the
theme of the “dignity of man,” so typical of Gentile’s writings, still pre-
vails.15A triumph of human spirituality,” is how Garin deines the Renais-
sance epoch as a whole.16 The topic is pervasive as well in his Storia della
ilosoia, written in the years 1940–1942 as part of the collection “Storia
dei generi letterari” of the publisher Vallardi, where Garin took the place
of the work interrupted by Gentile, but published only after the war, in
1947.17 In this very same year a German redaction of the book on which
the fame of the author most relies: L’Umanesimo italiano. Filosoia e vita
civile nel Rinascimento [Italian Humanism: Philosophy and civil life in the
13 On this author, se in irst place Bibliograia degli scritti di Eugenio Garin, [ed. by
P. Zambelli] (Bari, 1969); and furthermore: E. Garin, La ilosoia come sapere storico (Bari,
1990); idem, Intervista sull’intellettuale, a cura di M. Aiello (Roma–Bari, 1997); and M. Capa-
ti, Cantimori, Contini, Garin. Crisi di una cultura idealistica (Bologna, 1997), 73–105.
14 E. Garin, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Vita e dottrina (Firenze, 1937); Filosoi italiani
del Quattrocento, pagine scelte, tradotte e illustrate da E. Garin, Pubblicazioni dell’Istitu-
to Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento (Firenze, 1942); E. Garin, Il Rinascimento italiano,
Istituto per gli Studi della Politica Internazionale (Milano, 1941); Prosatori latini del Quat-
trocento, a cura di E. Garin, La Letteratura italiana. Storia e testi 13 (Milano–Napoli, 1952).
15 See in particular E. Garin, “La Dignitas hominis e la letteratura patristica,” La Rinascita I
(1938): 102–146.
16 Cf. Garin, Il Rinascimento italiano..., 11.
17 See Garin, La ilosoia, vol. I: Dal Medioevo all’Umanesimo; vol. II: Dal Rinascimento
al Risorgimento (Milano, 1947). I quote from the second, augmented edition: Storia della
ilosoia italiana (Torino, 1966), vols. 2. The date of the composition is supplied in vol. I,
p. XIII. With regard to Giannozzo Manetti, Garin celebrates “il valore dello spirito umano nel
suo signiicato metaisico” (vol. I, p. 334); and he praises the dialogue Della famiglia by Leon
Battista Alberti as “un inno alla dignità dell’uomo” (p. 348). It is typical that such judgments
would be overturned in the following writings of Garin.
Riccardo Fubini20
Renaissance] was published in Bern.18 As can be seen from the book’s ti-
tle, here for the irst time the theme of “Civil Humanism” receives empha-
sis, that is the relationship between humanists and politics. Emphasised
as well is the value of the vita activa and of worldly goods in a republican
regime. However, this civic world would decay in the second half of the
15th century with the advent of the Medici regime, on one hand, and with
the success of the neo-platonic philosophy by Marsilio Ficino, which in-
sisted upon the primacy of metaphysical contemplation, on the other. “If
early Humanism was a full gloriication of civil life, of the free building
of the earthly city, the end of the 15th century is marked by a tendency
towards a light from this world, towards contemplation.19
I shall not discuss here whether these topics, or at least the empha-
sis upon them, were suggested to the sensitive Garin by the parallel re-
search of Hans Baron. This scholar, beginning in the 1930s emphasised
the intrinsic link between early Florentine Humanism and the “Renais-
sance of the Roman civic ethic,” and projected a book on the “Commu-
nal spirit of Florentine Humanism according to the Civil life by Matteo
Palmieri and other evidence:” a project that after the war would evolve
into The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance, written in English in the
United States, and published in 1955.20 Likewise, here is not the place
to debate, from a political and philosophical point of view, whether Ga-
rin was already sensitive at this early date to the communist leader and
thinker Antonio Gramsci’s elaboration of the concept of the intellettuale
organico and the cultura impegnata (the highbrow involved in a socio-
political commitment, i.e. under the authoritarian rule of the Party; and
the “culture engage,” as J. P. Sartre called it, also on a communist point of
view). Certainly Gramsci was inluential in the following book of Garin,
the Cronache di ilosoia italiana (1900–1943).21 This work is surely rep-
resentative of Italian culture, and also offers further evidence of Garin’s
scholarship; but right now we are concerned not with philosophy and
ideology, but with historical writing on the subject of the Renaissance.
Yet an additional comment here would be appropriate. At a theoreti-
cal level, the idea of the conversion of thinking into action, expressed by
Gramsci in terms of political intent, doesn’t differ from Gentile’s “attual-
18 Garin, Der italienische Humanismus. Philosophie und bürgerliches Leben in Renais-
sance, nach dem Manuscruipt ins Deutsche betragen von G. Zamboni (Bern, 1947).
19 Garin, L’Umanesimo italiano. Filosoia e vita civile nel Rinascimento (Bari, 1952), 103.
20 Cfr. Garin, “Le prime ricerche di Hans Baron sul Quattrocento e la loro inluenza tra le
due guerre,” in Renaissance studies in honor of Hans Baron, ed. by A. Molho and J. Tedeschi,
(Firenze, 1971), LIX–LXX.
21 Garin, Cronache di ilosoia italiana (1900–1943) (Bari, 1955; second revised edition,
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 21
ismo;” not to speak of other anti-individualistic theories of German im-
print, in particular the notion of Staatsbejahung, the “assent to the State,”
in the sense of the absolute obligation of the individual to the State.
Theories of this kind inluenced much more than present scholarship
is ready to admit – even a Renaissance historian like the pro-republican
Hans Baron.22 Coming back to Garin, when we reassess L’umanesimo
italiano, we are amazed to discover how much of the book is still compli-
ant with the historical outlook of Gentile. Gentile associated “Human-
ism” and “Renaissance” in an overall epochal complex. “Humanism
Gentile wrote is the preparation, or, if one prefers, the beginning of
the Renaissance.23 The synthetic book of Garin, therefore, is equally dis-
tributed in two sections respectively dedicated to “Humanism” and “Re-
naissance.” Beginning with Petrarch and Salutati, he concludes with the
fated triad of Telesio, Bruno and Campanella, largely skipping over
the “civil Humanism” of Florence at the beginnings of the Quattrocento.
However the book of Garin is noteworthy for another reason, this
time not to be referred to Italian culture only. As I said, the book was
published for the irst time in Bern in 1947, in a German version. This is
an uncommon and interesting event, with regard to the circumstances
of which the author is silent in the irst Italian edition of 1952. In fact the
German edition, if not the book itself, had been promoted by a friend of
Garin – Ernesto Grassi. He was both a philosopher and a cultural activ-
ist, and Garin appeared to him as the scholar most it for the task, thanks
to his competence in humanistic thought as well as for the History of
the Italian philosophy which he had already written in place of Gentile.
Actually Grassi, a former student of Martin Heidegger in Freiburg i.B.,
aimed at a mediation between the prevailing German and Italian philo-
sophical schools. Moreover, he was also moved as was typical of the
time – by national competition.24 The purpose of Grassi was to moderate
the rigid devaluation of “traditional humanistic education,relected in
Heidegger’s theories and other radical tendencies of German thought,
22 See my essay, “Una carriera di storico del Rinascimento: Hans Baron,” in Fubini,
L’umanesimo italiano, 277–316.
23 Gentile, “Il carattere del Rinascimento,” in Il pensiero italiano del Rinascimento, 17.
24 On the episode, see J. Hankins, “Two Twentieth-Century Interpreters of Renaissance
Humanism: Eugenio Garin and Paul Oskar Kristeller,” in idem, Humanism and Platonism in
the Italian Renaissance, vol. I: Humanism (Roma, 2003), 573–590, and also 609–610; and
C. S. Celenza, The Lost Italian Renaissance (Baltimore–London, 2004), in particular ch. II:
“Italian Renaissance Humanism in the Twentieth-Century. Eugenio Garin and Paul Oskar
Kristeller,” 33–35. On Grassi, see Dizionario biograico degli Italiani, 58 (2002), entry by
P. Donatelli, 607–609. On the request by Grassi to Garin, such as Garin himself revealed in
the “Avvertenza” to the 1994 reprint of his book, see Capati, Cantimori, 86.
Riccardo Fubini22
thanks to concepts drawn from the idealistic and spiritualistic doctrines
of the Italian school. According to his own words, the intention of Grassi
was to counter the Nazi denial of humanistic traditions, taking pride in
the Fascist cultural initiatives intended to glorify the Renaissance, such
as the foundation of the Florentine “Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Ri-
nascimento.” “Have you seen – Grassi wrote to his friend Enrico Castelli
in 1942 – that [Giovanni] Papini spoke about the Renaissance to the for-
eign section of the ‘Centro del Rinascimento?’”25 These words attest to
the close relationship between the Florentine Institute of which Papini
was President, and the other “Centro di studi umanistici e ilosoici,” that
Grassi established in Milan. Now, it was precisely in a Swiss collection
of philosophical essays edited by Grassi together with W. Szilasi, that
Heidegger published his Letter on Humanism, an answer to a question
raised by a French scholar: “How can we restore meaning to the term
Humanism?”26 Heidegger’s response is one of his most radical state-
ments of an absolute ontologism, culminating in a whole rejection of
metaphysics in its classic, traditional sense: “The history of Being is Be-
ing itself, and only Being.”27 Furthermore, while the tradition of Greek
metaphysics could be confronted with our own thought, the Latin legacy
had to be entirely rejected and therefore according to good old Ger-
man tradition the Italian Renaissance was deinable as “renascentia
Romanitatis,” that is a Humanism of a third class.28 Hence we understand
the reaction of Grassi: Heidegger’s theory of the unfathomable Being,
had to be, not contrasted, but confronted with the human capacity to ap-
proach it through rhetoric and poetic language, originating from human-
25 Cfr. M. Simonetta, “Filosoia e potere in Ernesto Grassi,Intersezioni XV (1995): 469.
It is expedient to recall here the friend and correspondent of Grassi, Enrico Castelli. Like
Grassi, he was a conservative and, more particularly, a catholic existentialist thinker. He too
was a fertile promoter of cultural events. Having established a “Centro internazionale di
studi umanistici,” he promoted a series of meetings, such as Umanesimo e machiavellismo
(Padova, 1949); Umanesimo e scienza politica (Milano, 1951); Umanesimo e simbolismo (Pa-
dova, 1958); Umanesimo e esoterismo (Padova, 1960). Incidentally, Castelli was also a friend
of Garin, and wrote the Prefazione to his collection of humanistic texts, La disputa delle arti
nel Quattrocento (Firenze, 1947). Garin at his turn recalls Castelli in a sympathetic way in
the Cronache di ilosoia, 522.
26 “Comment redonner un sens au mot ‘Humanisme?’”; the scholar was the French phi-
losopher Jean Beaufret (1907–1982), who aimed at rehabilitating Heidegger after the war;
see on the question J. Beaufret, Dialogue with Heidegger: Greek Philosophy, transl. by M. Sin-
clair (Bloomington, 2006).
27 Cf. R. Wolin, Heidegger’s Children. Hanna Arendt, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, and Herbert
Marcuse (Princeton–Oxford, 2001), 230–231.
28 Cf. Celenza, The Lost Italian Renaissance…, 33; we ind a similar depreciation of Latin
Humanism in W. Jaeger, Humanism and Theology (1947); cf. Fubini, L’umanesimo italiano…,
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 23
istic traditions and from the Italian philosophy of Giovan Battista Vico.29
By the way, this was the orientation Grassi gave to his school in Munich
after the war, as it can be seen in the collection of books he edited, mostly
on the subject of Italian Humanism. Rhetoric as Philosophy: this is the
title of a collection of Grassi’s essays recently translated into English and
published in the USA.30 Rhetorik als Philosophie: Lorenzo Valla, repeated
the title of a book by a zealous follower of Grassi in Munich – H. B. Gerl.
She goes so far as to ascribe to the Italian humanist the Heideggerian
theory of the Sosein, the Being in and for itself, among the dispersion of
empirical beings.31 As I said, it was thanks to his desire to counterbalance
such radical assumptions that Grassi supported the book of Garin as the
most recent interpretation of Humanism in accordance with the history
of Italian philosophy, but in the same linguistic guise of Heidegger’s Let-
ter. His purpose was – as Garin wrote later on – “to enable two cultural
worlds to converge.32
Such an intention was not disregarded by Garin. In his notion of “civil
Humanism,the concept of praxis prevails over the old fashioned focus
upon the “dignity of man.The emphasis therefore was put on praxis
expressive instrument, that is to say, political and moral rhetoric. The
aforesaid collection, Prosatori latini del Quattrocento, surely one of
Garin’s most inluential books, represents in itself a gloriication of rhet-
oric, a term that Garin often puts in inverted commas, as if to distinguish
it from rhetoric as a mere literary technique. However, this is a formula-
tion that still seems to us akin to the famous formula by Gentile, who had
referred to humanistic thought as a “philosophy of non-philosophers.”
Garin now explained it as a rhetoric inlated with a lot of lattering
meanings: “In the 15th century rhetoric is really all-pervading, so long
as we remind ourselves, on the other hand, that ‘rhetoric’ is humanity –
namely spirituality, consciousness, reason and human discourse.33
Without this background one cannot possibly understand the over-
arching project of Paul Oskar Kristeller surely the most important
scholar on Humanism of the last century, whether with regard to his
own contributions or to the stimulus he gave internationally to research-
29 Cf. Donatelli, Grassi..., 608.
30 E. Grassi, Rhetoric as Philosophy. The Humanist Tradition (Carbondale, Ill., 2000);
cf. Celenza, The Lost Italian Renaissance…, 171.
31 H. B. Gerl, Rhetorik als Philosophie: Lorenzo Valla (München, 1974), 181: “das notwen-
dige Sosein;” on the context, see Fubini, Humanism and Secularization…, 149.
32 Garin, Cronache di ilosoia..., 515: “di far convergere due mondi di cultura.”
33 Prosatori latini del Quattrocento..., XIV: “Tutto è, veramente, nel Quattrocento, ‘retori-
ca,’ sol che si ricordi che, d’altra parte, ‘retorica’ è umanità, ossia spiritualità, consapevolez-
za, ragione, discorso di uomini.
Riccardo Fubini24
ers.34 A specialist in philosophical studies, he had been a follower of the
so-called neo-Kantian school, whence he acquired an unshakeable faith
in the autonomy of science. Furthermore, he beneited from the backing
he received from the two philosophers named above – Martin Heidegger
and Giovanni Gentile. After completing his irst book on the neo-platonic
philosopher Plotinus, Heidegger encouraged him to research in Italy the
diffusion in the Renaissance of Marsilio Ficino’s neo-platonic philosophy.
On the subject Kristeller wrote a monograph, published only later because
of the vicissitudes of the war. Likewise in Italy, Kristeller was welcomed
and supported at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa by Giovanni Gen-
tile. Indeed, it was precisely in the series of the “Testi umanistici inediti
e rari” directed by Gentile himself that Kristeller published his Supplemen-
tum icinianum.35 This great book in two volumes consist of a systematic
exploration of the manuscript testimony not only of Ficino’s works, but
also of his correspondents’ and other manuscript evidence of his environ-
ment. Therefore, it represented a substantial boost to our knowledge of
Florentine culture at the end of the 15th century. This was for Kristeller
a deinitive experience. It disclosed to him the mostly submersed world
of Renaissance Humanism, widely disseminated across Italy and Europe.
The outcome was the lifelong preparation of the Iter italicum, a very pe-
culiar inventory of manuscript writings never before speciied in printed
catalogues, which we can rightly deine as a new foundation of research
on Humanism.36 Yet, the immense labour involved in the Iter italicum, at
irst glance quite unusual for a philosopher, had for its author a greater,
not only instrumental signiicance. In fact, Kristeller’s intention was to
bear the testimony of the old German Wissenschaft, the science in and for
itself, that he now practiced in his new American context.
34 On Kristeller, together with the articles already quoted of Hankins and Celenza, see
the anonymous writing, but clearly autobiographic, “Paul Oskar Kristeller and His Contri-
bution to Scholarship,” in Philosophy and Humanism. Renaissance Essays in Honor of Paul
Oskar Kristeller, ed. by F.P. Mahoney (Leiden, 1976), 1–16; and also M. King, “Iter Kristel-
lerianum: the European Journey (1905–1939),” Renaissance Quarterly XLVII (1994): 907–
909. Cf. also Fubini, L’umanesimo italiano…, 317–332. With the exception of the mono-
graph on Marsilio Ficino (New York, 1942, and in Italian, Firenze, 1953), and, of course,
of the Iter Italicum, the most important contributions by Kristeller are collected in Studies
in Renaissance Thought and Letters, vols. 4 (Roma, 1956–1996). See also in Italian transla-
tion: La tradizione classica nel pensiero del Rinascimento (Firenze, 1956); Otto pensatori
del Rinascimento italiano (Milano–Napoli, 1970); Concetti rinascimentali dell’uomo e altri
saggi (Firenze, 1978).
35 Supplementum Ficinianum. Marsilii Ficini Florentini philosophi platonici opuscula ine-
dita et dispersa, vols. 2 (Firenze, 1937).
36 P.O. Kristeller, Iter Italicum. A inding list of uncatalogued or incompletely catalogued
humanistic manuscripts of the Renaissance in Italian and other libraries, vols. 6 (London–
Leiden, 1963–1997); also in a compact disk.
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 25
Furthermore Kristeller articulated a particular deinition of Human-
ism, as a historical phenomenon. Implicitly contrasting with the idealist
teaching of Gentile (that Garin cautiously continued through his rhetori-
cal pragmatism), the main purpose of Kristeller was to separate, in a cat-
egorical way, the domain of the studia humanitatis (that is rhetoric,
poetry, history, and moral philosophy) from the philosophy proper, and
speciically from rational metaphysics. According to Kristeller, this was
the most precious speculative legacy of the West; or, better, an everlast-
ing wisdom tradition (or philosophia perennis), extending from ancient
Greece down to Kant, Hegel, “and beyond,” but with the warning, as Kris-
teller speciies, it be restricted to “the best of modern thought.37
This concern with the two distinct ields, the preparatory disciplines
on one hand, and philosophy proper, on the other, was for Kristeller
linked with the desire to preserve continuity in tradition within the
strict boundaries of schooling. Subjectivity was to be avoided along with
ideologies that had been indelibly compromised amid the tragedies of
the 20th century. Against Heidegger’s ontologism, destitute of every con-
cern for reason and humanity, Kristeller returned to classical metaphys-
ics and theology. Against the all-embracing idealistic teaching of Gen-
tile, Kristeller reasserted the validity of an erudition, however modest it
might be, as a contribution to restore an interrupt tradition, conceived
as still precarious and in danger.
The main opponent to be defeated was therefore ideology, with its
disruptive power of ideological contrasts. The descriptive erudition of
Kristeller, his own “objective” exposition of doctrinal contexts point-
ing towards a true depersonalisation of history and of its various con-
nections, implies real, although undeclared, censure. On one occasion,
nevertheless, the intention became explicit. When Kristeller was award-
ed the laurea honoris causa by the University of Rome, his acceptance
speech included the following statement: “Innovations, originality, and
creativity have no value when their outcomes do not correspond with
truth; on the contrary, they are harmful when they bring to false and ref-
utable assertions […]. Moreover we must separate knowledge grounded
in valid, documentable, and objective proof, from our religious, political,
or ideological preferences.38
37 See Fubini, L’Umanesimo italiano..., 328–329. Kristeller’s mistrust, as his student
James Haskins witnessed, was particularly aimed at Heidegger. According to Haskins, he
privately showed himself “unsympathetic to Heidegger as a philosopher, though he ad-
mired him as an historian of philosophy” (Hankins, “Two Twenties Century…,” 583).
38 “La novità, l’originalità e la creatività non hanno nessun valore se i loro prodotti
non corrispondono alla verità, anzi sono dannose quando portano a delle asserzioni false
e riiutabili […]. Dobbiamo pure separare le nostre conoscenze valide, documentabili e og-
Riccardo Fubini26
At this point I cannot help but remark that the well-intentioned ob-
jective truth of Kristeller turns out to be no less abstract, or aloof from
the human world, than the sidereal Being of Heidegger. Likewise the re-
ductive paradigm of the “humanist,” as ultimately akin to the pedagogue
of the ancient enkyclios paideia, sounds no less generic than the anach-
ronistic intellettuale: for he either devoted himself to contemplative or
active life, or he followed an absolute spiritualism such as Giovanni Pico
della Mirandola, or he practiced the harsh naturalism, that Garin late in
his life recognised in Leon Battista Alberti’s writings.39
In such questions there is an all-embracing issue. Whether we are
dealing with Garin’s modiied Gentilian idealism, or Ernesto Grassi’s
corrections to the absolute ontologism of Heidegger, or inally the case
of Kristeller’s censure of current ideologies, all these scholars, howev-
er mutually exclusive, are committed to the celebration of rhetoric. In
other words, we are here confronted with the teaching of philosophical
epigones, who are unable to clarify the precise contents of their own
teaching. The result among their disciples and followers has often been
disconcerting, and it is not by chance that an outstanding example of
this can be seen in studies on Lorenzo Valla – by far the most important
and thoughtful among the humanists of the 15th century. One scholar
has situated Valla amidst the eternal rivalry between rhetoric and phi-
losophy.40 Another goes so far as to see him as the religious thinker who
achieves, by means of rhetoric, the emancipation of Christian theology
from the invasive secular dialectic of Aquinas’ Aristotelian argument.41
Yet another, the German scholar following Ernesto Grassi, as I have al-
ready said, aimed at distilling from Valla’s rhetoric – really presupposing
instead a precocious utilitarian and empirical thought the objective
necessity of Heidegger’s Being.42
In other words, in order to update Renaissance research we must
turn somewhere else than to this philosophing by epigones. The main
road from the time of Burckhardt (who was himself in his day an isolat-
ed scholar) down to the present day has to be the straightforward recon-
gettive dalle nostre preferenze religiose, politiche e ideologiche;” cf. Fubini, L’umanesimo
italiano..., 330.
39 Cf. E. Garin, Rinascite e rivoluzioni. Movimenti culturali dal XIV al XVIII secolo (Roma–
Bari, 1975), 131–196.
40 Cf. J.E. Seigel, Rhetoric and Philosophy in Renaissance Humanism. The Unity of Elo-
quence and Wisdom, Petrarch to Valla (Princeton, 1970). By the way, this is a misrepresen-
tation of ancient rhetoric itself.
41 Cf. S.I. Camporeale, Lorenzo Valla. Umanesimo e teologia, Presentazione di E. Garin
(Firenze, 1971).
42 Cf. above, n. 30.
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 27
struction of historical context.43 A good point of reference on the subject
was provided by two other scholars who, though very distinct from each
other, each oriented Renaissance research in the years after the War.
I refer irst to the book by Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Re-
naissance, published in the USA in 1955 and again in 1966.44 Baron, like
Kristeller, was a German scholar who, because of Nazism, joined the aca-
demic diaspora. Beginning in the 1920s, and especially in a collection of
Leonardo Bruni’s writings, then nearly neglected (1928), Baron empha-
sized the notion of “Civic Humanism” (Bürgerhumanismus). The formula
pointed to a humanistic culture that, unlike the Burckhardtian excess of
individualism, was able to integrate itself into the traditional communal
framework. This attitude culminates over the wars against Giangaleazzo
Visconti – the Lord of Milan – when the Commune of Florence, successful
in the struggle for the country’s liberty, recognised in itself, particularly
through the laudatory and historic works of Leonardo Bruni, the level
of the most famous cities of ancient times – Athens and Rome. Thus the
republican model was extolled over the monarchical one. Baron’s thesis,
as we have said, was very inluential and widely debated (particularly in
the USA). Nevertheless, his book, despite the indubitable role it played
as a stimulus to research, was in fact already dated at the time of its
appearance, and it revealed its shortcomings even concerning its analy-
sis of individual texts.45 In fact, although scholars have often failed to
grasp this point, Baron’s thesis is marked by a clear-cut imprint of Ger-
man conservatism. His discussion on The Crisis of Florence “in the early
Renaissance” was directly suggested in the essay of Werner Jaeger, the
famous author of Paideia, on the relationship between government and
culture (Staat und Kultur, 1932).46 According to Jaeger, the educational
model of Wilhelm von Humboldt, which had been quite individualistic
43 For this topic I refer to my article, R. Fubini, “Renaissance Humanism and its devel-
opment in Florentine civic culture,” in Palgrave Advances in Renaissance Historiography…,
44 H. Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance. Civic Humanism and Republican
Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny, vols. 2 (Princeton, 1955); and its revised one
volume edition with an Epilogue: Baron, The Crisis… (Princeton, 1966). From this edition
derives the Italian translation edited in Firenze, 1970.
45 Cf. Renaissance Civic Humanism, ed. by J. Hankins (Cambridge, Mass., 2000). Eventu-
ally Baron’s thesis is inluential particularly with scholars of political thought, as the hu-
manistic premise to the so-called Atlantic tradition,” that is English and American repub-
licanism; cf. J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment. Florentine Political Thought and the
Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, 1975); and Q. Skinner, The Foundations of Modern
Political Thought, vol. I: The Renaissance; vol. II: The Reformation (Cambridge, 1978).
46 Cf. W. Jaeger, Humanistische Reden und Vorträge, Zweite erweiterte Aulage (Berlin,
1960), 195–214; and Fubini, “Una carriera di storico del Rinascimento...,” 305–309.
Riccardo Fubini28
under the inluence of the cosmopolitan Enlightenment, was rectiied
and enhanced (precisely as in the case of Bruni according to Baron)
when after Napoleonic wars it was publicly framed in the curricula of
renewed German universities, and therefore intended to the education
of the good German citizen.
The other scholar I have referred to is Giuseppe Billanovich, who pro-
moted (or promoted once again after Remigio Sabbadini) the academic
discipline of the (so-called) “Medieval and Humanistic philology,” whose
methods were traced in his annual journal, Italia medievale e uman-
istica, beginning in 1958. The starting point of Billanovich had been
a very elaborate critical edition of Petrarch’s Rerum memorandarum libri
(1945); thereafter, his research moved in an increasingly ideological di-
rection, namely toward the assertion, alongside Catholic traditionalism,
of the positivist erudition which the inspired mainly by De Sanctis and
Croce literary criticism had neglected. An essential point of reference
for Billanovich was his publisher, don Giuseppe De Luca, who aimed at
writing a “History of religious feelings” (or Storia della pietà), similarly
grounded on objective erudition, and thus beyond suspicion of inluence
by concurrent modernistic issues.47 As far as Billanovich is concerned,
his “philology” embraced the history of culture as well, while the Latin
works of Petrarch remained his main subject.
Actually the scholarly contribution by Billanovich has both great
merits and great defects. The defects simply derive from an unaware-
ness of the intrinsic signiicance of Petrarch’s contents, that are far from
obvious, and that Billanovich considers in the light of a generalising clas-
sical pattern highly reminiscent of the later Ratio studiorum of the Jesuit
schools. On the contrary, his merits, conspicuous indeed, consist of his
extended research in the cultural context of Petrarch’s writings and lit-
erary relations, and in their manuscript traditions. For these reasons the
book Petrarca letterato (that issued in 1948, namely the same year of
the Umanesimo italiano by Garin) represents a landmark in Petrarch’s
scholarship. In particular, it encouraged scholars to examine in greater
depth the question, rather obscure down to the present, of Petrarch’s re-
lationship with his environment at Avignon and elsewhere, and likewise
to recognise the ways in which the cultural purposes of Petrarch were
47 Cf. L. Mangoni, “In partibus inidelium.” Don Giuseppe De Luca: il mondo cattolico e la
cultura italiana del Novecento (Torino, 1989), 304–317. The Preface by Billanovich to his
Petrarca letterato. I: Lo scrittoio del Petrarca (Roma, 1947), V–XVII, in the guise of a letter
written to De Luca (“Carissimo Don Giuseppe”), was honored among his friends and fellows
like a cultural manifesto.
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 29
achieved by the humanists of the following century.48 In fact, these hu-
manists drew from Petrarch in their own thinking much more than they
explicitly admit. Among others humanists, I am thinking in particular of
Lorenzo Valla, whose principal works were published in critical editions
planned by Billanovich’s school. I limit myself to mention the edition and
commentary of the Epistolae,49 and, far more importantly, Valla’s main
philosophical work – the Repastinatio dialecticae et philosophiae.50
I place two characters so different from one another as Baron and
Billanovich side by side, so to say, for autobiographical reasons. Both,
although in different times, have given me incentive and orientation in
my scholarship, and my conclusions have been in a way a response to
their challenge. First comes Billanovich, that is to say, Petrarch. The is-
sue of the relationship of Petrarch with Scholasticism appeared to me
as the central one. This relationship, as it can be understood by means
of an analysis of Petrarch’s intentions (especially in his letters), reveals
itself as obviously antagonistic, in spite of Petrarch’s peculiar rhetori-
cal dissimulations. Of course I do not refer here to Aristotelian specula-
tions at the University, but more broadly of Scholasticism in the sense of
a method of teaching that goes back through the centuries, recognising
as doctrinal, texts that institutional tradition declared as authoritative.51
On the contrary, Petrarch opposes to such abstract Scholasticism the
human subjectivity of the writers and with it the freedom of his own
judgment. Therefore, in the Secretum he converses as a character on the
same level with the character of Augustine;52 he writes reproaching let-
48 Particularly relevant is the other great book of Billanovich, Le origini dell’Umanesimo,
vol. I: Tradizione e fortuna di Livio tra Medioevo e Umanesimo (Padova, 1981). On Petrarch
in general, see now the very useful Petrarch. A critical guide to the complete works, ed. by
V. Kirkham and A. Maggi (Chicago–London, 2009).
49 L. Valla, Epistolae, ed. by O. Besomi, M. Regoliosi (Padova, 1984).
50 L. Valla, Repastinatio dialecticae et philosophiae, ed. by G. Zippel (Padova, 1982). It
contains, in inverted order, the irst redaction, with the title of the whole edition, and the
last one soundly modiied, with the title Retractatio totius dialecticae cum fundamentis uni-
versae philosophiae.
51 I refer to my essays: “Humanist Intentions and Patristic References. Some Thoughts
on the Moral Writing of the Humanists,” in Fubini, Humanism and Secularization…, 43–65;
and “Humanism and Scholasticism: Toward an Historical Deinition,” in Interpretations of
Renaissance Humanism…, 127–136; and also: “Luoghi della memoria ed antiscolasticismo
in Petrarca: I Rerum memorandarum libri,” in Visuelle Topoi. Erindung und tradiertes Wissen
in den Künsten der italienischen Renaissance, edited by U. Pisterer, and M. Seidel (Berlin,
2003), 171–181.
52 Cf. R. Fubini, “Petrarca, S. Agostino e gli Agostiniani,” Medioevo e Rinascimento. An-
nuario del Dipartimento di Studi sul Medioevo e il Rinascimento dell’Università di Firenze
XVIII/n.s. XV (2004): 165–174; and also C.E. Quillen, Rereading the Renaissance. Petrarch,
Augustine, and the Language of Humanism (Ann Arbor, 1998).
Riccardo Fubini30
ters to Cicero, among other illustrious authors, and, as far as historic tra-
ditions are concerned, he doubts the veracity of Titus Livius – the tradi-
tional historian par excellence.53 The basic premise of Petrarch’s thought
is to place on the same level, from a cultural point of view, both sacred
and secular texts, and he maintains as his main concern the secular au-
thors. This was a transgression of the hierarchy, set forth by St. Augus-
tine in his crucial treatise, De doctrina christiana. This is the origin of Pe-
trarch’s and humanists’ notion of the dark ages, an era in which secular
learning submits itself to the truth of Faith, according to the utilitarian
role that Augustine stipulated for secular letters (precisely that which
“obscured” the ancient heritage). Secular assumptions and religious
Faith, according to Petrarch in the Rerum memorandarum libri, are in
reality things “quite different” from each other.54
Such premises from the beginning of the 15th century stimulated both
a new political historiography (by Leonardo Bruni), and disenchanted
moralistic writings more or less inluenced by utilitarian thinking (as
in Poggio or Alberti), and therefore a philosophical approach basing it-
self on reality and no longer on traditional texts. The most conspicuous
representative of such trend of thought (originating, as is worth repeat-
ing, from Petrarch) is surely Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457). In his dialogue
De vero bono [On the true good,] which he initially entitled De volup-
tate [On the pleasure],55 Valla wholly rejects the old classic system of
virtues and vices; instead, he considers morality from a point of view
comprehensive of all human acts, and consequently not to be judged on
the basis of abstract conception. According to Valla, in other words, eth-
ics identiies with an analysis of the motives of human acts, identiied
with an orientation toward pleasure and utility (as such Valla’s dynamic
voluptas is quite different from that of Epicurus in antiquity). The main
thesis of the dialogue is that the same notion of voluptas merges both
sacred and secular ends, both celestial and worldly Venus. Therefore,
along with the ontology of good, the ontology of evil likewise vanishes,
that is to say any theological notion of sin. At the end of the dialogue the
character embodying the good Christian, who in his speech expands on
the notion of voluptas so as to embrace the sacred sphere, gloriies in the
53 Cfr. R. Fubini, “Il De viris illustribus del Petrarca e la critica all’enciclopedismo storico
nei suoi sviluppi in Biondo e Valla,” in idem, Storiograia dell’Umanesimo in Italia da Leonar-
do Bruni ad Annio da Viterbo (Roma, 2003), 39–51.
54 F. Petrarca, Rerum memorandarum libri, edizione critica a cura di G. Billanovich (Fi-
renze, 1945), 29 (I 25).
55 L. Valla, De vero falsoque bono, edited by M. De Panizza Lorch (Bari, 1970). Actually,
the title of this edition is not exact.
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 31
guise of a sermon the allurements of Paradise, but is intentionally silent
concerning the torments of Hell.56
Finally, just as in Petrarch’s historical and moral thought, the main pur-
pose of Valla’s philosophical magnum opus is to overturn the most obvi-
ous concepts since antiquity. Repastinatio, as Valla titled his irst edition,
refers to the action of the plow overturning clumps of soil. Retractatio,
as in the subsequent re-elaborated versions, evokes instead the author’s
intention to reassess from the foundations, the entirety of philosophy (or
universa philosophia). Valla’s “Dialectics” and “Philosophy” share a com-
mon purpose of indicating a direct approach to reality, or, according to
Valla’s formulation, to the “thing,” or res: the only “name” it to be deined
as a “universal” concept, insofar as the most general “name” of the “thing”
includes all other potential things. Therefore, for Valla, it was improper
simply to have recourse to authoritative texts, that is to “probable” propo-
sitions, insofar as they were conirmed by received tradition. A clear-cut
differentiation between dialectic and rhetoric follows on the model of sci-
entiic truth from which geometric theorems are derived. As though in
philosophy – Valla maintains – we ought to imitate poets or orators, who
often have recourse to rhetorical loci, either because the circumstances
require it, or to beautify their discourse, or inally in order to enhance its
meaning […]. This one is a way of expression quite alien to everybody who
has to discourse according to the most rigorous standard of truth («procul
abest ab eo qui loqui vult ad exactissimam veritatem»).57
This statement contrasts sharply with the current approach by Re-
naissance scholars, who, as I wrote above, recognise in the exercise of
rhetoric the main subject of the “humanists. In fact, rhetoric not so
much in terms of literary ornament but primarily as a method of order-
ing discourse (and, more extensively, doctrinal expositions) would pre-
vail in scholarly curricula beginning especially in the second half of the
15th century. The major treatise on the subject is, as is well known,
the De inventione dialectica by Rudolf Agricola – a Dutch student in Italy
and a disciple of Battista Guarino. This work enjoyed great success all
over Europe after his death thanks to its promotion by Erasmus. Inci-
dentally Agricola has been recently considered, among other scholars,
by Eckhard Kessler, the most authoritative representative of the school
of Munich inspired by Ernesto Grassi.58
56 Cf. R. Fubini, “An analysis of Lorenzo Valla’s De voluptate. His Sojourn in Pavia and the
Composition of the Dialogue,” in idem, Humanism and Secularization…, 140–173.
57 L. Valla, Repastinatio..., 389 (I, 9, § 4); cf. R. Fubini, “La Dialectica di Lorenzo Valla. Sag-
gio di interpretazione,” in idem, L’umanesimo italiano…, 184–207.
58 E. Kessler, “Renaissance Humanism. The Rhetorical Turn,” in Interpretations of Re-
Riccardo Fubini32
Amidst the discourse on Humanism and Scholasticism I nearly for-
got to mention my debt to Hans Baron. Although far removed from the
methodical questions addressed here, he contributed decisively, at least
for me, in discerning a clear contrast between the innovating approach
of Leonardo Bruni at the very beginning of the 15th century on one hand,
and the scholastic and chancery traditions still pursued by Bruni’s men-
tor Coluccio Salutati, on the other. Actually Humanism, even though we
evaluate it according to a strictly formal point of view, was a truly revolu-
tionary development, as in the sudden disclosure of the scholastic cover
beneath which were nestled Petrarch’s provocative suggestions.59
In an historical era marked by profound political changes, irst and
foremost among them a deepened crisis in the Church, Bruni managed
to achieve a prominent public presence and to win consent for the broad
dissemination of his literary and philosophical texts. As such, Bruni con-
stitutes a model for Valla’s provocative attitude. But with regard to Valla,
there was no toleration, as far as the public expression of his views was
concerned. The inquisitorial trial opened in Naples in 1444, although
suspended by king Alphonse of Aragon, nevertheless it achieved its goal
of preventing the publication of his philosophical works. As a result Val-
la’s reputation, both at this time and subsequently, was primarily that of
a grammarian, author of the Elegantiae latinae linguae. By the way, his
linguistic revision of the Latin Gospels, the Annotationes in Novum Tes-
tamentum, became largely known thanks to the 1503 Erasmus’ edition
based on the only surviving manuscript.
It was precisely in the second half of the 15th century, that the litterati
homines, the docti, the philosophi, as igures such as Bruni, Valla, Poggio
Bracciolini, Leon Battista Alberti, etc. deined themselves on the exam-
ple of Cicero and other learned men of antiquity (such as would be the
epithet in the following centuries of the “hommes de lettres,” “savants,
“philosophes”) became, according to a deinition of a much narrower
understanding, the profession of the humanista, the teacher of prepara-
tory studies for university professions properly understood.60
Because of this momentous shift, the most innovative achievements
of early Italian Humanism endured in the subsequent centuries outside
naissance Humanism…, 181–197; but see much more extensively P. Mack, Renaissance Argu-
ment. Valla and Agricola in the Tradition of Rhetoric and Dialectic (Leiden, 1993).
59 Cf. Fubini, “Premesse trecentesche ai Dialogi ad Petrum Paulum Histrum di Leonar-
do Bruni,” Humanistica. An International Journal of Early Renaissance Studies 1/2 (2006):
60 Cf. Fubini, review to T. Kircher, Living well in Renaissance Italy. The Virtues of Human-
ism and the Irony of Leon Battista Alberti (Tempe, Az., 2012), in Albertiana XVI (2013):
Old Trends and New Perspectives in Renaissance Scholarship 33
of their original country, as Renaissance scholars can easily ascertain
from the non-Italian places of publication of the relevant works begin-
ning in the 16th century. This phenomenon is relevant for the question of
the impact of Italian Humanism on European culture down to the cen-
tury of the Enlightenment. One important example is the implicit but no
less evident citation by Francis Bacon, in The Advancement of Learning
(1603), of Biondo Flavio’s preface to his Italia illustrata on the topic of
the fragmentary condition of historical evidence.61 Actually, Bacon had
discovered this text not among 15th century manuscript collections, but
in the much more recent edition of Biondo’s Opera printed in Basle in
1559. The same remark can be made concerning Leibniz’s analysis
in his Essais de théodicée of Valla’s philosophical dialogue De libero arbi-
trio. Valla was precisely, according to Leibniz, “no less Philosopher than
Humanist” (“qu’il n’était pas moins Philosophe qu’Humaniste”).62
In fact, because of such complex historical vicissitudes, it would be
incorrect to conceive the Italian Humanism of the 15th century as a ho-
mogeneous phenomenon. Rather than conceiving abstract concepts,
we have to remember that cultural processes develop over a long pe-
riod, during which the relations between thinkers and their predeces-
sors are often unclear to historians. Therefore when scholars wonder
whether it is correct to establish a link between “Humanism” and the
“Enlightenment,63 my response is yes, in the context of the centuries-old
process in which the human mind gradually liberated itself from the
old Scholasticism: a process quite evident from the epoch of the follow-
ers of Petrarch in the early Quattrocento. As regards speciic periods and
circumstances, of course, the ield of research remains wide open.
61 Cf. Fubini, Storiograia dell’umanesimo in Italia..., 47–48.
62 Cf. E. Garin, “Lorenzo Valla e l’Umanesimo, in Lorenzo Valla e l’Umanesimo italia-
no. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi umanistici (Parma 1984), a cura di O. Besomi
e M. Regoliosi (Padova, 1986), 1–17, in particular p. 5; on the topic see L. Valla, Dialogue sur
le Libre-arbitre, introduction et notes par J. Chomarat (Paris, 1983).
63 Nearly alone among the Italian scholars, the famous historian Gaetano Salvemini, in
one of his last lessons at the University of Firenze in 1950 stated the subsistence of a cen-
turies long continuity between the Italian Renaissance and the European Enlightenment:
“La coltura illuminista è né più né meno che la coltura del Rinascimento […]. Non esiste
soluzione di continuità fra la Rinascenza italiana-europea dei secoli XIV–XVI e l’Illuminismo
europeo del secolo XVIII;” cf. A. Galante Garrone, Salvemini e Mazzini. In appendice lezioni
inedite di Salvemini (Messina–Firenze, 1981), 495. It is possible to realize a detailed over-
view of the traditions of European learning in XVII–XVIII centuries in the rich, although
arguable book by J.I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the Making of Modernity
1650–1750 (Oxford, 2001).
Ryszard Kasperowicz (Catholic University of Lublin)
A Portrait of Renaissance Man in the Writings
of Jacob Burckhardt
In 1860, two years after his return to Basel from Zurich, from half volun-
tary and half imposed “exile,” Jacob Burckhardt published Die Kultur der
Renaissance in Italien. With the exception of the volume devoted to the
architecture of Italian Renaissance that was published seven years later,
Civilization of Renaissance was the last book of the great Swiss historian.
Both Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen and Griechische Kulturgeschichte,
which are rightly thought to be the fullest expression of the historio-
graphic mastery of the scholar from Basel, saw the light of day only af-
ter his death (1897). It was for this reason, as Werner Kaegi, the most
outstanding biographer of Burckhardt, observed, that the 19th century
remembered this great historian as the author of Kultur der Renaissance;
the 20th century, however, saw in him a prophetic thinker, lost in reverie
about the dread of the coming century, known for his heartbreaking let-
ters and foreboding pages of Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen.1
It might be thought that this situation shows expressively not so much
the inner problems of Burckhardt’s writings on history, but rather about
the nature of the last two centuries. Nonetheless, Kultur der Renais-
sance has been, and will certainly remain, his most famous and popular
work, a book that represents a unique and deeply considered, many-sid-
ed picture of the Renaissance, full of ambivalence, a “draft” of the epoch,
“ein Versuch” which has not ceased to fascinate either a wider audience
or the subsequent generations of scholars. And to tell the truth it would
be rather dificult to ind a title from the canon of the 19th century his-
toriography of culture devoted to the Renaissance which would retain
a narrative magic comparable to that of Burckhardt’s work with its fresh-
ness and power of observation, as well as topicality in the choice and
interpretation of the key problems of Renaissance culture. Sometimes,
1 I quote this remark after: Lionel Gossman, Basel in the Age of Burckhardt. A Study in
Unseasonable Ideas (Chicago–London, 2002), 239–240.
Ryszard Kasperowicz36
in the same breath, people list Die Wiederbelebung des classischen Alter-
tums (1859) by George Voigt next to Kultur der Renaissance, quite rightly
so, as it is a great work, yet today it seems known only to specialists. In
one of his lectures Ernst Hans Gombrich mentioned that in his youth,
that is before the Second World War, in German speaking countries (he
himself lived in Vienna then) Kultur der Renaissance “was still a classical
work […], a ticket to «Bildung,» culture in the Victorian understanding
of the word.2
Nevertheless, the question of whether today Burckhardt is a popular
author and whether the fact that you read his books guarantees you an
entry to the group of cultured people is not worth asking. The shape of
culture and its understanding have been subject to such deep transfor-
mations today that it is no longer possible to even dream of establishing
a canon of masterpieces of historical literature if its themes were to go
beyond ideological disputes and conlicts of deeply consolidated tradi-
tions. One can notice in it a sign of barbarization of taste and arrogance
towards the great school of thought about the past, but also a visible
sign of the fall of the elitist, disgraced interpretation of culture, which
was rooted in the political attitude “altliberal sceptical humanist,” as de-
scribed by Lionel Gossman,3 and which drew its vitality from the faith
in the existence of the spiritual and everlasting “Alt-Europa,” a model of
excellent taste and the sense of incessant continuity of the axiological
order, whose guardian Burckhardt appointed himself to be.
As early as 1846, with undisguised self-irony, but with the bitterness
of a wiser man, he wrote in a letter to Hermann Schauenburg that his
trip to Italia was to become “Modernitätsmüde,” as he described him-
self, a kind of spiritual revival, refreshment, but also a move away from
the present of history, as nobody knows better than he with what ease
people can change into a “barbarian riff-raff,” what kind of tyranny will
soon control intellectual life under the pretext that “Bildung” is a latent
ally of capital (Letter 174).4
2 E.H. Gombrich, “W poszukiwaniu historii kultury” [In Search of Cultural History], trans-
lated by A. Dębnicki, in Pojęcia, problemy, metody współczesnej nauki o sztuce. Dwadzieścia
sześć artykułów uczonych europejskich i amerykańskich [The Notions, Problems and Meth-
ods of the Contemporary of Art. Twenty-Six Papers by European and American Scholars],
the choice, revision of the texts translated, and introduction by J. Białostocki (Warszawa,
1976), 317.
3 See on that: Gossman, Per me si va nella città dolente: Burckhardt and the polis,in Out
of Arcadia. Classics and Politics in Germany in the Age of Burckhardt, Nietzsche and Wilamo-
witz, ed. I. Gildenhard and M. Ruehl (London, 2003), 47–59; but also a commentary to an
article by E. Flaig, ibid., 41.
4 A letter of Jacob Burckhardt according to the edition: J. Burckhardt, Briefe. Vollständige
und kritisch bearbeitete Ausgabe, mit Benützung des handschriftlichen Nachlasses herge-
A Portrait of Renaissance Man in the Writings of Jacob Burckhardt 37
However, it is not important that the cognitive signiicance of Kul-
tur der Renaissance be judged according to its popularity. Besides, one
might suspect that its author would not be too pleased with it – he him-
self preferred to cultivate an image of an apolitical scholar, indifferent to
any honors and words of appreciation, who would choose the mask of
a philistine lifestyle in “Krähwinckel,” as Burckhardt mercilessly called
his beloved Basel, but who would in fact take on the role of a staunch
ascetic, who would, on his own, face the vulgarisation of culture and
popularisation of the world of politics in the name of the “Bildung Al-
teuropa” already referred to. This mission, its authentic seriousness
and a studied pose was most accurately interpreted by Hermann Hesse,
who, as we know, modelled the character of father Jacob, the Benedic-
tine scholar, known to all readers of Das Glasperlenspiel, on Burckhardt.
Knecht, the main character of the novel, makes notes and predictions,
among which one can ind the following declaration, which is in fact an
excerpt from Historische Fragmente, the historical lectures of the Swiss
scholar: that the days of catastrophe, deepest despair and direst poverty
can come, but a certain kind of happiness is still to exist – spiritual hap-
piness, to be sure, directed towards the saving of the culture and educa-
tion of past times, and trying to represent fearlessly the spiritual sphere
of our epoch which otherwise could become strictly materialistic.
In the eyes of Hesse, Burckhardt remained an embodiment of a wis-
dom acquired thanks to a unique insight into history, intellectual inde-
pendence and honesty. These features of personality and art of the au-
thor of Kultur der Renaissance were admired by Aby Warburg, one of the
most exceptional art historians of the 20th century. Warburg, when study-
ing the demonic aspects of the Renaissance culture which constituted
a prelude to relection over the irrational aspects of European culture
in the context of the history of visual expression, sought the greatness
of Burckhardt as an historian in his ability to listen raptly to “mnemon-
ic waves” of the past. An interpreter of Pathosformeln and the creator
of the atlas Mnemosyne, whose historical fascinations and the terrify-
ing presence of the First World War pushed him to the edge of nervous
breakdown, treated Burckhadt as his spiritual predecessor.5 Warburg in-
fallibly found in his igure all this that he desired himself – the retaining
stellt von M. Burckhhardt, I–X Bände und Gesamtregister (Basel, 1949–1994). In brackets
there are the numbers of letters.
5 See on that: Bernd Roeck, Aby Warburgs Seminarübungen über Jacob Burckhardt
im Sommersemester 1927,” Idea. Werke – Theorien – Dokumente. Jahrbuch der Hamburger
Kunsthalle X (1991): 65–89.
Ryszard Kasperowicz38
of distance and composure in the face of history which would mesh with
contemporary history.
Therefore a key question for the assessment of Kultur der Renais-
sance, so accurately recognized by Warburg, is the legitimacy of Burck-
hadt’s method, as well as the complicated network of relations between
an interpretation of the Renaissance culture and the concrete cultural
and political situation of the 19th century.
However, it is worth making it clear at the beginning that the aim of
this presentation is not at all to show that some of the elements that
make up Burckhadt’s vision of culture and the man of the Renaissance
are simply a reaction to the challenge issued to history by the present,
or an attempt to draw perforce an anachronistic parallel between the
past and the present. It would be an observation as much obvious as
banal, another unconvincing voice in the discussion about the borders
of historical interpretation and the hindrance of an historian by the ho-
rizon of his own history, which he experiences at present. It is indeed an
obvious and natural thing that certain areas of the past take on a clari-
ied form only in the light of the events which are contemporary with
the historian, when they uncover so far unsensed meanings. However,
Burckhardt never updates history by harnessing it to the dynamics and
the sequence of events of the contemporary world; he does not force
history to stand before of the tribune of the present. To the contrary, the
historian from Basel laughed at this simpliied to the extreme version
of the dogma which had been pampered in its mature form by German
idealistic history of philosophy, he stated that he had a knowledge of the
order and plan of history which could be best expressed in the state-
ment that all history followed an established track which led directly to
us, its inheritors. Burckhardt ironically commented on this faith as the
philosophy of history, which philosophers become imbued with when
they are three or four years of age.6
One should add as well that for the author of Kultur der Renaissance
history is a domain of a fairly wide range of interpretations and assess-
ments. This is why he was very sensitive to the attempts of legitimization
of contemporary times by means of a pseudo-historical explanation; he
categorically rejected the boasting axiology of the historical world on
the basis of the categories of “happiness” and “unhappiness.” In Weltge-
schichtliche Betrachtungen Burckhardt unmasked the inside story of the
6 Burckhardt, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 10: Aesthetik der bildenden Kunst
Über das Studium der Geschichte, mit dem Text der Weltgeschichtlichen Betrachtungen in
der Fassung von 1905, ed. P. Ganz (München–Basel, 2000), 355.
A Portrait of Renaissance Man in the Writings of Jacob Burckhardt 39
operation of the assessment of the past as the fulillment of success and
happiness in the following way:
Unsere tiefe und höchst lächerliche Selbstsucht hält zunächst diejenigen Zeiten für
glücklich, welche irgend eine Ähnlichkeit mit unserem Wesen haben; sie hält ferner
diejenigen vergangenen Kräfte und Menschen für löblich, auf deren Tun unser jetzi-
gen Dasein und relatives Wohlbeinden gegründet scheint.
Ganz als wäre Welt und Weltgeschichte nur unsertwillen vorhanden. Jeder hält
nämlich seine Zeit für die Erfüllung der Zeiten und nicht bloss für eine der vielen
vorübergehenden Wellen. Hat er Ursache zu glauben, dass er ungefähr das ihm Er-
reichbare erreicht hat, so versteht sich diese Ansicht von selbst; wünscht er, dass es
anders werde, so hofft er, auch dies in Bälde zu erleben und noch selbst bewirken zu
helfen. Alles Einzelne aber, und wir mit, ist nicht nur um seiner selbst, sondern um
der ganzen Vergangenheit und um der ganzen Zukunft willen vorhanden.7
The author of Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen understood very well
that such a one-dimensional interpretation of history stems partly from
the optimism and didacticism of Enlightenment historiography, partly
it draws from Hegel’s pattern of history as a dialectical climb towards
the summits of self-knowledge. If we add to that a dash of the positivist
faith in the moral advancement of the human race, exempliied in the
eyes of Burckhardt by Buckle, we will get a recipe for the interpretation
of history in the categories of a homogeneous process of a man’s self-
It could be said without any hesitation that nothing was more alien
to the Swiss historian than such an attitude to history. The decisive mo-
ment turns out to be here not so much Burckhardt’s infamous pessi-
mism – from his childhood (that is from his mother’s death) the aware-
ness of the fragility of all earthly matters is present or the conservative
political temperament – but the conviction that such a model of history
is in fact a lethal enemy of historical cognition. Within its framework
a perverse selection of facts takes place, perverse because dictated by
an apparently objective sense of human happiness and an apparently
inerasable authoritative graph of historical consequence and continuity.
Burckhardt tenaciously fought against the things that about forty years
after his death Herbert Butterield discredited in a classical essay on
a Whig interpretation of history.8
But this is not everything; Burckhardt’s criticism goes even further. It
turns out that the historiographic stand described makes it impossible
for its adherents to judge their own position in history and to understand
7 Ibid., 532.
8 H. Butterield, The Whig Interpretation of History (New York, 1965).
Ryszard Kasperowicz40
the active role of an historian himself: a researcher in the operation of
creating an historical fact. Naturally it is nobody’s intention to make the
author of Kultur der Renaissance a forerunner of contemporary narrative
or of hermeneutics à rebours. Burckhardt tirelessly warned us against
treating history as a one-dimensional group of events, a game whose
result is known. The practice of history should teach one to perceive al-
ternative solutions, unfulilled possibilities in it, where the establishing
of coincidence or even a casual relation belongs to the rarest strokes of
understanding of “the higher necessity” as deined by Burckhardt him-
self. It is not a matter of chance that he belongs to the most popular and
most frequently cited authorities in the fascinating treatise on “the his-
tories that never happened” by Alexander Demandt.9
There is nothing surprising about the fact that the inner logic
of Burckhardt’s method differs both from other historians of the cul-
ture of the second half of the 19th century, as well as from the great mas-
ters of historicism, Leopold von Ranke and Johann Gustav Droysen, who
were, as a matter of fact, his teachers in Berlin. In his works the author
of Kultur der Renaissance inducted into life a surprising project of a mul-
tidimensional history, built from cross sections that permeated one an-
other, drawn from different perspectives whose direction axes mapped
out three “potencies” of the historical world: religion, state and culture.
Burckhardt did not hide that the distinction between the three po-
tencies, three points of observation is, to a certain degree, a free opera-
tion one can be tempted to look for other distinctions in the picture
of the past. The thing of prime importance is yet to show the relations
between the three historical spheres; it should be stressed that an histo-
rian should always ix his eyes, as if on a Plato’s pattern, on the principle
that demands caution when deciding what the conditioning factor was
and what the conditioned phenomenon was. And it becomes clear here
that an extreme caution should be retained in the face of cultural facts as
“[…] existiert in Zeiten hohen Kultur immer alles auf allen Stufen des Be-
dingens und der Bedingtheit geleichzeitig, zumal, wenn das Erbe vielen
Epochen schichtweise übereinander liegt.10
The inal aim of sectional views of history is to obtain and present
a clear examination of history – Anschauung” – that is a vivid manifes-
tation of that which by deinition already no longer exists. A rhetorical
ekphrasis and the dynamization of events through a fully artistic de-
9 A. Demandt, Ungeschehene Geschichte ein Traktat über die Frage: was wäre Geschehen,
wenn…? (Göttingen, 1984).
10 Burckhardt, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. 10: Aesthetik der bildenden Kunst…,
A Portrait of Renaissance Man in the Writings of Jacob Burckhardt 41
scription and bold synchronous combinations and surprising analogies
are indispensable tools, but in fact they do not play the main role. The
fundamental function is given, then, to the ability to synthesize memory
and imagination, and thanks to that a single event or a work of art, sud-
denly, in a surprising stroke, culminates in itself, in the likeness of a sym-
bol, different meanings of a given time. Such a direct, intense contact
with the past is not the result of some intuitional insight, but a long-term
communion with texts and works of art of the past, the penetration of
their mysteries, and inally in the process of “chemische Verbindung”
will smelt “ein wirklich geistiges Eigentum.
It might be said that one possesses this when an historian and the
reader of his works, on a possibly colourful map of events, see what is
typical, what is permanent – the shape of the past, which is present in
the ways of thinking and the perception of the world of the mankind, and
which is also the thing of the past – “[…] wie diese war, wollte, schaute,
dachte, schaute und vermochte” [“This kind of history aims at the inner
core of bygone humanity, and at describing what manner of people these
were, what they wished for, thought, perceived, and were capable of.”]11
For such a search the artifacts of culture have a meaning which is
incomparably greater than single events or the deeds of great men. It
is works of art and literature that most vividly show, frequently in an
unintended and unselish way, even against themselves, the most impor-
tant tendencies and structures of thinking and assessment which domi-
nate in a given time.12 The seizure of a single factor or single power, the
energy that shapes the past does not entitle us at all to state that the pre-
vious epoch has become comprehensible to us. From this point of view
the thing that is only intended is as instructive as the thing that has actu-
ally happened, whereas the sole form of perceiving the event “das Typ-
ische der Darstellung” reveals more than the presence of some rhetori-
cal formula or a characteristic stylistic device.
11 Idem, Griechische Kulturgeschichte, ed. J. Oeri (Berlin–Stuttgart, 1898–1902), correc-
ted by F. Stähelin and S. Merian end edited with critical comments (Stuttgart–Basel, 1930–
1931), unveränderter Nachdruck der Ausgabe von Schwabe & Co. (Basel, 1956–1957), mit
einer Einführung in die Griechische Kulturgeschichte zur Taschenbuchausgabe von W. Kaegi,
vol. I–III (München, 1977), 23. An English translation quoted according to: Burckhardt, The
Greeks and Greek Civilization, ed. O. Murray, transl. S. Stern (New York, 1998), 5.
12 In The Greeks and Greek Civilization we read: “Cultural history by contrast possesses
a primary degree of certainty, as it consists for the most part of material conveyed in an un-
intentional, disinterested or even involuntary way by sources and monuments; they betray
their secrets unconsciously and even, paradoxically, through ictitious elaborations […].”
Loc. cit.
Ryszard Kasperowicz42
Burckhardt tirelessly warned us against a blind faith in facts, against
the naive assumption that they themselves, as if drops of frozen water
in a snowlake, will form a sensible and interesting pattern. His letters
are full of mockery of “viri eruditissimi, viri doctissimi,” whose activity
as historians ends in a capitulation, cautiously called the retaining of ob-
jectivity in the face of “a rubble heap of facts.” This kind of scholarship
Burckhardt left to the historians and critics of ancient literatures, at least
in the case of the history of Greek culture. He himself, however, would
stress the duty of the researcher to take responsibility for the called for
in his lectures on the culture of the Greeks, bring out these events which
join the truly inner uniication with our mind; here co-participation
should be born either through kinship or through contrast. The crown-
ing intention is not at all a deepened specialization – historical cognition
claims the rights to become “ein lebenslang aushaltendes Mittel der Bil-
dung und des Genusses.
This is how history is able to illuminate our contemporary world,
to bring closer the understanding and explanation of the phenomena
which we eyewitness. It would be wrong to assume that thanks to prox-
imity of time, an inconsiderable move away in time, it is easier to un-
derstand their sense. This is an illusion which metaphorically can be
compared to the view of the tip of the iceberg. In actual fact the present
becomes readable only because it is surrounded by the cosmos of his-
tory, a bundle of weaker and stronger present traditions, attitudes and
beliefs. The depth and the form of the understanding of the world that
surrounds us here and now depends on the energy of their actualization
or the rhythm of their dying out. History does not justify the present,
and it is not an auto-referential statement about ourselves, who examine
and study it, either. However, in the cosmos of history we always look for
the thing that like the sound of a bell evokes in us relection and alert-
ness towards the present – das Anklingende. An historical question will
always remain a question about the sources of our cultural experience
– turning away from history is the shortest way to barbarity, and at the
same time to enslavement in the area of things that are temporary, im-
mediate, present – to blindness that is characteristic of a short-sighted
person, to the painless forgetting of the fact, as the Polish romantic poet
Cyprian Kamil Norwid used to say, that the mankind had to survive a few
thousand years to learn at least good manners.
No matter how paradoxical the statement might sound, our point of
departure, the Swiss historian says, is man as he has been, is and will be.
The return to human nature takes place, then, via history. The source-
like nature of history is hidden in this disturbing observation. Of course,
A Portrait of Renaissance Man in the Writings of Jacob Burckhardt 43
it would be a total misunderstanding to expect from history that it could
transform into the philosophy of history and dare to solve the mystery of
the world and existence as is done by religion and philosophy. However,
history has its own, separate territory where, to use Kant’s language,
for itself, as a discipline of cognition, it is legislative. The fundamental
condition here is the awareness of spiritual continuity, a vision of history
as an uninterrupted activity of the human spirit, which ultimately fulils
itself in our privilege and at the same time in the duty of a free contem-
plation of the past – a guarantor of our freedom.
It is high time to ask the question of how, in the light of this necessar-
ily lengthy outline of the methodological rules of Burckhardt’s writing,
Kultur der Renaissance presents itself. And one should admit that the
answer is not at all as easy as it might seem at irst – around no other
work by Burckhardt have so many contradictions and often unjust in-
terpretations emerged as with the book mentioned. It is worth stress-
ing at the very beginning that this book fully realizes the postulate of
Anschauung” – examination of the past with one’s own eyes. Kultur der
Renaissance puts before the reader’s eyes, almost in accordance with the
imperative of the ancient rhetoric – energeia – human deeds, characters,
attitudes, ways of thinking, which, despite their incredible diversity, are
subject to some constant powers and habits, which are connected with
strictly deined aims. Peter Ganz, an eminent expert on Burckhardt’s
work, did not hesitate to call Kultur der Renaissance a study from the
area of the history of mentality, and there is much truth in the assess-
ment.13 However, one should not lose sight of a very important thing
the author of Kultur der Renaissance does not go in the direction of a psy-
chological description of the man of the Renaissance, but x-rays, sticking
to this unfortunate metaphor, the spiritual skeleton of the epoch. The
presentation of the unity of primary strivings, the homogeneity of inten-
tions and aspirations that unite the world of the scholar and politician,
artist and clergyman, humanist and merchant of the Renaissance times
allows one to capture this epoch as a whole, a time of its own “physiog-
nomy” as Paul Oskar Kristeller might say. Contrary to common opinion,
this wholeness does not have an aesthetic sense, yet it is not deprived
of it. Burckhardt does not make the past look aesthetic; the problem of
the moral assessment of human actions is clearly present in Kultur der
Renaissance. It is this ethical perspective, carefully cleared out of any
temptations to moralize, accompanied by Burckhardt’s lack of faith in
13 P. Ganz, “Jacob Burckhardts Kultur der Renaissance in Italien. Handwerk und Metho-
de,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literatur und Geistesgeschichte 62 (1988): 24–59.
Ryszard Kasperowicz44
meliorism, that gives rise to a closer examination of the turning point
which was the close of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance.
The essence of this turning point is not deprived of a garish ambigu-
ity. By tearing off a curtain woven from “faith, childlike naivety and delu-
sion,to remember this famous wording, the man had acquired a new
form of self-knowledge – an objective presentation of all phenomena,
especially state matters. At the same time, the way to individualism had
been cleared, with all its promises and traps. A one-sided culmination of
Renaissance individualism seems for Burckhardt to be a man deprived
of any moral inhibitions, who creates a new form of the “existence of the
state,” drawn from the negative principle of the lack of any legitimization
of the power that has been attained by deceit and violence.
In Kultur der Renaissance one comes across a number of such char-
acters, for example, brutal men such as Ezzelino da Romano or Cesare
Borgia. The measure of the atrocity of their deeds is not the fact that they
have committed them – people have always committed crime. Now, how-
ever, their deeds become a certain principle of acting, a practical rule of
behaving in the world, which in the name of the objective examination
of things has taken the form of a moral vacuum. Nothing illustrates this
metamorphosis of life better than the people of the North, who could not
understand it at the beginning: “A character like that of Charles the Bold,
which wore itself out in the passionate pursuit of impracticable ends,
was a riddle to the Italians” – Burckhardt writes.14 Not surprisingly the
Italians are the irst modern nation in the history of Europe – it was here
that the state was created, in which the retaining of power and taking
great delight in it achieved the peak of virtuosity – the state as a work of
art, a inished and autonomous creation, the aim in itself.
And exactly this feature of Renaissance personality aroused the great-
est controversy. And so Burckhardt was accused of a hidden Hegelianism
(Gombrich), of the deiication, in the mode of Renaissanscismus, Nie-
tzschean in spirit, of amoralism and the will to power, of making history
aesthetic, and inally of underestimating the role of economic factors in
history. The aim of this paper is not to decide whether these accusations
were right or not. The important thing is that we will misunderstand
Burckhardt’s intentions if we do not take into consideration the source-
like nature of history, which was mentioned earlier. By listening raptly
to the things that sound familiar, to the things which echo in us, to “das
Anklingende,the author of Kultur der Renaissance looks for a key that
14 Quotation after: Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, introduction
by B. Nelson and C. Trinkaus, vol. 1 (New York, 1958), 34.
A Portrait of Renaissance Man in the Writings of Jacob Burckhardt 45
might help him understand the present. The Renaissance appears to be
the beginning and the principle of modernity – “das Moderne” arche
with a face of Janus.
It is not possible to hide that Burckhardt was a persistent and one
of the most insightful critics of modernity. Its spiritual sources stem
from the culture and mentality of the Renaissance, which was rooted in
uncontrollable freedom of deed, free expression of personality, subjec-
tivity and the power of imagination, so violent, according to Burckhardt,
that it deines even the spiritual life of the inhabitants of Italia of the
15th/16th centuries. “It colours,” Burckhardt judges, “all their virtues and
misdeeds; under its inluence their uncontrollable selishness develops
itself in its whole terror.” The liberation and the auto-creation of an indi-
vidual become so overwhelming that the ordinary ethical methods seem
not to match their deeds. Pope Alexander the 6th, with the whole crimi-
nality of his character, is “a strong and ine personality,” we read.
One can easily cling to the illusion that Burckhardt is in fact a devo-
tee of unhindered individualism and a negatively understood freedom,
an admirer of powerful individuals, the Gewaltmenschen, who can do
the cruelest things provided that these are extraordinary deeds, pulled
out from an ininite imagination. It looked as if the Swiss historian had
succumbed to the fascination of Machiavelli and rejected Platonic inner
beauty of deed and character in the interest of the external polish of the
Renaissance virtù. If we take into account at the same time his aversion
to the mass modern world, with its city – a behemoth, inhabited by riff-
raff, with its democratic praise of mediocrity, false philanthropy, selish-
ness and the desire for safety that suppresses individual freedom, we
will obtain an apparently cohesive jigsaw puzzle.
But this is an illusion. An aversion to petit bourgeois modern cul-
ture, with its lack of taste, originality and disrespect for tradition, the
disgust which Burckhardt shared with a number of critics of the “ma-
chine age” and Notexistenzen, did not make him an uncritical devotee of
Renaissance magniicence. Only with a considerable amount of bad will
could the scholar from Basel be regarded as an unwitting co-creator of
19th century Renaissanscismus.15 A proper apologist of the unbridled
freedom of the Renaissance, which posed life as a formalistic adven-
ture, free of any moral restrictions and social conventions, an existence
devoted to the creation of oneself “beyond the good and the bad,” orna-
mented with the cult of the pagan, sensual beauty and an art that be-
15 See: August Buck, “Burckhardt und die italienische Renaissance,” in Renaissance und
Renaissanscismus von Jacob Burckhardt bis Thomas Mann, ed. A. Buck (Tübingen, 1990),
Ryszard Kasperowicz46
lieved in the saving powers of magic, was Wilhelm Heinse, the author
of the novel Ardinghello und die glückseligen Inseln. Heinse practiced
what Werner Hoffman rightly called “a hedonistic religion of beauty.16
He loved Winckelmann, whom he called straight out a “Divine men” and
with all his strength he desired to revive some of the customs of Ancient
Greece, among them above all the custom of exercising and portraying
oneself without any clothes on. In Ardinghello Heinse depicted a utopian
picture of a community freed from any bans, existing happily beyond
any morality, leading a creative life, full of simplicity and passion. Apart
from the admiration of the Renaissance ideal of an artist, Heynse de-
veloped a particular liking for the infernal igure of Cesare Borgia, who
perfectly matched his uncomplicated vision of humanity, which was
taken from the reading of the writings of Machiavelli, and which could
be summed up in the statement that a man is the greatest beast. Like
a slur in a score, which makes the performer play the sounds of legato,
history joins Heinse’s avocations with the idea of Stendhal’s energy of
passion and the idea of the superman from the writings of Nietzsche and
his faithful follower, Arthur de Gobineau.
In this company Burckhardt’s voice would sound like a false, a creak-
ing note. Burckhardt’s true Gewaltmenschen are people like Leon Battis-
ta Alberti or Raphael – the most admired creator in Burckhardt’s artistic
pantheon next to Rubens. Contrary to ruthless hirelings they are char-
acterized by a sense of harmony, inner balance and an iron will, which
granted their life universality and dignity. Both Alberti as a research-
er and moral philosopher and Raphael as an artist are distinguished
by a new, different attitude to nature. Slowly it stops being perceived as
a hierarchical order with a sacred core, it appears now to be an individual
phenomenon, a challenge for the scholar’s inquisitiveness and the sense
of the rhythm of life, an artist’s inner harmony. Each thing possesses in-
dividual, inner energy; it demands an artistic manifestation sub specie
pulchritudinis. Alberti saw through the mysteries of human perception
and closed them in the principles of perspective, Raphael discovered the
rules of an almost timeless beauty and sweetness, Leonardo, this dis-
turbing sage, “a mirror with a dimmed gleam,” as Baudelaire beautifully
speaks of him, used to, we remember from reading of Vasari, buy birds
which were imprisoned in cages and immediately let them out.
Apart from the developed cult of individualism and the sense of an his-
torical nostalgia for the lost perfection of the ancient people, so nursed by
16 W. Hoffman, Anhaltspunkte. Studien zur Kunst und Kunsttheorie (Frankfurt am Main,
1989), 91–92.
A Portrait of Renaissance Man in the Writings of Jacob Burckhardt 47
the otherwise envious humanists, repulsive in their petty-mindedness,
apart from the brilliant synthesis of a merchant’s calculation, nowhere
else to be found, and an excessive pride, religious imagination and an
unscrupulous desire for power, fed on a pre-cultural drive to rule,17 and
curbed only with honour, “a mixture of ambition and conscience,” inally
apart from the modern state, which would place a solitary citizen in front
of huge, ruthless bureaucracy and exploitation, the Renaissance granted
to us a legacy of incredible art. After all, the picture of the man of the
Renaissance which emerges from the writings of Burckhardt would not
be complete without the Renaissance portrait. What is interesting is that
it was the artists of the North who presented an uncompromising, fear-
less realism. As far as the Italians are concerned, Burckhardt remarks in
one of his public lectures that the problem of: “wieweit Porträt? Wieweit
Ideal” remains one of the most charming mysteries of the history of art.
The creators of Italia outran their friends from behind the Alps in one
thing: “in den bewegten Darstellungen aber gelangt die italienische Ma-
lerei durch eben dasselbe Naturstudium zu einer Kraft und Freiheit, wie
sie der Norden nicht erreichte, und wer dieses Phänomen näher ver-
folgt, wird leicht zu dem Schlusse gelangen, dass die Italiener an ruhiger
und bewegter Lebenswahrheit so unendlich vieles und neues zu leisten
vor sich sahen, das Ihnen, dass heisst ihren Malern, am Einzelporträt
kaum etwas gelegen sein konnte.18 The curiosity about the world won,
it triumphed over the gloriication of an individual.
We should thus agree with Burckhardt that authentic greatness al-
ways emerges from ascetic self-restraint, “Verzichtkönnen. Freedom
and moderation make an artist a great master, Rafael and Rubens were
like that, embodiments of harmony and perfection, Michael Angelo
lacked this feature, as an uncompromising will and the creative “I” out-
ran his talent and understanding of artistic harmony. Excessive pride
and scarcity of critical understanding of the past make, in Burckhardt’s
eyes, a symbolic abbreviation of modernity.
The gap between the greatness of artistic achievements and the po-
litical and moral decay of Italia, so clearly marked, for example, in the
description of the fall of the humanist’s ethos in the 16th century, made
some researchers suspect in Burckhardt a peculiar inconsistency. Actu-
ally it was suggested that Kultur der Renaissance was a perverse, partly
17 See: Wolfgang Hardtwig, “Jacob Burckhardt. Trieb und Geist – die neue Konzeption
der Kultur, in Deutsche Geschichtswissenschaft um 1900, ed. N. Hammerstein (Stuttgart,
1988), 97–112.
18 Burckhardt, Die Kunst der Betrachtung. Aufsätze und Vorträge, ed. H. Ritter (Köln,
1997), 331.
Ryszard Kasperowicz48
autobiographical reply to the times of the fall of culture and the disap-
pearance of tradition in the 19th century world of mass democracy. What
is more, Burckhardt in a way compensates with this work for the weak-
ness of his own situation as a scholar, a humanist with an artistic bent
– after all, in his youth he wrote poetry and composed music, he played
the piano with particular pleasure. Who else if not he, an heir of a family
with great traditions, a patrician of Basel, he himself somewhat a man of
the Renaissance – as Peter Burke said,19 would be able to present such
a splendid and at the same time deceptive picture of Florence, a repub-
lic of artists, scholars and humanists, which is in fact an idealized, his-
torically projected vision of Basel? Who else if not Burckhardt would be
able, with such a suggestiveness, to impose on subsequent generations,
a picture of an apolitical sage, who looked for an escapist escape from
the paltriness of the modern world in the world of Renaissance art and
culture – David Norbrook asked?20 Such doubts will not stop gnawing at
us – we have become accustomed, in the epoch of the narrative, to see in
an historical narration a relex, a relection of our times. Even if Kultur
der Renaissance is a relection of the 19th century, let us admit it honestly,
it is a mirror with a truly Renaissance brightness and setting. The man of
the Renaissance, who looks at himself in it, has his own features, is real.
Real to the extent to which history can balance between factual barren-
ness and cultural myth.
19 P. Burke, Kultura i społeczeństwo w renesansowych Włoszech [Culture and Society in
Renaissance Italy], transl. W.K. Siekierski (Warszawa, 1991), 34.
20 D. Norbrook, “Life and Death of Renaissance Man,Raritan 8 (1989): 91.
Barbara Kaszowska-Wandor (The University of Silesia in Katowice)
The Renaissance and Humanism in the Light of
New Historicism
“I began with the desire to speak with the dead”
(Stephen Greenblatt Shakespearean Negotiations)1
The metaphorical saying of Stephen Greenblatt is quoted here not only
because of its evident exordial use but also its susceptibility to a “thick-
description:” reading. Geertz’s term, associated mainly with New Histor-
icism, refers to the speciic mode of practice in which a discrete element
induces a broader system of meaning and thus becomes intelligible.
Describing the initial point of one’s own research practice by means
of the metaphor “the speech of the dead” is not new. The old historicism
deines its aims in a similar way: “to restore the original living language
of the dead.” However, pointing out the similarity serves as the articula-
tion of difference. “The desire to speak” does not have the inite aspect
of the “restoration of the living language.” And “restoration of the lan-
guage” does not presuppose the dialogue present in the verb “speak.”
Both above-mentioned phrases come into a complex relation of analogy
and difference, which may be described in Greenblatt’s terminology as
“negotiation.This relects the complex link between New Historicism
and the tradition of historicism.
Here we should distinguish the term “New Historicism” from the
broadly deined phenomenon of “new history,” connected with the An-
nales School and various currents referring to the “narrative turn” and
described as “new historicisms.” In fact, as Thomas Brook put it, “there
are as many new histories as new historians.All of them are certainly
an important part of the genesis of New Historicism current, which is
related to them in many different ways.
1 S. Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations (Berkeley–Los Angeles: University of Cali-
fornia Press, 1988), 1.
Barbara Kaszowska-Wandor50
However, in the present paper the term will be limited only to the
practice of American researchers, mainly Stephen Greenblatt, Louis
Adrian Montrose, Alan Liu, and others connected with Berkeley and
“Representations,initially focused on literature of the English Renais-
sance and afterwards extended to the literature of other periods and cul-
tural circles. It has developed rapidly since the early 1980s.
The intentional use of the term “current” instead of its synonyms, such
as “school,” is meant to indicate the essential feature of New Historicism:
its heterogeneity and the ability to absorb many different concepts and
methodologies. It results in a whole range of internal tensions and con-
tradictions, fashioning the research practice of New Historicists and also
(most of all) the central subject of their studies: the Renaissance.
New Historicism, referring to the thought of Michel Foucault, but also
to the previously mentioned contextualism, adopts the assumption of
a close determination of the word within the system. Every particular
use of the term “renaissance” leads irreversibly to the constructing of
a speciic type of narration, so it is bound to some kind of ideology. The
term “ideology” loses here its pejorative meaning. According to L.A. Mon-
trose it is merely the function of every process of meaning-creation. It is
seen in a dynamic way, not as an effect of some action but as the action
itself. Accepting such assumptions causes not only all the previous for-
mulations but also one’s own research practice to be seen as existing in
the ield of speciic ideologization processes. Every reconstruction of the
past exists only as a part of present-time discourse, since it expresses
its characteristic problems and obsessions. Such a sense of indirectness
in the image of the past is repeatedly emphasized by Stephen Green-
blatt. As he writes, “the