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The Renaissance - 1250-1520

The Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural revolution ' without precedent, ending the isolation of the Middle Ages and bringing about a new era for Europe. Its roots were in the intellectual ferment that first arose in the mid thirteenth century. The commercial revolution had produced vast sums of money in the hands of Italian merchants and bankers. As they became the new aristocracy, they competed with each other in extravagance in their personal lives, producing an unprecedented private demand for art. By the mid fifteenth century, guilds and municipal governments were also commissioning works, continually broadening the number of people involved in the cultural process, though still restricting it to perhaps 10 percent of the population. Scholarship, which had hitherto been confined almost exclusively to monasteries and narrowly defined in terms of religious orthodoxy and obedience to the church hierarchy, was freed from these strictures and began to develop its own ethos of meticulous research and objectivity.

In what may be called a pre Renaissance period (approximately 1250-1375), classical Rome and its philosophy, political thought, literature, art, and architecture were reexamined with new interest. Gradually a new intellectual movement, humanism, took shape, expanding its audience during the early Renaissance (approximately 1375-1480) and reaching its apogee in the High Renaissance (approximately 1480-1520). It was an intensely scholarly movement, restricted to an elite who numbered perhaps 600 scholars, artists, writers, and architects between 1420 and 1540.

But its goal was not to make scholars out of gentlemen; rather, its goal was to put scholarship at the service of contemporary experience. Humanism did not challenge the place of God or religion in society but gave that religion a more human face, opening up the imagination to explore the more mundane facets of life and breaking the hold of artistic conservatism that had hemmed in the culture. Experimentation with more naturalistic and expressive forms in sculpture, painting, literature, music, and architecture created a new, more individualistic art, consciously emulating the great works of antiquity. The works of Michelangelo Buonarotti, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael, to name only a few, are still considered some of the greatest artistic achievements in history.

These new ideas spread throughout Europe and formed the basis for later cultural developments, not only in art but also in science. Aside from the magnificent art of the period, perhaps humanism's major historical contribution was the creation of the scientific method, which laid the groundwork for the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century and beyond. The Renaissance reestablished Italy as a cultural capital and also reinvigorated the idea of Italian nationalism, reminding a fractured people of their past glories and of their modern talents.

The seed of Italian unity was planted during the Renaissance, although it would take another four centuries to flourish.

The Renaissance was overwhelmingly a cultural, rather than a political, phenomenon. Political institutions varied widely across the peninsula. In the south was a monarchy, in the center the papal states, and in the north a collection of independent territories with varying degrees of rule by oligarchies based on wealth.Although a great many independent communes continued to exist (even if only psychologically), the political history of Renaissance Italy is dominated by the interaction of the five major Italian city¬states; Venice (also called the Venetian Republic), Milan, Florence, the papal states, and simply by enduring as a powerful if grossly inefficient locus of authority Naples, which had drawn many of the smaller states within the orbit of their influence. These states, all fully sovereign by the end of the fourteenth century, took on the characteristics of full fledged nation states and devised systems of alliances within which they acted out the balance of power diplomacy that the great kingdoms of Europe practiced.




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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:00:57 ZULU