03.08.01, Hankins, Renaissance Civic Humanism

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Julia Bolton Holloway

The Medieval Review baj9928.0308.001


Hankins, James, ed.. Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections. Series: Ideas in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. x, 314. ISBN: 0-521-78090-x.

Reviewed by:
Julia Bolton Holloway
Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei

German-speaking scholars, Jakob Burckhardt (1818-1897), Robert Davidsohn (1853-1937), and Hans Baron (1900-1988), pioneered the more recent studies of medieval and Renaissance Florence. Baron's work, challenging Burckhardt's, particularly influenced American and English political historians. However, the distinguished international professors contributing essays to this volume are silent about Davidsohn, whose volumes, published in German, then translated into Italian, far more exactly study the archival documents of the origins of Florence's political history. These disciples of Baron, in this volume of essays edited by James Hankins, tear apart their predecessor, red in tooth and claw. Their debate leaves the medievalist cold.

The book's cover gives Leonardo Bruni Aretino 'illuminating' Florence with his history of her, an image they do not notice as slavishly copying that of Dante illuminating Florence with his Commedia about her, self-referentially placed within the Duomo it depicts. These pages could be better 'illuminated' (not an Italian word, where it is miniatura) with Davidsohn on Brunetto Latino, who taught Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Cicero's Rhetoric in the thirteenth century to such students as Guido Cavalcanti and Dante Alighieri, and whose chancery writings were next carefully studied and copied out in turn by Coluccio Salutati and Leonardo Bruni, who acknowledged him as their predecessor as Chancellor of Florence.

'Curiouser and curiouser,' the blind spot concerning the Middle Ages in Florence, of Arnolfo di Cambio, Dante Alighieri, and Giotto, of the communal structures of the Bargello, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Duomo and the city walls and gates, built from the Ghibelline towers of pride, and of her vast pilgrim epic in the vernacular which even women and children could read. For in a sense these studies turn Baron back into Burckhardt and the 'rise of individualism,' not of the commune, but of the elite, not of the republic (the commonwealth), but of the 'Prince.' It is true the thesis of Hans Baron concerning the crisis of 1402 as engendering 'Civic Humanism' is untenable. What has not been noticed is that Civic Humanism existed long before that date, which only Quentin Skinner, amongst Renaissance scholars, seems to have observed. The series is funded by the Exxon Foundation.

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Julia Bolton Holloway

Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei