Dating a renaissance man
Slight of build and modest of demeanor, he has an open, attractive face, and brown hair that is flecked with gray.
He is forty-eight years old and irredeemably English, and although he no longer resembles the choirboy he once was, it is easy to imagine him, say, holding forth about Cardinal Wolsey before a classroom of schoolboys in ties and blazers.
Was there ever a Renaissance man, even during the Renaissance, in this sense of the term? This does not mean that everything we know was known by the men and women of Renaissance times. On the other hand, they knew many things we do not.
They were much more knowledgeable about theology, for example, a science they took infinitely more seriously than do we.
Philippe de Montebello, who retired as the director of the Metropolitan Museum at the end of last year, after thirty-one years in the position, was known for his fluency in five languages, his effortless hauteur, and his conviction that the Met should not be embarrassed by its status as an élite institution.
He inhabited his role as the museum’s leader so entirely that he, like it, came to seem larger than life.
“I am the Met, and the Met is me,” he told an interviewer a few years before his abdication, having been compared to Louis XIV by a sufficient number of commentators to internalize the formulation.
The term is essentially ironic, for it is universally believed that no one really can be a Renaissance man in the true meaning of the term, since knowledge has become so complex that no human mind is capable of grasping all, or even a large part, of it. Knowledge is no more complex today that it was in the fifteenth century. It was no more possible for any human being to know everything about everything then that it is now.
Inasmuch as many folk tunes likely predate the spread of Christianity, this was not an unreasonable view.