Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Renaissance: A Short History by Paul Johnson

The story of the Renaissance is filled with great names: Gutenberg, Dante, Erasmus, Leonardo, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Raphael, the Medici family, Machiavelli, lots of popes. Many of them were Italian, but not all, as the Renaissance spread across Europe in the late fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In fact, Paul Johnson in The Renaissance: A Short History credits the invention of the printing press in Mainz, Germany by Johann Gutenberg as the single most important event of the era, as the printing of books allowed for the explosion of learning to spread past the church leaders, princely classes, and academics to the growing merchant class.

I learned much in the section on Renaissance literature, as Johnson described the most important authors and their works. I am putting the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio on my reading list. Johnson tells many stories about the people and the period. I most enjoyed hearing about the painters and the development of oil painting on canvas in the Netherlands; the author explains how oil and canvas allowed artists to broaden their markets and paint non-church subjects; the modern tradition of portrait painting began with this innovation.

I listened to The Renaissance on compact discs, which had the advantage of letting me listen in the car and while shoveling snow. It also allowed me to hear all the names pronounced, many more than listed above. What I missed was learning how to spell them. It would be good to consult the print edition after listening. There are so many ideas introduced for further study, and seeing the table of contents and index would help. Reading The Renassiance by Paul Johnson is only a good beginning.

Johnson, Paul. The Renaissance: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2000. ISBN 067964086X.

compact discs edition. Santa Ana, California: Books on Tape, 2000. ISBN 0736663029

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