The Renaissance (Questions and Analysis in History)

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In the rejection of the pagan view of the Renaissance, it has been suggested that humanism was a Christian movement. The argument has even been put forward that it was a Christian reaction against a wave of scientific naturalism and secularism that had come into Europe during the Middle Ages.

This last position was taken by Giuseppe Toffanin, who distinguished between humanism and the Renaissance: The latter he found to proceed from the same currents against which humanism reacted. A more balanced and more convincing view is that the humanists were conforming Christians and that they were not irreligious, let alone pagan; they were simply dealing with other subjects, and, therefore, religion did not play the chief role in their writings.

This point of view, which has been set forth by Professor Kristeller, does not exclude the likelihood that for many of them their religion did not always go very deep. But this has undoubtedly been true for a good many people at all times, so it has no particular significance.

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It must also be remembered that there were, among the leaders of the Renaissance and of humanism, many sincerely and even devoutly religious men. Petrarch and Michelangelo are two notable examples of this. So the Italian Renaissance is not to be looked on as a revolt against religion. Even less is this true in the northern Renaissance, as will be shown later. A misconception that has helped give some life to this myth is that to glorify man is to turn away from God, as if the only way to glorify God is to debase His creatures.

Some distinguished modern theologians have found in the Renaissance the beginning of a fatal separation of God and man, which in its ultimate consequences is held responsible even for such horrors as fascism. This too seems an extreme view. The Renaissance glorification of man did not need to detract from the glory of God.

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This glorification of man seems undeniable. The noble beings that look out at us from the paintings of Raphael and Piero della Francesca, the statues of Donatello, Verrocchio, and Michelangelo, and the works of numerous other artists bear witness to this. The writings of poets and humanists add further evidence. Much of this is summed up in the proud words of Leon Battista Alberti, " Burckhardt's contrast between the corporate consciousness of the Middle Ages and the individualism of the Renaissance is, of course, overdrawn; nevertheless, individualism is characteristic of the Renaissance outlook.

The awareness of the uniqueness of each individual personality produced the numerous portraits of the period, which in many cases help us feel that we have gained real insight into the character of the subjects. What student of the Renaissance can forget Federigo da Montefeltro, after seeing him in the portrait by Piero della Francesca or in the other representations of him that still exist?

It takes no special knowledge of the period to call to mind any number of men distinguished by their accomplishments in more than one field of activity. Michelangelo has been discussed in the previous chapter.

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We think also of Giotto and Raphael, who were both painters and architects; Piero della Francesca, painter and mathematician; Machiavelli, historian, political analyst, and writer of plays and stories; and so on. Castiglione's Courtier envisages an individual who is accomplished in many fields; an ideal of all-around accomplishment was clearly not regarded as impractical or unrealistic. From all this comes the concept of the universal man, dedicated to the fullest expression of all his faculties.

Leon Battista Alberti was a member of a distinguished Florentine family that had been caught up in the city's internal political conflicts, with exile as the consequence. Therefore, he did not see Florence until after ; yet he always looked on it as the ideal city. He exemplified the same sort of civic humanism that characterized Leonardo Bruni, believing that man was bound to serve the commonwealth. These ideas he expressed in his book Della famiglia On the Family.


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This book was written in Italian, although Alberti could and did write also in Latin. One of his aims was to further the use of the vernacular language, and to this end he established competitions for poets writing in Italian, with prizes for the winners. He was also well acquainted with the humanistic learning of the day, an eager student of the classics. He was, moreover, a man of great physical strength and athletic prowess. He loved nature and he loved the beautiful in human beings.

As we have had occasion to observe, he was a distinguished architect with a great influence on other architects, and he was a writer on artistic theory, the first great art theorist of modern times. His book on painting recorded the artistic revolution of early fifteenth-century Florence, and served as a textbook for painters eager to appropriate the gains of the Florentines.

He wrote a little essay on sculpture, and an elaborate and influential treatise on architecture. But the most famous of the universal geniuses of the Renaissance was Leonardo da Vinci As we have seen, his work in painting, though relatively slight in bulk, was epoch-making in its importance. He also had a great influence on sculpture and architecture through his plans and drawings, though none of his work survives. But art claimed only a part of his activity and energies. He had a boundless curiosity about nature and sought to penetrate its innermost workings.

A survey of his numerous extant drawings shows him to have been interested in what we would call botany, physiology, geology, and zoology. The influence of his anatomical drawings gives him a claim to be regarded as the founder of the modern study of anatomy.

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In addition to his drawings, he kept voluminous notebooks. These were not discovered and studied until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so they cannot be said to have helped guide the course of scientific discovery, but they helped to further disclose the range of his interests. They reveal the great importance he attached to mathematics. The behavior of water what we would call hydraulics received a great deal of attention from him.

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His geological interests extended to paleontology. Fossil remains and their locations led him to conclude that the earth was very old, in contradiction to the accepted ideas of his time, and in bold disagreement with the thinking of the church. He was also interested in artistic theory. The so-called Treatise on Painting consists of scattered remarks in the notebooks assembled and published after his death. Leonardo had himself intended to organize his notes into treatises on various subjects, but he never got around to it. In addition to his theoretical studies, he also devised machines for various practical purposes, even though these inventions normally did not progress beyond the drawings he made of them.

The letter he wrote to Ludovico the Moor of Milan, recommending himself to the latter, reveals something of his own conception of his usefulness, at least to the rulers of states. What he stresses most, in listing his capabilities, is his expertise as a military engineer and deviser of weapons. He can build bridges, destroy any fortress, "contrive various and endless means of attack and defence," and so forth. In time of peace, he can construct buildings, "carry out sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever can be done, as well as any other, be he who may.

An equally exalted view of man's powers, glory, and dignity may be found in the Neoplatonic philosophy cultivated in Florence by Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and their circle. The Florentine interest in Plato was stimulated by the presence of Greek scholars in the city for the church council in See Chapter 2.


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Cosimo de' Medici, attracted by these scholars, had set out to further the study of Plato's writings. He chose Marsilio Ficino, the son of his personal physician, to lead this enterprise. Ficino was trained for the task, became head of the Platonic Academy which Cosimo founded and the chief fountainhead of the currents of Neoplatonic thinking which spread far and wide from Florence.

He translated and wrote commentaries on the writings of Plato himself and of many of the ancient Neoplatonists. A friend and collaborator of Ficino's was the brilliant young nobleman Pico della Mirandola. The philosophy of these men, although much affected by Plato and the Neoplatonists, was in fact eclectic. They drew on what they knew of Oriental thought, and were influenced also by the so-called Hermetic writings, associated with the legendary figure of Hermes Trismegistus, an Egyptian sage who was the earliest of all the great wise men and who was supposed to have influenced Moses.

Unlike some of the other Renaissance scholars, Ficino and Pico did not scorn the scholastic tradition of the Middle Ages. Above all, they were faithful and devout Christians; Ficino was a priest, and Pico, in his later years, came under the spell of Savonarola. Their humanistic interests, their Christian faith, and their receptivity to all the traditions of knowledge inspired in these men, especially Pico, a rather touching desire to find points of agreement among these traditions.

It was especially urgent for them to be able to reconcile the sacred truths of Christianity with pre-Christian thought. The term can also be used in cinema. In animation, the Disney Renaissance is a period that spanned the years from to which saw the studio return to the level of quality not witnessed since their Golden Age.

Rapid accumulation of knowledge, which has characterized the development of science since the 17th century, had never occurred before that time. The new kind of scientific activity emerged only in a few countries of Western Europe, and it was restricted to that small area for about two hundred years. Since the 19th century, scientific knowledge has been assimilated by the rest of the world. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the European Renaissance of the 14th—17th centuries. For the earlier European Renaissance, see Renaissance of the 12th century.

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For other uses, see Renaissance disambiguation. European cultural period, 14th to 17th century. The School of Athens — , Raphael. Main article: Italian Renaissance. See also: Transmission of the Greek Classics.