Human civilization is marked by incidents captivated in the pages of historical documents as they bear the complete transition of art, culture, literature, and society. Renaissance is one such event in the history of human civilization that marks a complete metamorphosis of the society. Therefore, an in-depth study and myriad perspectives presented by the authors and historians across the world would open a new vista of thought-process pertaining to the movement that not only enlightens the minds of the readers but also helps to understand the struggle and glory of the yesteryears.
The Renaissance: A Short History – Trajectory of the By-gone Days
Paul Johnson, an eminent writer, journalist, historian, and speechwriter takes the initiative to set off the ever-inquisitive minds into a journey of the glorious by-gone years during the Renaissance movement and give a new vision and fresh arena to the much-dealt term and era in the history of human civilization. Paul Johnson captivates his serious readings regarding the Renaissance and the forgotten glorious yesteryears in his epoch-making document bearing the testimony of the movement and the development of art and culture during the time in his book, “The Renaissance: A Short History”.
The enlightening book, “The Renaissance: A Short History” is undoubtedly one of the very brief historical presentations of the most elaborate period of human history. The enlightening 208 pages of this terse volume enable the readers to look upon the movement and the period from a different dimension that was never dealt before in the historical canon. As the Romantic period in English literature was much influenced by the precursors of the period, like-wise Johnson’s main contention regarding the movement and precisely the cultural evolvement during the period, concerned the pertinent influence of the post-Greco-Roman and post-Roman European works. Johnson repeatedly drew upon these influences and tried to analyze their effect on the works that evolved during the Renaissance period. Johnson contended that Renaissance was a term of “common usage” and looked upon the movement as a mass protest or petition keeping it far away from the general contention of cultural movement from the cradle of academia and elitists.
Johnson also viewed the movement essentially as a socio-economic reform and in the first section of the book, thoroughly assessed the social and economic background against which the movement surged up, “Most generations, of all human societies, have a propensities to look back on golden ages and seek to restore them” (Johnson, “The Renaissance: A Short History”, Pg – 5).
Very systematically, Johnson then started examining the Renaissance literature and sculptor by drawing large inferences from the anatomy of the Renaissance art, architecture and sculptors and trying to trace the Greco-Roman and European influences amid them. To support this fact in the very third page of the book Johnson mentions, “they were conscious that a cultural rebirth of a kind was taking place, and that some of the literary, philosophical and artistic grandeur of ancient Greece and Rome was being re-created” (Johnson, “The Renaissance: A Short History”, Pg – 3).
Very significantly, he also tried to put the chronological order of the creations and creative canon of the period along with his clear view on the number of controversial books that were printed in and across Europe during the period including the evolution of the polyphonic music of the 16th century.
Johnson, in a very terse way, projects the biographies of many prominent creative artists of the period. At the same time, he also draws inferences on the relationships and exchanges between these prominent aesthetic canons during the time. Renaissance is largely viewed from the perspective of the artistic, religious and economic trends. Johnson’s repetition of the fact that a large number of influences in the Renaissance period were drawn from the post-Roman European period hints at the fact that Johnson was never very convinced with the idea of putting the movement Renaissance into a paradigm where it is considered as a revolution that has an exclusive origin and entity. And to prove this fact, Johnson redundantly hinted on the fact of the Renaissance artists being influenced by the ancient models. Johnson pointed that the Roman model was practiced by the study of the classic letters which were engraved and the elaborate use of the pagan myths as themes by the artists in their works indicate that the scholars incessantly started scrutinizing and exploring the scriptural texts and the thematic influences from the Bible were avoided.
Johnson also had thrown light on the use of tempera on the wet plaster and the use of canvas and oil painting made the work of the artist more comfortable than the frescoes. Drawing on myriad aspects of art and literature, the most important facet of Renaissance that was explored by Johnson was to disclaim the exclusive dependence of the Renaissance artist on the ecclesia or pertinently the church. Johnson was the first historian to break the conventional idea regarding the monopoly of religion or church upon the aesthetic world. He contended that the movement of the Renaissance was more humanistic in nature and had a large influence of pagan influence on it.
Indeed there are innumerable texts that deal and throw light on the most fascinating and historically important period of Renaissance. But only a few texts like “The Renaissance: A Short History” by Paul Johnson provides a different aspect, a new vista to the movement and the time enlightening the world by a short and brief glimpse of the elaborate period by significantly drawing upon the subtle and intricate phenomena operating throughout the entire time period. The separation of church from the movement of the Renaissance and the pertinent influence of pagan world into the aesthetic developments of the period are truly significant inventions in the canon of history.
Johnson, Paul. The Renaissance: A Short History. Modern Library, 2002.