The Renaissance World

The Renaissance World

The Renaissance World

The Renaissance World


With an interdisciplinary approach that encompasses the history of ideas, political history, cultural history and art history, this volume, in the successful Routledge Worlds series, offers a sweeping survey of Europe in the Renaissance, from the late thirteenth to early seventeenth centuries, and shows how the Renaissance laid key foundations for many aspects of the modern world.

Collating thirty-four essays from the field's leading scholars, John Jeffries Martin shows that this period of rapid and complex change resulted from a convergence of a new set of social, economic and technological forces alongside a cluster of interrelated practices including painting, sculpture, humanism and science, in which the elites engaged.

Unique in its balance of emphasis on elite and popular culture, on humanism and society, and on women as well as men, The Renaissance World grapples with issues as diverse as Renaissance patronage and the development of the slave trade.

Beginning with a section on the antecedents of the Renaissance world, and ending with its lasting influence, this book is an invaluable read, which students and scholars of history and the Renaissance will dip into again and again.


The Renaissance – a world in movement – emerges in vivid colors in Vittore Carpaccio’s The Legend of St Ursula. Carpaccio completed this stunning narrative, displayed in a cycle of nine panels, in the 1490s. This was a watershed moment in European history. Ottoman power was expanding in the eastern Mediterranean, with the Turks overrunning many of Venice’s strongholds. To Venetians, developments in the west were no less unsettling. The Portuguese had sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in the late 1480s, a feat that would soon open up a direct sea route to the lucrative spice markets of the Indies, and news of Columbus’s voyages and his discovery of yet another new route to the Indies (or so it was widely believed at the time) first reached Venice while Carpaccio was working on the Ursula cycle.

In the same decade the maritime republic of Venice, long the greatest sea power in Europe, was threatened not only by the emergence of the Ottoman, Portuguese, and Spanish empires but also by France, at last recovered from the ravages of the Hundred Years War. In 1494 the French king Charles VIII, with 30,000 troops, invaded Italy, a move that made it clear that the Italian duchies and republics – for the previous 200 years the most dynamic and powerful states in Europe – were no longer a match, at least militarily, for the emerging monarchies of the Renaissance. This was also a moment of heightened religious tensions. In 1492 the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella defeated Granada, the last Muslim emirate in Iberia, and expelled the Jews, some of whom eventually settled in Venice. In this very same period, the prophet and political firebrand Girolamo Savonarola was preaching the Apocalypse in Florence. How conscious Carpaccio was of these events is uncertain, but his Ursula cycle is filled with energies and tensions that suggest the larger forces at work in European culture and society played some role in shaping his artistic vision.

The story of St Ursula was one of many saints’ lives that circulated in Renaissance Europe. Carpaccio would have read the life of this saint in the Golden Legend, a late medieval work, printed for the first time in an Italian translation in Venice in 1475. He had also studied an earlier narrative cycle depicting the saint’s life in Treviso, a city on the Venetian mainland, and no doubt he would have heard the story told by priests and people alike. Ursula’s legend was extremely popular . . .

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