Renaissance and Reformation Eugenio Garin
Rocco Rubini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0319


Eugenio Garin (b. 1909–d. 2004) was an Italian philosopher, intellectual historian, and one of the foremost Renaissance scholars of his generation. Omnivorous in his reading and versatile in his publications, Garin pursued a career inflected by the desire to order and explain the Italian intellectual tradition. As he often repeated, the life he lived and the historical context that he experienced directed his studies. Raised in the so-called positivist school in Italy, Garin began his career as a student of the British enlightenment and its moral philosophy. Foreign thought and ethics had little purchase in the neo-Hegelian mainstream that his teachers, including Ludovico Limentani, sought to combat. Eventually critical of the Fascist ventennio that he had witnessed as a young man, Garin turned to Renaissance sources to describe and exalt the civic virtues of 15th-century Italian humanists. It is for his characterization of Renaissance humanism, a movement that had previously been denigrated as pedantic and politically inconsequential, that he is best known. Garin redescribed its philological rigor and historiographical bent as an important turning point in Western thought. Garin’s interpretation of humanism as an enduring and still viable “philosophy,” an interpretation that in the American academy allied him with Hans Baron and put him at odds with Paul Oskar Kristeller, rested on his understanding of Italy’s many intellectual revolutions, from the Italian Enlightenment associated with Giambattista Vico to the 19th-century Risorgimento, the postunification period and the hegemony of idealism associated with eminent figures such as Giovanni Gentile and Benedetto Croce, an understanding that he attained in his formative years. Early on, Garin gained and reciprocated Gentile’s esteem, a circumstance that led him to pursue peace and reconciliation among Italy’s many schools of thought. He found support for this pursuit in the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, who was a great source of inspiration once his works began surfacing in the post–World War II period.

General Overviews

In the early 21st century, intellectual historians have turned to the life and work of Eugenio Garin, a critical eyewitness of 20th-century Italian intellectual vicissitudes, for answers to questions about how to interpret Italy’s not-so-distant past. Ciliberto 2011 emphasizes that to contextualize Garin’s scholarship properly would necessitate a wider reconstruction of his generation: those who were born in the first decade of the 20th century, were raised during the Fascist ventennio, and came of age in the immediate post–World War II period. If this is a collaborative challenge that will take many years to fulfill, we now have enough to orient ourselves in the vast sea of Garin’s publications, starting with the Bibliografia degli scritti di Eugenio Garin, a complete bibliography that covers his seventy-year career (and his 1,366 publications!). Catanorchi and Lepri 2011, with Torrini 2009, provides an introduction to the many sources and intellectual conversations attending to Garin’s ideas as a Renaissance scholar, while Audisio and Savorelli 2003 and Cambi 1992 introduce Garin’s methodology and the historiographical legacy he left behind. Meanwhile Celenza 2004 and Rubini 2014 address the difficulty of “culturally translating” Garin for an anglophone readership. Celenza 2004, which is concerned with accounting for the origins of the field of Renaissance studies and assessing the difficulties facing it in the early 21st century, offers an insightful comparison of Garin and his main rival, Paul Oskar Kristeller, a German Jewish émigré and doyen of Renaissance studies in the United States. Rubini 2014 relies on Garin’s scholarship to reconstruct the path of Italian thought since the 19th century, reintegrating Garin into that story as the last thinker in a tradition that self-consciously and continually looked to the Renaissance for inspiration.

  • Audisio, Felicita, and Alessandro Savorelli, eds. Eugenio Garin: Il percorso storiografico di un maestro del Novecento; Giornata di studio, Prato, Biblioteca Roncioniana, 4 maggio 2002. Florence: Le Lettere, 2003.

    A number of authoritative Italian scholars assess Garin’s methodology and varied contributions to intellectual history.

  • Bibliografia degli scritti di Eugenio Garin: 1929–1999. Rome: Laterza, 1999.

    Indispensable tool for navigating Garin’s 1,366 publications, including hundreds of important book reviews that would merit being collected in a single volume.

  • Cambi, Franco, ed. Tra scienza e storia: Percorsi del neostoricismo italiano; Eugenio Garin, Paolo Rossi e Sergio Moravia. Testi e Studi 101. Milan: Edizioni Unicopli, 1992.

    This book reviews Garin’s work and method as representing the beginning of a new school of historiography in the Italian academy.

  • Catanorchi, Olivia, and Valentina Lepri, eds. Eugenio Garin: Dal Rinascimento all’Illuminismo; Atti del convegno, Firenze, 6–8 marzo 2009. Papers presented at a conference held on 6–8 March 2009 in Florence. Storia e Letteratura 269. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2011.

    Collects twenty-two proceedings of a conference held in Florence in 2009 on the 100th anniversary of Garin’s birth. The most comprehensive survey of Garin’s work to date, it includes assessments of Garin’s analyses of favorite sources (Leon Battista Alberti, Marsilio Ficino, Giordana Bruno, Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Giambattista Vico, and others) and his relationships to his intellectual models (e.g., Jacob Burckhardt, Wilhelm Dilthey, Konrad Burdach, Benedetto Croce, Antonio Gramsci, Étienne Gilson).

  • Celenza, Christopher S. The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin’s Legacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

    Chapter 2 of this book provides a contextualization and comparative assessment of Garin’s Renaissance scholarship vis-à-vis that of his main rival in the field, Paul Oskar Kristeller.

  • Ciliberto, Michele. Eugenio Garin: Un intellettuale del Novecento. Biblioteca di Cultura Moderna 1213. Rome: Laterza, 2011.

    Ciliberto reviews Garin’s long career, arguing that an existential religiosity lay at the heart of Garin’s scholarly approach in his earlier years.

  • Rubini, Rocco. The Other Renaissance: Italian Humanism between Hegel and Heidegger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226186276.001.0001

    Chapter 4 of this book introduces Garin as the last Italian philosopher in a tradition that self-consciously harks back to the Risorgimento and from there, via identification, to the Renaissance period.

  • Torrini, Maurizio, ed. Special Issue: Garin e il Novecento. Giornale Critico della Filosofia Italiana 88.2 (2009).

    A special issue devoted to Garin, who was editor in chief of the Giornale Critico between 1980 and 2004. The issue includes articles on Garin’s interpretation of fascism, Croce, Giovanni Gentile, and Ernst Cassirer.

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