Dated from the 14th to the 17th century, the Renaissance was a period in the history of Europe which saw great cultural development. The word “Renaissance” means “re-birth” and the period is named so because it was marked by renewed interest in ancient Greco-Roman culture. It started in Italy and spread across Europe leading to great changes in varied fields, which would have a profound and long-lasting effect on European civilization. Some of the most famous works in art and literature as well as science and philosophy were created during the period. Here are the 10 most famous people of the Renaissance including painters, sculptors, architects, scientists, writers, philosophers and humanists.

 

#10 Lorenzo de’ Medici

Portrait of Lorenzo de Medici
Lorenzo de Medici

Lifespan: 1449 – 1492

Region: Italy

Role: Patron

During the Renaissance, artists depended entirely on patrons. The Medici family, perhaps the wealthiest family in Europe, were for a large part during the period the de facto rulers of Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. The members of the family are famous for fostering the Renaissance, none more so than Lorenzo de’ Medici. Also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, he is perhaps the most famous and enthusiastic patron of the Renaissance. Though he did not commission many works himself, Lorenzo helped many artists, including Da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo, to secure commissions from other patrons. He also supported the development of Renaissance Humanism through his circle of scholarly friends. Lorenzo de’ Medici was himself was an artist and wrote poetry in his native Tuscan.

 

#9 Petrarch

Statue of Petrarch
Petrarch

Lifespan: 1304 – 1374

Region: Italy

Role: Humanist

Humanism is a philosophy that emphasizes the value of human beings and their capacities. Renaissance humanism, based on ancient Greco-Roman philosophies, can be considered the driving force of the movement. Francesco Petrarca, known as Petrarch, led the resurgence of learning based on classical sources. He described the preceding 900 years, as “dark”, for he saw it as a time where humans didn’t realize their potential; leading to little cultural achievements. He thus created the term Dark Ages to refer to this period. Petrarch inspired humanist philosophy which was highly influential in the intellectual flowering of the Renaissance. Many consider Petrarch as not only the founder of Humanism but also the “Father of the Renaissance”. Also, his sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe; and became a model for lyrical poetry.

Famous Works:-

  • Song Book (1374)
  • On the Solitary Life (1356)
  • Africa (1501)
  • Ascent of Mont Ventoux (1336)

 

#8 Filippo Brunelleschi

Statue of Filippo Brunelleschi
Filippo Brunelleschi

Lifespan: 1377 – 1446

Region: Italy

Role: Architect

Filippo Brunelleschi, along with his friend, the famous sculptor Donatello, took a trip to Rome and studied the ancient Roman ruins, an endeavor not attempted in such great detail till then. Donatello and Brunelleschi went on to exert a great and profound influence on Renaissance art and architecture. They are considered among the founding fathers of the Renaissance. Brunelleschi is widely believed to be the most inventive and gifted designer of time. He formulated the Renaissance style that emulated and improved on classical forms. He is also credited with inventing one-point linear perspective which revolutionized painting and is one of the defining features of Renaissance art. Brunelleschi is considered the first modern engineer, planner and sole construction supervisor. His major feat of engineering was building the dome of the Florence Cathedral.

Famous Works:-

  • Dome of the Cathedral of Florence (1436)
  • Hospital of the Innocents (1427)
  • Old Sacristy (1428)
  • Pazzi Chapel (1467)

 

#7 Michel de Montaigne

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne

Lifespan: 1533 – 1592

Region: France

Role: Humanist

The French Renaissance is usually dated between the 15th and early 17th centuries. Michel de Montaigne was a philosopher of the period who exerted the most long lasting influence among all Renaissance humanists. He is famous for popularizing the essay as a literary genre and his 1580 work Essays contains some of the most influential essays ever written. Montaigne’s writings are remarkably modern even today; and his thoughts and ideas on topics as varied as motivation, child education and human action continue to be relevant. Montaigne exerted an influence on numerous later writers including Francis Bacon, René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His masterful balance of intellectual knowledge and personal storytelling continues to be an inspiration for modern literary non-fiction.

Famous Works:-

  • Essays (1580)

 

#6 Raphael

Self-portrait of Raphael
Raphael

Lifespan: 1483 – 1520

Region: Italy

Role: Artist

The High Renaissance is a term used to denote the apex of the visual arts in the Italian Renaissance. Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, forms the trinity of great masters of the High Renaissance. Raphael was perhaps the most popular painter during the Renaissance and even till late 19th century, his works were revered more than any other artist and he was regarded as the best model for history painting. Though Michelangelo’s and Leonardo’s fame has surpassed his since then, Raphael is still considered among the greatest artists in history. He, more than anyone else, was a master in realistically depicting emotion which brought his paintings to life. Many of his paintings are considered cornerstones of Renaissance art.

Famous Works:-

  • The School of Athens (1511)
  • Sistine Madonna (1512)
  • Transfiguration (1520)

 

#5 Galileo Galilei

Portrait of Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei

Lifespan: 1564 – 1642

Region: Italy

Role: Scientist

Galileo Galilei was perhaps the most influential scientist of the Renaissance who paved the way for the scientific revolution that later flourished in Northern Europe. He pioneered the telescope with his best version magnifying objects about 30 times. He was among the first to use the telescope to observe the skies. He confirmed the phases of Venus, discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter and analysed the sunspots. He is considered the “father of observational astronomy”. Galileo played a key role in Copernican Revolution by advocating the heliocentric model of the Solar System. He made significant discoveries in both pure fundamental science like kinematics of motion, as well as practical applied science like strength of materials. He also worked in applied technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments. Albert Einstein called Galileo the father of modern science.

Famous Works:-

  • Two New Sciences (1638)
  • Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632)
  • Sidereal Messenger (1610)

 

#4 Michelangelo

Portrait of Michelangelo
Michelangelo

Lifespan: 1475 – 1564

Region: Italy

Role: Polymath

One of the tenets of Renaissance humanism was the limitless capacity of humans for development. Renaissance saw gifted people who developed their abilities in a wide variety of fields leading to the concept of “Renaissance man” or “Universal Genius”. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, as a Renaissance man, is exceeded only by Leonardo da Vinci. He was a sculptor, painter, architect, poet and engineer. But above all, Michelangelo was an artist who became the most influential figure in the history of western art. His works of painting, sculpture and architecture are among the most famous ever created making him perhaps the greatest artist of all time. His statue of David is the most famous sculpture in the west; his painting The Creation of Adam is second only to Mona Lisa in popularity; and his St. Peter’s Basilica is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture.

Famous Works:-

  • David (1504)
  • The Creation of Adam (1512)
  • Peter’s Basilica (1626)
  • The Last Judgement (1541)
  • Pietà (1499)

 

#3 Nicolaus Copernicus

Portrait of Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus

Lifespan: 1473 – 1543

Region: Poland

Role: Polymath

The most prominent scientific achievement of the Renaissance was the establishment of the heliocentric model of the Solar System that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the center. This came about due to the work of one of the leading minds of the period Nicolaus Copernicus. Though similar models had been put forward by a few astronomers earlier, Copernicus’s solar system was more detailed and provided a more accurate formula for calculating planetary positions. His heliocentric model led to the Copernican Revolution, which is considered as the launching point of modern astronomy and the Scientific Revolution. Copernicus was a polymath with expertise in a wide variety of fields including medicine, governance and economics, apart from astronomy. Among his achievements is formulating the Quantity Theory of Money, which is still studied in economics.

Famous Works:-

  • On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (1543)
  • On the Minting of Coin (1526)
  • Little Commentary (1514)

 

#2 William Shakespeare

Portrait of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare

Lifespan: 1564 – 1616

Region: England

Role: Writer

The Renaissance caught on in England in late 15th century and lasted till early 17th century. The English Renaissance differed from the Italian Renaissance with the main art forms in England being literature and music rather than visual arts. The towering figure of the English Renaissance was William Shakespeare, who is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. Shakespeare wrote some of the finest and most famous works ever written. He is one of the most influential figures in English literature and his plays continue to be performed and adapted.

 Famous Works:-

  • Hamlet (1603)
  • Romeo and Juliet (1597)
  • Macbeth (1611)
  • Othello (1604)
  • Sonnet 18 (1608)

 

#1 Leonardo da Vinci

Portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo Da Vinci

Lifespan: 1452 – 1519

Region: Italy

Role: Polymath

Leonardo da Vinci was the ideal Renaissance man, the greatest Universal Genius, who, among other things, was a painter, mathematician, engineer, architect, botanist, sculptor and anatomist. Da Vinci is one of the greatest painters in history. He painted the Mona Lisa, world’s most famous painting. Other famous works in art by him include The Last Supper, the most reproduced religious painting; and Vitruvian Man, one of the most reproduced artistic images. As an inventor, he designed workable precursors of a tank, a robot, a diving suit and several other things centuries before they became a reality. Many of his inventions passed into general and practical use without Da Vinci being given credit. Other scientific achievements of Da Vinci include designing the first self-propelled machine in history and describing the processes governing friction. In anatomy, he did the most detailed study of the human body before the 20th century.

Famous Works:-

  • Mona Lisa (1517)
  • Vitruvian Man (1490)
  • The Last Supper (1498)
  • Leonardo’s robot (1495)
  • Leonardo’s tank (1497)

 

Missed the List

Renaissance, though also considered a historical period, is a term linked to the cultural revival which occurred in Europe during the time, most prominently in art and literature, and the changes in the way humans approached these fields, as well as those of science and philosophy. Hence, we have not included several great people of the period as they were not directly associated with the Renaissance, like Martin Luther who is famous for initiating the Protestant Reformation and Christopher Columbus who is more closely linked with the Age of Discovery.

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