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"Fascinating. . . . A notable achievement. . . . Real history is in the details, the small stories, of which Worldly Goods is a treasure house."—Richard Bernstein, New York Times
In this provocative and wholly absorbing work, Lisa Jardine offers a radical interpretation of the Renaissance, arguing that the creation of culture during that time was inextricably tied to the creation of wealth — that the expansion of commerce spurred the expansion of thought. As Jardine boldly states, "The seeds of our own exuberant multiculturalism and bravura consumerism were planted in the European Renaissance." While Europe's royalty and merchants competed with each other to acquire works of art, vicious commercial battles were being fought over who should control the centers for trade around the globe. Jardine encompasses Renaissance culture from its western borders in Christendom to its eastern reaches in the Islamic Ottoman Empire, bringing this opulent epoch to life in all its material splendor and competitive acquisitiveness. "A savvy, street-smart history of the Renaissance."—Dan Cryer, Newsday "Jardine's lively book is specific and down-to-earth. A particularly fascinating section recalls how books suddenly ceased to be principally collector's items or aids to scholars and became the sixteenth century's Internet, dispensing fact and fancy to high and low."—The New Yorker
Jardine (English/Univ. of London) argues that the unashamed pursuit of valuable possessions, including great religious and secular art, was a defining characteristic of the period. The new age of learning and exploration was also, she reminds us, an age driven by the urge to own, to publicly succeed, and the author views the typical "Renaissance man" as being motivated by conspicuous consumption as much as by humanist principles. The leading members of Renaissance society sought to live in ornate palaces filled with fine paintings, sculpture, marble and rare stone, porcelain, Venetian glass, silk from China, broadcloth from London, rich velvet, and fine tapestries and carvings—hardly the spiritual symbols of a deeply religious era. Yet Renaissance religious art reflected a true spirituality: Most Renaissance artists believed that only the very best was good enough to honor their sacred subjects. In Jardine's view, the Renaissance uniquely combined the sacred with the profane: She cites examples of literature and art that blithely mixed a celebration of valuable commodities with sacred themes. During the Renaissance, city-states like Venice and Genoa grew fat channeling the riches and spices of the Orient into Europe. Trading, capital investment, banking, and credit all accelerated the creation of a new wealthy class. Ostentation reflected the authority of powerful princes of the states and the Church, and the achievements of great merchants. Some innovations improved the lot of the common man and inspired more humble consumption. In particular, the invention of the printing press made formerly handwritten rare copies of Greek and Roman classics available to learned commoners.
Jardine's primary research and conclusions appear sound and convincing, providing new insights into the acquisitive basis of a fascinating age that helped to shape our world.
|List of Illustrations|
|1||Conditions for Change: Goods in Profusion||35|
|2||The Price of Magnificence||91|
|3||The Triumph of the Book||133|
|4||Learning to Be Civilized||181|
|5||New Expertise for Sale||229|
|6||A Culture of Commodities||275|
|7||Mapping the Heavens||331|