The Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance was one of the most colorful, vital, and exciting times in history. Renaissance eventually comes from the French word "Renaistre," meaning "to be born again." The Renaissance was a revival or a rebirth of cultural awareness and learning among art, law, language, literature, philosophy, science, and mathematics. This period took place between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Renaissance in Italy flourished in the 15th century and spread throughout most of Europe in the 16th century.
What was the Renaissance and why did it happen? Italian life in the 14th and 15th centuries was lived among the vast ruins of the ancient Roman Empire. The cruelty and barbarism of Rome had long been forgotten, and the splendor of that lost civilization's ruins suggested a glorious, golden past. By contrast, the period following the fall of the Rome in the fifth century seemed to some Italian intellectuals and artists to be a period of decline and decay.
An Italian poet by the name of Francesco Petrarch, who lived from 1304 to 1374, was the first to use the term "dark ages" to describe that period. He convinced his influential friends that the way to bring the dark ages to an end was to revive the ideals preserved in the poetry, philosophy, and art of the ancient world.
Petrarch and his followers called themselves humanists because they defended and glorified the value of man's life on earth. The Church, at the time, taught that life was important mainly because the way it was lived had an effect on the soul's fate after death. The humanists believed that mankind had unlimited potential which each individual should stive to achieve. The Renaissance came into being through the humanists and their ideas.
The impact of humanism on the arts was enormous. The subject matter of painting prior to the Renaissance was primarily religious: It was concerned not with the naturalistic portrayal to human life, but primarily with provoking a religious reaction in the viewer. Painters were not interested in making a picture realistic-they did not use perspective. The more important figures in the painting were frequently made larger than all the others, and often the element of landscape was omitted completely. Members of the Holy Family for example, would be painted against a background of shining gold, which signified the heavens.
During the Renaissance, all that changed. The period was characterized by a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman design and included an emphasis on human beings and the environment.
The secularism and humanism of the Renaissance were reflected in its scholarship and education. Its concern was with this world rather than the hereafter, and its focus was on pagan classics rather than Christian theology. The father Of Renaissance literature, Petrarch, stressed that the new boarding schools were not to train priests but the sons of merchants.