The Renaissance was used as a term to describe the changes in philosophy, literature, art, religion, politics and music in the period starting from the 14th century to the 17th century in Europe. The term, originally, is a French word that means ‘rebirth’. Some of the greatest thinkers, authors, statesmen, scientists and artists in human history, such as the great Italian painter, architect, “Renaissance man” and the painter of “The Mona Lisa” – Leonardo da Vinci, belong to this period. Some other popular names like the Italian astronomer and engineer-Galileo; Mathematician and astronomer – Nicolaus Copernicus; Italian painter – Titian, England’s ‘national poet’- William Shakespeare, were born during this period.
The Renaissance is credited with bridging the gap between the Middle Ages and modern-day civilisation. It is also one of the most disputed periods in European history and gets varying opinions of the European scholars. Some scholars suggest that the changes from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance were significant, but not as dynamic as historians once thought, while others completely disagree.
It is said that the Renaissance began in Italy in about 1350 and then was introduced to the rest of Europe after 1450. It supposedly lasted until 1620.
From Darkness to Light
During the Middles Ages, from the fall of Rome in 476 AD to the beginning of the 14th century, Europeans made only a few advances in science and art. This period, also called ‘Dark Ages’, is often seen as a time of war, ignorance, famine and pandemics such as the Black Death (bubonic plague).
‘Humanism’ started as a cultural movement during the 14th century and began to gain strength in Italy. Humanism propagated several principles. One of them was embracing human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science.
The invention of the printing press, in 1450, in the Gutenberg, escalated the pace of the movement of these ideas across Europe. As a result of this advancement in communication, some of the little known texts from some early humanists such as Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio, which promoted the renewal of traditional Greek and Roman cultures and ideas, were printed and thus it reached the masses.
Promotion by the wealthy classes
The Renaissance started in Florence, Italy, where wealthy citizens could afford to support their rich art and budding artists.
Some important families, such as the powerful Medici family which ruled Florence for more than 60 years, backed the movement.
The movement was called an intellectual and great artistic revolution by great Italian writers, artists and political thinkers, who declared it to be much different from what was experienced during the Dark Ages.
The movement initially spread to other Italian city-states, such as Venice, Milan, Bologna, Ferrara and Rome, then to France and soon to the whole western and northern Europe.
Fusion of spheres
The Renaissance is seen as a unique time when art, architecture and science were closely linked and fused together seamlessly. For instance, artists like da Vinci mixed scientific principles, such as anatomy into their work, so they could recreate the human body with exceptional accuracy.
Art during the Renaissance was highly inspired by realism and naturalism, where artists strived to depict humans and objects in a true-to-life way. For this, they used techniques, such as perspective, shadows and light to add depth to their art piece. Some artists also tried to infuse emotions to their work.
Some scientific discoveries in the period led to major shifts in thinking: Galileo and Descartes presented a new side of astrology and mathematics; Copernicus offered a new and correct theory of the Earth circling the Sun, which was in the centre of the solar system, and not otherwise which was believed until then.
While some artists and thinkers used their talents to express their ideas to the world, others travelled the world to learn more about it. Voyagers launched expeditions to travel the entire globe. In a period known as the Age of Discovery, not only important ideas but new shipping routes were also discovered to the Americas, India and further East of Europe. Famous journeys were taken by travellers like Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and Amerigo Vespucci (after whom America is named).
Renaissance and Religion
Humanism encouraged Europeans to question the role of the authoritative Roman Catholic Church during the Renaissance.
With the invention of the printing press and spread of literacy among common people, philosophers and political thinkers used the medium of print to spread their critical thoughts on religion. Also, print allowed texts, including the Bible, to be easily reproduced and widely read by the people, themselves, for the first time.
This later caused a split in the Catholic Church. Luther questioned many of the practices of the church and whether they aligned with what the Bible said.
As a result, a new form of Christianity, known as Protestantism, was created.
Towards the end
The end of the Renaissance, according to scholars, was the result of several features together.
By the end of the 15th century, the Italian peninsula, Spain, France and Germany fought with each other to get control over the Italian territories. This caused severe disturbances and instability in the region.
Changes in the trade routes led to a period of economic decline and limited the amount of money that wealthy patrons (clients) spent on the arts.
Later, a movement known as the Counter-Reformation, led by the Catholic church, censored artists and writers in response to the Protestant Reformation.
Debates over the Renaissance
As we have read earlier, while a few scholars viewed the Renaissance as a unique and exciting time in the European history that revolutionised the continent, others agree that the period wasn’t much different from the Middle Ages.
While the exact timing and overall effects of the period are sometimes debated, there’s little dispute over the fact that the events ultimately led to advances that changed the way people saw and understood the world around them.
- What is the meaning of the term – ‘Renaissance’?
a. changes b.advances c. rebirth d. modernity
2. Where did Renaissance begin?
a. Italy b. Britain c. France d. Rome
3. Which era did Renaissance follow?
a. the age of revolution b. the bright age c. the dark age d. the age of discovery
4. Fill in the blanks:
a. ________ propagated several principles like embracing human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science.
b. The Renaissance started in the ____ century and ended in ____ century.
c. Art during Renaissance was highly inspired by _______ and ________, where artists depicted people and objects in a true-to-life way.
d. In the 16th century, Martin Luther, a German monk, started the ____________ which created a new form of Christianity, known as Protestantism.
5. List the reasons for the end of Renaissance.
6. Why is Renaissance one of the most disputed periods in the European history?
7. How did Renaissance and introduction of the printing press eventually lead to the division of Christianity?
8. Give an example for the “fusion of spheres” during renaissance.