Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance

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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

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Arguing that acquisitiveness ranked among the chief traits of leading Renaissance figures, Jardine (Erasmus, Man of Letters), a noted British academic, seeks to reinterpret the forces at work in an era traditionally defined in terms of the triumph of humanism. Writing with critical intelligence and authority, Jardine characterizes the artistic masterpieces of the period as "strictly commercial" undertakings designed to glorify their owners while doubling as convertible capital. Extravagant expenditures on conspicuous display in the interest of dynasty-building drew the Habsburg emperor Maximilian so deeply into debt to Jakob Fugger, the prominent German financier, that Maximilian was forced to cede long-term rights in the profits from his silver and copper mines in exchange for further loans. The struggle to control the globe led to intrigue at the highest levels-both Columbus and Magellan took advantage of stolen maps for their landmark voyages-and Jardine's examination of exploration and commerce provides a window onto the times. Her extended discussion of the rapidly emerging book trade highlights the role of financiers such as the Medicis, the Pope's main bankers, whose keen interest in profits led them to ensure that even books proscribed by the Church remained in circulation. By analyzing the Renaissance narrowly in terms of the ascendancy of modern mercantile capitalism, Jardine likens the period to our own. The risk of such an approach is to slight the hold of antiquity on the shapers of our modern world. Author tour. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
A perceptive history of the Renaissance from an original angle: its appetite for material possessions.

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.

From Barnes & Noble
Traditionally the Renaissance has been described as a transcendent moment in time when the classical humanistic spirit fought its way out of the Dark Ages, unleashing a flood of art and learning. Lisa Jardine's highly entertaining revisionist history links Renaissance culture to the creation of wealth and the rise of a newly affluent class of merchants and traders. Professor Jardine paints a lively, if jarring picture of a distant time as crassly materialistic and consumer-driven as our own. Describing vicious commercial battles for silks and spices and fierce competition to acquire the latest printed books and works of art, she explores the Renaissance world from its western borders in Christendom to its eastern reaches in the Ottoman Empire, arguing persuasively arguing that the rebirth of learning was as much a byproduct of an overzealous consumer society as an out-pouring of art for art's sake, exposing a startling materialistic side to the Golden Age of European history as never before. Color and black and white illustrations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393318661
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Jardine is professor of English and dean of the Faculty of Arts at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. She is the author of many works, including Erasmus, Man of Letters.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue 3
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
8 Conspicuous Consumption 377
Epilogue 425
Bibliography 437
Index 453
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