In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Concepts of the Renaissance, c. 1780–c. 1920

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Overviews
  • Broader Surveys
  • Collections of Papers
  • Journals
  • Rinascita before “Renaissance”
  • Romanticism and Renaissance in France
  • The Arts in Mid-19th-Century Britain
  • c. 1860
  • Pater, Symonds, and Their Contemporaries
  • Expatriates in Italy
  • Other Nations
  • Artists and Their Cults
  • International Art Market
  • Architecture and Horticulture
  • Music
  • Histories and Biographies
  • The Waning of the Renaissance?

Renaissance and Reformation Concepts of the Renaissance, c. 1780–c. 1920
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0474


As time passes, history has been divided and subdivided, the ancient and the modern separated by the medieval, the modern succeeded by the post-modern. If the nineteenth century, its science, industry and innovation was “modern,” could it really be only one step along the evolutionary path from “medieval” superstition? The concept of the Renaissance provided a neat transition, European society and culture renewing itself, reviving itself after centuries of “medieval” gloom, thereby giving birth to the modern world. The 19th-century renaissance of the Renaissance has proved to be a fruitful area of study, as indicated by numerous Reference Works and Overviews, and confirmed by Broader Surveys, Collections of Papers and Journals. After those general categories, the present article adopts a roughly chronological pattern beginning with Rinascita before “Renaissance” in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Thereafter geographical divisions emerge, first with The Arts in Mid-19th-Century Britain and then The Arts in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Britain. The section c. 1860 has been created to highlight works contemporary with and often overshadowed by the most influential concept of the Renaissance, that of Jacob Burckhardt (b. 1819–d. 1897), whose significance requires that Burckhardt and His Legacy be divided into Texts and Analysis, with an additional subsection on the museum director Wilhelm von Bode. Burchkardt’s Kultur der Renaissance in Italien was published in 1860, but at the risk of confusion is cited as “Burckhardt 1990” in the present article. It made relatively little impact during its creator’s lifetime, enabling Pater, Symonds, and Their Contemporaries to establish their own concepts of the Renaissance. By the 1880s the Renaissance was so clearly accepted as something centered on Italy and its visual arts that enthusiasts flocked there, some taking up permanent residence as Expatriates in Italy. Meanwhile, French, German, and British concepts of the Renaissance found echoes in Other Nations. Renaissance Artists and Their Cults—the term is deliberate, reflecting an unprecedented mania—were increasingly apparent as the nineteenth century passed, and in turn encouraged a Renaissance emphasis in the International Art Market. Thereafter, Architecture and Horticulture is the fifth consecutive section to include works by, about, or inspired by Bernard Berenson (b. 1865–d. 1959). Music accounts for appropriate aspects of the early music revival, while Histories and Biographies identifies use of the term “Renaissance” in other subject areas. Enthusiasm for the Renaissance was characteristic of the Belle Époque, so the final section of this article inquires after The Waning of the Renaissance? in the decade of the First World War.

Reference Works

Roughly speaking, the more modern the period, the better it lends itself to the formats of reference works. Thus, the options are much greater for the long nineteenth century than they are for the Renaissance period, and date from the nineteenth century itself, in the shape of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in North Italy (1842) and its younger rival Baedeker 1867–1868, both of which provided a combination of practical information for travelers and guided them round each city, church, palace, museum, and art gallery. From the glut of more recent reference works, Grendler 1999 represents print titles and includes entries on each of the key figures and issues with which this bibliography is concerned. Each of those figures can also be found in biographical dictionaries, which themselves reflect the nations and nationalisms so familiar to men and women of the nineteenth century. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) is a recent and regularly updated example of that genre, the first port of call when researching individuals of British or Irish birth, though it happens that figures from the Anglophone world also loom large in the Dictionary of Art Historians (DAH), so there is a degree of overlap between the two resources. The same can be said for, with the significant distinction that this German-based platform prioritizes German-speaking art historians in its biographical section. Jacob Burckhardt is so commanding a figure in the history of art history that he is featured in innumerable reference works. He is also the subject of a dedicated website, Jacob Burckhardt 1818–2018, which in turn provides links to other resources. Among the more traditional combination of membership society and print publication there is the International Walter Pater Society, which celebrates the work of another 19th-century author whose name is intimately associated with the Renaissance. Printed guides and websites for art galleries and museums count as reference works, a selection of the latter appearing throughout this article.


    Within this vast digital platform the most immediately relevant material can be found under “Subjects—Thematic Portals—History of Art History—Sources for the History of Art History—digital,” where there are pages for Wilhelm von Bode, Jacob Burckhardt, Leopoldo Cicognara, Joseph Arthur Crowe, Franz Kugler, Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Morelli, John Ruskin, Jean-Baptiste Seroux d’Agincourt, Gustav Friedrich von Waagen, Adam Weise, Heinrich Wölfflin, and others.

  • Baedeker, Karl. Italy: Handbook for Travellers. 3 vols. Coblenz, Germany: Karl Baedeker, 1867–1868.

    The geographical division is: Part 1, Northern Italy . . .; Part 2, Central Italy and Rome; Part 3, Southern Italy and Sicily . . . . In each case an introduction provides practical information for travelers, after which the bulk of the volume consists of itineraries dictated by the rail network. New editions appeared frequently, including the seventh in 1880, tenth in 1890, and thirteenth in 1900. From 1876 Baedeker’s business was based in Leipzig.

  • Dictionary of Art Historians.

    The DAH began in 1986 as an index of historians cited in four works published between 1966 and 1982. It was put on the Internet in 2002 and has been updated regularly. The main section of the website is the alphabetical index, linking to entries for each individual. By way of illustration, that for Jacob Burckhardt contains details of his birth and death, a biographical overview, selected bibliography, list of sources, and an archival link.

  • Grendler, Paul F., ed. Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. 6 vols. New York: Scribner’s, 1999.

    Under “Renaissance” Grendler contributes entries on historical thought (inspired by Ferguson 1948, cited under Broader Surveys), popular imagination, and the interpretations of Symonds and Voigt. Albert Rabil Jr. addresses the influence of the Renaissance, and Renaissance Studies. J. H. M. Salmon writes on the interpretations of Vasari and Michelet. Other authors provide entries on literary and economic interpretations of the Renaissance, on Burckhardt, Ruskin, Pater, Berenson, and their successors.

  • Handbook for Travellers in North Italy. London: J. Murray, 1842.

    The London publishers John Murray II (b. 1778–d. 1843) and John Murray III (b. 1808–d. 1892) produced handbooks for travelers from the 1830s onward. The handbook to North Italy was the first dedicated to that region, followed by Central Italy in 1843, Florence and its Environs in 1867, Rome and its Environs also in 1867, and Southern Italy in 1868. Numerous editions were required as railways made Italy increasingly accessible to British travelers.

  • International Walter Pater Society.

    This website includes a chronology of Pater’s life, details of the journal Studies in Walter Pater and Aestheticism, a list of relevant online resource, and an extensive bibliography, divided into monographs, edited collections, miscellaneous works, selected articles, and book chapters. It is to be remembered that Pater’s oeuvre extended well beyond his Renaissance essays, which can act as a gateway to the other works.

  • Jacob Burckhardt 1818–2018.

    Created by the University of Basel in 2018 to mark the two hundredth anniversary of Burckhardt’s birth, this website acts as the gateway to a vast array of information and resources relating to the man, his works and his world. Arguably the most distinctive link is to DESKTOP—Jacob Burckhardt Digital, the immersive experience available in certain museums, which allows visitors to sit at Burckhardt’s desk and “see” his thoughts.

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 40 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    All the leading names associated with concepts of the Renaissance in 19th-century Britain have entries in the ODNB, which is available in print but more generally accessed online. Those for Walter Pater, William Roscoe, John Ruskin, and John Addington Symonds provide cases in point, the texts setting the subjects’ Renaissance interests in context and the bibliographies presenting ideas for more extensive reading.

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