On the Importance of Being an Individual in Renaissance Italy: Men, Their Professions, and Their Beards

By Douglas Biow | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Professionally Speaking: The Value of Ars
and Arte in Renaissance Italy—Reflections
on the Historical Reach of Techne

LET ME BEGIN A REFLECTION ON THE ROLE OF ARS AND ARTE IN RENAISSANCE Italy, the first such reflection of this book, by sketching out the history of the concept of techne in classical antiquity. By doing so, we will be in a position to see how the Italian Renaissance treatment of it rehearses as well as revises elements that were originally embedded in the classical notion of techne itself. To this end, I examine in the first section of this chapter the general significance of the term “techne” (pl. “technai”) in ancient Greece and then how that term changed, and in many respects did not change, as it evolved into ars from ancient Rome through the European Middle Ages. Readers not particularly interested in the complex evolution of the concept of techne over almost two thousand years, which I try to compress into as few pages as reasonably possible, may jump directly to the second section, where I provide an overview of the role and value of ars and arte as forms of knowledge in Renaissance Italy, exemplifying some of the issues explored in my discussion by examining briefly the writings of three very different sixteenth-century practitioners of arts: Leonardo Fioravanti, Vannoccio Biringuccio, and Giorgio Vasari. In the third section, having furnished a broad context for an understanding of the concepts of techne, ars, and arte from classical antiquity to the sixteenth century (devoting in the process special attention to the Italian Renaissance), I offer a more focused and extended reading of two very different treatises written at roughly the same time by two very different practitioners versed in two very different arts: Baldassare Castiglione’s treatise on the art of the courtier and Benvenuto Cellini’s on the art of the goldsmith. In the fourth and final section, I explore what I take to be both significant and new about the Italian Renaissance treatment of the arts and then investigate some salient aspects of Jacob Burckhardt’s famous claim that the very concept of art (in his terms “Kunst”) lay at the heart

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