History of the Renaissance

History of the Renaissance

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The history of the Renaissance begins in the 15th and 16th centuries. It marked the transition from the Middle Ages to the early modern era with its emphasis on exceeding the ideas and achievements of the Classical civilizations of Greece and Rome.

The Renaissance was a break from the past. This is best seen in Humanism, the intellectual basis of the Renaissance. Its spirit was perhaps best expressed by Protagoras, who said that “man is the measure of all things”. Humanism derived from the concept of Roman humanitas and the rediscovery of the Greek classics of philosophy. This new thinking showed in art, architecture, politics, science, and literature. Art developed a perspective in oil painting, and the revived knowledge of how to make concrete brought new creativity in architecture. Moreover, the changes of the Renaissance swept across Europe with the invention of metal movable type, first appearing in Italy in the late 13th century. As a result, the writings of Dante and the paintings of Giotto grew in popularity.

The innovative thinking of the Renaissance flowered in Latin and vernacular literatures. With that, learning returned to its classical sources. The development of linear perspective and other techniques resulted in more realistic painting. In addition, there was widespread educational reform. Renaissance politics refined diplomacy, and science benefited from better observation and inductive reasoning. Modern banking and accounting were introduced. But the Renaissance is best known for the artistic wealth of its polymaths like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, whose talents embodied the “Renaissance Man” ideal.

The Renaissance began in the Republic of Florence, one of the many city-states of Italy. With its social and civic peculiarities, its political structure, and the patronage of its dominant Medici family, the Renaissance was unique. To add to the mix, Florence attracted Greek scholars and their texts after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. Other major city-states of the Italian Renaissance included Venice, Genoa, Milan, Bologna and Rome, and Belgian cities such as Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Leuven, and Antwerp came into prominence.

But the Renaissance was not only Italian. The artistic genius of the Northern Renaissance thrived in the Shakespearean drama of the Elizabethan period in England and in the artistic masterpieces of Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein, Jan van Eyck, and Pieter Brueghal the Elder of the Netherlands and Germany. Adding to this wealth of art, print-making in Northern Europe at the time enabled images to be mass produced and widely distributed to the public. With this, the Protestant church was able to preach its beliefs through illustrated books and prints, engravings, and pamphlets, which paved the way for the Protestant Reformation.

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​Renaissance Index | Society | Culture | ReligionPower | Economy: BankingIndustryTrade | Early Renaissance: CultureArchitectureArtMusic | High Renaissance: ArtArchitecturePhilosophy | Northern Renaissance: CultureArtDramaLiteraturePhilosophyScience and Technology | Central Europe | England | France | Italy: Culture: Art: Mannerism | Learning: Vittorino da Feltre | Philosophy: HermeticismHumanism | Scholarship | Sculpture | Religion | Power: Progression | Spain

The Renaissance: Index






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Early Renaissance: Culture

Early Renaissance: Architecture

Early Renaissance: Art

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Early Renaissance: Music

High Renaissance: Index

High Renaissance: Art

High Renaissance: Architecture

High Renaissance: Philosophy

Northern Renaissance: Art

Northern Renaissance: Culture

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Northern Renaissance: Drama

Northern Renaissance: Literature

Northern Renaissance: Philosophy

Northern Renaissance: Science and Technology

Central Europe

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Italy: Culture

Italy: Art

Italy: Art: Mannerism

Italy: Learning

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Italy: Learning: Vittorino da Feltre

Italy: Philosophy




Italy: Sculpture

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Italy: Religion

Italy: Power

Power: Progression


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