The Renaissance Bazaar

January 10, 2018

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Many scholars view the Renaissance as the link between the Middle Ages and the modern world. Moreover, they see it as the era that evolved Europe’s thoughts and culture. With the advent of the Renaissance, Europe was introduced to new ideas and a return to the classical thoughts, which thus acted as the bridge between the ancient concepts and the modern world. As described by Jules Michelet, a French historian, the Renaissance is a movement that led to the witnessing of discovery of the world and a man (Brotton, 2005).

In light of the above observations, “The Renaissance Bazaar” is a book the author of which from its onset seeks to explode the myth that has existed with reference to the European Renaissance. Brotton achieves this by tracing the concept back to the Eastern Islamic and not to the Western Christian of the Mediterranean world. Brotton presents his arguments from two directions. In the first one, he questions the originality as well as the value of many monuments that had traditionally been regarded as being monuments of the Renaissance culture. He raises these questions by claiming that their status was not gained through interests that were objective or founded upon principles that are abstract, such as beauty, science or truth. He asserts that the basis of their status was rather founded upon the self-interests of those wishing to bestow the Renaissance status. The second argument by Brotton is that the achievements in question were as expected in the Islamic East marketplaces, courts and the salons. Brotton asserts arguments of the earlier works by redefining the Renaissance as being a movement that is catalyzed by Islamic contacts both economically and culturally. Brotton argues that this was caused by the competitive and amicable vigorous trade in art, ideas, and luxurious goods that existed between the eastern and the western societies.

The book “The Renaissance Bazaar” from its onset can be credited as being well designed and illustrated. This is because the book is particularly well written for the general audience as well as students. Brotton makes good use of maps and diagrams of the world as had appeared at their initial usage. From these maps, Brotton draws alternative views about the concept of the Renaissance period. Through the book, Brotton give account of conquest, trade greed, and desires for imperial powers and commercial rivalries that existed at the age. Safe for the challenging of the ideological grounding of the Renaissance, he also challenges its geographical parameters by discrediting the inclusion of the Ottomans in the Renaissance of Europe. He does not dispute the existence of rivalry between the Christendom and the Islam world of the era but goes on to assert that the exchange of ideas and commodities was rife.

On the flipside, however, the book’s title is misleading. Half of Brotton’s book is seemingly with reference to issues relating to the Christian-Muslim commerce. The rest of the book seems like Brotton is rehearsing some of the well-known revisionist accounts that reflect on the Renaissance history and culture. Notably, the book has put into account some facts of the Renaissance history and culture which are decades old. They are without notes, and he claims them as being revolutionary and explosive. One of such cases is the reference to the Italian humanists. They were seen as self-promoting careerists rather than being seekers of truth. In the same light, the artists and poets were also commercial contractors. Their services were thus rendered for patronage and payment. This was rendered by the fact that researches of the natural philosophers show that where they were not politically directed, they were socially conditioned; for this reason, the princes and the states sought to exploit the arts. The exploitation was also done by the religious fervor and the patriotic sentiments, all of whom did these to their own advantage.

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It is worth noting that Brotton’s book did not just reflect on the Renaissance only. The “Renaissance Bazaar” has been seen as not the best choice for being used as a textbook as it bears numerous errors. Some of them are notable like it was written on the page 49 that Constantinople fell to the Turks on 28 May, 1453 rather it was on May 29 (Philippides & Walter, 2011), there was also an error on the page 78 where it was stated that printing arrived in Rome in 1465, and on the page 102, it is written that Lorenzo de Medici was the son of Cosimo, which is not true. Safe for these errors, as the books supposes to claim, medieval cartographers never marked any uncharted waters as being terra incognito, as the book refers to them on the page 158. Other errors include that the meaning of Istanbul does not mean throne or capital, as the book proposes on the page 51; the book claims on the page 137 that the inscriptions in Costanzo Ferrara’s Seated Scribe to be in Arabic while it is in Persian. Other notable errors are that Federico da Montefeltro refused to place heavy investments in printed books and that Copernicus barely had time to gaze at the stars using the scientific instruments that he invented, these two errors re on the pages 77 and 187 respectively.

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Despite these factors, “The Renaissance Bazaar” can be credited for its success in providing valuable judgment in the field of writing history. Brotton achieves this through several means. One of them is that on the page 17 he accuses readers of being naively worshipping the Renaissance. He says that readers do this by supposing this to be the origin of civilized life. Brotton goes further to bring out a joyless expose that is characterized by sordid underpinnings, which he continues to exploit throughout the book. He exploits this by stating that most of the home-grown features that characterized the Renaissance era were tainted by factors like ethical uncertainties (page 193). On the page 117, he also claims that these features were sinister, on the page 182 he views them as ignominious as well as on the page 102 as being ruthless and that the creators also possessed ambivalent motives as indicated on pages 89, 91 and 95. According to Brotton, on the page 182, he claims that most of the great achievements that were gained during the era paid the price of misery, persecution and even death.