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Renaissance in Italy and its Spread in Western Europe

Significance of Renaissance

The word Renaissance, of Latin origin, means rebirth or revival. It signifies the sudden revival of interest in the classical learning of Greece and Rome. In the course of development, however, the Renaissance became more than a mere revival of classical learning. It included an impressive record of new achievements in art, literature, science, philosophy, education, religion, and politics. Renaissance incorporated a number of ideas. Notable among them were humanism, scepticism, individualism, and secularism.

A unique aspect of the Renaissance was the contribution made not by monks and nobles, but by laypersons. Causes of Renaissance Significance of Renaissance T he word Renaissance, of Latin origin, means rebirth or revival. It signifies the sudden revival of interest in the classical learning of Greece and Rome.

Causes of Renaissance

(i) New experiences during the Crusades [religious wars aimed at recovering the Holy Land from Muslim rule], the rise of independent trading cities like Venice, Florence, Genoa, Lisbon, Paris, London, Antwerp, Hamburg and Nuremberg, with many visiting travellers, and the establishment of universities at Paris (France), Oxford (England), and Bologno (Italy) provided the necessary preliminary conditions for the birth of renaissance.

(ii) Philosophical discussion, which had begun as early as the eleventh century, continued to produce great minds. The most prominent among them in thethirteenth century was Roger Bacon (1214–1294). An English philosopher who lived in Oxford, Bacon is considered the father of modern experimental science. He wanted human kind to be ruled not by dogma and authority but rather by reason.

(iii) In 1393, a famous scholar of Constantinople, Manuel Chrysaloras, arrived in Venice on a mission from the Byzantine emperor to seek the help of the West in the war against the Turks. Chrysaloras was eventually persuaded to accept a professorship of Greek classics at the University of Florence. About the beginning of the fifteenth century several other Byzantine scholars migrated to Italy. The influence of these scholars inspired Italian scholars to make trips to Constantinople and other Byzantine cities in search of manuscripts.

Between 1413 and 1423 one Giovanni Aurispa brought back nearly 250 manuscript books, including the works of Sophocles, Euripides, and Thucydides. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 there was a great exodus of classical scholars to Western Europe which gave a fillip to classical learning.

(iv) The Byzantine world not only gave Christendom the stimulus of its scholars and philosophers, it also gave it paper. Though paper originated in China in second century BC (BCE)., it reached Germany only by the fourteenth century. Thereupon, the invention of moveable type and the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg followed. With printing, the intellectual life of the world entered a far more vigorous phase. Knowledge spread swiftly.

Italy as the birthplace of Renaissance

Renaissance began in Italian cities and later spread to western Europe. Italians preserved the belief that they were descendants of the ancient Romans. They looked back upon their ancestry with pride. Italy had a more secular culture than most other parts of Latin Christendom. The old cathedrals and paintings seemed to them gloomy and the old traditions irksome. So in their search for something more to their liking, they discovered books written in Latin. They learnt to write Latin as the ancient Romans did.

T hey also learnt Greek and thereby discovered wonderful works of the Athenians of the time of Pericles and facilitated a rebirth of the ancient and the bygone era of Greek and Roman culture. Italian universities were established primarily for the study of law and philosophy.

The Medici Family: Florence is one of the city states in Italy which was influenced by a powerful merchant family called Medici. Cosimo de Medici who was engaged in banking with many branches across Italy had indirect control over the functioning of the government between 1434 and 1464. After his death, his grandson Lorenzo took over and controlled the government. He was known as Lorenzo, the Magnificent. During this period, the Medici family patronised many artists including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Italy was situated in the centre of Mediterranean Sea and hence the Italian cities were the main beneficiaries of the revival of trade with the East. By the fourteenth century Italian cities engaged in sea-borne trade had become fabulously rich. The Renaissance movement was accelerated by two prosperous families, the Medici family in Florence and the Sforza family in Milan.

Popes such as NicholasV, Pius II, Julius II and Leo X bestowed their patronage upon the most brilliant artists of the Italian Renaissance.

Florence as Home of Renaissance

Even in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Florence had produced Dante (12651321) and Petrarch, the two great poets of the Italian language. Dante’s Divine Comedy is a summation of medieval culture. Its dominant theme is the salvation of mankind through reason and divine grace. But it abounds with many other themes such as human love, love of country, interest in natural phenomena and even the desire for a free and united Italian nation.

Petrarch (1304-1374) produced works both in Latin and Italian. An early humanist, he is considered to be the father of Italian Renaissance literature. Petrarch’s inquiring mind and love of classical authors led him to travel, visiting men of learning and searching in monastic libraries for classical manuscripts. It is believed that his rediscovery of Cicero’s letters was a key moment in the 14th century Italian Renaissance.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), also a Florentine, produced Decameron, a collection of 100 stories, as told by seven young women and three young men, during their stay at a villa outside of Florence to escape the ravages of the Black Death.

obligation of the ruler was to maintain the power and safety of the country over which he ruled. No consideration of justice or mercy or the sanctity of treaties should be allowed to stand in his way. Machiavelli maintained that all men are prompted exclusively by motives of self-interest and the head of the state should therefore take nothing for granted as to the loyalty or affection of his subjects. ‘A Prince’ says Machiavelli, ‘must know how to play at once man and beast, lion and fox. He neither should nor can keep his word when to do so will turn against him…. I venture to maintain that it is very disadvantageous always to be honest; useful on the other hand, to appear pious and faithful, humane and devout. Nothing is more useful than the appearance of virtue.’

Renaissance in Art

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

Leonardo da Vinci In Florence there was an artist who wanted to have a perfect understanding of all the things he painted and how they related to each other. This was Leonardo da Vinci, the son of a farm servant-girl. So he was a self-taught man in Latin and Mathematics. He was also a sculptor, a great thinker and scientist. He got corpses from graveyards to dissect and understand human anatomy so that he could depict human bodies realistically. He was the f irst to discover that blood circulated through the body.

Given his multifaceted talents da Vinci is considered to be a great example of the Renaissance Man. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpieces include Virgin of the Rocks, Last Supper and Mona Lisa. In Virgin of the Rocks, the Virgin Mary, emerging from darkness, presents the young John the Baptist to the Christ Child. He painted Last Supper (Jesus’s final meal with the apostles before his crucifixon) for the Dominican monastery in Milan. Mona Lisa, his most famous portrait, is believed to be the image of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a wealthy merchant from Florence, Francesco del Giocondo, who commissioned it.

Michelangelo (1475–1564)

Donatello was one of the earlier artists to create a very realistic and majestic painting of David, the Biblical hero in the 1460s. He influenced Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni who is considered to be the greatest Renaissance sculptor. The Cathedral of St. Peters in Rome, built by the Popes, was fashioned by Michelangelo. His dome of St. Peters, the realistic statue of David, and the magnificent paintings on the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel are outstanding examples of Renaissance art. He also sculpted the famous Pieta, a statue of the Virgin Mary, grieving over the body of dead Christ. It was carved out of a single marble stone from Carrera in Central It

Raphael (1483–1520)

Raphael’s famous work is Madonna and Child, where Virgin Mary and child Jesus are portrayed. Raphael painted the library walls of Pope Julius II with various religious themes. One such theme was School of Athens that highlighted the classical influence on the renaissance art. He painted himself along with the paintings of Leonardo and Michelangelo.

Science and Technology

During the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, science also developed rapidly leading to a Scientific Revolution. Scientists of this period had to antagonise the Church, for the Church did not like people to think and experiment, and question god. Nicolas Copernicus (1473–1543), a Polish scientist, propounded the theory that the Sun was at the centre of the solar system and all the planets including the earth revolved around the sun (heliocentric). This was the opposite view of the Church which propagated the earth-centric (geocentric) view. Any views that opposed the Church’s ideas were considered heresy.

Copernicus postponed the publication of his work on the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres almost till the end of his life. Giordano Bruno, an Italian, was burned in Rome by the Church in 1600 for insisting that the earth went round the sun. The most important astronomical evidence for the heliocentric theory was furnished by the great of astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). With a telescope, he discovered the satellites of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and the spots on the sun. He was made the professor of Medicine and Maths by the Medici family at the University of Padua (University of Republic of Venice).

He made efforts to make science stay detached from religion. He accepted the views of Copernicus who propounded the heliocentric theory. He was tried for heresy by the Church and was kept under house arrest. Among the prominent men of science in the sixteenth century William Harvey (1578-1657) was one who finally proved the circulation of the blood in the human body.

Spread of Renaissance in Western Europe

Renaissance in England

The renaissance had its impact not only in Italy but in many parts of Europe including France and Germany. It left a deep imprint on England. The rule of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) came to be called the Elizabethan Age. The Elizabethan Age produced many scholars during the English Renaissance. Notable among them were William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Francis Bacon. Christopher Marlowe was an English playwright, whose important works include Dido, The Queen of Carthage, and Tamburlaine the Great. The greatest writer in English was William Shakespeare.

Born at Stratford upon Avon, he wrote 38 plays and many poems involving various human emotions namely love, anger, tragedy, jealousy, and deceit. His comedy plays include As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream while Othello, Hamlet, King Lear and Romeo and Juliet are examples of tragedies. His plays, performed in the Globe theatre in London were popular. The plays had a profound impact on the English language, and when Britain became an empire after the industrial revolution his plays spread across the world.Francis Bacon is considered the father of empiricism.

He argued that inductive reasoning (an approach to logical thinking that involves making generalisations based on specific details and is the opposite of deductive reasoning) is the base for scientific knowledge. His most important work is Novum Organum, a philosophical work written in Latin. It deals with methodical observation of facts as a means of studying and interpreting natural phenomena.

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