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Renaissance Conflict and Rivalries: Cultural Polemics in Europe, c. 1300–c. 1650

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA, Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes. 1452-66, San Francesco, Arezzo

PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA, Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes. 1452-66

Funded by the Levehulme Trust (September 2012–August 2015)

The Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick (PI: Dr David Lines) is leading a Levehulme International Network together with five other institutions on the theme of ‘Renaissance Conflict and Rivalries’. This interdisciplinary project, which will result in three research colloquia, will examine the extent to which conflict and rivalries (between disciplines, institutions, art forms, literary genres, philosophical and religious allegiances, social/political groups, etc.) were a positive agent of cultural production and change across Renaissance Europe.

The other institutions are: The Warburg Institute (London), the University of Leuven, the University of Bonn, the University of Venice (Ca’ Foscari), and the University of Florence.

In Europe the period between c. 1300 and 1650 saw not only extraordinary cultural ferment through the reappropriation of the classical tradition, but also a series of momentous conflicts and rivalries in areas such as politics, society, the economy, culture, philosophy, and religion. Obvious cases include the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), the confrontation with the Ottoman Empire, and the development of a transatlantic vs. a Mediterranean economy, but Renaissance culture as a whole was permeated by violence, competition, invectives, and vehement debates of all sorts. Topics included the status of the figurative arts, the value of the vernacular vs. Latin, the relationship of the disciplines, and the superiority of certain sources, styles, confessions, or political systems vs. others. What was the relationship between this culture of opposition, confrontation, and rivalry (well captured by the German term Streitkultur) and the renewal that many contemporaries saw taking place in the art, literature, scholarship, and science of the Renaissance? Did Streitkultur limit or re-direct the period’s cultural ferment, or were the two intimately connected? What lessons can be learnt for related issues confronting us today, including conflict management, social unrest, or business competition?

Our Network will explore these questions on a broad scale, through an interdisciplinary and international approach. Most relevant studies have focused on specific, individual cases or have been conducted separately, either by social/cultural/political historians or by scholars of art/literature/ideas. Our network brings together both of these approaches, simultaneously bridging them by a stronger contextualization of (for instance) intellectual and artistic production within social and institutional realities, and exploring the realm of conflict and the nature and limits of its acceptance (e.g., ritualized duels, artistic representations of violence, pasquinades, invectives, disputations). In the process, we shall ask whether ‘conflict’, ‘rivalry’, or another label is most useful for understanding the confrontations that took place—at both theoretical and practical levels—between various forms and expressions of Renaissance philosophy, religion, art, and literature (e.g. humanism and scholasticism, the disputa delle arti, or arguments about the hierarchy and prestige of different literary genres, superiority of Christianity over Islam). As we explore why polemic and Streitkultur were so central to Renaissance culture we wish to address a broad geographical range, including at least Italy, Germany, Switzerland, the Low Countries, France, and England.

Our Network is focusing on the following research questions, linked to three specific research colloquia focusing on specific topics:

Forms: to what extent were conflict and rivalries in the Renaissance expressed through differing media (e.g., verbal/visual), languages (e.g., Latin/vernacular), and genres (invectives, pasquinades, rival translations of the classics, works of scholarship, sculpture/painting, religious/secular art or literature)? What processes determined these differing forms and whether or not it was acceptable to express notions of conflict and rivalries through them? Colloquium at the University of Warwick, 9–10 May 2013 (bursaries available: for details and programme, click here)

Spheres: in what ways did the identity of the rival parties, the audience to which narratives/representations of conflict were directed, and the particular social, temporal or geographical milieu, affect the ways in which conflict and rivalries could or could not be culturally productive? Does it, for instance, make a difference whether the audience is made up of Catholics or Protestants, of nobles or merchants, of members of universities or Academies? What are the borders between private/public or individual/collective in terms of conflict? Colloquium at the University of Bonn, 8-9 May 2014.

Management and resolution: Can a trajectory be mapped of how European conflict and rivalries unfolded over time, or at least of the norms, theories, laws, techniques, and procedures which were developed in order to contain them? In reaction to war-torn Europe, for instance, Justus Lipsius and his followers resurrected particular aspects of Stoic philosophy. How successful were these efforts to manage and contain conflict? Colloquium at the University of Venice (Ca’ Foscari), May 2015.

The Network is also open to exploring participation from outside its six members. Interested researchers or centres should contact Dr David Lines (

Network Coordinators:
Dr. David Lines, PI (University of Warwick)
Prof. Jill Kraye, co-PI (Warburg Institute)
Prof. Dirk Sacré, co-PI (University of Leuven)
Prof. Marc Laureys, co-PI (University of Bonn)
Prof. Tiziano Zanato, co-PI (University of Venice, Ca’ Foscari)
Prof. Concetta Bianca (University of Florence)
Other Warwick Colleagues/Colloquium Participants:
Paul Botley, Jonathan Davies, Ingrid De Smet, Simon Gilson, Lawrence Green, Beat Kümin, Peter Mack, Peter Marshall, Jacomien Prins, Eugenio Refini, Penny Roberts, Alexander Russell, Maude Vanhaelen. Jayne Brown (Network facilitator)
bag_landbuch_6_von_1605_s._15.jpg PIETRO DA CORTONA. The Rape of the Sabine Women. 1627-29. Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome fouquet_jean._caesar_crossing_the_rubicon._muse_du_louvre_paris._circa_1450.jpg

BAG, Landbuch 6 von


PIETRO DA CORTONA. The Rape of the Sabine Women.


FOUQUET, Jean. Caesar Crossing the Rubicon.

Circa 1450