The flowering of civilization, the rebirth of classical scholarship and the serendipitous coming together of some of the greatest artists the world has ever known: this is the traditional view of the Renaissance. This work provides an interpretation of that age of European culture. In it, the author argues that while aristocrats and newly prosperous merchants commissioned works of art from the leading artists of the day, vicious commercial battles were being fought over silks and spices, and who should control international trade. As humanism and the "new learning" spread out of Italy across Europe, the prodigious output of the printing presses which sprang up soon dictated - by accident as much as by design - what was to become the European intellectual tradition.
Drawing from her earlier and more academic studies, Lisa Jardine approaches the challenge of creating a new history of the Renaissance with remarkable bravura and all the boldness required to deliver a fresh and highly readable story of an age we think we know so well. In Worldly Goods
, Jardine argues that while the Renaissance was indeed marked by a flourishing cultural identity, it was the material and commercial spirit of the 15th and 16th centuries that set the tone. Commerce and international trade provided the enormous fortunes that funded artistic production, and luxury goods, including great works of art, became important as means of displaying newly acquired wealth and status. It was an urge to own, a ceaseless quest for new horizons and exotic treasures, that fueled the cultural output of the Renaissance, according to Jardine, and that taste for conspicuous displays of opulence characterizes the Western experience of the arts and culture to this day.
That Worldly Goods succeeds in telling a captivating new story of the Renaissance is testimony to Jardine's literary and scholarly success at a difficult task. That her book, richly illustrated and well written, makes contemplation of its subject a thrill is testimony of a very good read.
"Fascinating . . . Jardine's attention to the material side of things is an important explanatory complement to the many histories of the period that have dwelt on the sublime works of art . . . Real history is in the details, the small stories, of which WORLDLY GOODS is a treasure house."
Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
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