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Sixteenth-Century Britain.

This volume is a paperback version (minus part of the bibliography) of a volume first published in 1989 as The Cambridge Guide to the Arts in Britain: Renaissance and Reformation. The volume is written by specialists for non-specialists, and the eight chapters deal in turn with ideas, literature, drama, music, and the visual arts. Relatively little is said about popular culture (with the exception of vernacular architecture), although the interaction between "high" and "low" was surely intense in many fields at this time. In other respects, the authors take a broad view of their subject. They all make a point of discussing Britain rather than England, even if they are sometimes reduced to saying, for instance, that little Scottish music from the period survives. Readers who feel that the Renaissance has been cut off short in the year 1600 should remember to consult the following volume for the rest of the story.

Dominic Baker-Smith's introductory discussion of "the cultural and social setting" (essentially Renaissance and Reformation) is a model of its kind for its clarity, sympathy, and unobtrusive incorporation of recent research. Derek Traversi's chapter on literature and drama is a piece of almost pure literary criticism, which the author makes little attempt to link to the rest of culture, but John Milsom's chapter on music and the six contributions concerned with the visual arts all emphasize connections between art and society. Particularly fresh in its approach is the essay "Painting and Imagery" by Maurice Howard and Nigel Llewellyn, which adopts what might be called an anthropological rather than a sociological perspective in the sense of stressing the cultural distance between our views of Renaissance "works of art" and contemporary views of "images." The organization of the visual part of the volume is both unusual and successful. It includes a chapter on gardens, another on the decorative arts, and two architectural case-studies, the town of Shrewsbury and Hardwick Hall, which allow Eric Mercer and Malcolm Airs to operate at a level of richly concrete detail which compensates for the inevitable vagueness of a general account of the sixteenth century in some three hundred pages. It is a pity that similar microstudies of literature and ideas were not included as well.

The general standard of accuracy is high, though a few errors have crept in. Michael Sittow (228) did not come from Flanders, but from Reval. Sidney Sussex College (253) could not have commissioned its founder's portrait c. 1565, since it was only rounded in 1596. Whoever was responsible for the index has turned Theodore de Bry into two separate people. Despite these slips and the inevitable unevenness of a volume with eight authors, this up-to-date and comprehensive overview of Tudor culture deserves to be widely read.

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Author:Burke, Peter
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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