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Earthly Delights

A History of the Renaissance

Jonathan Jones


Hailed by The Times as 'a pearl of a book', 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

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A Sunday Times Art Book of the Year

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.

Art critic and writer 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.


'A pearl of a book, a delight to read, full of language and ideas that form a tumbling elegy to the “eruption of curiosity” of the age'
Anna Keays, The Times

'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 has reimagined the Renaissance for our times in a beautifully written love letter to the art of Leonardo, Bosch, Dürer, Titian, Michelangelo and so many others ... it is a tale of artistic innovation and exchange in a world of sex, piety, revolution and discovery. From Van Eyck to Caravaggio, each page makes new connections and offers brilliant revelations about works we thought we knew, but which appear anew under Jones’ period gaze. His love of the art of the period is passionate and infectious: a superb achievement'
Jerry Brotton, author of 'The Renaissance Bazaar'

'Earthly Delights captures the extraordinary transformation in Europe of thinking from 1400 to 1600 ... Packed with the stories of the geniuses who made the art of this period soar -- from Leonardo and his ideas for a flying machine to Michelangelo and his St Peter’s Basilica – this book is both beautifully illustrated and hugely readable'
Art Society Magazine

'One of the most compelling and widely read critics of our time … Jones deftly side-steps the great morass of scholarly verbiage that has built up around this pivotal era, and goes straight to the works of art themselves. We stand at his shoulder as some of the greatest paintings and sculptures of all time reveal their meanings to him - and to us. The result is a highly readable book that makes an extraordinary, but now distant period of human history feel fresh, immediate and very relevant to now. And not least through Jones's own unquenchable passion for his subject'
Mark Hudson, art critic and author of 'Titian, The Last Days'

'The author surveys a wide range of artists and key paintings, providing his own perspective on masterpieces such as Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes (1455-60) sculpture in Florence'
Art Newspaper

'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

'Fast-moving and zestful … re-presents the story of the Renaissance as a rollicking, whizz-bang, can-do, will-do, must-do tale of daring innovation driven by a hoard of brilliant, maverick schemers and adventurers such as Bosch, Brueghel, Durer and Michelangelo. Can be easily read to the accompaniment of several glasses of the best, needless to say'
The Tablet

'Jones’s reading of Leonardo’s Cecilia Gallerani is as illuminating as it unexpected … his knowledge makes him a sure-footed guide through this seismic two hundred years of European history … We might not have “needed” another history of the Renaissance, but now that we have it, it is worth celebrating'
Literary Review

'Jones paints a picture that is more multidimensional, fragmented and complicated, one in which profound changes in art and thought were also spurred by curiosity about other continents and the spirit of scientific enquiry. The entertaining and accessible text discusses all the titans – Leonardo, Diirer, Bruegel, Holbein, Botticelli, Michelangelo – as well as finding a place for some lesser-known women artists and patrons'
Art Quarterly

'Revisits this well-trodden period from a more globalist perspective. Tracing influences across northern and southern Europe and its colonies, Jonathan Jones argues that the Renaissance was not the 'muted, peripheral phenomenon of elite culture' many believe it to have been'
The New York Times Book Review

'Some say the Renaissance is a fantasy of aesthetic gluttony dreamt up in the 19thcentury. But The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones is having none of it, and in Earthly Delights: A History of the Renaissance, his joyous, reflective, and beautifully illustrated account, he explores in panoramic detail an age of discovery fuelled by curiosity and delight'
The New European

'It is a passion which, in Earthly Delights, Jones pursues with intelligence, knowledge and some splendidly iconoclastic readings and opinions … his reading of Leonardo’s Cecilia Gallerani is as illuminating as it is unexpected – a sly celebration of the human over the divine. Elsewhere, his knowledge makes him a sure-footed guide through this seismic two hundred years of European history … We might not have “needed” another history of the Renaissance, but now that we have it, it is worth celebrating'
Sarah Dunant

'An enlightening and entertaining account of what happened when western culture went back to the future. Rather fittingly, it’s the kind of book you finish only to find yourself looking forward to reading again'
Stephen Smith, Guardian

'Earthly Delights rekindles the Renaissance as a seismic change in European mentalities, with artists from northern and southern Europe featuring in a narrative which sets their lives against a period of convulsive change'
Art Mag

'Dive into a book by Jonathan Jones and you are not just looking at the subject but surrounded by it. He has the ability to bring the mundane to life and to surprise you as well … This is a refreshing and lively look at this key juncture in the development of art. It is well and fully illustrated, but it is the words that really bring it to life'
The Artist

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 24.6 x 18.6 cm

Extent: 336 pp

Illustrations: 170

Publication date: 19 October 2023

ISBN: 9780500023136

Contents List

1. The Arnolfini Nude
2. The Naked Citizen
3. The Triumph of Love
4. Profane Angels
5. Worldly Knowledge
6. Haywain To Hell
7. The Garden of Earthly Delights
8. Render Unto Caesar
9. Melancholia
10. Pulse of Life
11. Judgements
12. Carnival and Lent
13. Curiosities

About the Author

Jonathan Jones is the art critic for the Guardian newspaper. He is the author of several books including The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel that Defined the Renaissance (2010), The Loves of the Artists: Art and Passion in the Renaissance (2013), Sensations: The Story of British Art from Hogarth to Banksy (2019) and Artemisia Gentileschi (2020). Jones was also a member of the jury for the 2009 Turner Prize and has appeared in the BBC series Private Life of a Masterpiece. He was Series Consultant for BBC2’s Civilisations and is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Front Row.