Type: History
Pages: 6 | Words: 1533
Reading Time: 7 Minutes

The interest in Greek and Roman literature was spreading across Europe in the 12th century and led to the development of the humanist movement in the 14th century. Humanist’s beliefs differed from antique scholarship, because they believed, that each individual has significance within society. This new perspective of humanity has revolutionized the arts and science.

“The Renaissance began in Italy mainly because of its location in the middle of the Mediterranean. Italy became a center of commerce between Europe and Eurasia, therefore it became a link between the Europeans and the Muslims.” (Gersh, 2003) It is important to mention, that Italy was home to many wealthy families, willing to finance education. The Medici family ruled Florence and helped the development of arts and sciences.

These aristocrats paid people to learn and create for them, spreading knowledge into the lower classes. “With the rebirth of intellect came the greater interest in Ancient Greek and Roman culture that inspired the revival of Classicism. The 14th century through the 16th century was a period of economic changes in Europe, the most extensive changes took place in Italy.” (Gersh, 2003).

“Renaissance” literally means “rebirth.” It refers to the rebirth of science, art, literature that began in Italy in the fourteenth century, moved to the north, including England, by the sixteenth century, and ended in the north in the middle of the 17th century. “During this period, there was an unbelievable renewal of interest in and study of classical antiquity.” (Bergstein, 2002).

The return to the classics encouraged the philosophy of secularism, the appreciation of worldly pleasures, and above all intensified personal independence and individual expression. “Attention to the classics was the cause of the growing secular view of life.“ (Bergstein, 2002) In spite of ascetic Christian doctrine, there was the rapid growth of prosperity and luxury, and as a result, social contacts generated interest in worldly pleasures.

Renaissance was also an age of new discoveries, geographical as well as intellectual. In science, Copernicus attempted to prove that the sun rather than the earth was at the center of the planetary system, thus revolutionizing the cosmic world view that had existed in antiquity and the Middle Ages. “In religion, Martin Luther caused the division of Church that had dominated over Europe throughout the Middle Ages.” (Gersh, 2003)

During the Middle Ages, ancient classics had been also studied, but only Humanism applied to them not only under the aesthetic aspect but even more because of the desire to discover in them a model of life. “The main concept of Humanism: man is the builder of the world in which he is to live and to rule.” (Greenblatt, 1980).

The humanist cult of beauty proves that humanism was, above everything else, fundamentally an aesthetic movement. The human being, the individual himself, became the center and measure of all things. The ideal life was no longer an ascetic escape from society, but full participation in various human relationships. First Roman and then Greek culture was rediscovered by ambitious scholars in early modern Europe around 1350.

“The scholars of antiquity, unlike the Christians, were relatively unconcerned about the world after death and the eternal life of the soul. They were interested in a happy and efficient life here on our planet.” (Thompson, 1929) Classic philosophy was created to teach a man how to live successfully rather than how to die peacefully. This classic attitude had been lost for almost one thousand years. Humanism, directly and indirectly, revived the pagan scale of virtues. When humanists read works of ancient philosophers, they were impressed by the secular outlook of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Another thing that was brought to life was individualism. “The medieval Church was pointing at rebellious and sinful nature of individualism, humanists, on the other hand, were supporting views of ancient philosophers as to the right of the individual to express himself.” (Bergstein, 2002)

Increasing Individual Freedom and Autonomy in Renaissance

Renaissance was marked by the increase in individual freedom and autonomy, and the acceptance of physical existence, and of the desire to pursue a happy, practical life. “Humanists stressed man’s value and dignity as a being created in the image and likeness of God.” (Rhu, 1998) At that time appears a need for change in art. Artists, as well as philosophers, started pointing out the value and dignity of man as the supreme creation of God and the microcosm of the world. “Popular subjects included Biblical characters and subjects from Greek and Roman mythology.” (Thompson, 1929)

Renaissance art put a large emphasis on the importance of the Madonna in art. As the main source of inspiration was classical Roman and Greek art, Renaissance artists were also interested in the human body, especially in the nude body. “They tried to idealize the human form and were shown in physical perfection and purity with expression and unique personality.” (Thompson, 1929) During this period, the gap dividing other creative thinkers such as poets, philosophers, and scientists from artists began to decrease, moreover, they began to share ideas and learn from each other.

In the Middle ages, religious devotion and contemplation were placed in the first place, in the Renaissance, on the other hand, the highest values were usually associated with active involvement in the public. Of course, religious traditions still existed, some of the Humanists, like Erasmus, were Churchmen. “The Renaissance individual is taking an active part in the public life, he is educated and possesses skills in many subjects.” (Bergstein, 2002) Talking about the ideal Renaissance Man, we can’t but mention the names of Leonardo Da Vinci, John Milton, Francis Bacon.

There is no wonder, taking into account the philosophy of the Renaissance, that the artists also wanted to show joy, human beauty, and pleasures. The art of Renaissance is more so to say “down to earth”.

Renaissance Art

Talking about Renaissance art it is important to mention the name of the great artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. His works are still fascinating eyes of our contemporaries, and people are still trying to guess the secret behind the smile of his Mona Lisa. His Last Supper is probably one of the best works ever painted, it clearly shows different feelings of Jesus and his followers. “But Leonardo is not famous only for paintings, he was a real embodiment of “Renaissance Man”, as he was skilled in many fields. He was a scientist and an inventor as well as an artist.” (Thompson, 1929)

He made notes and drawings of everything he saw. Leonardo invented machines and even designed imitation wings that he hoped would let a person fly like a bird. Another great name is Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence, he was one of the greatest artists of all time. He was gifted in many fields like Leonardo, he was a sculptor, painter, and architect. He designed the dome of St. Peter’s church in Rome. “Michelangelo’s paintings cover the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the building where new popes have been selected for centuries.” (Thompson, 1929)

Michelangelo’s painting illustrates the Book of Genesis, with scenes that span from the Creation to the Flood. The Renaissance was an important time for artists. They developed new techniques as well as skills. “By the late Renaissance, artists were no longer considered as tradesmen, moreover, artists could become a highly respected member of the society” (Bergstein,2002).

He could maintain his own rules in his work and enjoy a much higher social status than a mere craftsman. That is why artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo became famous throughout Europe, helping create the modern image of the artist as an independent creative genius.

“We can not refer to the Renaissance as just a “rebirth” of works of ancient scholars. It greatly influenced painting, sculpture, and architecture.”

“Paintings became more realistic and focused less often on religious topics.” (Thompson, 1929) “Artists style was concentrated showing nature and depicting the feelings of people.” (Bergstein, 2002) During this period there was a flowering in literature and drama that included the plays of William Shakespeare.

Despite the fact, that Medieval scholars were also interested in classic works, humanists’ works were different from the works of their predecessors. The most popular representative of English Renaissance literature is William Shakespeare. In Italy, Petrarch is considered a founder of the humanist movement.

“A follower of Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, wrote works that include a collection of classical myths, and the “Decameron”, a book of 100 stories told by Italian courtesans taking refuge from the Black Plague.”(Rhu, 1998) In France, Rabelais was the author of Gargantua and Pantagruel, the satirical biographies of two giants. Those characters represent the humanist belief in the immensity of human capability.

One of the most famous works of the Reformation was “Utopia” written by Thomas More. “Utopia” is often called a satire and there are many jokes and satirical asides such as how honest people are in Europe, but these are usually contrasted with the simple, uncomplicated society of the Utopians.” (Rhu, 1998) This satire may probably be applied to every nowadays society and may be a lesson to the next generations.


In a conclusion, it may be added, that era of the Renaissance was a great time of discoveries, literature, art, and science. Renaissance gave us names of great painters, poets, and writers. It was a great period when there was a belief in the power of mankind.

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