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The Renaissance was significant on the development of Western Europe and the Impact it had was immense. The Renaissance not only influenced the worlds of art, music, and literature, but also the worlds of politics, religion, and society. During the Renaissance, advancements were made in several areas of technology and in thought. The Renaissance was a key in the development of Western Civilization.
The Renaissance is a term that was coined in the 19th century to describe a period in which art and literature flourished in Europe, but there were so many significant changes during this time period that the term Renaissance began to mean all the developments during this time period. The time frame of the Renaissance occurs over several centuries. It began in Italy in the 14th century, and in the 15th century, the period flourished. The 16th century brought an end to the Renaissance with the coming of a crisis in Italy which spread throughout the European Continent(Lurier).
Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, Europe was in a period of decline. Eventually, Europe, for the most part, had adopted a feudal
society. There were knights and lords in this period, as well as vassals and serfs. Cities of the great Roman Empire were slums for the most part, and in the country, estates with feudal lords offered protection to local villagers from attack (it is for this that villages developed close to feudal estates). Life was generally hard and not too stable. The Renaissance was a result of this life, almost retaliation more than reaction(Michelet).
As stated above, the Renaissance started in Italy, to get technical, it actually started in the town of Florence. A reason why the Renaissance started in Italy perhaps relates to the fact that Italian city-states survived in Italy perhaps relates to the fact that Italian city-states survived the middle ages for various reasons (the were located strategically, and they were important places of trade). Northern Europe did not fair as well as the Italian city-states(Kagan).
Although the opposite would be true in
The sixteenth and seventeenth centures,
The city-states of Italy survived the
Century and a half between 1300 and 1450
Better than the territorial states of
Northern Europe. This was due to Italy’s
Strategic location between East and West
And its lucrative Eurasian trade. Great
Wealth gave rulers and merchants the
Ability to work their will on both society
And culture. They became patrons of government,
Education, and the arts, always as much for
Self-aggrandizement as out of benevolence, for
Whether a patron was a family, a firm, a
Government, or the church, their endowments
Enhanced their reputation and power. The
Result of such patronage was a cultural
Renaissance in Italian cities unmatched
Elsewhere(Kagan,Ozment, and Turner
The advantage of Italian city-states can be linked to trade. Some cities such as Venice traded without interruption through the middle ages. During this time, economic factors made it possible for traders of these cities to learn applications such as banking and book keeping which, in time would spread all over Europe. The Merchants of the city-states also learned such tactics as creating monopolies. Bankers, such as the Medici family became extremely affluent, and modern banking practices come directly from them. In fact, at one point, the Italian bankers became the bankers of choice for all Europe(Kagan).
The Wealth of the city-states greatly influenced the Renaissance. In the city-states of Italy there was a major influence in power, and how to attain it. Eventually, for the most part, the Merchants controlled the politics of the city-states, and the wealth grew (as did the size of the city-states). For a period, Florence was ruled by a council of six men (later it was made up of eight men) who were elected. This was not democracy, but at least there
were elections. Constitutions were held by some city-states, thus, the city-states that held constitutions had a constitutional government. This is a development in politics for the time because Kings and Princes ruled most of Europe(Andrea).
Humanism came out of the Italian Renaissance. There are several types of humanism, but the best one of the Renaissance was the one that followed the belief of man being unique; that is to say that everyone is different, and should be treated with dignity. This brought on a growth in education and the arts. Humanism of the Renaissance came mostly from the people who were not of the clergy, and wanted to learn the liberal arts. Writing and poetry became important again, as did art and thought; all of the liberal arts, it was thought, contributed to the achievement of the human race, and its dignity. Humanists studied directly from the original sources. They learned Latin and Greek to do so. In doing this they did not have to rely on what others thought of classical works, which meant that they could come up with their own views on the subjects. The humanists were not only scholars, they were teachers as well; which furthered education in the Italian City States. Some humanist believed the original Latin was
far better than the vernacular (or language of the area one is native too), while others felt the exact opposite. Humanists were interested in politics and civic life(Perry).
During the Renaissance, politics also developed greatly. In fact, one of the greatest political works ever written came from this time period. This work was written by Machiavelli, and he called his work The Prince. This work is still used today in the world of politics. It is a model for ideal leadership of a nation, and gives an insight into the thinking involved to rule successfully(Andrea).
In terms of art and culture, the Renaissance was a time when art became more realistic, and nature was looked at as art. Various technological advances made painting better; one such advancement was oil paints. Also, during this time period, linear perspective was developed. Linear perspective gave feeling of proportion to paintings, thereby, offer continuity of subjects in a painting. This is still very important to paintings today (with some exceptions)(Perry).
The rest of Europe during this time also was experiencing a rebirth. Most of the changes in Northern
Europe concerned the building of nations, and religion. This time period saw rulers unifying areas of land into nations. Instead of several different feudal lords, each one controlling only his estates (as some did have more that one), there was now a tendency to unite peoples under one ruler, and thus, a country was born(Lurier).
In the North of Europe, the Humanist movement concentrated on problems with the church. The humanists of the North were not interested in imitating the life of antiquity but learning from it. This was especially true of the operations of the early church for the Northern Humanists. “There, scholars and mystics studied the past not to imitate, but to learn. The desire to reform was a profound as the need. But to reform the church and society one had to know their original form(Lurier 274).” A main concern came with the invention of the printing press (which is still an important device today). The printing press started a tradition in Northern Europe based upon printing works in the native tongue of the land (the vernacular). Before the printing press, works were written and copied by scholars in either Latin or Greek; this was the age of the manuscripts. The printing press brought some to write in vernacular and be read by many. A main
concern was over the translation of the bible into the vernacular. This was an idea of the Protestant reformation. Martin Luther is considered not only to be a reformer (and a founding father of Protestantism), but also a humanist(Perry).
All in all, the Renaissance in Southern Europe was brilliant. In Northern Europe, the Renaissance was very introspective; it was about asking and answering questions, of finding the truth from the past.
Also, in Europe, the Renaissance became a vehicle for exploration. With the spice trade in full swing, people were looking to find cheaper ways to conduct expeditions to the East. This meant finding an all water route. Some men sailed around the tip of South Africa. Columbus came up with the notion that it was shorter to sail in the opposite direction to get to Asia than to sail around the continent of Africa. He received support for the Queen of Spain, and had stumbled quite accidentally upon a new land. This resulted in the Spanish becoming an Empire. To the North, England also started building an empire, as well as countries such as Portugal. With all the interest in sailing there were also technological advances in sailing,
navigation, and map making; which furthered the science of sailing(Michelet).
Other innovations during the Renaissance came from science. Many people furthered Science, and in this age there were several scientific advancements in this time period. Some of the advancements during the Renaissance came from Leonardo Da’ Vinci. Not only was he a great inventor, but he also was an artist, painting such works as the Mona Lisa(Kagan).
There was also advancement in the art of warfare in the Renaissance. “Military innovations- primary cannons, new infantry tactics, and the royal standing armies combined to reduce the traditional dominance of the mounted feudal Knights(Andrea 427).” The Cannon proved useful at sea, especially for protection of the vessels from hostile sources. Knights were no longer important, as now there were armies. Kings had larger forces to attack and defend their kingdoms with armies they had(Andrea).
The Renaissance was a time of rebirth in terms of civilization in Europe. This stems from advancements in art, literature, science, politics, reforms of the church,
trade, new military tactics, expansion in to the New World, etc. The Renaissance was the first step in the start of the Modern period in European history. The impact and significance of the Renaissance on Europe is a direct result of all the advancements made during the renaissance. The Renaissance politically and economically set Europe up for a return to being an influencing force in the world. Cities were beginning to boom again, and there was a shift from being an agricultural society, to some places having market capital economies. The return to humanism to thought set up many principals that would be further developed as history progressed. Some of the most significant accomplishments in European history during the Renaissance came in the form of banking practices and politics. The Renaissance and all the changes it brought had a great impact on Europe, and were the only way to cross from the Middle Ages into the Modern era.
Andrea, Alfred J. The Medieval Record: Sources of Medieval
History. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997
Kagan, Donald; Ozment, Steven, and Turner, Frank M. The
Western Heritage: Volume I to 1715. (Sixth Edition).
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Lurier, Harold E. The Emergence of the Western World.
Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company,
Michelet, Jules. “The Renaissance and the Discovery of the
World and Man.” The Renaissance Debate. Ed. By Denys
Hay. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1965.
Perry, Marvin; Chase, Jacob, Jacob, Von Laue. Western
Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society.
Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.
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