Renaissances and the Middle Ages

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It is possible to see the Middle Ages in relation to the idea of a Renaissance, a period of cultural revitalization (literally 'rebirth' in French). For early scholars like Jakob Burckhardt, it was possible to see the Italian Renaissance as exemplifying everything that the crude Middle Ages lacked. As scholars have studied the Middle Ages more-- and as scholars personally invested in medieval culture have become more numerous-- such attitudes have become less common.

By comparison with the features of the Italian Renaissance, scholars have come to see cultural revitalization in several periods of the Middle Ages. In 1927, Charles Homer Haskins made the first move in this direction by writing his influential book The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, in which he praised the high cultural achievements of 12th century Europe.

Scholars of the Carolingian period picked up on the cultural improvements in their period, too, with the result that the eighth and ninth centuries are occasionally called the 'Carolingian Renaissance'.

In Art History, as well, and in particular in the study of the outward expansion of techniques and concerns of Italian Renaissance painters, the term 'Northern Renaissance' is used to describe such artists as Jan van Eyck and Albrecht Durer.