Not so radical criticism

Andrew Billen perceives an implausible amount of revolutionary content in Andrew Graham-Dixon's Renaissance series (Television, 29 November). "Even a civilian," we are told, "could hear the critical icons being smashed." But only a Rip Van Winkle of a civilian could believe that the icons were still being worshipped.

That the 15th century in Italy "was not a time of spontaneous change"; that what we call "the renaissance" was prepared for by a couple of centuries of slow development in a variety of places; that Vasari over-dramatised the importance of figures such as Giotto - these are all entirely acceptable views, which have been current for a couple of scholarly generations. Both Billen and Graham-Dixon (in his preview remarks on his own programme, rather than in the programme itself) offer a level of hype that is misleading: they imply that the 19th-century views of Jacob Burckhardt are still holy writ, rather than a formulation which has been deconstructed several times over.

The first programme in the series was perceptive, useful and well made; it offered a valid entree into the whole concept of the renaissance; but it was not revolutionary.

Richard Andrews
Professor of Italian, University of Leeds

This article first appeared in the 06 December 1999 issue of the New Statesman, My night with Mad Frankie Fraser