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Alexander Lee, Pit Péporté and Harry Schnitker (eds.). Renaissance? Perceptions of Continuity and Discontinuity in Europe, c. 1300–c. 1550. Brill: Leiden and Boston, 2010. ISBN: 978-90-04-18334-6. Xviii+370 pp. Hbk. €129.

Reviewed by Stella Fletcher

[1]  Appropriately, this collection of essays comes to us from the Athens of the North, all three of the editors having received their doctorates from the University of Edinburgh in 2008–9. For scholars at the outset of their careers they have taken on a surprisingly ambitious task, inviting seventeen authorities from across a reasonably wide disciplinary and geographical spectrum to reflect on the very nature of the Renaissance – as period, as movement, as rebirth and renewal – together with its relationship to the Antique, the medieval and the early modern. The sheer scale of their undertaking is also reflected in the volume’s tripartite structure, its successive sections being devoted to ‘The Renaissance and the classical tradition’, ‘The Renaissance and the arts’, and ‘A wider Renaissance?’, the last of which draws together diverse studies of European culture north of the Alps. Luke Houghton and Alexander Lee provide introductions to each of the three sections, but these prove to be as much independent essays as guides to what follows. Indeed, the arrangement of the essays within each section is not explained and remains impenetrable. Perhaps there is no reason why, for example, Robin Kirkpatrick’s essay on Love’s Labour’s Lost, Troilus and Cressida and Cymbeline appears before that of George Steiris on Machiavelli’s appreciation of Greek Antiquity. Similarly, the divisions between sections are not necessarily clear-cut.  Thus Maria Ruvoldt’s essay might fit as easily in the ‘classical tradition’ section as it does among ‘the arts’, for it explores the chronology of Michelangelo’s classically-inspired works, highlighting his apparent rejection of pagan culture and sudden return to it in the drawings of Ganymede, Tityus and Phaeton that he sent to Tommaso de’ Cavalieri in 1532–3. Likewise, Hanno Wijsman’s piece on Netherlandish art and that of Jeffrey Chipps Smith on the ‘invention’ of Dürer as a Renaissance artist might reasonably appear under the umbrella of ‘the Renaissance and the arts’ but here count as aspects of ‘A wider Renaissance?’ The editors can, however, take consolation from the fact that only a reviewer is likely to read the book from cover to cover, rather than in a more selective fashion.

[2]  Although the conference from which the collection derives was held in 2007, publication of the volume neatly coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of Erwin Panofsky’s Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1960), which many of the contributors take as their point of departure. Elsewhere, the inspiration comes from the same author’s early study ‘Die Perspective als “Symbolische Form”’ (1927), the original essay on ‘Renaissance and Renascences’ (1944), and Early Netherlandish Painting (1953), as well as from his abiding interest in Dürer. Whether the contributions are assessed in terms of length, clarity or overall cohesion the result is somewhat uneven, though the best of the papers happen to be very impressive indeed. One might even regard this as a collection that builds up to Rob C. Wegman’s authoritative application of ideas about Renaissance and renascences to the subject of fifteenth-century music, and then falls away from the same. Taking his cue from Tinctoris, Wegman identifies discontinuity in musical composition between the 1430s and 1470s, and asks whether this is sufficient to justify application of the term ‘Renaissance’ to the history of music in that period. He concludes that when musicologists employ the ‘R’ word they are motivated by nothing more than tradition, though it is left to Hanno Wijsman to articulate what is surely an open secret: that publishers have insisted on employing the term ‘Renaissance’ in book titles against the better judgement of their authors. Wegman’s disciplinary distance from the history of art proves to be particularly useful when he turns to an examination of Panofsky’s anti-medievalism in general and his reaction against the work of Lynn Thorndike in particular. The emphasis on Wegman’s personal experiences and reflections might be more appropriate in the setting of a conference than in the published proceedings, but it nevertheless makes for the most compelling reading in the volume. Even among the briefer contributions there are some gems, such as the ‘notes’ on Renaissance scholarship in central Europe provided by Ingrid Ciulisová. This is precisely the sort of corrective required in the Anglophone scholarly tradition, which can be inclined to forget that interest in the Renaissance continued beyond the Iron Curtain, even if direct contacts between East and West were few and far between. Again, Panofsky is the key and attention is devoted to his influence and that of Julius von Schlosser on the Polish art historian Jan Biaƚostocki.  Among the contributors as a whole there is a healthy variety of familiar and less familiar names, but perhaps the greatest surprise is to find Andrew Pettegree in a volume on the Renaissance rather than the Reformation, an appearance which itself provides another variation on the theme of continuity and discontinuity, Renaissance and Reformation usually occupying separate scholarly spheres. His essay surveys the St Andrews-based research project on books published in French before 1601: it is, needless to say, a Panofsky-free zone.

[3]  If Lee, Péporté and Schnitker wish to undertake further editorial work, they might dare to be more interventionist. A case in point is provided when Wijsman crosses the Channel from Valois Burgundy to England. If the royal bibliophile Humphrey can be identified as duke of Gloucester, then why has his brother been left as ‘John of Lancaster’ (283) and not converted into ‘John, duke of Bedford’, as he is known to political, military and art historians alike? Indeed, names come off particularly badly in this volume, presumably because they are beyond the competence of computer programmes to correct. Thus Thomas Malory appears as ‘Mallory’ (250) and Bernabò Visconti as ‘Bernarbò’ (259) and were not even corrected when the index was compiled, but it is the not insignificant figure of Jacob Burckhardt who fares worst of all, his name appearing in various permutations throughout the book. However, these are relatively minor matters that do not necessarily detract from the fact that each contributor causes the reader to reflect anew on the fundamentals of what it is to study the Renaissance.

University of Warwick, November 2011