Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Recent Italian Works on the Renaissance: Perspectives on Intellectual, Political, and Social History

Academic journal article Renaissance Quarterly

Recent Italian Works on the Renaissance: Perspectives on Intellectual, Political, and Social History

Article excerpt

Lucia Bertolini, ed. De vera amicitia: I testi del primo Certame coronario. (Testi, Instituto di studi rinascimentali.) Ferrara: Franco Cosimo Panini, 1993. xix + pp. L 80,000.

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Franco Frenceschi. Oltre il "Tumulto": I lavoratori fiorentini dell'arte della Lana fra Tre e Quattrocento. (Biblioteca di Storia Toscana Moderna e Contemporanea: Studi e documenti, 38.) Florence: Olschki, 1993. vii + 375 pp.

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Giuseppe Olmi. L'inventario del mondo: Catalogazione della natura e luoghi del sapere nella prima eta moderna. (Annali dell'Istituto storico italogermanico in Trento, Monografia 17.) Bologna: Il Mulino, 1992. 457 pp. L 50,000.

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Adriano Prosperi and Wolfgang Reinhard, eds. Il Nuovo Mondo nella conscienza italiana e tedesca del Cinquecento. (Annali dell'istituto storico italogermanico in Trento, Quaderno 33.) Bologna. Il Mulino, 1992, 419 pp. L 46,000.

I. New Categories, New Worlds

In 1507 the German humanist Martin Waldseemuller published the first edition of his Cosmographiae introductio. Like other cartographers of his day, Waldseemuller confronted fundamental discrepancies between classical cosmographies and the explosion of geographical knowledge in the early sixteenth centur - the question, for example, of whether or not Columbus had discovered a previously unknown continent. Although Waldseemuller would equivocate on this matter in a subsequent edition, in 1507 he presented his readers with a planisphere on which he baptized the newly-found continent "America" after Amerigo Vespucci's suggestion that Columbus had found not the Indies but a mundus novus - a New World.

Waldseemuller's effort to make sense of the place of the New World in relation to the Old was but one aspect of the profound transformations in European intellectual life in the Renaissance. For not only did Europe colonize the Americas, the newly discovered lands also transformed European thought as reports from conquistadors, explorers, missionaries, and settlers reached an increasingly curious public. As might be expected, the new knowledge was absorbed in complex ways, since the earlier models of their world (paradigms derived from both classical and Christian traditions) also determined how Europeans responded to the shifts in perspective brought about by the voyages of discovery. Both Catholics and Protestants, for example, found it difficult to conceptualize the inhabitants of the New World in other than polar terms: los Indios were either noble savages or barbarians; either innocents waiting for baptism or pagans under the influence of the Devil. Accordingly, European representations of the New World were anything but neutral. Indeed, the recent quincentennial discussions of Columbus and the often acrimonious debates about his political and cultural role make it plain that, five hundred years after his first crossing to the New World, Europeans and Americans alike still struggling with the question of the significance and the meaning of the voyages. …

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