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The Renaissance:
An Introduction
Why did the Renaissance start in Italy?
• Europeans still looked to
Rome for cultural and
intellectual guidance
• Italian merchants
prospered even during the
Middle Ages; these
merchants valued
education and flaunted
wealth through art
• The Church’s wealth and
power was based in Italy
Florence
• Renaissance centered on
the Italian city of Florence
• Home to the powerful
Medici family
– wealthy bankers (banking
had become too profitable
and important to the
economy to leave in the
hands of Europe’s Jews)
– Controlled the Florentine
government as “doge”
– spent vast amounts of
money on art
What was the Renaissance?
• Three Parts:
1. A shift in thought:
• A focus is on the secular
(or “worldly”), rather
than the religious
• Focus of life changed
from “How do I get into
Heaven?” to “How do I
enjoy success here and
now?”
• New emphasis on
individual achievement
over communal needs
What was the Renaissance?
2. An openness to
experimentation:
– a willingness to explore
the world (Columbus)
– a willingness to engage
in scientific inquiry
(Galileo, Copernicus)
– a willingness to try new
techniques in art
(Michelangelo)
– a willingness to
challenge religious
doctrine (Luther)
What was the Renaissance?
3. A renewed interest in
education:
– Often defined by
“Humanism,” or the idea
that rational thought is
superior to unquestioning
faith
– Heavy focus on the
humanities (history,
philosophy, & literature)
– Revival of the classical
learning of the Greeks &
Romans
Greek & Roman Ideas That Humanists
Focused On:
• 1. Individual worth:
humans can improve
themselves through study
& effort
• 2. One should show a
strong commitment to
public service
• 3. Humans can impact
history, not just God
Humanism in the Arts
• Humanist artists:
– studied Greek and Roman
artistic forms
– often portrayed religious
figures in a more realistic (or
human) way
– painted portraits of the “rich
and famous” people of the
time
– mastered the trick of
perspective, or the ability to
give a painting dimensional
depth
– Rejected medieval Gothic
architecture in favor of classical
Greek forms (columns, arches,
& domes)
Patronage in the Arts
• Art is a luxury good, and as
such, is expensive
• Most Renaissance artists
depended on wealthy
patrons (or “sponsors”),
such as the Medici family or
the pope, who kept them
employed
• In the end, while many
artists had humanist ideals,
they also had to keep their
patrons happy and produce
art that would sell!
The Four “Masters” of the
Italian Renaissance
Donatello
• 1386 – 1466
• Name: Donato di
Niccolo di Betto Barti
• Master sculptor
• Created the first life-size
statue of a rider on
horseback since Roman
times
• Masterworks include his
version of “David”
Leonardo da Vinci
• 1452 – 1519
• Only 15 paintings survive,
but 2 of them are the
most famous of all time –
the “Mona Lisa” & “The
Last Supper”
• Master engineer &
inventor
• Dissected human corpses
to learn anatomy
Mona Lisa
The Last Supper
Michelangelo
• 1475 – 1564
• Name: Michelangelo di
Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
• Master sculptor – the
“Pieta” & “David”
• Painted the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel - mural
depicting the Biblical stories
of Genesis
• Architect – designed the
dome of St. Peter’s
cathedral in Rome
The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel
David
The Pieta
Raphael
• 1483 – 1520
• Name: Raffaello Sanzio
• Studied works of Leonardo
and Michelangelo
• Painted many “Madonnas”
of Mary and the baby Jesus
• Most famous work, “The
School of Athens,” depicts
an imaginary meeting of
history’s greatest thinkers
and artists and is a
masterpiece of perspective
The School of Athens
Italian Literature
• Baldassare Castiglione →
– Author of The Book of the
Courtier, which told how
to be a proper gentleman
at the royal court
• Petrarch
– Poet, essayist, philosopher;
famous for publishing his
own letters to friends on
various topics; called the
“Father of Humanism”
Niccolo Machiavelli
• Author of The Prince
• Told how to gain and
maintain power through
ruthlessness
• Taught that rulers should
do whatever was
necessary to achieve their
objectives: “the ends
justifies the means”
• His writings still affect
how governments and
political campaigns are
run even today
The Renaissance Spreads
• Renaissance ideas
(especially humanism)
carried into the
Netherlands by the
Roman Catholic priest
Erasmus
• Later spread to England,
France, Spain, &
Germany
Northern Renaissance Art
• Many new painters
flourished, including
van Eyck, Bruegel, &
Rubens
• Used newly invented oil
paints which were
brighter, allowed
greater detail to be
painted, and stood up
better over time
Erasmus
• Wrote a new translation of
the Bible in Greek (violating
Church law) and began to
call on the Church to
translate it into common
languages so that more
people could read it
• Erasmus also openly
criticized the hypocrisies of
the Church in his book In
The Praise of Folly
Northern Renaissance Authors
• ← Thomas More – wrote
Utopia, which described an
ideal society
• Francois Rabelais – wrote
Gargantua and Pantagruel,
a comic social satire
• William Shakespeare –
author of 37 plays including
tragedies, comedies, and
histories (Romeo & Juliet,
Hamlet, McBeth)
• Cervantes – wrote Don
Quixote, which mocked
feudalism & the nobility
The Printing Press
• 1456: Johann Gutenberg
printed the first book in the
west, using technology
imported from East Asia
• Within 20 years, moveable
type had been invented,
making printing even easier
• By 1500, 20 million books
had been printed in Europe
– made books much cheaper
– more access to books = more
people learning to read
– new discoveries and ideas can
spread more quickly