When one talks about the Renaissance, the most common topic is art and architecture. It is true that the Italian Renaissance was marked by some of the greatest and most prolific masters of painting, sculpture and building. It is also true that the era marked the emergence of a great deal more. It was a time of awakening from the intellectual darkness of the medieval order and the emergence of many of the concepts that would form the basis for civilization as it is known today. The era saw the birth of new attitudes concerning the role of man in his relationship to the world and to God. Unfortunately, for the most part, the expansion of the 'role of man' did not include the role of women.
"Renaissance (from the French for "rebirth") is a term coined in the nineteenth century originally to denote the revival of art and letters under the influence of ancient Roman and Greek models. This revival began in Italy in the fourteenth century, flourished in the fifteenth, and in the sixteenth reached apogee and then crisis in Italy, while it spread through most of Europe. But humanism's classical learning alone cannot account for the immense changes that took place during these centuries; moreover, movements originating in the North also contributed to these changes. Therefore the term Renaissance has also come to denote the era in general and its overriding spirit, in which desires intrinsic to human nature, generally repressed under medieval feudalism, burst forth with new fervor and resulted in a new culture" (Osmond 18). The most conspicuous of these changes were in the world of art and intellectual pursuits. The social structure of Italy and the culturally defined gender roles were not as affected as art and architecture.
Early Renaissance Italy was a collection of city-states dominated by the families of power. One of the greatest of these was Florence, under the Medici family. Throughout Italy, the social structure "underwent a gradual social and political revolution beginning in the late twelfth century. The rapid growth of the towns was driven by local emigration, as individuals and families moved from the countryside to take advantage of urban economic opportunity. The city of Florence roughly doubled in size during the century. ...the proportions of growth can be traced through the gradual appearance in the course of the century of new neighborhoods and churches" (Lansing 38).
In the fifteenth century the intellectual pursuit was turned toward the study of humanism, or the understanding of man's role in culture, politics and religion. There grew a belief in the innate dignity and worth of man as individuals and as separate from the animal in their ability to reason. Out of this new intellectual drive, the sciences grew. Personages such as Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo were able to make significant contributions in art and other areas, such as mathematics. "Geometric relations, mathematical proportion, and the...