Cover image for The waning of the Renaissance, 1550-1640
The waning of the Renaissance, 1550-1640
Bouwsma, William J. (William James), 1923-2004.
Publication Information:
New Haven [Conn.] : Yale University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xi, 288 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 25 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CB401 .E94 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Historians conventionally view intellectual and artistic achievement as a seamless progression in a single direction. William J. Bouwsma rethinks the accepted view, arguing that while the Renaissance had a beginning and a climax, it also had an ending.

Author Notes

William J. Bouwsma was Sather Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Consciously mirroring the title of Johan Huizinga's classic The Waning of the Middle Ages, this welcome addition to the Yale Intellectual History of the West series deconstructs European culture in the age of Cervantes, Montaigne and Galileo. Moving easily across national and disciplinary boundaries, Bouwsma (professor emeritus, UC Berkeley) challenges the assumption that we are direct heirs to the Renaissance. He argues with stunning clarity that the period from 1550 to 1640 was a phase of complex ambivalence, doubt and retreat, and that anxiety stimulated both cultural change and spectacular creativity. Along with the continuing Renaissance drive to destroy old barriers to understanding and human fulfillment came a countervailing concern that freedom had become absurd in excess, as suffocating as the overripe fruit of late-medieval culture, famously described by Huizinga. The imagery of disease, misbirth and disorder became pervasive, while a propensity to melancholy was fashionable in some circles. (Like a number of features of Bouwsma's argument, this has interesting implications for our own modern crises and depressions.) Nothing, people felt, was quite what it seemed; expectation and hypocrisy obscured the deeper self. There was, in short, "a profound set of discontents released by the peculiar freedoms of Renaissance culture." Out of these anxieties a craving for order emerged: a compulsion to categorize, an insistence on social boundaries and a growing attraction for mathematical certainties. Bouwsma produces a masterful portrait of an era, one deserving to become as canonical as Huizinga; it will be increasingly difficult to teach or discuss the 16th century without it. 20 illus. not seen by PW. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Inspired by Huizinga's 1924 classic The Waning of the Middle Ages, distinguished historian William Bouwsma (California-Berkeley) poses the hitherto unanswered question, Why and how did the Renaissance end? As part of "The Yale Intellectual History of the West" series, the author's primary concern is European thought of the period, although he does touch on the social, religious, and political background. The work is divided into two parts: the first examines the high point or climax of the Renaissance ideal of creativity and cultural freedom; the second examines the internal contradictions (involving personal identity, shifting interests, decline in confidence, and heightened anxiety) within this ideal and the accompanying call for order and restraint. Implicit is a cyclical view of human thought, or, as Bouwsma puts it, the "alternation" between creativity, its full definition and exploration, resulting suffocation, and then a new freedom (presumably the Enlightenment) as the cycle begins again. In this rich and subtle work, Bouwsma buttresses his ideas with numerous quotations from the major Western writers of the day, both brief and lengthy (unfortunately only the latter are footnoted). Recommended for all academic libraries. D. C. Baxter Ohio University