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Centralisation

Peter Burke, 5 March 1981

State and Society in Europe 1550-1650 
by Victor Kiernan.
Blackwell, 309 pp., £12, December 1980, 0 226 47080 6
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... Every student and every teacher knows the importance of the ‘seminal article’, which packs into a few pages more ideas than many books. In the field of European history, one such article was ‘Foreign Mercenaries and Absolute Monarchy’, published in 1957 by Victor Kiernan. Professor Kiernan has many historical interests, and he moved on to The Revolution of 1854 in Spanish History (1966), and The Lords of Human Kind (1969), a discussion of 19th-century European attitudes to the rest of the world ...

How Venice worked

Peter Burke, 6 November 1980

Politics in Renaissance Venice 
by Robert Finlay.
Benn, 336 pp., £13.95, June 1980, 0 510 00085 1
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... While the Athenians, Spartans and Romans did not survive for more than six hundred years, this Republic has lasted for more than a thousand, because it was founded by Christians and given the most excellent laws in the name of Christ.’ So wrote the 16th-century Venetian diarist, Marin Sanudo, about his native city. Venetians believed that their republican regime had the secret of eternal life, and they persuaded others to believe this too ...

Flattery

Peter Burke, 16 September 1982

Le Roi-Machine: Spectacle et Politique au Temps de Louis XIV 
by Jean-Marie Apostolidès.
Les Editions de Minuit, 164 pp., £4.50
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Le Portrait du Roi 
by Louis Marin.
Les Editions de Minuit, 300 pp., £5.60
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... What was Racine’s strategy here? It is perhaps a pity that Marin did not follow the lead of Peter France and discuss the tension in Racine (or Boileau) between loyalty and independence, the strategies of criticism or self-defence as well as the strategies of praise. Such an approach would free him from the danger of reductionism. There remains the ...

Medieval Dreams

Peter Burke, 4 June 1981

Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages 
by Jacques Le Goff, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Chicago, 384 pp., £13.50, January 1981, 0 226 47080 6
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... did not fit into traditional pigeon-holes must be up to no good. The same idea seems to underlie Peter Abelard’s bold attempt, discussed by Le Goff in another essay, to assimilate university teachers to knights, describing arguments as weapons and disputations as battles or tournaments. He was trying to legitimate his own profession and incidentally to ...

Aliens

Peter Burke, 18 March 1982

The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought 
by John Friedman.
Harvard, 268 pp., £14, July 1981, 0 674 58652 2
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Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain 
by William Christian.
Princeton, 349 pp., £16.80, September 1981, 9780691053264
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... India and parts of Ethiopia teem with marvels,’ wrote Pliny in his Natural History. ‘The Gymnosophists stay standing from sunrise to sunset, gazing at the sun with eyes unmoving, and continue all day long standing first on one foot and then on the other in the glowing sand. Megasthenes states that … there is a tribe of human beings with dogs’ heads, who wear a covering of wild beasts’ skins, whose speech is barking … Ktesias describes a tribe of men called Sciopods (Umbrella-Feet), because in the hotter weather they lie on their backs on the ground and protect themselves with the shadow of their feet ...

God in Heaven send us peace

Peter Burke, 18 April 1985

The Thirty Years’ War 
by Geoffrey Parker.
Routledge, 340 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 7100 9788 3
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... Geoffrey Parker’s new book on the Thirty Years’ War is the first major study of the subject to appear in English for nearly half a century. To be more exact, it is now 47 years since the publication of a book on the war by C.V. Wedgwood, as she was then. That graceful and perceptive study – a remarkable achievement for a 28-year-old historian – remains an example of traditional narrative history at its formal best ...

Moderns and Masons

Peter Burke, 2 April 1981

The First Moderns: The Architects of the Eighteenth Century 
by Joseph Rykwert.
M.I.T., 585 pp., £27.50, September 1980, 0 262 18090 1
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... To omit architecture from cultural history would be absurd, but to integrate architecture, with its peculiar blend of abstraction, fantasy and technology, into a general history of culture is considerably more difficult than integrating images and texts. Where they are not obvious, utilitarian or problem-solving, the intentions of architects are remarkably hard to pin down ...

A Welcome for Foreigners

Peter Burke, 7 November 1991

The Golden Age of Painting in Spain 
by Jonathan Brown.
Yale, 330 pp., £39.95, January 1991, 0 300 04760 6
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Spanish Paintings of the 15th through 19th Centuries 
by Jonathan Brown and Richard Mann.
National Gallery of Art, Washington/Cambridge, 165 pp., £50, April 1991, 0 521 40107 0
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... I Judge that Spain is a pious mother to foreigners and a very cruel stepmother to her own native sons,’ complained the 17th-century painter Jusepe de Ribera, a Valencian who spent most of his career working in Naples. This variation on the theme of the prophet without honour in his own country will doubtless strike a chord for many writers and artists today, from Australia to Brazil ...

Grassi gets a fright

Peter Burke, 7 July 1988

Galileo: Heretic 
by Pietro Redondi, translated by Raymond Rosenthal.
Allen Lane, 356 pp., £17.95, April 1988, 0 7139 9007 4
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... One of the most intriguing features of the dramatic clash between Galileo and the Holy Office of the Inquisition is its apparently endless capacity to generate new hypotheses about the aims of the protagonists and even the minor figures in the cast. What was Galileo himself trying to do? Was he simply a disinterested investigator of nature, a man of science who found himself involved in theological controversy, more or less by accident? Was he a committed Copernican, as fanatical in his own way as his ecclesiastical opponents? Or was he a devout Catholic with his own ideas about the direction in which the Church should move? What were the aims of the Inquisitors? Were they disinterested investigators of deviators from orthodoxy, whoever these turned out to be, or were they trying to trap Galileo? If the latter, was anyone encouraging them from behind the scenes? What was the role of the Pope in all this – the pro-intellectual Urban VIII, in whose time Galileo was condemned, and the anti-intellectual Paul V, in whose time he received his first warning? What was the role of the Jesuit cardinal Roberto Bellarmino? It seems fairly clear that in 1616 Galileo was enjoined not to hold the proposition that the Sun is in the centre of the universe, that in 1633 he was tried by the Roman Inquisition on a charge of ‘vehement suspicion of heresy’, and that he was condemned to indefinite imprisonment, later commuted to house arrest in his Tuscan villa ...

The Exotic West

Peter Burke, 6 February 1986

The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci 
by Jonathan Spence.
Faber, 350 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 571 13239 1
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Chine et Christianisme: Action et Réaction 
by Jacques Gernet.
Gallimard, 342 pp., frs 154, May 1982, 2 07 026366 5
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... The Ink Garden. The engravings – four exotic Western flowers in a Chinese garden – portray St Peter in the Waves; the road to Emmaus; the men of Sodom; and the Virgin and Child. The memory images comprise two warriors fighting; a Muslim woman from the west of China; a farmer, sickle in hand; and a maidservant who, like the Virgin, carries a child. The ...

State Theatre

Peter Burke, 22 January 1987

The Rome of Alexander VII: 1655-1667 
by Richard Krautheimer.
Princeton, 199 pp., £16.80, November 1985, 9780691040325
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Firearms and Fortifications: Military Architecture and Siege Warfare in 16th-century Siena 
by Simon Pepper and Nicholas Adams.
Chicago, 245 pp., £21.25, October 1986, 0 226 65534 2
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... century, Pope Paul V had his family name, BORGHESIUS, inscribed in equally large letters on St Peter’s, although he had not been responsible for most of the rebuilding. Alexander VII’s self-advertisement appears rather less blatant, but this was due less to his natural diplomacy than to the accident of his dying before he could have the Pantheon ...
Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Oxford, 205 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812980 7
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Representing the English Renaissance 
edited by Stephen Greenblatt.
California, 372 pp., $42, February 1988, 0 520 06129 2
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... Like sociology and anthropology, the study of art and literature, especially the art and literature of the Renaissance, seems to be taking a historical turn in the Eighties. To a historian like myself this trend is obviously encouraging. Indeed, for a historian the problem is not so much to explain the rise of the so-called ‘New Historicism’ associated with Stephen Greenblatt and his friends and followers, as to account for the hostile reactions to it ...

Rabelais’s Box

Peter Burke, 3 April 1980

Rabelais 
by M.A. Screech.
Duckworth, 494 pp., £35, November 1979, 9780715609705
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... When Alcibiades, in that dialogue of Plato’s entitled The Symposium, praises his master Socrates, beyond all doubt the prince of philosophers, he compares him, amongst other things, to a Silenus. Now a Silenus, in ancient days, was a little box, of the kind we see today in apothecaries’ shops, painted on the outside with such gay, comical figures as harpies, satyrs, bridled geese, horned hares, saddled ducks, flying goats, stags in harness, and other devices of that sort, light-heartedly invented for the purpose of mirth, as was Silenus himself, the master of good old Bacchus ...

Rolling Stone

Peter Burke, 20 August 1981

The Past and the Present 
by Lawrence Stone.
Routledge, 274 pp., £8.75, June 1981, 0 7100 0628 4
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... In the late 1950s, when I went up to Oxford, one of the liveliest and most provocative lecturers in history was Lawrence Stone of Wadham. He was already a controversial figure who had, as we all knew, crossed swords with Hugh Trevor-Roper over the state of the Elizabethan aristocracy and with Geoffrey Elton over the question of Tudor despotism. Stone’s favourite theme at that time was ‘The Coming of the English Revolution ...

The Impostor

Peter Burke, 19 April 1984

Le Retour de Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis, Jean-Claude Carrière and Daniel Vigne.
Robert Laffont, 269 pp.
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The Return of Martin Guerre 
by Natalie Davis.
Harvard, 162 pp., £12.75, October 1983, 0 674 76690 3
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... The story is simple but compelling. Indeed, it may well be called ‘prodigious’, a term which is prominent on the title-page of the account of the case published in 1561. Martin Guerre was a peasant, of Basque origin but settled in the village of Artigat in the French South-West, between Toulouse and Foix. He married a local girl, Bertrande de Rols, when they were in their early teens; ten years later, he disappeared ...

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