My editor at Norton has just asked me whether I have any suggestions for the cover of the History of the Renaissance World. I suggested the covers for the first two books in the series (that’s Constantine taking Rome “for Christ” on the History of the Ancient World, and Charlemagne’s coronation on the History of the Medieval World) based on what I thought were overarching themes for the books.

So what I think is an overarching theme for this book probably isn’t going to make it onto the cover. It’s death. Yes, I know, “renaissance” is rebirth, but the centuries of the Renaissance were even fuller than usual of plague, revolt, rebellion, crusade, campaign, war, war, and war. So my first suggestion to Norton is to use part of Pieter Brughel’s “The Triumph of Death.”

Here are a couple of details:

I think this would be a fantastic cover, combining those images with the word “renaissance.” I seriously doubt Norton’s going to go for it, though.

So here were my other suggestions–the conquest of Constantinople, either by the Crusaders in 1204 or by the Turks in 1453,

(the 1453 conquest, by Palma il Giovane)

(the 1204 conquest, by Domenico Tintoretto)

one of the illustrations from Renaissance manuscripts of Aristotle teaching Arab scientists, like this one from an early 13th century Saljuq text,

or, for a completely different look, some of the thumbnail scenes from the fourteenth-century Catalan Atlas designed by Abraham Cresques, one of the first world atlases.

The oil-painting conquest scenes have the most continuity with the look of the first two books, but I also think they’re the most predictable (and kind of dull).

Which ones do you like? (I’ll keep you posted about what the cover designers come with.)

Showing 37 comments
  • Caitlin

    I would choose the Palma il Giovane painting. It seems to fit with the other covers so far. I like “The Triumph of Death”; it’s very fascinating—it has so much going on!—but it’s so creepy.

  • Laurel in CA

    I like the one with Aristotle teaching, but I’m not sure if it conveys the idea of renaissance unless one already knows the story behind it. Second vote, the caravan – exploring new worlds and expanding trade fit with renaissance and are more apparent on first look. JMHO

  • Roberto Gelleni

    I love this one:

    It depicts teaching, so I thing it’s perfect. The colors are very nice too.

  • Charlie Park

    I love the Brughel. Love it. And it works really well with the aesthetic of the other two.

    When you pitch it to Norton, first suggest Hieronymus Bosch, and then you can offer the Brughel as a compromise. 🙂

  • Alan Nowicki

    I agree with you and like Brughel’s “The Triumph of Death.” And you can go even more in that direction with Bosch, but he might be a little too surreal. Both the conquests of Constantinople are nice choices as well, with my preference being the Tintoretto (although it’s not showing up on your site. I had to go search it out.) They have more of the look and feel of painting associated with the Renaissance. Might I also suggest Lorenzetti’s “Effects of Good Government on the City,” although that might be a little too predictable and not show the emotion/action you want. Good Luck. I’m looking forward to this next book!

  • dangermom

    I love the Death painting!! If we can’t have that, I vote for the one with the camel and Mansa Musa. (I think that’s him, right?)

  • HSMom2One

    I’m leaning towards the Palma il Giovane depiction of the conquest of Constantinople, although I do like your ideas on the death theme. It just might not help book sales to have images of death on the cover, even though it does represent much of the content of the book. The westward expansion of Christianity, after all, was pretty pivotal in the history of the world. I think it would make a great cover!

  • Laura A

    I like the atlas ones. They (particularly the first and second examples) show East meeting West, which seems like a major theme of the time by my understanding.

    Besides which, they’ll read well from a distance and add a bit of variety. (I enjoyed the first two books, by the way.)

  • Rose Burke

    I like the very first picture! “The Triumph of Death”.

  • Sarah

    I like the atlas pictures… The death theme constrasting the name Renaissance is a good theme, but the paintings are too gory for laying around the house…I see those scaring my children.

    I like the 2nd atlas picture.

  • Natalie Brown

    My Freshman studied the Renaissance period last year and no matter how much we covered the new territories in art, science, religion, and exploration, persecution & death did indeed permeate the whole year. Still, I like the atlas angle because the exploration provided a way OUT of all that, and although human flaws continued to assert themselves, it slowly lead to improved governments & freedoms for those in the new world and the old.

  • Regena McConnell

    I do prefer the Brughel, however, if you think it won’t fly, then I like the scientific scene, or either of the first two pics from the atlas (I’m sort of partial to Mansa Musa)….



    I like the the 1453 conquest, by Palma il Giovane. The ships and castle walls in the background just scream Renaissance to me. The death one is just too creepy.

  • Helen

    1453 conquest

  • Denise in NE

    I like the Palma il Giovane painting.

  • Mary Kathryn

    The Tintoretto!

  • CarrieF

    I say go for ‘The Triumph of Death’ – it is fascinating AND fitting. Go with your gut!

  • Kim

    I like the Siege of Constantinople – lots of elements that people associate with the Middle Ages (knights, conquests, and walled cities). The death painting is a bit morbid, although it would be good to include inside when the plagues are discussed.

  • sligo

    With all the networking lines and reduction of places to tiny identical images, the images you show from the Catalan Atlas really evoke the presence of the past, which I love.

  • jill s

    I like Aristotle teaching!

  • Michelle

    I prefer Pieter Brughel’s “The Triumph of Death.” There is so much going on in the painting and it depicts the struggles of the time well.

  • chademe

    You have to go with the Death theme. I prefer the first detail personally. Anything else is whitewashing history 🙂

  • Therry

    I love the Palma, the Tintoretto and the 2 first out of the atlas.

  • Melody

    Looks like Death’s in the lead, but I vote for the Catalan Atlas. That time period has always said, “Exploration” to me.

  • maurice f shaw


  • Sandy

    I think I like the Conquest painting the best. It captures the war theme, the ship is striking and the sky is so well done it draws you in. I also think it is in keeping with the style of the other two covers, or at least, more so than the other options. Looking forward to the release!

  • Catherine

    Very definitely the Palma il Giovane painting. It goes so well with your other book covers & it draws the eye with detailed interest. Much better than drawing the eye with horror!

  • lynne

    Brughel, definitely.

  • Julie Riley

    The Palma il Giovane seems like a good fit with your overarching theme since it depicts conquest, battle and inevitably death. Seeing the smoke from the fires of battle in the distance makes me feel like major change is on the horizon. I also like how it shows architecture and “fashion” details of the period.

  • Nicole

    Death! Death! Death!

  • Nicole

    I like the Aristotle one and the last one.

  • Lucy

    I like the Brueghel, too, and agree with Charlie Park that Norton might like the Brueghel as well if you suggest Hieronymous Bosch first. 🙂

  • Pat

    I don’t really like any of them. Why not use a real Renaissance master piece? Maybe one of the more folk life paintings from the Northern artists?

  • Maisy

    The Brughel is my favorite, but the conquest scenes would probably have more mass-market appeal, and they coordinate nicely with the look of the previous books.

    I don’t think the other choices are as appealing, graphically, because the backgrounds have too much white–not a consistent look with the other two books. Also, from a U.S. marketing standpoint, the average American, when he thinks of the Medieval world, probably thinks of Europe, not the Middle East (he’d need to read the book). Another nod to mass-market appeal (sigh).

    I like a couple illuminations by the Limbourg Brothers, but those may not fit within the scope of the book.

  • Caitilin Kane

    I vote for the Brueghel Death painting too. It’s both accurate and attention-grabbing. 😀

  • Sebastien Chiasson

    While you are indeed correct about the death theme, I agree with the other comments of it being Too morbid. Utimately, I believe the Renaissance is more of a mix of both life and death.

    From all the choice, I would select the 1453 conquest, by Palma il Giovane.

    But if you are open to other suggestions, I’ve always associated Renaissance with the School of Athens by Raphael. Maybe it’s my penchant for humanism, but I always believed it was the perfect visual representation of the renaissance, as it is in a sense the rebirth and reconnection to the past.

    However, if you prefer to show life during the Renaissance, a good one would be the fresco on the Magi Chapel. (

    In any case, good luck with selecting the cover. I am also eager with anticipation for your book!

  • Michael Solonenko

    Definitely the one with Aristotle.

    a) Breaks the stereotype in percepting the Europe as a center of culture during Middle Ages;
    b) Shows continuity of the human culture between the “chasms” separating different religion-based world perceptions;
    c) Does have a flair of a Greek-Roman cultural superiority;
    d) Is sufficiently neutral, considering head dress of Aristotle.

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