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By Pierre Pellegrin

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If there ever had been a “Dark Age,” it was already past during the great centuries of medieval civilization. The weaknesses in this traditional but distorted picture of the Middle Ages were already being revealed by a remarkable flowering of medieval studies that was under way even when Burckhardt wrote. As the achievements of the Middle Ages began to be recognized, it became hard to regard the Renaissance as simply a rediscovery of “civilization” after centuries when it had somehow got lost. By the 1930s many medieval specialists questioned whether there was ever any Renaissance at all.

Landmarks in the history of art are included from the late 13th century to the early 17th century. The rather arbitrary starting date is 1250, the death of the last Holy Roman Emperor to have significant political authority in Italy. The terminal events (which, like the condemnation of Copernican astronomy and the imprisonment of Galileo, might well be regarded as part of a post-Renaissance age) are the English civil wars of the 1640s and the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. Some dates in the list are approximate.

If the classical literary tradition as a whole had any value at all for later European civilization, its availability depended on the ancient Latin and Greek texts discovered, edited, and (after the 1450s) printed by humanist scholars. It is difficult for our unclassical age to realize how profoundly the culture of Europe and America was shaped by this classical heritage. The gain from the humanists’ work was not merely quantitative but also qualitative: more was known about ancient thought and society, but in addition, that knowledge was understood in a new way.

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