Renaissance Bookshelf – Compiled by Ted Spiegel
To enhance your 500-year retro-voyage into what many consider Europe’s most culturally productive era, tap into the literary resources offered by this annotated bibliography. Whether you explore on the printed page alone or move on to the walkways once tread by Leonardo and Michelangelo, access to this treasure trove will be insight-filled.
The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt, the Swiss founder of cultural history, is available as a free download from www.gutenberg.org. Its pages will afford you a framework for understanding the revival of antiquity, the development of neo-Platonic Humanism, and the economic vitality that endowed the arts and sciences.
Also available at the Gutenberg site, which offers resources in the public domain, is The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance by the seminal art critic Bernard Berenson. His decades in Florence yielded authoritative views: “Florentine painting was pre-eminently an art formed by great personalities. It grappled with problems of the highest interest, and offered solutions that can never lose their value.”
To see from afar the artwork Berenson had viewed directly during his decades in Florence, go to your nearest library and browse amongst the oversize illustrated book section. Dewey decimal number 750.74 at the Adriance Public Library in Poughkeepsie yielded Art Treasures of the Uffizi and Pitti Museums. A modern resource presenting both those collections is www.museumsinflorence.com, where you can also access websites for 70 additional museums.
What else will you discover in the oversize section? New York publisher Harry N. Abrams has generous solo presentations entitled Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Michelangelo’s Drawings. Some art books present periods, i.e. Mannerism: The Painting and Style of the Late Renaissance by Jacques Bousquet, published by Braziller.
Renaissance Humanism by Margaret L. King is an invaluable anthology available at Amazon.com in printed and Kindle versions. Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature allows you to preview the very informative introduction. Selections include Petrarch’s “To Posterity,” Pico della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man” and Leonardo Bruni’s “In Praise of the City of Florence.”
Biographical exploration should begin with Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects by the painter and architect Giorgio Vasari. He is credited with coining the term rinascita (renaissance) in print. In the 1550 dedication of the work to his patron, Cosimo de’ Medici, Duke of Florence, Vasari wrote, “I think that you cannot but take pleasure in this labor which I have undertaken, of writing down the lives, the works, the manners, and the circumstances of all those who, finding the arts already dead, first revived them, then step by step nourished and adorned them, and finally brought them to that height of beauty and majesty whereon they stand at the present day.”
Another voice contemporary to the artistic growth Vasari cites can be found in the lively, adventure-filled Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, also downloadable at the Gutenberg site. Historians speculate that goldsmith Cellini’s inspiration was his omission from Vasari’s compilation.
Though highly focused on the iconic structure crowning the Florence Cathedral, the bestselling Brunelleschi’s Dome: How A Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture also chronicles life in what was then one of Europe’s most important cities. Cap your biographical readings with a novel – The Agony and the Ecstasy, dramatic enough to be made into a “bio-pic” starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo. The New York Times praised author Irving Stone’s six-year effort – “he has painted the portrait of a supreme craftsman who was also one of the most versatile artists of all time, he has also laid bare before us a cyclorama of one of the world’s most astounding ages.”
Niccolo Machiavelli, informed by his political efforts on behalf of the Florentine government, compiled his guide to the use of power, The Prince, while living in political exile in the Chianti Hills of Tuscany. First distributed in 1513, it offered chapters concerned with cruelty and clemency, a description of the methods of murder adopted by the Duke Valentino (Cesare Borgia), as well a primer in how would-be princes could avoid being despised and hated. His observations are still read in college government classes. This classic and the next three citations also are available as free downloads from www.gutenberg.org.
By the time you do some hard digging into the following, you will have the intellectual equipment to absorb an enriched, on-site Florentine Experience: The Ten Books on Architecture by the Roman Vitruvius (ca.10 AD, rediscovered in 1412), Dante’s Divine Comedy (published in 1317 AD and required reading for Florentines to this day) and The Complete Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (compiled throughout his lifetime, 1452-1519). The latter provide the context of lifetime learning for the Renaissance intellectual.
Looking for even more information? Download the Renaissance Almanac for 2016.