Oren Margolis's recent book, The Politics of Culture in Quattrocento Europe: René of Anjou in Italy (Oxford UP, 2016), has just been shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society's prestigious Gladstone Prize, awarded to the best first book on any topic that is not primarily British history.
A cultural historian of the Renaissance, Dr Margolis explores how René, a French prince and exiled king of Naples (1409-1480), engaged his Italian network in a programme of cultural politics conducted with an eye towards a return to power in the peninsula. Built on a series of original interpretations of humanistic and artistic material (chiefly Latin orations and illuminated manuscripts of classical texts), Margolis's book also serves as a case study for what he has called a 'diplomatic approach' to culture. This involves seeing that source base as a form of high-level communication for a hyper-literate elite of those who could read the works created by humanist and artistic agents -- including luminaries like Giovanni Bellini -- for their constituent parts: the potent words or phrases and relevant classical allusions; the channels through which a given work was commissioned or transmitted; and then the nature of the network gathered around a political agenda.
Emerging from Margolis's book is a challenge to conventional interpretations of the politics of Renaissance humanism, and a new vision of the Quattrocento: a century in which the Italian Renaissance began its takeover of Europe, but in which Renaissance culture was itself shaped by its European political, social, and diplomatic context.
The winner of the Gladstone Prize will be announced in July.
Oren Margolis is departmental lecturer in early modern history and tutor at Somerville College.