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Reviewed by:
  • Renaissance Medievalisms
  • Sherry Roush (bio)
Renaissance Medievalisms. Edited by Konrad Eisenbichler. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2009. 360 pp. Paper $37.00.

As its title suggests, this volume’s contributions seek to investigate the myriad ways in which late fourteenth-through early seventeenth-century thinkers embraced, appropriated, critiqued, and/or distanced themselves from the strains of knowledge and culture that immediately preceded them [End Page 606] in the so-called medium aevum, the middle period between antiquity and the “rebirth” of the arts and sciences. Nineteenth-century historians, including Jules Michelet, Georg Voigt, and most prominently Jakob Burckhardt, conceived of the Renaissance in all disciplines as a period distinct from the Middle Ages, representing the beginnings of modernity. In spite of the many twentieth-century reconsiderations of this position, including Joan Kelly-Gadol’s groundbreaking contribution “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” and Jessie Ann Owens’s study “Was There a Renaissance in Music?” Eisenbichler notes that current thought tends to posit “a compromise solution that postulates both a rebirth and a multifaceted continuum, thus allowing for the existence of a plethora of realities and coexistent worlds that got along happily together and slowly advanced, at their own individual speeds, towards the ‘modernity’ that is us today” (19).

It is precisely the examination of this tension between Renaissance/humanist/early modern notions of both breaking from the so-called dark ages and standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before them that underlies each of the essays in this volume. Moreover, the overall message seems to be that the intellectual orientation of this period appears even more complex than we already know it to be.

The editor has collected a remarkable array of presentations from an international “Renaissance Medievalisms” conference held at Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 2006. For a volume that contains a whopping fifteen essays, the scholarship is surprisingly consistent in its extremely high quality. The editor and guest series editor, Olga Zorzi Pugliese, also deserve praise for ensuring that the contributions—which range from literary philology to natural science examinations, art historical analyses, theological investigations, women’s history, and accounts of geographical explorations, from scholars working as far afield as Cambridge, North Dakota, Newfoundland, Bruxelles, Ottawa, Belfast, and Valencia, among other locales—all embrace a spirit of dialogue and consummate accessibility.

Paul F. Grendler’s “Continuity and Change in Italian Universities between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance” opens the first section of the volume titled “The Constantly Changing Continuum” by considering the second most important and enduring medieval institution after the Roman Catholic Church. Grendler reveals both striking similarities between medieval and Renaissance university curricula, and their important differences, largely due to the linguistic, philological, and historical tools provided by humanism. Grendler notes that humanistic thinking radically transformed the disciplines of medicine and natural science, for instance, [End Page 607] while the fields of law and theology clung more tenaciously to their medieval understandings. Other contributions in this section include “What Counted as an ‘Antiquity’ in the Renaissance?” (Alexander Nagel and Christopher S. Wood), “Leone Ebreo’s Appropriation of Boccaccio’s De Genealogia Deorum Gentilium” (James Nelson Novoa), “The Fables of Bidpai from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Donald Beecher), and “Shakespeare’s Reformed Virgin” (Gary Waller).

The second section, “Appropriating for Current Purposes,” presents various examples of the ways Renaissance writers rely on medieval sources or attitudes to assert their differences. Natalie Rothman examines Istanbul-born dragoman Giovanni Battista Salvago’s characterization of Ottoman otherness, borrowed from medieval commonplaces, to make a case for his own self-fashioned role as a Renaissance “Venetian” adviser and spokesman. Likewise, Lidia Radi demonstrates how Guillaume Michel used two very medieval literary forms, the mirror of princes and the fictional epistle, to create a kind of Renaissance ideal—perhaps more akin in spirit to Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier—in Le penser de royal memoire. Rounding out this section are contributions by Brian Gourley (“Carnivalising Apocalyptic History in John Bale’s King Johan and Three Laws”), Philippa Sheppard (“The Puzzle of Pucelle or Pussel: Shakespeare’s Joan of Arc Compared with Two Antecedents”), and Linda Vecchi (“A...


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