The Renaissance was a time in history that seems almost fantasy to most humans of today. Heroes from the artist Michelangelo to the poet Dante remain heroes of our own. This period is credited for the revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning, transforming the West from medieval to modern. What was the renaissance though? In The Renaissance: A Short History by Paul Johnson, the author tackles this question. Perhaps answering this question to the public is what inspired him to write the book.
Paul Johnson manages to answer this complex question in a very short space. He begins by giving a discussion of the economic, technological, and cultural factors that both brought about the Renaissance. He touches on significant dates of events that mark turning points in Western Civilization; Examples of these are 1492, when Spain entered the early modern age, and 1485 when England entered the early modern age. Next he proceeds to cover literature, sculpture, architecture, and painting of the Renaissance, each in their own chapters, mainly focusing on individual authors, sculptors, architects and painters. After that he proceeds to cover the spread and decline of the Renaissance. He offers a balanced account of how aspects like warfare in Italy, Protestant iconoclasm (protestants breaking religious Catholic images), and the Catholics reaction to this, ended a period in which Europe's defining artists lived.
Mr. Johnson ended the book without really summing it up. His final chapter was based on facts of the spread and decline of the Renaissance. Nowhere in it did he resource back to the previous chapters of his book and come up with a conclusion. One could, however, say that the last chapter was a conclusion, in that it covered the spread and decline of the Renaissance.
"What was the Renaissance?," was and was not answered in an intellectually satisfying manner. His background at the beginning was intellectually satisfying in that it provided a useful background and some turning points in the Western civilization.