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A Comparison of the Medieval and Renaissance Eras

It is amazing how significantly various aspects of society can and will change over

a prolonged period of time. Between the time periods of the Medieval era and the

Renaissance, one can note numerous significant changes, mainly those pertaining to art

and religion. In general, ideals and subjects during the Renaissance became more secular.

In Medieval times, people seemed to focus mainly on the church, God, and the afterlife;

whereas during the Renaissance, the focus was more secular: humans and life on earth.

Although these two eras differ in many ways, the most concentrated differences deal with

the realms of architecture, painting, and philosophy.

Architecture noticeably shifted from religious awe to classical reason between the

Medieval era and the Renaissance. During the Middle Ages, architecture was aimed

mainly at making advancements in the church. Medieval cathedrals had very distinct

features, such as pointed spires, which were exactly that — spires, or steeples, that were

pointed and extended upward from the tower area; the rose window, which was a large

stained glass window that was located on the front of the tower; and squared-off exterior

walls, which were a contrast to the usual rounded exterior designs that people were

accustomed to. Overall, cathedrals during this time could have very elegant features due

to the excellent techniques of support and stabilization. Buttresses, simple extensions of

the cathedral wall to enhance support, and flying buttresses, stone structures set away

from the cathedral wall and attached at the top, contributed to the excellent support that

Medieval cathedrals experienced. While architectural advancements during the Middle

Ages were concerned mainly with making elegant reformations in the structure of the

cathedral, architecture during the Renaissance was much less religion-centered, and

revolved more around classical reason and secularity. Architecture in this time was

concentrated mostly with the design of castles, such as the home of the prevailing Italian

Medici family, perhaps the richest family in Europe. Architectural focus had changed

from the cathedral in the Medieval era to other, more classical and secular subjects, such

as castles and homes of significant rulers.

The style, subjects, and overall attitude of painting was something that underwent

very significant changes during the progression from Medieval times to the Renaissance.

Generally, paintings became more secular, and less focused on aspects of the church, as

the Renaissance approached. Medieval paintings seem to be focused almost entirely on

religion and are given heavenly attributes, while paintings of the Renaissance consist

mainly of secular subjects and contain much more realism, especially noted in human

subjects. In Giotto’s Madonna With Child, a Medieval painting, any observer will

obviously notice that the child and woman are very awkwardly proportioned, indicating

the lack of realism. However, in the Mona Lisa, by DaVinci, and The Marriage of the

Virgin, by Raphael, both paintings of the Renaissance, it is evident the amount of realism

that the artists were attempting to portray. Both of these paintings are extremely realistic,

seemingly three-dimensional, very well-proportioned, and involve large amounts of

shading to accentuate the realism. When considering the subjects of Medieval painting, the

majority of them were religious oriented or somehow involved the church, whereas

religion or the church was seldom involved in Renaissance paintings. Rather, paintings of

the Renaissance involved mostly secular subjects, as seen again in DaVinci’s Mona Lisa

and also Raphael’s The School of Athens. In the case of the Mona Lisa, the subject is a

typical woman with a very sublime smile, but with no apparent religious association

whatsoever. The same applies to The School of Athens; it is a painting of a group of

philosophers in a barrel-vaulted and domed hall: no religious connection can be made here,

either. On the contrary, the Medieval painting, The Annunciation, deals with exactly that:

an annunciation, a religious event in which many Christian churches commemorate the

announcement of the incarnation of Luke. As shown in these examples, painting took a

very secular turn in the Renaissance from the religious-based paintings that were found in

the Middle Ages.

Perhaps the greatest and most evident way in which the Medieval and Renaissance

time periods differ is found in the opposing premises of philosophy. Again, the theme of

progression from religious-oriented thoughts in the Middle Ages to the secular ideals of

the Renaissance is evident. The Medieval philosopher, Aristotle, proposed the logic that

the systematic ordering of knowledge, in addition to reason, need to be applied to the

Bible in order for one to be ultimately successful. This logic is pointed directly at the

significance of religion and the church during the time. In addition to Aristotle’s proposed

logic, the general view of people in the Middle Ages was that of putting faith in the

church, with hopes that that is where their problems could be solved and their questions

could be answered. During the latter Renaissance, however, thoughts were more

associated with life on earth. New confidence in human abilities and thought was

developed, and there were many more inquiries pertaining to science and reason, rather

than religion as it was in the Middle Ages. Philosophic developments during the

Renaissance were made to be more practical and had more realistic applications to the

“real world.” The philosopher, Machiavelli, is an example of this, as he made attempts to

find a balance between freedom and authority, something that was very useful in life and

put no confidence in the church or God. He developed the idea that a corrupt society

needs to find a strong leader to govern so that the people can learn to be capable of self-

government. This was a practical idea and applicable to everyday life. Ideals during the

Renaissance became more directed toward practicality concerning life on earth and put

less faith in the church than did the people living in the Middle Ages.

The ultimate changing theme that was evident during the progression from the

Medieval to Renaissance eras was that of religious-based ideals to ideals that were much

more secular. People took a turn from putting all their faith in the church and concerning

themselves with the afterlife, and began developing practical logic and reason toward

living their life on earth. As seen in the differences in architecture, painting, and

philosophy, attitudes and morals of people living in the Renaissance were much different

and more secular-based than those of people living in the Middle Ages. Medieval times

were based mainly on trust in one’s own religion and church, while the Renaissance

involved a time period in which people developed an increasing pursuit in learning and

imaginative responses to broaden horizons.


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