Renaissance __The Transitional Era

Image courtesy : Pixabay

Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
Pablo Picasso

“Renaissance” is a French word that means"rebirth”.Renaissance was an epoch of the revival of art, culture, literature, and architecture in European History that started in the 14th century and ended in 17 th century. Renaissance was an important period of history that witnessed some of the most prominent intellectuals and scholars. Renaissance is mostly associated with Italy however, all-important European countries and cities witnessed the renaissance one by one. Renaissance left deep marks on the culture and civilization of the entire world.

Background of Renaissance

With the fall of the Western Roman empire in 476 AD, an era of the intellectual, economic, and cultural decline of western Europe started. There was little to no advancement in any scientific or educational field in western Europe from the 4th to 14 century( nearly a millineum). The Italian scholar Petrarch coined the term “Dark Ages" to refer to that era because he was disappointed at the lack of good literature. Moreover, the era is often marked as a time of war, ignorance, famine, and pandemics such as the Black Death. Another major feature of the dark ages was the unlimited and unconditional authority of the Roman Catholic church in government and society. The feudal system was also breaking the backbone of the common people. Western Europe suffered ignorance for nearly a millennium whereas their counterparts in the east__Byzantine empire__ successfully retained the ancient Greek and Roman texts and heritage.

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD, the eastern Byzantine empire collapsed. The Byzantine scholars and scientists fled to Rome which was in the chaos of ignorance at that time. These intellectuals imparted new and classic ideas to the people of western Europe. In this way, the Greek and Roman heritage flourished again in western Europe. Discoveries and trends also followed it. This accelerated the development in literature, architecture, sculpture, religion, painting. Cities like Florence, Venice became the hub of the refugee Byzantine and Roman scholars.

Renaissance Gained Momentum

In the early 14th century, the humanism movement began in Italy. Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374) is considered the “Father of Humanism".His contemporary Giovanni Boccaccio(1313–1375 AD) was also a famous humanist philosopher. This movement aimed at studying ancient classical ideas, art, and literature. The core concept of this movement was that human education and morality are more important than his religion and that human actions must be guided through Reason, Scientific Method, and evidence. It triggered the spirit of inquiry in common people which lead to many scientific inventions. These inventions provoked the explorers to discover new sea routes which paved the European way for colonialism.

The feudalistic system declined considerably during that period. This was going to be replaced by a capitalistic economy in the coming decades. People also started questioning the authority of Catholic Church and a reformation movement started in Christianity under the leadership of Martin Luther King.

Role of Press in Promulgating Renaissance Ideas

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440 AD in Germany. This started a revolution in the printing field as it replaced the old hand-printing and hand-copying methods which were very slow. It also reduced the cost of printing documents. This technology helped in promoting the renaissance ideas and started the era of mass communication which significantly threatened the power of political and religious authorities.

Who Sponsored Renaissance?

Art cannot be flourished without finance. An intellectual movement like Renaissance required heavy wealth to be meaningful. It was the Medici family of Florence who provided their wealth for the sake of arts and sciences. Medici family was a rich Italian family that ruled the Republic of Florence throughout the Renaissance. They were great patrons of art and humanism and sponsored many artists and intellectuals like Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael, Michaelangelo, Botticelli.

The Martelli Family was another Florence-based family which patronized many artists like Donatello.

Important figures of Renaissance

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519 CE)

Leonardo da Vinci was a genius scientist, an expert anatomist, a perfectionist military engineer, a keen painter, and a philosopher. “Mona Lisa” and “The Vitruvian Man” are among his most celebrated paintings. He was surely one of the most intellectual and influential figures of the Renaissance.

(The Mona Lisa digitally retouched to reduce the effects of aging. Source : Wikipedia)

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1536 AD)

Erasmus was a philosopher and theologian from the Netherlands. He was given the title of "Prince of the Humanists". He wrote Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament, which proved to be influential in the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. “On Free Will,” “ In Praise of Folly,” “Handbook of a Christian Knight,” “On Civility in Children,” are his important works.

Rene Descartes(1596–1650 AD)

Rene Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist who is widely regarded as"The Father of Modern Philosophy” and one of the founders of algebraic geometry. He made principles for deductive reasoning. He is most famous for his philosophical statement “I think, therefore, I am”( French: Cogito, ergo sum).

Voltaire (1694–1778)

Voltaire was a well-known philosopher, historian, and thinker from France who put a great influence on French Revolution. He was famous for his teachings like Free trade, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression. He also criticized the Roman Catholic church in his work.

His most famous books include “History of Charles XII “, “The Age of Louis XIV “, and his" Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations.”

Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642 AD)

Galileo was an Italian astronomer, engineer, and polymath. He is called the "father" of observational astronomy, and modern physics. His discoveries about the Moon, Jupiter’s moons, Venus, and sunspots supported the idea that the Sun - not the Earth - was the center of the Universe, as was commonly believed at the time. He made many advancements in telescopes. He was prisoned by the Roman Catholic Church due to his theories.

(Photo by Wikipedia)

Thomas Hobbes (1588- 1679)

Hobbes was an English philosopher who is considered the founder of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book “Leviathan”, in which he puts an influential formulation of social contract theory. In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes contributed to a diverse array of other fields, including history, jurisprudence, geometry, the physics of gases, theology, and ethics, as well as philosophy in general. His most famous philosophies are :

  • Curiosity is the lust of the mind.
  • The condition of man . . . is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.
  • Leisure is the mother of Philosophy.
    Thomas Hobbes

Michaelangelo (1475–1564 AD)

Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance. He was born in the Republic of Florence and was sponsored by the Medici family to pursue arts. He is given the title of “The Renaissance Man", along with his contemporaries Leonardo da, Vinci and Raphael.

Flippo Brunelleschi(1377 –1446)

Filippo Brunelleschi was an architect, sculptor and designer from Italy. He is considered the founding father of Renaissance architecture. His best known work is the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral in Florence and the Pazzi Chappel.He also designed models of boats that could carry heavy loads.He is credited for rediscovering the principles of linear perspective in art that creates illusion of space by using parallel lines. This was his greatest achievement as this artistic device revolutionized the architectural drawings.

Santa Maria del Fiore

Niccolo Michaevli (1469_1527)

Michaevli was a famous historian, diplomat and philosopher of renaissance who is best known for his politically aclaimed book “ The Prince.” He is regarded as the “Father of Political Science”. He was also a major critic of Roman Catholic Church. He gave many principles to the leaders in his book “Prince" . For example :

  • The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.
  • It is much safer for a leader to be feared than loved. .
  • Politics have no relation to morals.
  • The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Shakespeare was a renowned writer, poet, actor and playwright from England. He is regarded all over the world as one of the greatest dramatists. His dramas are taught and played in acting academies and theaters all over the world. “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Julius Caesar”, “Othello” are his most celebrated plays.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
William Shakespear, Hamlet

Donatello(1386 – 1466)

Donatello was an Italian sculptor who made bronze, wood, clay, wax, and marble sculptures. He took inspiration from the works of antiquity and developed his distinct style which inspired many others. He was a close friend of Filippo Brunelleschi and they went to Rome together to study classical styles of sculpture and architecture.

In a nutshell, Renaissance was full of intellectuals in all fields of sciences and humanities. Other famous renaissance intellectuals were Geoffrey Chaucer, William Byrd, John Milton, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli, Giotto, Titian, William Tyndale among many others.

After Renaissance

Protestant Reformation.

During the middle ages, the Pope and his clergy enjoyed a very high status in society. Pope was so powerful that he could appoint kings. Popes also called for many crusades during the middle ages just to satisfy their political aims in which millions of people died for nothing. During the renaissance, a religious movement started which aimed at criticizing the Catholic Church. This movement was called the Protestant Reformation and its main teachings were following the true essence of the Bible rather than following the orders of the church randomly. This movement resulted in the creation of a new branch of Christianity called Protestantism. Martin Luther and John Calvin played a key role in promoting this movement along with other leaders. These leaders faced severe criticism and backlash for their teachings from the Roman Catholic church.

“An unjust law, is no law at all.”

Martin Luther

Geographic Exploration.

As a result of the renaissance, new technologies were developed in different fields. Voyagers launched expeditions to travel the entire globe. They discovered new shipping routes to the Americas, India, and the Far East and explorers trekked across areas that weren’t fully mapped.

Famous journeys were taken by Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci (after whom America is named), Marco Polo, Ponce de Leon, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Hernando De Soto, and other explorers. Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492. Similarly, Vasco da Gama reached the coast of India at Calicut after crossing the Cape of Good Hope and hence discovered a direct sea trade route from Europe to Asia.

Abndance in Literature

Renaissance was a period when classical language and literature was recovered. Writers incorporated their own ideas and styles with the classical Latin and Greek pieces and developed remarkable works of literature.Renaissance literature was closer to reality as it had a humanitarian approach rather than the teachings of church. Moreover, the invention of printing press by Johannes Gutenberg helped in promoting and preserving literature.

Like sciences and arts, renaissance literature also first gained popularity in Italy. Dante, Petrarch, and Machiavelli were the most celebrated Italian writers. Their influential writings soon spread to other European countries. Italian Renaissance influenced the English Renaissance. William Tyndale, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Ben Johnson were the most celebrated writers of England whose works have been influencing many generations. Prose, poetry, and drama were the most famous genres of literature during Renaissance. A radical change in ideas about religion, science, and arts was observed in renaissance literature.

Rise of Nationalism

During Renaissance, writers and poets preferred to write in their native languages instead of writing in Greek and Roman. This helped in increasing their readership as well as developing a sense of national pride in people. Before the renaissance, people were not directly subordinate to kings. They identified them by their region or their local lord. As the feudal system declined during the renaissance, thus the powers of kings increased. Kings and queens made sure to make their subjects loyal to them which further enhanced the spirit of nationalism. Creation of empires like those of England and France and competition between them for colonies intensified. Rulers used propaganda to get the will of their people to achieve their political aims. People started feeling pride in themselves and considered other nations to be inferior. Such literature was developed by every country that glorified their history and proved that they are the best nation in the world. Wars were also glorified by historians. Strong armies were built by every empire in which civilians were hired in the name of religion and state. This was the spirit of nationalism that inspired Italy and Germany to unify themselves and compete with the existing nations. Later in the 20th century, this spirit of nationalism caused two world wars and killed millions of people.

In a nutshell, the renaissance played a pivotal role in the social, religious, cultural, economic, and academic uplifting of society and has witnessed the most intelligent human beings of the entire human history.

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