Compared with the glorious Middle Ages, the Renaissance was thought to be dominated by the aggressive individualism of petty and unscrupulous tyrants, pedantic scholars, arrogant artists, and self-made men. Naive though this romantic simplification of history now seems, lying behind it was a more serious consideration about the nature of power and authority. Romantic medievalism in France fed the Catholic revival, which, in its turn, took this construction of the historical past to the heart of contemporary politics. Several figures employed the Renaissance and its historiography as a vehicle for the expression of values of a much more private nature. The growth and evolution of the idea of the Renaissance provides a fascinating insight into the nature of its mythographers. We also learn something about ideas of authority in the nineteenth century, and about the Victorian sense of self. These ideas were applied in many other fields, but the diversity of responses to the Renaissance furnishes graphic examples of one culture trying to come to terms with another.
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