Why You Shouldn’t Call It Innovation


In 1860 Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt released his book The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Up until that point the term ‘Renaissance’ was not widely used as the label for what we now think of as the period approximately between 1480 and 1520, where cultural, artistic and scientific creativity flourished. Burckhardt was the one who fixed the notion of the Renaissance into the common lexicon, and helped us to describe this seemingly unique period in history.

We think of the Renaissance as a period of great innovation and ingenuity, but at the time it was less about looking forward, and more about looking back — the overwhelming theme of the time was to rediscover and emulate the great minds of the Greek and Roman eras, it was a resurgence back to antiquity. We think of Da Vinci as one of the greatest painters in history, but at the time to paint was seen as the most common and lowly artistic form. When applying for a job with the Duke of Milan, Da Vinci lists 10 skills he can bring to the table, including the construction of bridges, cannons, and catapults. At the very end of the letter, he also mentions that in “painting I can do as much as anyone else”. To paint like Da Vinci was really no big deal.

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