Raphael's famous fresco in the Vatican, The School of Athens,
painted between 1508 and 1511, is one of the most revealing masterpieces of High
Renaissance art. It shows the Greek philosophers arranged in different positions and
groups according to their philosophical inclinations. In the center stands Plato, pointing
upward to confirm his commitment to his theory of ideas, and Aristotle, pointing downward
to indicate his empirical orientation. The left side of the painting is filled with
metaphysical thinkers (Socrates and others), and on the right side are the physical
This painting is a tribute to Greek philosophy which played such an important role in
the Italian Renaissance. But, it goes further. Raphael belonged to a group of thinkers and
artists who met to discuss philosophy -- but, both the Platonic and Aristotelian points of
view were respected. The artists, architects, sculptors, philosophers and writers who
served as models for the figures in this painting knew and communicated with one another.
Thus, this fresco displays the many interconnections of the cultural elite in northern
Italy, particularly in Florence. Even this fresco's location in the Vatican is revealing
for on the opposite wall is Raphael's Disputa, which depicts the great Christian
theologians of various times. The placement of the two frescos symbolizes the values
characteristic of the Renaissance glorification of pagan culture without rejecting
In the 19th century, it was fashionable to assign transcendent importance to the
Renaissance in the development of modern European civilization. Jules Michelet, John
Addington Symonds and Jacob Burckhardt, for instance, developed the thesis that the Middle
Ages were a period of uniform stagnation, and that the paralyzing "shell" of
medievalism was burst sunder by potent forces associated with the new appreciation of
classical literature and the remarkable developments of plastic arts between 1350 and
1550. During this cultural and intellectual springtime, Europe emerged from one thousand
years of desolate medievalism. To this cultural "rebirth" were assigned the most
diverse results, including the rise of natural science, rationalism, and the nation-state.
The historical record shows how erroneous is such a view of European intellectual and
cultural development. Nearly all aspects of European culture steadily improved from the
middle of the twelfth century (the aptly called 12th Century Renaissance) onward. There
was perhaps more of an advance from 1200 to 1350 than in the century which followed 1350,
the dawn of the so-called Italian Renaissance. In fact, not until the expansion of Europe
following the late 15th century did there emerge novel forces of relatively sudden and
Burckhardt's Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
Center for Reformation
and Renaissance Studies (UToronto)
Petrarch Selected Correspondence
Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library
& Renaissance Culture
Sixteenth Century Renaissance Literature (Luminarium)
|Barolsky, Paul. The Faun in the Garden: Michelangelo and the Poetic Origins of Italian Renaissance
Art. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.
|Baron, Hans. From Petrarch to Leonardo Bruni: Studies in Humanistic and Political
Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.
|Bishop, Morris. Petrarch and His World. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1963.
|Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the
Renaissance in Italy. Baltimore: Penguin, 1990.
|Burke, Peter. The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in
Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.
|Cassirer, Ernst, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and John Herman Randall, Jr.
The Renaissance Philosophy of Man. Chicago: University of Chicago
|Dempsey, Charles. The Portrayal of Love: Botticelli�s Primavera and Humanist Culture at the Time of Lorenzo the
Magnificent. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.
|Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern
Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
|Fallico, Arturo B. and Herman Shapiro, eds. Renaissance Philosophy: The Italian
Philosophers. Selected Readings from Petrarch to Bruno. New York: Modern Library, 1967.
|Fallico, Arturo B. and Herman Shapiro, eds. Renaissance Philosophy: The Transalpine Thinkers. Selected
Readings from Cusanus to Suarez. New York: Modern Library, 1969.
|Hale, John. The Civilization of Europe in the
Renaissance. New York: Touchstone, 1993.
|Hall, Marcia, ed. Raphael�s "School of
Athens". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
|Harbison, Craig. The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art in its Historical
Context. New York: Abrams, 1995.
|Hollingsworth, Mary. Patronage in Renaissance Italy: From 1400 to the Early Sixteenth
Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
|Howarth, David. Images of Rule: Art and Politics in the English Renaissance,
1485-1649. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
|Jardine, Lisa. Worldly Goods: a New History of the
Renaissance. London: Macmillan Press, 1996.
|Kerrigan, William and Gordon Braden. The Idea of a
Renaissance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
|King, Margaret L. Women of the Renaissance. New York: SUNY Press, 1983.
|Krailsheimer, A. J., ed. The Continental Renaissance
1500-1600. Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1971.
|Kraye, Jill. The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance
Humanism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
|Kristeller, Paul Oskar. Renaissance Concepts of Man and Other
Essays. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
|________. Renaissance Thought and the Arts: Collected
Essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
|Larner, John. Italy in the Age of Dante and Petrarch:
1216-1380. London and New York: Longman, 1980.
|Lemaitre, Alain J. and Erich Lessing. Florence and the Renaissance: The
Quattrocento. Paris: Terrail, 1993.
|Levey, Michael. High Renaissance. Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1975.
|Manchester, William. A World Lit Only By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the
Renaissance. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.
|Ross, James Bruce and Mary Martin McLaughlin, eds. The Portable Renaissance
Reader. New York: Viking, 1953.
|Seigel, Jerrold E. Rhetoric and Philosophy in Renaissance Humanism: The Union of Eloquence and Wisdom, Petrarch to
Valla. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
|Strand, Kenneth A., ed. Essays on the Northern
Renaissance. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ann Arbor, 1968.
|Tinagli, Paola. Women in Italian Renaissance Art: Gender, Representation,
Identity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997.
|Turner, A. Richard. Renaissance Florence: The Invention of a New
Art. New York: Abrams, 1997.
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copyright � 2000 Steven Kreis
Last Revised -- April 13, 2012
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