The Renaissance was a period in Europe between the Middle Ages and the modern era. It is usually considered to include the 15th and 16th centuries, though historians date it differently with some including parts of the 14th and 17th centuries while others beginning it in the middle of the 15th or ending it in the middle of the 16th. The Renaissance was marked by renewed interest in the culture of the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans. It started in Italy and spread across Europe, bringing a period of much cultural achievements in the continent. While some view the period as an important re-birth of ancient Greco-Roman values after the “dark” Middle Ages, others doubt even the factuality of the Renaissance. Know more about the art, literature, philosophy, science and events of the Renaissance through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 Renaissance was marked by renewed interest in ancient Greco-Roman culture
The word “Renaissance” is borrowed from the French language. It means “re-birth”. The Renaissance period is best known for renewed interest in the culture of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, leading to an intellectual and artistic re-birth of classical antiquity. It was only in the 19th century that the word Renaissance achieved popularity to describe this cultural movement based on Greco-Roman models. French scholar Jules Michelet was the first historian to use and define the word Renaissance, in his 1855 work, Histoire de France.
#2 Renaissance flourished in Italy due to its abundant riches
Renaissance is considered to have begun in Florence in the 14th century and it soon spread to the rest of Italy. Italy, at the time, didn’t exist as a political entity but was divided into small city-states. Italian city states were very wealthy. Many were industrial powerhouses which specialized in particular products like Florence in cloth and Milan in arms. Others like Venice and Genoa became extremely rich through trade with the Ottoman Empire. Artists depended entirely on patrons while the patrons needed money to promote artistic talent. Abundant riches in Italy allowed the Renaissance to flourish in the region.
#3 It was fuelled by the Fall of Constantinople and the Printing Revolution
On 29th May 1453, an invading army of the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. This led to the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy, which helped fuel the Renaissance. Also, around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany, introduced the mechanical movable type printing to Europe. This started the Printing Revolution which greatly enhanced circulation of ideas and information. Printing Revolution played a key role in the development of the Renaissance allowing it to spread from Italy to the rest of Europe.
#4 It was intellectually based on its own version of humanism
Humanism is a philosophy that emphasizes the value of human beings and their capacities. Renaissance was marked by its own version of humanism which was based on ancient Greco-Roman philosophies. Renaissance humanism was derived from the study of five humanities: poetry, grammar, history, moral philosophy and rhetoric. Though humanism would later challenge traditional religious beliefs, at the time it was in no way anti-Christian or anti-religious. The nineteenth century belief that Renaissance challenged the Church or changed conservative social order is now disregarded by most historians.
#5 Petrarch is considered the Father of the Renaissance
Francesco Petrarca, known as Petrarch, was a 14th century Italian scholar and poet. He described the preceding 900 years, the period following the decline of the Roman Empire in the 6th century, as “dark”, for he saw it as a time of stagnation where humans didn’t realize their intellectual and creative potential to the fullest; leading to little cultural achievements. He thus created the now rejected term Dark Ages to refer to this period. Petrarch inspired humanist philosophy which led to the intellectual flowering of the Renaissance. His works were widely studied and imitated by Renaissance scholars. He is considered by many to be the founder of Humanism and the “Father of the Renaissance”.
#6 Renaissance is most famous for its artistic achievements
Although the Renaissance period saw developments in many fields, it is most famous for its artistic achievements which exercised a dominant influence on subsequent European art. Italian painter and architect from Florence, Giotto di Bondone, is considered the first of the numerous great artists who contributed to the Renaissance. Giotto is credited for reversing the decline in visual arts following the collapse of the Roman Empire. He rejected the prevalent Byzantine style and introduced the techniques of drawing accurately from life. Giotto painted some of the most well-known masterpieces of the Early Renaissance.
#7 Use of linear perspective is a defining feature of Renaissance art
Florence sculptor Donatello, and Florence architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi, took a trip to Rome in the first decade of the 15th century. Together they studied the ancient Roman ruins, an endeavor no one had attempted in such great detail till then. Donatello became the first to develop a fully Renaissance style in sculpture while Brunelleschi developed a technique for linear perspective. Linear perspective was one of the core techniques which led to realism, the distinguishing feature of Renaissance artworks. Donatello and Brunelleschi are considered among the founding fathers of the Renaissance.
#8 Some of the most famous artworks were created during the High Renaissance
The High Renaissance is a term used to denote the apex of the visual arts in the Italian Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael form the trinity of great masters of the High Renaissance. Together they created some of the most famous works in western art including Da Vinci’s half-length portrait Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s statue of David, and Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens. Other outstanding works of the Renaissance include the architecture of Filippo Brunelleschi; the plays of William Shakespeare; and Oration on the Dignity of Man, a public discourse by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, referred to as the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”.
#9 Renaissance was a contributing factor in starting the Protestant Reformation
At the time of the Renaissance, there was religious turmoil with accusations of corruptions against the Roman Catholic Church, the most powerful institution in Europe. Churchmen, like German priest Martin Luther and Dutch priest Erasmus, proposed reform to the Church, often based on humanist textual criticism of the New Testament. Thus, Renaissance’s Humanism helped spark the Protestant Reformation, which resulted in many people moving away from the Catholic Church and creating Protestant churches. Reformation was a major point in European history which had far-reaching effects on all spheres of western life.
#10 There were major scientific advancements during the Renaissance
As the Renaissance progressed, there was a shift from Aristotelian natural philosophy to scientific method based on inductive reasoning. This led to scientists challenging previously held beliefs resulting in major advancements in science. The most important of these was the heliocentric model of the solar system proposed by Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. It led to the Copernican Revolution which lasted for more than a century till Sir Isaac Newton removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric model. Apart from Copernicus, other major scientists of the Renaissance include Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler.
Did the Renaissance happen?
There is a controversy on whether the Renaissance existed. Its detractors point out that most of Europe’s population during the period didn’t experience any change in their lifestyles or any intellectual and cultural upheaval. Majority continued to live in the farms as the art and learning didn’t filter down to affect their lives. Also, many negative social factors associated with the medieval period, like poverty, warfare and religious persecutions, worsened in this era. Most people at the time were more concerned with these than the Renaissance, a concept propagated later in the 19th century. Supporters of the Renaissance argue that few students or historians of art or literature would ever doubt the factuality of the Renaissance as the period did see a great change in these areas, which was to have a profound and long-lasting effect on future generations.