The Renaissance and Italy's Decline
Definition: The period in European civilization immediately following the Middle Ages, conventionally held to have been characterized by a surge of interest in classical learning and values. Set in the city-states of Italy in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the constant uncertainty, both economic and political, and extreme volatility of the historical situation provided the material for new intellectual, cultural, and social experiments that would at their conclusion provide the means of constructing a new European mono-cultural identity, one focused on humanistic studies, science, and the arts. This historical background is surprisingly volatile; while one might assume that political stability and economic security are prerequisites for intellectual and cultural experimentation, some of the most radical and far-reaching cultural work in the Renaissance was done in the periods of greatest insecurity.
Historical Significance, Historical Carry Over (Bold):
The Renaissance also witnessed the discovery and exploration of new continents, the substitution of the Copernican for the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, the decline of the feudal system and the growth of commerce, and the invention or application of such potentially powerful innovations as paper, printing, the mariner's compass, and gunpowder. To the scholars and thinkers of the day, however, it was primarily a time of the revival of classical learning and wisdom after a long period of cultural decline and stagnation.
The increasing failure of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire to provide a stable and unifying framework for the organization of spiritual and material life, the rise in importance of city-states and national monarchies, the development of national languages, and the breakup of the old feudal structures.
While the spirit of the Renaissance ultimately took many forms, it was expressed earliest by the intellectual movement called Humanism. Humanism was initiated by secular men of letters rather than by the scholar-clerics who had dominated medieval intellectual life and had developed the Scholastic philosophy. Humanism began and achieved fruition first in Italy. Its predecessors were men like Dante and Petrarch, and its chief protagonists included Gianozzo Manetti, Leonardo Bruni, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Lorenzo Valla, and Coluccio Salutati. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 provided Humanism with a major boost, for many eastern scholars fled to Italy, bringing with them important books and manuscripts and a tradition of Greek scholarship.
From Italy the new Humanist spirit and the Renaissance it engendered spread north to all parts of Europe, aided by the invention of printing, which allowed literacy and the availability of classical texts to grow explosively. Foremost among northern Humanists was Desiderius Erasmus, whose Praise of Folly (1509) epitomized the moral essence of...