Renaissance Art Essay

1927 words - 8 pages

The Renaissance was a period of European history that began in 14th-century Italy and spread to the rest of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. In this period, the feudal society of the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century) was transformed into a society dominated by central political institutions, with an urban, commercial economy and patronage of education, the arts, and music. The term renaissance, literally meaning "rebirth," was first employed in 1855 by French historian Jules Michelet (Paolucci 14). Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt, in his classic work The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), defined the Renaissance as the period between Italian painters Giotto and Michelangelo (Paolucci 18). Burckhardt characterized it as the birth of modern humanity after a long period of decay, although modern scholars have since debunked the myth that the Middle Ages were dark and dominant (Paolucci 18).

The Italian Renaissance developed in cities such as Florence, Milan, and Venice, which had emerged during the 12th and 13th centuries as new commercial developments allowed them to expand (Paolucci 12). This mercantile society contrasted sharply with the rural, tradition bound society of medieval Europe. A significant break with tradition came in the field of history, as Renaissance historians rejected the medieval Christian views of history (Cole 40). Studies such as the Florentine History (1525) of Niccolo Machiavelli revealed a secular view of time and a critical attitude toward sources (Cole 44). This secular view was expressed by many Renaissance thinkers known as humanists. Humanism was another cultural break with medieval tradition; under its ideas scholars valued classical texts on their own terms, not merely as justifications of Christianity (Cole 56). The study of ancient literature, history, and moral philosophy was meant to produce free and educated citizens, rather than priests and monks (Cole 57). Classical manuscripts such as the dialogues of Greek philosopher Plato and the works of the Greek dramatists were rediscovered and critically edited for the first time. These activities and other humanistic studies and artistic endeavors were supported by leading families such as Medici of Florence, and also by papal Rome and the doges of Venice (Cole 60). From the mid-15th century on, classical form was rejoined with classical subject matter, and mythological scenes adorned palaces, walls, and plates (Cole 61). The Renaissance ideals of harmony and proportion culminated in the works of Italian artists Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo in the 16th century.

Progress was made in medicine, anatomy, mathematics, and especially astronomy, with the innovative work of Nicolaus Copernicus of Poland, Tycho Brahe of Denmark, Johannes Kepler of Germany, and Galileo of Italy (Gilbert 36). Geography was transformed by new knowledge derived from explorations. The invention of printing in the 15th...

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