Burckhardt, Jacob Christoph

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Burckhardt, Jacob Christoph

Jacob Christoph Burckhardt (yä´kôp krĬs´tôf bŏŏrk´härt), 1818–97, Swiss historian, one of the founders of the cultural interpretation of history. He studied under Ranke at the Univ. of Berlin and taught (1844–53, 1858–93) art history and history at the Univ. of Basel. His best-known work is Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (1860, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, available in many English editions). It remains the classic on the subject, although its primarily political and cultural interpretation of the Renaissance is controversial among historians. Believing in a pattern of culture peculiar to each age, Burckhardt found the shift from corporate medieval society to the modern spirit occurring in Italy in the 14th and 15th cent. The strife between empire and papacy had created a political and moral vacuum, leading to the birth of the modern self-conscious state and the liberation of the creative individual. Burckhardt saw Renaissance humanism as the revival of classical antiquity, and the era as one of man's joyous new discovery of himself and the world about him. He profoundly influenced his friend Nietzsche, and the work of J. A. Symonds is based largely on Burckhardt's synthesis. In The Age of Constantine the Great (1852, tr. 1949), Burckhardt analyzed the transition from classical times to the Middle Ages. Among his other works on history and art is Cicerone (1855), a guide to Italian art. Selections from his posthumously published lecture notes on ancient Greece have appeared in translation as The Greeks and Greek Civilization (1998). Burckhardt feared that spiritual and aesthetic human values were doomed to submersion by the rise of industrial democracy.

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