- General Description of Renaissance
Believed to have originated in Italy in the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance is a cultural movement between the 14th and 17th centuries that spread across Europe and affected the Europeans’ intellectual, political, and cultural life. Many Historians believed that the Renaissance served as the transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era, stating that it marked the beginning of the early Modern period. Some questioned the validity of it being an actual advancement and instead may just have been a nostalgic turn for the classical period characterized by the resurgence of interest in and study of classical styles (Johnson 5).
However, in studying the period more closely, one could say that the Renaissance is also a period of change and discoveries; it is not simply “rebirth” as its label implies. The Renaissance period is characterized by scientific advancements, political developments, and highly significant religious changes (Panofsky 38).
- Learning and Humanism
Renaissance gave birth to the concept of Humanism, an ethical and philosophical viewpoint that values the faculties of human beings. It favors rationalism and critical thinking over established doctrines of faith, which was the widespread source of learning in the Middle Ages (Burke 2). It doesn’t mean that people in the Renaissance period stopped believing in a God. On the contrary, thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas used Humanism as a way to understand God more. Instead of blindly believing doctrine at face value, he used rationality and critical thinking to study the doctrine presented and to prove the existence of God (“Summa Theologia”). The concept of Humanism now became the foundation for the type of learning that the people employed; rational, evidence-based, and investigative.
Humanism is the foundation for the people to challenge established ideals and to do explorations. The Renaissance is when the idea that the sun revolved around the earth was challenged, it is when Christopher Columbus sailed the oceans and discovered the New World, and when Martin Luther published the Ninety Five Theses that criticized the practices of the Catholic Church and gave rise to the Reformation.
- Religion and Politics during the Renaissance
Religion and politics in the Renaissance period are not as closely linked as they were in the Middle ages. However, both felt the effects of the rising consciousness of the people to rationally study current events and practices.
In the beginning of the Renaissance, nobles reigned in the political arena but rebellion and disorder caused the need for stronger political rule and soon, feudal lords yielded their loyalty and their territories to monarchies. This is the beginning of the major political accomplishment of the Renaissance: the establishment of an effective central government. As the feudal system started to collapse and had all but ended, titles such as kings, earls, and dukes started to lose meaning and oftentimes, businessmen and landowners are more influential and hold more power than the rulers (Machiavelli 4). This prompted development in all areas as it created an unstable environment and the changes led to the establishment of the first republic. In Florence, for example, the city state was run by the people and had an established republic that did not run because of the whims of a ruler. It is often controlled by oligarchs and wealthy businessmen, but actions and policies are based on standards that further the interest of the people (Machiavelli 110).
In religion, while the thought of a one God remained largely unchallenged and the Papacy still hold power, the Catholic Church felt the brunt of the intellectual revolution when the people started to question traditional practices. Begun by Martin Luther and his Ninety Five Theses, what followed was a series of events that led to the questioning of current Church practices, giving light to the corruption of Church officials, and eventually to the establishing of new Protestant churches (Simon 120).
- Renaissance Art
While the Renaissance is a cultural movement that affected all aspects of life of the Europeans, it is most clearly displayed in their art. It was during this period that the concept and practice of perspective is developed. This practice of perspective gave way to other techniques, such as lighting and shadow, all to achieve realism. Renaissance artists strived to make their work as real and natural as possible, studying the natural world and human anatomy and used different techniques to ensure achieve the natural form. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, used oil to depict human emotion in painting The Last Supper (Vasari 294). Michelangelo perfected the technique of depicting the human anatomy in his statue of David (Vasari 458). Bernini has used marble into creating realistic depictions of specific points of tension in stories he wanted to tell as displayed in his Apollo and Daphne, a life-sized sculpture of when the god Apollo catching Daphne just as she is turning into a laurel tree.
Renaissance artists were not bound to a specific theme; they painted, sculpted, and created a large variety of themes from religion, nature, and mythology. But the end goal was always to use different techniques in lines, light, shadowing, and blurring to create art as close to reality as possible. The cultural and artistic identity or Renaissance artists were not of a specific style or design but of a single goal that encompassed and was evident in the art produced during the period (Rublack 23).
The Renaissance is a period of change. It is the period when people relied more on their own intellect than on established teachings. While there had been many differences in religion, schools of thought, politics, and techniques of art, the main characteristic of the Renaissance period that unified it all was the concept of Humanism. The practice of further study led to a more conscious group of people that did not blindly accept established teachings; they questioned, they challenged, they rationalized.
The Renaissance is the period wherein advancements in all aspects were brought forward by the continuous quest for more knowledge, by the practice of questioning the status quo. Renaissance is about celebrating the human intellect and form and their relation to the natural world.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Multilingual Catholic E-Books Database. Documenta Catholica Omnia, 2 Jun 2006. Web. 20 Feb 2014. < http://www.documenta-catholica.eu/>.
Burke, Peter. "The spread of Italian humanism." The Impact of Humanism on Western Europe, ed. A. Goodman and Angus MacKay. London: Routledge, 1990. Print
Johnson, Paul. The Renaissance: A Short History. New York: Modern Library Paperback, 2000. Print
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. Daniel Donno. New York: Bantam Classics, 1984. Print
Panofsky, Erwin. Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art. Colorado: Westview Press, 1969. Print
Rublack, Ulinka. Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print
Simon, Edith. Great Ages of Man: The Reformation. New York: Time-Life Books, 1966. Print
Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists. Trans. Julia Conway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print