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Intro to Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance was a period of history between the 14th and 17th centuries.
The word "renaissance" means "rebirth", and it is used to describe the changes that were happening in Europe during this
The renaissance was defined by an increased interest in the works of Ancient Greece and Rome, which resulted in
developments in art, literature, philosophy, architecture and science.
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Watch this fun video (1:14) introducing the Renaissance:
The spirit of the Renaissance could been seen in the way people thought, and in
the things they created.
Italian cities had grown wealthy through banking and trade, and that money was used to fund the work
of artists and scholars.
Artisans were employed by rich - this included the Church, who used the Renaissance to fund grand
church buildings such1:14
as the Sistine
Chapel, despitepainting
their opposition
to the Renaissance's spirit of free
1: Michelangelo's
the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,
depicting the creation of Adam by
One of the most notable Renaissance cities
was Florence.
As a strong banking and textile centre, the wealthy were
rich enough to finance many artists and architects
to design lavish buildings, and decorate them
with portraits, artworks and sculptures.
Florence had republican government, where the rulers
were elected from noble families. The most notable of
these was the Medici family, who ruled during the
Renaissance between {1389}1389 and {1492}1492.
Venice was a powerful city state ruled by wealthy
families during the Renaissance.
Famously built on islands in a marsh, Venice made itself
into a naval power and a centre of trade. The city was a
crossroads between the Muslim and Christian worlds.
The patricians, as the ruling families were called,
demonstrated their power by building opulent
palaces. The city also lead the way in book
printing by {1482}1482, and often clashed with the Pope
over its association with religious heretics.
While the Renaissance was important for the wealthy
and skilled, it did not have much of an effect on
the poor.
Unskilled and uneducated workers continued to work in
the cities and countryside as they had done throughout
history. The effects of the Renaissance would only come
down to these people much later in history.
Explain why Florence and Venice were seen as Renaissance cities.
14 ofabout:
Write at least 2 paragraphs in your response.
Spread of Renaissance
The Northern Renaissance occurred when Italian Renaissance ideas spread to the rest of Europe.
These ideas spread through Northern Europeans attending Italian universities, and through
European scholars and writers who had learned about Italian humanism.
Rulers also helped to spread Renaissance ideas by employing Italian artists and architects and
by buying their art.
Humanism was the belief that the Catholic Church's interpretation of religion and scripture was not
1 of 13 and focused more on human fulfilment and reasoning. As these ideas spread, they
were developed.
For example, the Northern European van Eyk brothers perfected the art of using oil paints, meaning
that paintings could last longer.
Renaissance ideas spread quickly in England in the sixteenth century, particularly through playwrights like
William Shakespeare and through poets like John Milton.
Some historians view the developing new culture in England as being separate from the Italian Renaissance.
Whether it was or not, there was certainly a lot of new ideas spreading in England at that time.
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Watch this video about Gutenberg's printing press:
The most important way that Renaissance ideas were spread was through print. The first European printing press was
4 of 13 by Johannes Gutenberg between 1440 and 1452 in Germany. His use of movable metal letter blocks meant that
pamphlets and books could be mass-produced, and their ideas could spread quickly.
Gutenberg printed books in the international language of scholars, Latin. His first completed book was the Gutenberg
Bible, printed in 1456.
At the time of the Renaissance, scholars did not specialise in a particular topic, as they do today, because science, the
arts, and religion were not separate from each other. So one person could be a scientist, priest, artist and a philosopher.
For example, Leonardo da Vinci was an artist who also conducted experiments in many scientific fields, including biology,
engineering, music and mathematics. He designed a glider, and a robot, among many other things. Ambroise Paré was
a surgeon and a barber, at a time when barbers performed amputations without anaesthetics. Paré discovered ways
of reducing blood loss, and saved many lives.
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The ideas of scientific minds spread during the Renaissance, despite the Catholic Church's efforts to stop them. It expected people to
trust its interpretations of science and religion. Humanists went against this, not believing that the Church knew best.
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Pico della Mirandola believed that God had given humans talents to achieve great things. He tried to hold a meeting with other
scholars to discuss his ideas, but the Pope cancelled it. He fled to France, worried about being declared a heretic. Printing helped to
spread his ideas and those of other scholars around Europe anyway.
An astronomer who had an enormous impact on the scientific world was Nicolaus Copernicus. He theorised that the sun was the
centre of the universe, and everything revolved around it, rather than Earth as the Catholic Church believed.
Many years later, Galileo, an Italian mathematician, scientist, inventor and philosopher, proved Copernicus' theory was
right after developing a telescope. A year after publishing his discovery, the Church called Galileo a heretic during the Roman
Inquisition. He was forced to take back his ideas and stay in his home for the rest of his life.
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During the Renaissance, educated people were encouraged to be guided by reason and observation, rather than solely by the
Church. This led to the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, when people began to conduct their own experiments to gain a
greater understanding of the world.
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French philosophers like Rousseau and Voltaire published books about society, which later influenced the French people
to overthrow old rulers and the Church in the French Revolution.
Explain how Renaissance ideas changed the way people thought.
Think about:
1. Science, reasoning vs the Catholic Church.
2. The Enlightenment, experiments, social thought.
The Reformation
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Watch this video about Martin Luther, and how he challenged the Church:
After Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, the Pope excommunicated him (removed him from
the Church) as a heretic. Luther did not mind, as he knew he could not find salvation through the Church anyway.
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Those who joined Luther in protesting against the Catholic Church became known as Protestants, while those who followed Luther's
ideas became Lutherans. Protestantism survived, despite the Pope's ruling, because Luther gained support from German rulers and
he was able to spread his ideas in printed pamphlets.
Soon, other forms of Protestantism were created. Calvinism was created by John Calvin and it replaced bishops with elected
ministers. Calvinists also believed that only some people were chosen to be saved. A group who were against baptising children were
called Anabaptists.
Famously, when King Henry VIII wanted a divorce, he declared himself the head of the English Church, instead of the Pope. This formed
the Church of England, which was dominated by Protestant ideas.
As Protestantism spread through Northern Europe, the Catholic Church realised that persecuting Protestants was not enough to stop it.
The Society of Jesus or Jesuits was formed to set up missions, colleges and schools in Asia and Africa, in order to convert nonbelievers and heretics. The Church also tried to stamp out corruption.
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Wars and religious uprisings occurred in Europe for more than a century. In Germany, peace was made by allowing each ruler to
the religion of their state under the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. This peace was broken in the Thirty Years' War, which began
in 1618.
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you are a citizen of Germany in 1555, where your ruler chooses your religion. Explain why this arrangement was made.
Think about:
1. Martin Luther, Protestantism.
2. Catholic Church response, wars.
Renaissance Society
Italy was not one country during the Renaissance, and was instead divided into many different states.
Some were republics, like Florence and Venice. Other states were kingdoms, such as Naples and Sicily, or ruled by the church, like the Pa
The Pope claimed power over all states that followed the Catholic Church, and was considered to be the most powerful man in Europe.
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The Pope was a powerful ruler.
He could excommunicate (remove from the Church) any ruler who went against his orders, and he could have people declared to
be heretics (resulting in death by burning) if they challenged the Church's view of Scripture.
2 of
14 also ask other rulers to make war against a defiant ruler, and afterwards divide lost land. The Pope's bishops in each
state enforced this at varying levels.
Figure 2: The current
Pope, Francis. The
modern pope holds
significantly less power
than his Renaissanceera predecessors.
During the Renaissance, Europeans changed how they saw themselves in the world.
They went from seeing themselves as part of Christendom (the Catholic Christian group of nations), to
seeing themselves as belonging to their states, as these states increased their control over their own towns
and cities.
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The increase of mining and cloth-making, and clearing of farmland, led to the growth of cities. Cities
had universities and schools, so people who lived in them were literate. Germany, Switzerland, the
Netherlands and Italy all had growing cities at this time.
Both towns and rural areas had social classes.
In towns, bankers and merchants were at the top of the ladder, then artisans (skilled craftsmen) and small
traders, and finally unemployed people and unskilled workers were at the bottom.
n rural areas, landowners were on top, and peasants at the bottom. The Church was a large landowner, and
peasants often felt tension between the landowners and themselves.
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Figure 3: The Peasant
Dance by Pieter Bruegel
the Elder, depicting
peasants during the
Renaissance (around
The sort of lifestyle you had depended on your status in society, or where you stood f you had a high ranking in
society, you could live a luxurious lifestyle.
Different people had different rankings depending on their family, age, gender and if they were married or not. This
ranking system got more complicated as merchants and bankers gained wealth during the Renaissance.
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Figure 4: A Medieval
illustration of peasants
harvesting wheat - peasants
had one of the lowest ranks in
Women and Children
Women could gain status by marrying a well ranked man.
1 of 11marriage, men and women were under their father's authority, but once she was married, a woman was under her husband's autho
Marriages were often arranged by the couple's families, and were seen as a way of ensuring family influence and prosperity by making alli
Married woman's families showed their honour by providing a dowry of money, property or household
items when the woman married.
Some churches raised money to help poorer girls to find a good husband. Women were married off around the age of fifteen,
to avoid dishonouring the family by having a sexual relationship or worse, a pregnancy. While men married in their mid-late
Italy had brothels, even though they went against the Church's teachings. Women became prostitutes to get out of poverty. They
could be blamed and dishonoured for their behaviour, rather than their clients.
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Women often wrote wills before their baby was born, because it was common for women to die in childbirth.
Children had no rights, but were seen as little adults and were expected to behave as such. Artisan and peasant children were expected t
Upper class children could attend schools or had home tutors. Girls were seen as less important than boys in all classes. Poor families s
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During the Renaissance, artists created pieces that were very different in style from the Middle Ages. Demand
for art was high, some cities even competed to attract the best artists. Oil paint was used for the first time,
and colour and realistic dimensions were used more often.
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Some artists painted on wet lime plaster on walls or ceilings, like Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel.
created sculptures in classical Greek and Roman style. They often used live models and studied
anatomy, to understand more about how the body works.
Renaissance artists still painted biblical or religious scenes, as medieval artists did, but they also
painted Roman and Greek myths. Some artists also painted landscapes and portraits, as well as portraits
of those who funded them.
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A famous Renaissance portrait is the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci. Lisa is believed to have been the
wife of a merchant. Although it was painted in Italy, it is now found in the Louvre in Paris, France after
King Francis I acquired it.
Renaissance architects were also inspired by the Roman and Greek classical style. They used the remains of
ancient Roman buildings, which still stood in Italy at the time, to create new buildings using the same style and
One example is the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence by Filippo Brunelleschi. It was
based on ancient Roman style, and is considered to be one of the greatest pieces of Renaissance architecture.
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Explain how Greek and Roman classical styles were used during the Renaissance.
Think about:
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1. Artists, myths.
2. Sculptors,
architects, Roman ruins.
The Renaissance's spirit of inquiry had a huge impact on the way people thought, and the cultural legacy is still enjoyed today.
Many galleries in Italy, and wider Europe, still hold Renaissance paintings and sculptures, which are visited by millions of people
each year.
Scientific thinking began during the Renaissance, and this led to the discovery of knowledge based on observations, which are
foundations of today's scientific studies. Before the Renaissance, science was not a career, and was seen as a threat to the Church's
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During the Renaissance, the printing press was invented, which lead to the rise of literature. In England, playwrights like
Shakespeare shared Renaissance ideas through their plays and poems.
Importantly, Shakespeare's plays were attended by every level of English society, and are still studied today. Many people still
attend performances of his plays because they show human scenarios and ask questions that are still relevant today.
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The Reformation led to the translation of the Bible into people's native languages. This meant that now everyone could read it
for themselves, rather than only those who had studied Latin. Education and learning was spread to all people.
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A negative legacy of the Reformation was the centuries of intolerance and tension between Catholics and Protestants, that
lasted until near the end of the twentieth century. Most Christian countries are more tolerant today.
Choose one legacy of the Renaissance (culture, Reformation, literature or science) and explain how it can be seen in today's world.
Think about:
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1. What it was like before and during the Renaissance.
2. How
it can be seen today.