Not so radical criticism

Submitted by Staff blogger on 6 December, 1999 - 12:00

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