Jacob Burckhardt's "Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy," published in 1860, is one of the greatest and most influential works of art history ever published. Breaking with a tradition of art criticism as old as the Renaissance itself, the great Swiss scholar did not present his history in unbroken chronological sequence but in path-breaking topical essays on such subjects as political life, the recovery of classical learning, the new attitude toward physical reality, and so forth. In each essay, he told his entire story over again, in effect, each time adding something new. The result, like an oil painting to which many thin layers of paint have been applied by a master hand, had a depth and luminosity never before achieved.
Burckhardt intended his great work to be joined by a companion volume on the history of Italian Renaissance art. Though he never finished that work, he did salvage from it near the end of his life, three extended essays, of which this book presents one. Divided into chapters, readably translated, judiciously introduced and annotated by art historian Peter Humfrey, and--above all--gorgeously illustrated with dozens of the works to which Burckhardt refers, it is a book that amateurs may read with pleasure even if, as I suspect, it may be mainly of historical interest to professionals.