Myths of European Cultural Integrity — The Renaissance



The period of the Renaissance is widely acknowledged as heralding the birth of modern Europe, with developments and innovations in the arts and learning contributing both to its self-perception as modern as well as to a retrospective labelling as such. The ‘discovery’ of the New World, in particular, as well as advances in science and medicine, demonstrated — to themselves as much as to later generations — the superiority of their epoch over earlier historical periods. In building on the wisdom of the ancient world, the scholars of the Renaissance developed branches of study concerned with the secular human condition that were later to be termed ‘humanism’, and then humanities. This saw the development of ‘conceptual realism’ I, which was marked by the rise of theory, and was linked to a pronounced emphasis on analysis and criticism. In this way, cartographical discoveries, secular humanism, and social theory came to be seen not only as part of a European cultural movement, but as synonymous with it. As the prevailing modes of thought were altered so, in the arts, a distinctive image of the times was evoked, and it is the art and architecture of the Renaissance which has most visibly endured through the ages as the cultural embodiment of this period. In this chapter, I examine the dominant discourse of the Renaissance as ‘modern’ and ‘European’, and assess the claims made by scholars with regard to its epochal significance, endogenous origins, and cultural integrity.


Dominant Discourse Twelfth Century Ancient World Printing Press Classical Antiquity 
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© Gurminder K. Bhambra 2007

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