By Muhammad Faseeh ul Hassan

Renaissance: Fervent Period Of European Cultural, Artistic, Political and Economic Rebirth

Introduction

Renaissance is a historical period in the European history of approximately 300 years which extends from 14CE to 17CE. Renaissance means rebirth or revival and this period is marked by great revival of art , literature and learning in Europe, marking transition between the medieval and modern western Europe.

During the era known by this name, Europe emerged from the economic stagnation of the Middle Ages and experienced a time of financial growth. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the Renaissance was an age in which artistic, social, scientific, and political thought turned in new directions.

Origins

Italian Renaissance

Italian Renaissance  was a period in Italian history that covered the 15th and 16th centuries, spreading across Europe and marking the transition from the Middle Ages to Modernity. Proponents of a “long Renaissance” argue that it began in the 14th century and lasted until the 17th century.

The Renaissance began in Tuscany (Central Italy), and was centered in the city of Florence. Florence, one of the several city-states of the peninsula, rose to economic prominence by providing credit for European monarchs and laying down the groundwork for capitalism and banking. The Renaissance later spread to Venice, heart of a Mediterranean empire and in control of the trade routes with the east since the participation in the crusades and the voyages of Marco Polo, where the remains of ancient Greek culture were brought together and provided humanist scholars with new texts. Finally the Renaissance had a significant effect on the Rome.

The Italian Renaissance is best known for its achievements in painting, architecture, sculpture, literature, music, philosophy, science, technology and exploration. Italy became the recognized European leader in all these areas by the late 15th century. 

Black Plaque

Black Death, also known as the  or less commonly the Black Plague, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in  Europe from 1347 to 1351.  Italy was particularly badly hit by the plague, and it has been speculated that the resulting familiarity with death caused thinkers to dwell more on their lives on Earth, rather than on spirituality and the afterlife. It has also been argued that the Black Death prompted a new wave of piety, manifested in the sponsorship of religious works of art. However, this does not fully explain why the Renaissance occurred specifically in Italy in the 14th century. 

Characteristics Of Renaissance

1.Humanism

The intellectual basis of the renaissance is the “Humanism” derived from the roman concept and rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy. The Humanism was a sub movement under renaissance and it was aimed to glorify the individual and approve the worldly pleasures for them. In fact, it mainly focused on the secular society rather than the medieval preoccupation of churches and religious affairs. Renaissance humanism looked to classical Greek and Roman texts to change contemporary thought, allowing for a new mindset after the Middle Ages. Renaissance readers understood these classical texts as focusing on human decisions, actions and creations, rather than unquestioningly following the rules set forth by the Catholic Church 

One of the most significant changes that occurred during the Renaissance was the “evolution of Renaissance humanism as a method of thinking … This new outlook underpinned so much of the world then and now.”

Man is the measure of all things.

–Protagoras

2. Society And Economics

The most prevalent societal change during the Renaissance was the fall of feudalism and the rise of a capitalist market economy. Increased trade and the labor shortage caused by the Black Death gave rise to something of a middle class. Workers could demand wages and good living conditions, and so serfdom ended. 

Rulers began to realize they could maintain their power without the church. There were no more knights in service to the king and peasants in service to the lord of the manor. Having money became more important than your allegiances. 

3.The Printing Press

“The demand for perfect reproductions of texts and the renewed focus on studying them helped trigger one of the biggest discoveries in the whole of human history: printing with movable type. For me this is the easiest and single greatest developed of the Renaissance and allowed modern culture to develop”. The printing press was developed in Europe by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. It allowed literature , secular books, printed music and more to be made in larger amounts and reach more people. This is one of the best invention of science in renaissance period.

4. Literature

Renaissance literature, too, was characterized by humanist themes and a return to classical ideals of tragedy and comedy, according to the Brooklyn College English Department. Shakespeare’s works, especially “Hamlet,” are good examples of this. Themes like human agency, life’s non-religious meanings and the true nature of man are embraced, and Hamlet is an educated Renaissance man. 

In northern Europe, the scholarly writings of Erasmus, the plays of William Shakespeare, the poems of Edmund Spenser and the writings of Sir Philip Sidney may be considered Renaissance in character.

The development of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1440 encouraged authors to write in their local vernacular instead of Greek or Latin classical languages.

5.Art

Renaissance art was heavily influenced by classical art. Artists turned to Greek and Roman sculpture, painting and decorative arts for inspiration and also because their techniques meshed with Renaissance humanist philosophy. Both classical and Renaissance art focused on human beauty and nature. People, even when in religious works, were depicted living life and showing emotion. Perspective and light and shadow techniques improved and paintings looked more three-dimensional and realistic.

6.Science

As scholars studied classical texts, they resurrected the Ancient Greek belief that creation was constructed around perfect laws and reasoning. There was an escalation in the study of astronomy, anatomy and medicine, geography, alchemy, mathematics and architecture as the ancients studied them.

One of the major scientific discoveries of the Renaissance came from Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. In the 1530s, he published his theory of a heliocentric solar system. This places the sun at the center of the solar system rather than the Earth. It was a major breakthrough in the history of science, though Copernicus’ book was banned by the Catholic Church.

Galileo Galilei was a major Renaissance scientist persecuted for his scientific experiments. Galileo improved the telescope, discovered new celestial bodies and found support for a heliocentric solar system. He conducted motion experiments on pendulums and falling objects that paved the way for Newton’s discoveries about gravity. The Catholic Church forced him to spend the last nine years of his life under house arrest. 

“How Renaissance Transformed The World”

The Renaissance was a time of transition from the ancient world to the modern and provided the foundation for the birth of the Age of Enlightenment,” said Abernethy. The developments in science, art, philosophy and trade, as well as technological advancements like the printing press, left lasting impressions on society and set the stage for many elements of our modern culture. 

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