Jean Seznec

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Jean Seznec (March 19, 1905 - November 22, 1983) was a historian and mythographer whose most influential book, for English-speaking readers, has been The Survival of the Pagan Gods: Mythological Tradition in Renaissance Humanism and Art, published in 1953. Expanding in a tour de force the scope of work by Warburg Institute scholars Fritz Saxl and Erwin Panofsky, Seznec presented a broad view of the transmission of classical representation in Western Art.

Seznec won a place at the French Academy in Rome in 1929, where he studied under Emile Male, whose methodology influenced his own work. At the outbreak of World War II, Seznec returned from his position in Florence as director of the French Institute, to enlist. His great work, as La Survivance des dieux antiques, was published in 1940, just as France fell. After the war he accepted positions in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, edited exhibition catalogues and the edition of Paris Salon art criticism written by the Encyclopédiste Denis Diderot between 175981, a primary resource that has become a major tool for understanding the history of taste.

Thanks to largely to Seznec, it is widely understood that the Olympian gods, and the earlier spirits of field and spring, did not die with the advent of Christianity, but lived on. They went underground to feature in folk culture, took on strange new guises and were transformed in various ways, their myths recast to suit some of the mythic saints of Late Antiquity, and their imagery permeated Medieval intellectual and emotional life. The transformed mythology re-emerged in the iconography of the early Tuscan Renaissance, with new attributes that the ancients had never imagined, and enjoyed tremendous renewed popularity during the Renaissance.

Seznec's thesis benefits from the illustrated formats it has been receiving in modern paperback formats. His work can be termed seminal. Studies such as Joscelyn Godwin's The Pagan Dream Of The Renaissance (2002) depend on it. Godwin further explores Seznec's theme, how pagan deities captivated the Renaissance European imagination during the Renaissance, taking their place side-by-side with Christian symbols and doctrines.

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