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A fresh and vigorous appreciation of the intellectual liberation and artistic triumphs of the Italian Renaissance. The development of the first universities from the 12th century onwards, growing wealth and patronage in certain cities, and above all the invention of printing and cheap paper, provided essential conditions for the Renaissance. And it was in literature and scholarship that it began, in the rebirth of classical culture that loosened the Church's iron grip on visual art. Paul Johnson tells the story, in turn, of Renaissance literature, sculpture, building and painting. Despite the critical importance of inventions outside Italy - printing in Germany and oil painting in Holland - he locates the Renaissance firmly in Italy and in Florence above all, between 1400 and 1560. There are memorable sketches of the key figures - the frugal and shockingly original Donatello, the awesome Michelangelo, the delicacy of Giovanni Bellini. The final part of the book charts the spread and decline of the Renaissance, as the Catholic Church repositioned itself to counter the Reformation which the Renaissance had itself helped to produce.