Earthly Delights: A History of the Renaissance

3 min read  ·  31 Jan 2024

Watch HENI Art Club's interview with Art Critic Jonathan Jones about his Sunday Times Art Book of the Year Earthly Delights: A History of the Renaissance.

What was the ‘Renaissance’? In the nineteenth century this flowering of creativity and thought was celebrated as the birth of the modern world. Today many historians are sceptical about its very existence. Earthly Delights rekindles the Renaissance as a seismic change in European mentalities, in a panoramic history that encompasses Florence and Bruges, London and Nuremberg. Artists from northern as well as southern Europe, including Leonardo, Bosch, Bruegel and Titian, star in a captivating and beautifully illustrated narrative that sets their lives against a period of convulsive change across a continent that was finding itself as it ‘discovered’ the world.

Jonathan Jones tells the story of Renaissance artists as pioneers, adventurers and ‘geniuses’, a Renaissance concept. Albrecht Dürer gazes with wonder on Aztec art in Brussels in 1520, Leonardo da Vinci tries to perfect a flying machine, Hieronymus Bosch finds inspiration in West African ivory carvings imported by the Portuguese to Antwerp. A then unknown Netherlandish painter, Pieter Bruegel, arrives in 1550s Rome just as Michelangelo is striving in the same city to raise the new St Peter’s Basilica towards heaven. From Atlantic voyages to Germanic woods, Italian palazzi to the royal castle of Prague, this was an age when people dared to experiment with the occult and dabble in utopias: to think and create new worlds.

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This new narrative history of the Renaissance by one of the UK’s foremost art critics takes in the whole of Europe and its global context.

"Jonathan Jones, the art critic of The Guardian, rides into battle like the knights in Uccello’s Battle of San Romano, gives you big ideas and bold themes, then, dismounting, writes with lyrical loveliness about the “light-catching locks” and spiralling curls of Leonardo’s angels or the slender, honeytrap Venuses of Lucas Cranach the Elder … This is the Renaissance of Botticelli and Bosch, of heavenly goddesses and teeming hells" — Laura Freeman, Art Books of the Year, The Sunday Times

"Jonathan Jones sets out to rebut the view that the very idea of the Renaissance is “a wheezing old steam train, a 19th-century construct”. Instead, he argues, it constituted a revolutionary new focus on the earthly realities of the world, human flesh among them. He makes the case vigorously, persuasively and entertainingly" — Martin Gayford, Books of the Year, Spectator