The Italian Renaissance - HY40002

Quick Facts

  • Level 4
  • 30 Credits
  • Semester 2
  • 24 places
  • History - School of Humanities
  • Coursework 100%

Module Details

This module will guide students through the textual and visual sources indicative of the Italian Renaissance.

The module will critically examine politics, religion, daily life, art and learning in Quatrocento Italy, and study the reception of the Italian Renaissance in Early Modern Europe.  Was Quatrocento Italy the birthplace of the modern individual, as Jacob Burkhardt suggested in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860)? 

Or did the collective (family, guilds, the church, patronage networks etc.) still play an important role in nearly every aspect of life and work in Renaissance Italy? 

How can Hans Baron's claim in The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (1955) that "civic humanism" flourished in Quatrocento Florence be reconciled with the apparent willingness of many a Florentine humanist to do the bidding of autocratic princes? 

How was the new learning received in Rome and Venice? 

Did women and various groups down the social scale have a Renaissance?  Which purposes were served by art in Renaissance Italy? 

Did the Renaissance end as a result of the foreign invasions of the Italian peninsula at the start of the fifteenth century? 

Why should Archduke Cosimo I of Florence (1537-1574) have become the greatest collector of Florentine Renaissance art and have sought to canonize this particular period of history through his government's pubic works programme?

Finally, what were the consequences of the reception of Renaissance art and learning in northern Europe?

Image of the country landscape


Normally satisfied requirements for entry to Level 4 History or Level 4 European Studies


Dr Martine Van Ittersum who specialises in the history of early modern Europe.


This module is assessed by the following components:

  •  Presentation of 20-30 minutes, including Q&A (10%)
  • Module Journal of 5,500 words (40%)
  • Research Essay of 5,000 words (50%)


The Library will be tasked with digitising key resources for delivery via the VLE. The majority of the key texts are either present in the Library's collection or recent publications still in print. 

Sample Reading:

  • Denys Hay, The Italian Renaissance in its historical background, (1977).
  • Peter Burke, The Italian Renaissance: culture and society in Italy, (1987).
  • John Hale, England and the Italian Renaissance: The growth of interest in its history and art, (1996).
  • Christopher S. Celenza, The lost Italian Renaissance: humanists, historians, and Latin's legacy, (2006).


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Module Aims

Through a close reading of primary sources and key secondary literature analysis, the course will examine politics, religion, daily life, art and learning in Quatrocento Italy, and study the reception of Renaissance art and learning in Early Modern Europe.

Topics covered include:

  • 19th and 20th Century historiography on the Italian Renaissance,
  • the roman legacy in medieval Italy,
  • the maritime empires of Venice and Genua,
  • the Black Plague of 1350 and its consequences,
  • the rise of the Medici in Quatrocento Florence,
  • humanists as teachers of princes,
  • the studio humanitatis in Venice, Florence and Papal Rome,
  • daily life in Renaissance Florence,
  • women in the Italian Renaissance,
  • Renaissance Art,
  • international relations in Quatrocento Italy,
  • the First Florence Republic, 1494-1512,
  • Machiavelli and the Medici Popes,
  • the Sack of Rome (1527) and Spanish dominance in Italy,
  • the Medici as rulers of the Grand Duchy of Florence, 1532-1737,
  • the reception of Renaissance art and thinking in early modern Europe.

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding:

  • an extensive primary source-based knowledge of the Italian renaissance and its reception in Early Modern Europe,
  • an ability to use and critically evaluate a range of primary resources,
  • an ability to engage with and critically evaluate the historiography of the Italian Renaissance,
  • an ability to undertake an independent and extended piece of work.

Cognitive (thinking) Skills:

  • the ability to read effectively and critically,
  • the ability to synthesise information from a variety of sources and to make clear the derivation of ideas and information by proper methods of attribution,
  • the ability to think and argue logically and persuasively,
  • the ability to identify and explain and evaluate the operation of important forces in the history of different societies and states,
  • the capacity to understand attitudes and ideas in the past different from our own, to avoid anachronism in historical judgments, and to appreciate the role of the contingent in the past.

Practical Skills;

  • to use and critically evaluate primary sources,
  • to identify, find and retrieve information from a wide variety of sources,
  • to construct a reasoned defence of an interpretation of an event or aspect of society in the past.

Key Skills:

  • effective communication in writing and orally,
  • initiative, self discipline and self direction in learning,
  • to be able to use feedback from tutors, peers and through self assessment to improve performance in the academic context,
  • to respond flexibly to a broad range of familiar and unfamiliar challenges,
  • to work in collaboration with others,
  • to appreciate the role of IT in underpinning learning and research, and the presentation of information.