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Renaissance Essay, Research Paper

The Italian Renaissance was one of the most colorful, vital, and exciting times in history. Renaissance eventually comes from the French word “Renaistre,” meaning “to be born again.” The Renaissance was a revival or a rebirth of cultural awareness and learning among art, law, language, literature, philosophy, science, and mathematics. This period took place between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Renaissance in Italy flourished in the 15th century and spread throughout most of Europe in the 16th century.

What was the Renaissance and why did it happen? Italian life in the 14th and 15th centuries was lived among the vast ruins of the ancient Roman Empire. The cruelty and barbarism of Rome had long been forgotten, and the splendor of that lost civilization’s ruins suggested a glorious, golden past. By contrast, the period following the fall of the Rome in the fifth century seemed to some Italian intellectuals and artists to be a period of decline and decay.

An Italian poet by the name of Francesco Petrarch, who lived from 1304 to 1374, was the first to use the term “dark ages” to describe that period. He convinced his influential friends that the way to bring the dark ages to an end was to revive the ideals preserved in the poetry, philosophy, and art of the ancient world.

Petrarch and his followers called themselves humanists because they defended and glorified the value of man’s life on earth. The Church, at the time, taught that life was important mainly because the way it was lived had an effect on the soul’s fate after death. The humanists believed that mankind had unlimited potential which each individual should stive to achieve. The Renaissance came into being through the humanists and their ideas.

The impact of humanism on the arts was enormous. The subject matter of painting prior to the Renaissance was primarily religious: It was concerned not with the naturalistic portrayal to human life, but primarily with provoking a religious reaction in the viewer. Painters were not interested in making a picture realistic-they did not use perspective. The more important figures in the painting were frequently made larger than all the others, and often the element of landscape was omitted completely. Members of the Holy Family for example, would be painted against a background of shining gold, which signified the heavens.

During the Renaissance, all that changed. The period was characterized by a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman design and included an emphasis on human beings and the environment.

The secularism and humanism of the Renaissance were reflected in its scholarship and education. Its concern was with this world rather than the hereafter, and its focus was on pagan classics rather than Christian theology. The father Of Renaissance literature, Petrarch, stressed that the new boarding schools were not to train priests but the sons of merchants.

The humanist movement was further stimulated by the influence of Byzantine scholars who came to Italy after the fall of Constantinople (present day Istanbul) to the Turks in 1453 and also by the establishment of the Platonic Academy in Florence. The academy, whose leading thinker was Marsillo Ficino, was founded by the 15th century Florentine statesman and patron of the arts Cosimo de’ Medici. The institution thought to revive Platonism and had paticular influence on the literature, painting, and architecture of the times.

The feature of Italian Renaissance that distinguishes it from preceding eras is the extent and depth of its devotion to Classical Antiquity. Renaissance art demonstrates how the search for idealization of form itself can be a spiritual exercise, summoning up for the onlooker a sense of the perfection of G-d via the perfection of the idealized human figure or the proportions of a building. The rediscovery of classical art that glorified human beauty and emphasized individual differences had a profound effect on painters of the Renaissance.

The Italian painter Giotto, who lived in the 13th century, painted scenes from the New Testament that were full of human drama, naturalistically portrayed. By the time Leonardo began his artistic career, about 140 years’ later, painters were free to create scenes of much more earthly inspiration. They drew many of their subjects from ancient myths, and portrait painting of wealthy patrons and members of their families had become a profitable business for the artist willing, and sufficiently skillful, to flatter his client. Many artists felt at home painting Biblical scenes, myths, and portraits. Leonardo’s contributions to Renaissance painting revolutionized it as completely as Giotto’s contributions had changed medieval painting almost two centuries earlier.

The Renaissance of Italy was rich from the banking profits of families like the Medici’s and from expanded trade. It was the age of flourishing artisans and skilled craftsmen. The rich and powerful became patrons of the talented and brilliant, giving artists and thinkers the freedom to create and speculate-and, in their spare time, to immortalize their patrons. As wealth flowed into the coffers of the great Italian cities, art prospered and optimism reigned about man’s potential to understand the universe and his place in it. Behind all the achievements of the Renaissance lies the belief that man has the capacity to improve himself, to grow and to learn.

Today, we use the term “Renaissance man” to describe someone who can do many things well. The ideal man of the Renaissance was supposed to be a philosopher, a poet, a scholar, a scientist, an artist, a soldier, and a courtier. One of the most amazing aspects of the Renaissance, is that so many of its prominent figures actually deserved the description.


Turner,Richard A. (1997) Renaissance Florence-The Invention of a new art

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