Er stammte aus einer alten und erfolgreichen Familie des Basler Daig. Im Elternhaus und auf dem Gymnasium erhielt Burckhardt eine umfassende humanistische Bildung. Nebenbei befasste er sich schon damals mit Geschichtswissenschaft und Philologie. In dieser Zeit wurde er Mitglied im Schweizerischen Zofingerverein. Intensiv arbeitete er hier in Archiven und Bibliotheken.
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His first important work, however, like the last, attested to his deep interest in ancient civilization. In Die Zeit Konstantins des Grossen ; The Age of Constantine the Great, Burckhardt presented a picture of a transitional age, unhealthy and immoral but teeming with religious and cultural activity.
While he recognized that the rise of Christianity was inevitable and that it was necessary for the development of an original culture during the Middle Ages, his sympathies lay clearly with the waning forces of the ancient world. Der Cicerone ; The Cicerone, is a comprehensive study of Italian art, geographically arranged in the form of a travel guide.
It went through many editions, but Burckhardt reacted to the popularity of his work with growing aloofness. Using programmatic subheadings the discovery of world and man; the development of individuality; the state as a work of art; the modern sense of humour , Burckhardt deftly analyzed the daily life of Renaissance Italy, its political climate, and the thought of its outstanding minds.
His sources—often contemporary chronicles and tales—were in print and readily available yet frequently ignored by historians. He approached them with newly conceived questions in mind.
Although Burckhardt emphasized many contrasts between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, he did not underrate medieval achievements.
His concept of history left no room for the idea that the Renaissance or any other period was characterized by general progress over the preceding epoch. Art was to Burckhardt the saving grace of the Renaissance, but in his Die Kultur this vital subject was not treated. Styles of art followed one another as did historical periods. Friends edited his last great work, four volumes of an uncompleted survey of Greek civilization—Griechische Kulturgeschichte —; abridgment in Eng.
Of particular significance are two later posthumous publications. Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen ; Force and Freedom: Reflections on History, epitomizes his philosophy of history.
Life[ edit ] The son of a Protestant clergyman , Burckhardt was born and died in Basel , where he studied theology in the hope of taking holy orders ; however, under the influence of Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette , he chose not to become a clergyman. He was a member of the patrician Burckhardt family. He finished his degree in and went to the University of Berlin to study history,  especially art history, then a new field. At Berlin, he attended lectures by Leopold von Ranke , the founder of history as a respectable academic discipline based on sources and records rather than personal opinions. In , he returned to Basel to assume the professorship he held until his retirement in He started to teach only art history in Burckhardt is currently featured on the Swiss thousand franc banknote.