The Renaissance was a cultural movement and time period in the History of Europe, considered to mark the end of the Middle Ages. The Renaissance is usually considered to have begun in the 14th century in Italy and the 16th century in northern Europe. It is also known as "Rinascimento" (in Italian).
The following article discusses the Renaissance in its most traditional form, as a cultural and scientific rebirth that began in 14th century Italy, where one of its main centers was Florence, Italy, and then spread throughout Europe. In science, theology, literature and art, the Renaissance began with a rediscovery of and focus on older Greek texts which had disappeared from the West in the latter years of the Roman Empire.
"Renaissance" is a French word that literally means rebirth. This name has been historically used in contrast to the Dark Ages, a term coined by Petrarch to refer to what we now call the Middle Ages. Following Petrarch's lead, the term had long been considered appropriate because during the Renaissance, the literature and culture of the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome were adopted by scholars and artists in Italy, and widely disseminated through printing.
The term renaissance was probably first applied to this period of history by the Florentine painter Vasari in around 1550. Vasari used the term Renaissance to describe the changes in the world of art that occurred during that time. Many people today still make the mistake of identifying the renaissance as purely an artistic movement.
More properly, the renaissance was a movement that embodied both culture, thought, and especially learning. The renaissance itself can be identified with the rise of Humanism which began in Italy with authors such as Boccaccio and Petrarch in the 14th century and ran through the 15th century with Erasmus and many others, and into the High Renaissance period of the 16th century when Mannerism became prevalent.
Towards the end of the Renaissance, scientists increasingly began to reject Greek (and biblical) sources in favor of new discoveries. Theologians continued to focus on the Greek, as well as on the relatively new study Hebrew and Aramaic. The second half of the Renaissance is also the period of the Reformation, although it could be argued that the conflict between Humanism and Scholasticism, which was very much the footprint of the Renaissance, was also the starting point for the Reformation. In any case, the Renaissance and Reformation overlapped fairly heavily if you were to take a strict time-period viewpoint.
Rinascimento is also considered as a sort of natural evolution of italian Umanesimo.
During the last quarter of the 20th century, however, more and more scholars began to take a view that the Renaissance was perhaps only one of many such movements. This was in large part due to the work of historians like Charles H. Haskins, who made convincing cases for a "Renaissance of the 12th century," as well as by historians arguing for a "Carolingian renaissance." Both of these concepts are now accepted by the scholarly community at large; as a result, the present trend among historians is to discuss each so-called renaissance in more particular terms, e.g., the Italian Renaissance, the English Renaissance, etc. This terminology is particularly useful because it eliminates the need for fitting "The renaissance" into a chronology that previously held that it was preceded by the Middle Ages and followed by the Reformation, which was sometimes patently false. The entire period is now more often replaced by the term 'Early Modern' in the practice of historians. See periodization.
Although the Renaissance was a time of significant change in comparison to the Middle Ages, there were times of both peace and prosperity, and war, disease and famine. For the average man in the street (or village) daily life had changed little since the Middle Ages. Diet was similar, life was short (an average life expectancy of 30 - 35 years in most parts of Europe, with perhaps a 50% child mortality rate within the first year of life), and war and disease were commonplace.
In comparison to the 14th century, however, the 15th century and the 16th century were both times of population growth, economic growth, and relative prosperity, especially for the town people and those of privilege.
Politics during the Italian Renaissance came to be dominated by the Italian wars, the various struggles and scandals surrounding the Papacy, and the lives of the great leaders and condottieri of the peninsula.
- Leonardo Bruni
- Isabella dEste
- Francesco Foscari
- Cosimo de Medici
- Lorenzo de Medici (a.k.a. Lorenzo il Magnifico)
- Coluccio Salutati
- Francesco Sforza
Northern European Renaissance
Politics in Northern Europe during the Renaissance was dominated by:
- The Italian wars pursued in Italy by the kings of France, beginning with Charles VIII and Louis XII and continuing through the reign of Francis I. Although Charles and Louis spent much of their reigns in Italy, France did not truly adopt the culture of the Italian Renaissance until the reign of Francis.
- The Tudor Dynasty in England produced a series of successful kings, beginning with Henry VII (who, despite the fact that his claim to the throne rested on irregular descent, won his crown by invading, and persuading key lords to abandon Richard III), to his son Henry VIII and continuing through the reign of Elizabeth I, arguably England's most successful (and last) Renaissance monarch.
- In Spain, Austria and the Habsburg lands, the greatest monarch of the period was probably Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, despite his being ultimately unsuccessful in his attempts to unite nearly all of Europe under the one crown.
Religion in the Renaissance can be best summed up by saying that the Renaissance was a period of huge religious turmoil. The studies and teachings of the Humanists eventually lead to the Reformation, and many of the religious debates can be broadly (and as inaccurately as broad generalisations usually are) categorised as a battle between the establishment and the new blood.
Undoubtedly one of the major threads was forged by Henry VIII of England when he declared his realm independant of Rome, establishing his own Church of England, and thereby beginning the trend whereby the Catholic Church ceased to be able to provide a supra-national force of unification.
Perhaps the most significant invention of the Renaissance was the printing press. Apart from allowing many copies of the Bible to be distributed much more easily and cheaply than copying by hand, the new technology allowed wide distribution of political information, Renaissance Music works, Renaissance Dance texts, heresies, and many other works.
- Andrea Alciato
- Ludovico Ariosto
- Leonardo Bruni
- Giovanni Boccaccio
- Erasmus of Rotterdam
- Michel de Montaigne
- Petrarch, Francesco Petrarca
- Coluccio Salutati
- Francois Rabelais
- William Shakespeare
- Thomas More
Science and Technology in the Renaissance was focussed around the major sciences of astrology and geometry, as well as medicine, magic and alchemy. Although astronomy was a major emerging science, it did not truly come into its own until after the end of the 16th century. Until Johannes Kepler, astronomy was a science that was studied purely to enable better understanding of astrology.
Nonetheless, the advent of the printing press did allow for much wider distribution of scientific thought during the Renaissance than had been possible in the Middle Ages and so scientists throughout Europe were able to collaborate on works and exchange theories in a way that was not previously possible. Everyone knew what everyone else was working on, even if it was completely wrong.
- Fra Angelico
- Giotto di Bondone
- Hieronymus Bosch
- Pieter Brueghel the Elder
- Pieter Brueghel the Younger
- Jan Brueghel the Elder
- Jan Brueghel the Younger
- Filippo Brunelleschi
- Sandro Botticelli
- Albrecht Durer
- Raphael, Raffaello Sanzio
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Jan van Eyck
- Rogier van der Weyden
The advent of the printing press in the Renaissance allowed the wide distribution of printed music. This allowed composers to sell their work more widely and obtain a better living. Important Renaissance composers and arrangers of music include Josquin Des Prez and Tielman Susato.