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Advanced Study Option: Italian Renaissance Humanism

This module covers aspects of the character and development of Italian humanism between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries (see provisional outline below). In addition to offering a discussion of some of the movement’s main figures and writings, it asks what Renaissance humanism actually was, how it related to other developments in philosophy, culture, and art, and to what extent its engagement with antiquity was circumscribed to Greece and Rome. A significant aspect of this module will be engagement with historiographical models of humanism from the mid-nineteenth century until now. There is some freedom to modify the outline below if students would like to spend more time on certain aspects (or less on others). Tutorials typically last between 1 hour and 1.5 hours per week.

All set texts must be read in preparation for tutorials, along with selected items from the secondary readings. Answers to the week’s questions, together with textual evidence (where relevant) and any interesting observations based on the material, should be written up by the student(s) and brought to that week’s tutorial.

Generally helpful for many of the topics below are the essays in Albert Rabil, Jr. (ed.), Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms and Legacy, 3 vols.


Proposed module outline:

Week 1: Mapping Humanism

Week 2: Humanism and Education

Week 3: Greek Emigrés and Greek Studies

Week 4: Humanist Debates on Latin and Translation

Week 5: Humanism and Textual Scholarship (particularly in Religious and Biblical Studies)

Week 6 [Reading Week; no class]

Week 7: Humanism and the Arts

Week 8: Manuscript and Print Cultures

Week 9: Renaissance Philosophy

Week 10: Humanism and the Vernacular


* Week 1: Mapping Humanism

Set Texts: J. Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (orig. German version, 1860) – P.O. Kristeller, ‘Humanism and Scholasticism in the Italian Renaissance’ (1944–45), rpt. numerous times, including in idem, Renaissance Thought and its Sources – E. Garin, L’umanesimo italiano: filosofia e vita civile nel Rinascimento (also available in English transl.) – E. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy (Eng. transl. from 1964 and later) – Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (1955, rev. 1966).

Suggested Secondary Reading: A. Campana, ‘The Origin of the Word “Humanist”’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 9 (1946), 60–73 ­– D. Hay, ‘The Place of Hans Baron in Renaissance Historiography’, in Renaissance Studies in Honor of Hans Baron (Dekalb, 1971) – L. Bianchi, ‘Ernst Cassirer interprete del Rinascimento’, ACME, 21.1 (genn-aprile 1978) – W.K. Ferguson, The Renaissance in Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Interpretation (1981) – J.M. Krois, Cassirer: Symbolic Forms and History (New Haven, 1987) – J. Hankins, ‘The “Baron Thesis” after Forty Years and Some Recent Studies of Leonardo Bruni’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 56.2 (1995), 309–338 – The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, ed. J. Kraye (1996) – G. Cacciatore, ‘Dilthey e Cassirer interpreti del Rinascimento’, Rinascimento, 37 (1997), 45–63 – R. Black, ‘Humanism’ in The New Cambridge Medieval History, VII, 243–277 (1998) or in Renaissance Thought: A Reader, ed. Robert Black (2001) – R. G. Witt, ‘In the Footsteps of the Ancients’: The Origins of Humanism from Lovato to Bruni (Brill, 2000) – essays in Kristeller Reconsidered, ed. J. Monfasani (New York, 2006) – Eugenio Garin: dal Rinascimento all’Illuminismo. Atti del Convegno: Firenze, 6-8 marzo 2009 (Rome–Florence, 2011) – S. Toussaint, ‘Kristeller e Garin: polemiche umanistiche’, Historia Philosophica: An International Journal, 12 (2014), 11–24 – J. Kraye, ‘Beyond Moral Philosophy: Renaissance Humanism and the Philosophical Canon’, Rinascimento, 56 (2016), 3–22.

Questions: What are some of the different ways in which humanism has been defined and therefore studied across the years? In what ways did humanism represent (or not) a break with the Middle Ages? Did humanism, for instance, result in a higher attention to the individual, or to a replacement of theological thinking with irreligious attitudes?


* Week 2: Humanism and Education

Set Texts: Leonardo Bruni, On the Study of Literature, in Humanist Educational Treatises, ed. and trans. C. W. Kallendorf (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008) or in J. Hankins and D. Thompson, The Humanism of Leonardo Bruni: Selected texts, Translations and Introductions (Binghamton, N.Y. : Medieval & Renaissance Texts Studies in conjunction with the Renaissance Society of America, 1987) [English translation of the text and commentary]

Suggestions for Secondary Reading: - R. Sabbadini, Il metodo degli umanisti (1922) – P. O. Kristeller, ‘The Humanist Movement’ (1955), in idem, Renaissance Thought and its Sources, 21–32 – E. Garin, Educazione umanistica in Italia (Bari, 1975) – A. Grafton and L. Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (London: Duckworth, 1986) – P. F. Grendler, Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning, 1300–1600 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989) – R. Black, Education and Society in Renaissance Tuscany (Leiden, 2007–) – P. F. Grendler, The Universities of the Italian Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) – D. A. Lines, Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ in the Italian Renaissance (ca. 1300–1650): The Universities and the Problem of Moral Education (Brill, 2002), ch. 5 – D. A. Lines, ‘Humanism and the Italian Universities’, in Humanism and Creativity in the Renaissance: Essays in Honor of Ronald G. Witt, ed. C. S. Celenza and K. Gouwens (Brill, 2006), 327–346.

Questions: What trends (continuities, innovations) are observable in education between the ‘medieval’ and ‘Renaissance’ periods? Can these features help to define or justify this historical periodisation? How do the ideas of Bruni engage with these educational trends/how can they be situated historically and intellectually? Are the approaches and effects of humanism different if one examines schools and university education?


*Week 3: Greek Emigrés and Greek Studies

Set Text: Aldus Manutius, The Greek Classics, ed. and transl. by N. G. Wilson (Harvard University Press, 2016).

Secondary Reading: R. Sabbadini, Il metodo degli umanisti (1922) –D. A. Lines, Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ in the Italian Renaissance (Brill, 2002) – L. Bianchi, ‘Sull’insegnamento di Aristotele in greco’, in idem, Studi sull’aristotelismo del Rinascimento (Il Poligrafo, 2003), 180-183 – J. Monfasani, ‘Greek Renaissance Migrations’ and ‘L’insegnamento di Teodoro Gaza a Ferrara’ in his Greeks and Latins in Renaissance Italy: Studies on Humanism and Philosophy in the 15th Century (Ashgate, 2004) – J. Monfasani, ‘The Greeks and Renaissance Humanism’, in Humanism in Fifteenth-Century Europe, ed. D. Rundle (Oxford, 2004), 31–78 – N. G. Wilson, “‘Utriusque linquae peritus’: How Did One Learn Greek and Acquire the Texts?” in Italy and the Classical Tradition: Language, Thought and Poetry, 1300-1600, eds Carlo Caruso and Andrew Laird (London: Duckworth, 2009), pp. 62-70 – P. Botley, Learning Greek in Western Europe, 1396–1529: Grammars, Lexica, and Classroom Texts  (American Philosophical Society, 2010) – J. Monfasani, Greek Scholars between East and West in the Fifteenth Century (Ashgate, 2016) – N. G. Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 2nd ed. (Bloomsbury, 2017). Cf. Q. Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1978).

Questions: To what extent does 1453 represent a watershed in the development of Renaissance humanism? How skilled were Italian humanists in the fifteenth century in dealing with and printing Greek works? How quickly did Greek have an actual and discernable effect on university teaching? How important was the Greek vs. the Latin legacy for moral philosophers and political theorists?


* Week 4: Humanist Debates on Latin and Translation

Set Texts: Leonardo Bruni’s ‘Preface to the Appearance of a New Translation of Aristotle’s Ethics’, ‘On the Correct Way to Translate’, and ‘Letter to Flavio Biondo on the Latin Language’, all in The Humanism of Leonardo Bruni, eds. Griffiths, Hankins and Thompson, 213–234; cf. eds. and transl. in ‘Leonardus Flavio Foroliniensi S. Quaerit an vulgus et literati eodem modo locuti sint’, in Flavio Biondo, Leonardo Bruni, Poggio Bracciolini, Lorenzo Valla, Débats humanists sur la langue parlée dans l’Antiquité, ed. and trans. by A. Raffarin (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2015), pp. 172-189 [Latin text and French translation] and Leonardo Bruni, De recta interpretatione, in Opere letterarie e politiche, ed. by P. Viti (Turin: UTET, 1996), pp. 150-192.

Suggestions for Secondary Reading: Entries ‘Latin Language’ and ‘Translation’ in The Classical Tradition – J. Hankins, ‘The New Language’, in The Humanism of Leonardo Bruni, 197–212 – J. Hankins, Plato in the Italian Renaissance (Brill, 1990) – K. Jensen, ‘The Humanist Reform of Latin and Latin Teaching’ and J. Kraye, ‘Philologists and Philosophers’, both in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism (1996) – P. Botley, Latin Translation in the Renaissance: The Theory and Practice of Leonardo Bruni, Giannozzo Manetti, and Desiderius Erasmus (Cambridge University Press, 2004) – J. Monfasani, ‘George of Trebizond’s Critique of Theodore Gaza’s Translation of the Aristotelian Problemata’ (2006), in his Greek Scholars between East and West in the Fifteenth Century (Ashgate, 2016) – C. S. Celenza, ‘End Game. Humanistic Latin in the Fifteenth Century’, in Latinitas perennis. Volume II: Appropriation and Latin Literature, ed. by Y. Maes, J. Papy, and W. Verbaal (Leiden: Brill, 2009), pp. 201-244. – S. F. Johnson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, last chapter (Late Antiquity and the Italian Renaissance) – S. Rizzo, ‘Latin in the Period of Humanism’, translation by R. Johnson – J. Ramminger, “Neo-Latin: Character and Development”, in Ph. Ford, J. Bloemendal and Ch. Fantazzi (eds.), Brill’s Encyclopaedia of the Neo-Latin World (Brill, 2014), Chapter 2, available at

Questions: What is the cultural context behind Bruni's views on Latin language? Was Bruni's theory of translation revolutionary, and how was it problematic? How interested (or not) were humanists in capturing the style of the original in their translations? Are humanistic translations of ancient texts as perfect as the De recta interpretatione claims them to be? What happened when ancient texts transmitted views that Christians could not countenance? Was translation centred on classical texts or on ancient ones more broadly? Was the medieval tradition ignored?


* Week 5: Humanism and Textual Scholarship (particularly in Religious and Biblical Studies)

Set Text: Lorenzo Valla, On the Donation of Constantine, ed. and trans. G. W. Bowersock (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 2-11 and 155-161. Also

Suggestions for Secondary Reading: Entry ‘Donation of Constantine’ in The Classical Tradition – *J. H. Bentley, Humanists and Holy Writ: New Testament Scholarship in the Renaissance (Princeton University Press, 1983) – A. Grafton, Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450–1800 (Harvard University Press, 1991) – R. Delph, ‘Valla Grammaticus, Agostino Steuco, and the Donation of Constantine’, Journal of the History of Ideas 57 (1996), 55-77 – R. Fubini, ‘Humanism and Truth: Valla Writes against the Donation of Constantine’, Journal of the History of Ideas 57 (1996), 79-86 – A. Hamilton, Ch. 6 in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism (Cambridge University Press, 1996) – R. Griffiths, The Bible in the Renaissance: Essays on Biblical Commentary and Translation in the Fifteenth and the Sixteenth Centuries (Ashgate, 2001) – E. Rummel (ed.), Biblical Humanism and Scholasticism in the Age of Erasmus (Brill, 2008), chapters by Monfasani and Grendler – J. Monfasani, ‘Criticism of Biblical Humanists in Quattrocento Italy’ (2008), in his Renaissance Humanism, from the Middle Ages to Modern Times (Ashgate, 2015) – S. I. Camporeale, Christianity, Latinity, and Culture: Two Studies on Lorenzo Valla, ed. and trans. by P. Baker and C. S. Celenza (Brill, 2013) – E. Cameron (ed.), The New Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume III: From 1450 to 1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Questions: To what extent can one say that the Donation of Constantine could only have been written by a humanist, and why? What was the broader humanist approach to philology, and when did this start to develop into a serious study? What were the effects of both the Donation of Constantine and of Valla’s Annotations on the New Testament?


* Week 6 [Reading Week; no classes]


*Week 7: Humanism and the Arts

Set Texts: L.B. Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, tr. J. Rykwert, N. Leach and R. Tavernor (MIT, 1988) – Idem, On Painting and On Sculpture: The Latin Texts of ‘De pictura’ and ‘De statua’, ed. C. Grayson (Phaidon Press, 1972) – La disputa delle arti nel Quattrocento, ed. E. Garin (Florence, 1947).

Secondary literature: *E. Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1960, 1972) – *M. Baxendall, Giotto and the Orators (1971) – P.O. Kristeller, Renaissance Thought and the Arts (1990) – C. Smith, Architecture in the Culture of Early Humanism: Ethics, Aesthetics and Eloquence, 1400–1700 (Oxford University Press, 1992) – M. Baxandall, Words for Pictures: Seven Papers on Renaissance Art and Criticism (Yale University Press, 2003) – E. Hope, ‘Artists and Humanists’, in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism (1996) – L. Barkan, Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture (Yale University Press, 1999) – Architecture and Language: Constructing Identity in European Architecture, c. 1000–c. 1650, eds. G. Clarke and P. Crossley (Cambridge University Press, 2000) *A. Grafton, Leon Battista Alberti: Master Builder of the Italian Renaissance (Allen Lane, 2001) – L. Benevolo, The Architecture of the Renaissance, 2 vols. (tr. 2002) – The Notion of the Painter-Architect in Italy and the Southern Low Countries, ed. P. Lombaerde (Brepols, 2014).

Questions: To what extent were developments in written language reflected or not in the expressive modes of Renaissance art? Was there a strong sense of rivalry between literature and the visual arts, and in what ways was it addressed or resolved? In which arts did the influence of humanism appear in a more pronounced way, and why? Who were the main figures in the renewal of Italian Renaissance art? What was the fundamental difference between a restoration of classical architecture vs. that of the other visual arts?


*Week 8: Manuscript and Print Cultures

Set Texts: Aldus Manutius, Humanism and the Latin Classics, ed. and trans. John N. Grant (Harvard University Press, 2017).

Secondary Literature: *P. O. Kristeller, Iter Italicum: A Finding List ..., 6 vols (1963–1996) – L. Febvre, L’apparition du livre (English, 1976) – *E. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, 2 vols (Cambridge University Press, 1979, 1980) – M. Lowry, The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Cornell University Press, 1979) – B. Richardson, Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular Text, 1470–1600 (Cambridge University Press, 1994) – idem, Printing, Writers and Readers in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge University Press, 1999) – idem, Manuscript Culture in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge University Press, 2009) – M. Davies, Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (British Library, 1995) – M. Davies, ‘Humanism in Script and Print in the Fifteenth Century’, in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism (1996) – A. Grafton, Commerce with the Classics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers (University of Michigan Press, 1997) – Idem, Humanists with Inky Fingers: The Culture of Correction in Renaissance Europe (Florence: L.S. Olschki, 2011) – O. Mazal, Die Überlieferung der antiken Literatur im Buchdruck des 15. Jahrhundert, 3 vols. (Anton Hiersemann, 2003) – K. Crousaz, Érasme et le pouvoir de l’imprimerie (Antipodes, 2005) – Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisentein, eds. S. Alcorn Baron, E.N. Lindquist, E.F. Shevin (University of Massachusetts Press, 2007) – P. Gehl, Humanism for Sale (online) – Aldo Manuzio: la costruzione del mito, ed. M. Infelise (Marsilio, 2016).

Questions: To what extent did manuscript culture continue to characterize the production of works after the invention of printing? How revolutionary was the printing press? How do incunables differ from books printed after 1500? What kinds of books did Aldus Manutius print, and why was he important?


*Week 9: Renaissance Philosophy

Set Texts: choose from: Petrarch, De sui ipsius ac multorum ignorantia, in Renaissance Philosophy of Man – Ermolao Barbaro and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, in Filosofia o eloquenza, ed. F. Baùsi (Liguori, 1998) – Donato Acciaiuoli (item 5) and Marsilio Ficino (item 12) in Cambridge Translations of Renaissance Philosophical Texts, vol. 1, ed. J. Kraye (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Secondary Literature: E. Rice, Jr., The Renaissance Idea of Wisdom (1957) – B. Nardi, Saggi sull’aristotelismo padovano dal secolo XIV al XVI (Sansoni, 1958) – P.O. Kristeller, Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance (Stanford University Press, 1963) – E. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy (Eng. transl. from 1964 and later) – C. Trinkaus, In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought (Constable, 1970) – E. Garin, Storia della filosofia (also in English translation, 2008) – C. B. Schmitt, Aristotle and the Renaissance (Harvard University Press, 1983) – The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, ed. C. B. Schmitt et alii (Cambridge University Press, 1988) – J. Hankins, Plato in the Italian Renaissance, 2 vols (Brill, 1990, 1991) – B. P. Copenhaver and C. B. Schmitt, Renaissance Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1992) – A. Poppi, L’etica del Rinascimento tra Platone e Aristotele (La città del sole, 1997) – J. C. Margolin, Philosophies de la Renaissance (Paradigme, 1998) – Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy, eds J. Kraye and M. Stone (Routledge, 2000) – J. Kraye, Classical Traditions in Renaissance Philosophy (Ashgate, 2002) – C. Vasoli et al., Le filosofie del Rinascimento (Mondadori, 2002) – La filosofia del Rinascimento: figure e problemi, ed. G. Ernst (Carocci, 2003) – J. Monfasani, Greeks and Latins in Renaissance Italy: Studies on Humanism and Philosophy in the 15th Century (Ashgate, 2004) – C. Vasoli, La dialettica e la retorica dell’Umanesimo: ‘invenzione’ e ‘metodo’ nella cultura del XV e XVI secolo (La città del sole, 2004) – The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosophy, ed. J. Hankins (Cambridge University Press, 2007) – P. R. Blum, Philosophers of the Renaissance (Catholic University of America Press, 2010) – J. Monfasani, ‘The Humanists and the Plato–Aristotle Controversy of the Fifteenth Century’, in Testi e contesti per Amedeo Quondam, eds. Chiara Continisio and Marcello Fantoni (Rome, 2015), 79–94 (available from tutor in PDF) – Early Modern Philosophy and the Renaissance Legacy, eds. C. Muratori and G. Paganini (Springer, 2016) – D. A. Lines, ‘Defining Philosophy in Fifteenth-Century Humanism: Four Case Studies’, in Et Amicorum: Essays on Renaissance Humanism and Philosophy in Honour of Jill Kraye (Leiden, 2016), 281–297, available from tutor in PDF – T. Leinkauf, Grundriss Philosophie des Humanismus und der Renaissance, 2 vols. (Meiner, 2017) – S. Toussaint, ‘“My Friend Ficino”. Art History and Neo-Platonism: From Intellectual to Material Beauty’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 59.2 (2017), 147–173 (available from tutor in PDF).

Questions: In what ways is Renaissance philosophy separable from both its medieval and early modern counterparts? What is the relationship between humanism and Renaissance philosophy? What are some of the principal developments in Renaissance philosophy in terms of sources and themes? Would you say that Renaissance philosophy becomes more ‘man-centred’, and if so in which way(s)? How would you go about obtaining an overview of Renaissance philosophical works?


*Week 10: Humanism and the Vernacular

Set Texts: P. Bembo, Prose della volgar lingua (1530).

Secondary Literature: C. Dionisotti, Gli umanisti e il volgare fra Quattro e Cinquecento (1968; 5 Continents, 2003) – Tra latino e volgare: per Carlo Dionisotti (Antenore, 1974) – A. Mazzocco, Linguistic Theories in Dante and the Humanists: Studies of Language and Intellectual History in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Italy (Brill, 1993) – M. L. McLaughlin, Literary Imitation in the Italian Renaissance: The Theory and Practice of Literary Imitation in Italy from Dante to Bembo (Oxford University Press, 1995) M. L. McLaughlin, ‘Humanism and Italian Literature’; C. Caroll, ‘Humanism and English Literature in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries’, both in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, ed. J. Kraye (1996) – Il volgare come lingua di cultura dal Trecento al Cinquecento. Atti del convegno ..., eds A. Calzona et al. (Florence: L.S. Olschki, 2003) – L. Bianchi, ‘Volgarizzare Aristotele: per chi?’, Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, 59.2 (2012), 480-495 – ‘Aristotele fatto volgare’: Tradizione aristotelica e cultura volgare nel Rinascimento, eds. D. A. Lines and E. Refini (Pisa: ETS, 2014 [but 2015]) – Vernacular Aristotelianism in Italy from the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Century, eds L. Bianchi, S. Gilson, J. Kraye (Warburg Institute, 2016). Cf. F. Waquet, Latin or the Empire of a Sign (Verso 2001).

Questions: What problems did the vernacular encounter in affirming itself against the widespread use of Latin for literature and scholarship? To what extent did it follow the practices and debates of humanists in terms of imitation or emulation? In what areas particularly did vernacular culture find it challenging to emerge, and why? Were works in the vernacular directed to a different public than works in Latin? In philosophical works, does the vernacular act as a means of simplification?