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The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing$
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J. B. Bullen

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780198128885

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198128885.001.0001

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The Renaissance among the Historians Roscoe and Sismondi

The Renaissance among the Historians Roscoe and Sismondi

Chapter:
3 The Renaissance among the Historians Roscoe and Sismondi
Source:
The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing
Author(s):

J. B. BULLEN

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198128885.003.0004

Two works are remarkable for their passionate, partial, and enormously influential interpretation of Italian history. The first was William Roscoe’s Life of Lorenzo de Medici (1796), and the second was J. C. L. Simonde de Sismondi’s Histoire des républiques italiennes au moyen âge, which first appeared in 1807 and, until the middle of the nineteenth century, was the principal authority on medieval Italy. Neither of these invoked or employed the periodic term ‘Renaissance’, but such was their status as authoritative histories that it is impossible to ignore them in the subsequent evolution of the idea of the Renaissance in the nineteenth century. In Roscoe’s narrative, the Medici are a benign and wise family, dominated by the talented, sensitive, and wise Lorenzo; in Sismondi’s version, the Medici are a tyrannical and unscrupulous dynasty, dominated by a hypocritical monster. The extraordinary divergence between these two myths is characteristic of the treatment of the Renaissance throughout most of the nineteenth century, and it derives from a new approach to the historical field which can be traced to these years.

Keywords:   Renaissance, William Roscoe, Simonde de Sismondi, history, Italy, Lorenzo de Medici, myths

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