THE CIVILIZATION OF EUROPE IN THE RENAISSANCE by John Hale

THE CIVILIZATION OF EUROPE IN THE RENAISSANCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A deft survey by a leading British authority on the period's political, military, and art history. Hale presents the Renaissance as the age in which, first through cartography, the nations of Europe (Britain included) gained an awareness of being, however precariously, a cohesive entity. But he places as much stress on the countries' developing prejudices, antipathies, and insular ""mini-economies"" as on their sense of kinship or alliance. After chapters mapping the ""discovery"" of Europe as an idea, its countries, and its divisions, Hale crosses these borders to discuss ""transformations,"" ""transmissions,"" and ""migrating styles"" of art and culture. His examples of local adaptations of Italian works are particularly telling, e.g., a Polish translator of Castiglione's Courtier removed the women from its dialogues, sure that his readers would doubt ""their participation in such a cultivated debate."" Hale, while furnishing essential information on the culture's immense achievements, ultimately stresses Renaissance Europe's blind spots and omissions, shortcomings and contradictions. Sensual indulgence as opposed to new social controls is exemplified by the fact that ""one out of seven"" Britons were accused of sexual misconduct in Elizabethan England and the inclusion of prostitutes as guests at Vatican entertainments; other problems range from the lack of practical theories of social reform to the excess of engineering ideas that were ""theoretically plausible but impractical"" yet were ""accepted by the wisest council of the soberest government[s] of Europe."" Galileo, who destroyed the very premises of astrology, still ""cast horoscopes for his Medici patrons and their friends."" While noting Europe's growing sense of modernity, Hale also traces the continent's cultural ""drawing in on itself,"" regions' rising separatism, cities' found-and-lost civility, and individuals' adoption of ""Melancholy"" out of ""hopeless... inner confusion."" The art descriptions are wittily precise, the illustrations well-chosen, and the quotations often come from superb period translations. Masterful portraiture.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
Page count: 648pp
Publisher: Atheneum