England and the Italian Renaissance: The Growth of Interest in Its History and Art

England and the Italian Renaissance: The Growth of Interest in Its History and Art

England and the Italian Renaissance: The Growth of Interest in Its History and Art

England and the Italian Renaissance: The Growth of Interest in Its History and Art

Excerpt

In the course of writing Culture and Anarchy (1869) Matthew Arnold paused to justify in a footnote his invention of a new word, Renascence. I have done it, he said, to give an English form to 'the foreign word Renaissance, destined to become of more common use amongst us as the movement which it denotes comes, as it will come, increasingly to interest us'. His prophecy was correct. Englishmen had long made a habit of being fascinated by Italy. They had been told, moreover, by writers on her history and arts, that there humanity first broke its chains, loved beauty for its own sake and outgrew superstition. 'Renaissance'--hallowed by classical associations, made respectable by the names of great men, universal by the standard of great art, and sensational by the éclat of great crimes--the symbol was irrestible.

It was also vague and open to the abuse of being too subjectively interpreted. As a result it has fallen into disrepute, the casualty of an obscure but desperate skirmish among scholars. Yet the term still exists and will hardly be ruled out of existence while the appetite for it lasts. And if the historical development of the term is understood--the elements at work in the increasing concern of Englishmen for the civilization of Italy which led to its use--it can still, with all its imperfections, be serviceable.

This reflection has led to a sketch of the growth in England of an interest in Italian history and art of the period later to be . . .

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