chapter  5
Renaissance cities
Pages 23

Michelet’s understanding of the Renaissance was in one respect defective: he confined it to the sixteenth century and ignored the precocious developments in Italy in the previous two centuries. That was soon rectified by the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, whose great Civilization o f the Renaissance in Italy (1878; first published, in German, in I860) has remained strongly influential in portraying the Renaissance as a historical period centred on Italy of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. But still today there is no general agreement on the time-span covered by the Renaissance. Some historians argue for an even earlier beginning, in the thirteenth century (Herlihy, 1986; Holmes, 1986). So there is something of a tug-of-war between medievalists and Renaissance scholars for the territory of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is generally sensible not to look for a sudden, sharp separation from the Middle Ages. Renaissance scholars frequently recognize that the people they study have a foot in both periods; certainly Leonardo da Vinci is best interpreted in that way. While many Renaissance scholars continue to focus on Italy, others - like Michelet before them - insist that an adequate understanding of the Renaissance requires a much wider geographical compass. The introduction to a collection of interpretative essays by distinguished scholars declared that ‘we

apply the term Renaissance freely, perhaps more outside Italy than inside that country, to everything that happened between about 1350 and 1600 - politics, science, and of course the fine arts, literature and learning’ (Hay eta l., 1982, p.8). Similar sentiments are expressed in Porter and Teich (1992, pp. 1-2, 68, 70).