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RENAISSANCE. The Renaissance is one of the most interesting and disputed periods of European history. Many scholars see it as a unique time with characteristics all its own. A second group views the Renaissance as the first two to three centuries of a larger era in European history usually called early modern Europe, which began in the late fifteenth century and ended on the eve of the French Revolution (1789) or with the close of the Napoleonic era (1815). Some social historians reject the concept of the Renaissance altogether. Historians also argue over how much the Renaissance differed from the Middle Ages and whether it was the beginning of the modern world, however defined.

The approach here is that the Renaissance began in Italy about 1350 and in the rest of Europe after 1450 and that it lasted until about 1620. It was a historical era with distinctive themes in learning, politics, literature, art, religion, social life, and music. The changes from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance were significant, but not as great as historians once thought. Renaissance developments influenced subsequent centuries, but not so much that the Renaissance as a whole can be called "modern."


The term "Renaissance" comes from the Renaissance. Several Italian intellectuals of the late fourteenth and the early fifteenth centuries used the term rinascità ('rebirth or renaissance') to describe their own age as one in which learning, literature, and the arts were reborn after a long, dark Middle Ages. They saw the ancient world of Rome and Greece, whose literature, learning, and politics they admired, as an age of high achievement. But in their view, hundreds of years of cultural darkness followed because much of the learning and literature of the ancient world had been lost. Indeed, Italian humanists invented the concept of the "Middle Ages" to describe the years between about 400 and 1400. Scholastic philosophy, which the Italian humanists rejected, and a different style of Latin writing, which the humanists viewed as uncouth and barbarous, prevailed in the Middle Ages. But Italian humanists believed that a new age was dawning. In the view of the humanists, the painter Giotto (d. 1337) and the vernacular writer and early humanist Francesco Petrarch (13041374) led the rebirth or Renaissance. Most Italian intellectuals from the mid-fifteenth century on held these views.

Northern Europeans of the sixteenth century also reached the conclusion that a new age had dawned. They accepted the historical periodization of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance and added a religious dimension. Desiderius Erasmus (c. 14661536), the great Dutch humanist, and his followers looked back to two ancient sources for inspiration: the secular learning of ancient Greece and Rome, and Christianity of the first four centuries. The former offered models of literature, culture, and good morality, while the New Testament and the church fathers, such as Sts. Augustine (354430) and Jerome (c. 347419/420), combined pristine Christianity with ancient eloquence. But then barbarous medieval culture replaced ancient eloquence, and, in their view, the theological confusion of medieval Scholasticism obscured the message of the New Testament. Erasmus and his followers dedicated themselves to restoring good literature, meaning classical Greek and Latin, and good religion, meaning Christianity purged of Scholastic irrelevance and clerical abuses. They believed that Christians could best live moral lives and attain salvation in the next life by following both Cicero and the New Testament. They believed that there were no real differences between the moral precepts found in the pagans of ancient Greece and Rome and the Bible.


A cluster of dates marks the beginning of the Renaissance era. The majority of scholars view the early humanist and vernacular writer Petrarch as the first important figure. He strongly criticized medieval habits of thought as inadequate and elevated ancient ideals and literature as models to emulate. By the period 1400 to 1450 numerous Italian intellectuals agreed with Petrarch's criticism of the Middle Ages and support for a classical revival. The result was the intellectual movement called humanism, which came to dominate Italian Latin schooling, scholarship, ethical ideas, and public discourse and spread to the rest of Europe in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Both contemporaries and modern historians also see the Great Plague of 1348 to 1350, with its huge demographic losses (30 to 50 percent in affected areas) and psychological impact as another dividing point between Middle Ages and Renaissance. Next, a series of major political changes between 1450 and 1500 marked a new political era that was uniquely Renaissance. Spain, France, and England emerged as powerful territorial monarchies in the last quarter of the fifteenth century. Their quarrels with each other and interventions in the affairs of smaller states through the next 150 years dominated European politics. Finally, the invention of movable type in the 1450s by Johannes Gutenberg (c. 13981468) created a break with the medieval past in the production and dissemination of books that was so great that it is difficult to measure. By the end of the year 1470, some nineteen towns had printing presses; by 1500 some 255 towns had presses, and the spread of printing was far greater in the sixteenth century. An efficient system of distribution and marketing spread printed books to every corner of Europe. The greater availability of books had an impact on practically every area of life, especially intellectual and religious life, so immense as to be beyond measurement.


Humanism was the defining intellectual movement of the Renaissance. It was based on the belief that the literary, scientific, and philosophical works of ancient Greece and Rome provided the best guides for learning and living. And humanists believed that the New Testament and early Christian authors offered the best spiritual advice.

The nineteenth century invented the term "humanism." But humanism is based on three Renaissance terms. Studia humanitatis meant humanistic studies, which were grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy based on study of the standard ancient authors of Rome and, to a lesser extent, Greece. This is the famous definition presented in 1945 by the eminent historian Paul Oscar Kristeller (19051999) and now widely accepted. The Renaissance also used and praised humanitas, an ancient Latin term meaning the good qualities that make men and women human. And the Renaissance invented a new term, humanista. It first appeared in Italian in a University of Pisa document of 1490. By the end of the sixteenth century it had spread to several European vernacular languages and was occasionally used in Latin. A humanista was a student, teacher, or scholar of the humanities.

Humanism became institutionalized in society as a new form of education. Around 1400 a number of Italian pedagogical leaders decided that the traditional medieval curriculum for Latin schools, consisting of studying medieval authors and a few ancient poetic classics, or portions of them, and learning to write formal letters in Latin according to nonclassical rules, was inadequate. They proposed a new curriculum and approach. Pier Paolo Vergerio (c. 13681444) wrote the first and most important humanist pedagogical treatise, called De Ingenuis Moribus et Liberalibus Studiis Adulescentiae (On noble customs and liberal studies of adolescents) in 1402 or 1403. He argued that the best way to foster good character, learning, and an eloquent Latin style in speech and writing was to teach humanistic studies. He gave pride of place to history, moral philosophy, and eloquence, a novel emphasis. Boys trained in humanistic studies would be ready to become honorable leaders in society as adults. Vergerio's treatise had enormous resonance: More than one hundred manuscripts can be found in Italian libraries, and Italian presses produced more than thirty incunabular (printed before 1501) editions. It enjoyed similar diffusion in northern Europe.

Humanism was more than skill in Latin. It tried to teach the principles of living a moral, responsible, and successful life on this earth. Parents came to believe that a humanistic education would best prepare their sons, and a few daughters, for leadership positions, such as head of a family, member of a city council, judge, administrator, or teacher. Humanistic studies provided the fundamental education. Training in the specialized disciplines of law, medicine, philosophy, or theology came later for those needing them. By about 1550 the English clergyman, the French lawyer, the German knight, the Italian merchant, and the Spanish courtier shared a common intellectual heritage. They could communicate across national frontiers and despite linguistic differences. They shared a common fund of examples, principles, and knowledge derived from the classics. Humanism brought intellectual unity to Europe.

Humanism also included a sharply critical attitude toward received values, individuals, and institutions, especially those that did not live up to their own principles. The humanists' study of ancient Rome and Greece gave them the chronological perspective and intellectual tools to analyze, criticize, and change their own world. Humanists especially questioned the institutions and values inherited from the Middle Ages. They found fault with medieval art, government, philosophy, and approaches to religion. Once the humanist habit of critical appraisal developed, many turned sharp eyes on their own times. And eventually they turned their critical gaze on the learning of the ancient world and rejected parts of it.


Renaissance scholars inherited from the Middle Ages intellectual views and approaches in philosophy, medicine, and science, and challenged almost all of them. In astronomy they inherited a conception of the universe originating in Ptolemy (c. 100 c.e.c. 170 c.e.) of the ancient world that the sun revolved around the Earth. Nicolaus Copernicus (14731543) in his De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium (1543; On the revolutions of the heavenly orbs) argued the reverse, that the Earth and other planets revolved around the sun. Despite bitter opposition from both Catholic and Protestant religious authorities, his views prevailed with most astronomers by the early seventeenth century. Galileo Galilei (15641642) absorbed Aristotelian science and then rejected it in favor of a mathematically based analysis of physical reality, the modern science of mechanics. And along the way he offered evidence that Copernicus's daring view was not just mathematical hypothesis but physical reality. Another mathematical achievement affecting Europe and the rest of the world in future centuries was calendar reform. Renaissance Europe inherited the Julian calendar of ancient Rome, which was ten days in arrears by the sixteenth century. Pope Gregory XIII (reigned 15721585) appointed a team of scholars to prepare a new calendar and in 1582 promulgated the Gregorian calendar still used today.

Renaissance medical scholars inherited an understanding of the human body and an approach to healing based on the ancient Greek physician Galen (c. 129c. 199 c.e.), Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.), and medieval Arab medical scholars. But a group of medical scholars called "medical humanists" by modern scholars challenged and altered received medical knowledge. Led by Niccolò Leoniceno (14281524), who taught at the universities of Padua and Ferrara, they applied humanistic philological techniques and ideological criticism to both medieval and ancient medical texts, found them wanting, and proceeded to investigate the human body anew. As a result, Andreas Vesalius (15141564) through his anatomical studies, William Harvey (15781657) through his study of the circulation of the blood, and other scholars revolutionized medical research and instruction. Several Renaissance medical scholars gave their names to parts of the body; for example, the eustachian tube between the ear and the nose is named for Bartolomeo Eustachi (1500/101574), and the fallopian or uterine tubes are named for Gabriele Falloppia (15231562).

Most of the innovative research in science, medicine, philosophy, and law came from universities. The Renaissance saw a great expansion in the number and quality of universities. It inherited twentynine functioning universities from the Middle Ages in 1400, then created forty-six new ones by 1601, losing only two by closure in between. This left Europe with sixty-three universities, more than double the medieval number. Demand for new universities came from several directions. Most important, increasing numbers of men wanted to learn. Society also needed more trained professionals. Monarchs, princes, and cities required civil servants, preferably with law degrees. A medical degree enabled the recipient to become a private physician, a court physician, or one employed by the town. The Protestant and Catholic Reformations stimulated the demand for theology degrees.

Universities provided stipends and other support for scholars. Since the universal language of learning was Latin and the printing press could publish new information, scientific communication was rapid and overcame the religious division of sixteenth-century Europe. University students to a lesser extent also crossed religious frontiers. The adoption of Roman law in central Europe created a demand for lawyers and judges trained in this field, which meant that both Catholic and Protestant Germans continued to study in Italian universities, the centers for the study of Roman law.


Renaissance states had three basic forms of government: princedoms, monarchies, and oligarchies, which the Renaissance called republics.

Princedoms. A prince was an individual, whether called duke, count, marquis, or just signore (lord), who ruled a state, usually with the support of his family. The term "prince" meant the authority to make decisions concerning all inhabitants without check by representative body, constitution, or court. But the source of the prince's power and the nature of his rule varied greatly. He often had displaced another ruler or city council by force, war, assassination, bribery, diplomacy, purchase, marriage, or occasionally because the city invited him in to quell factionalism. Most often a prince came to power through an adroit combination of several of these. Once in control, he promulgated laws of succession to give himself a cloak of legitimacy so that his son or another family member might succeed him. Indeed, some inhabitants of the state would see him as legitimate and be content to be ruled by him.

Princely power was seldom absolute. Most princes depended on some accommodation with powerful forces within the state, typically the nobility or the merchant community. Many small princedoms depended on the good will of more powerful states beyond their borders to survive, and this limited options in foreign policy. And the prince's rule was always uneasy, which was one reason he relied on hired mercenary troops in war, instead of a militia created from his subjects. However achieved, what mattered most was that the prince possessed effective power to promulgate and enforce laws, to collect taxes, to defeat foreign invaders, and to quell rebellion. If the prince commanded the affection and loyalty of his subjects, this made his task easier. Italy and central Europe had an abundance of princedoms, including the states of Ferrara, Mantua, Milan, Parma, Piedmont-Savoy, and Urbino in northern Italy, and Bavaria, Brandenburg, Burgundy, Brunswick-Lüneberg, Luxembourg, the Palatinate, Albertine and Ernestine Saxony, and Württemberg in central Europe.

Monarchies. A monarchy was a princedom sanctioned by a much longer tradition, stronger institutions, and greater claims of legitimacy for its rulers. The majority of monarchies (for example, England, France, Portugal, Scotland, and Spain) were hereditary, while Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, and the Holy Roman Empire were elective. Monarchies typically were larger than princedoms and ruled subjects speaking multiple languages and dialects. Monarchies usually had developed laws and rules that determined the succession in advance. Only when the succession was broken through the lack of a legitimate heir, a bitter dispute within the ruling family, or overthrow by a foreign power was a monarch displaced by another.

Monarchies grew in power and size in the Renaissance. The creation of the dual monarchy of Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabella of Castile between 1474 and 1479 created a powerful Spain that ruled the entire Spanish peninsula except Portugal, and Portugal as well from 1580 to 1640. The Tudor monarchy of England (three kings and two queens from 1485 to 1603) made England, previously a small, strife-torn, and remote part of Europe, into a major force. After the conclusion of the Hundred Years' War with England (13371453), France under the Valois dynasty (ruled 1328 to 1589) became a powerful and rich state. Conflicts between territorial monarchies dominated international politics and war in the Renaissance.

Republics. The smallest and most unusual political unit was the city-state consisting of a major town or city and its surrounding territory of farms and villages. Oligarchies, usually drawn from the merchant elite of the town, ruled republics. Flanked by the professional classes, the merchant community first dominated the commerce of the city. Then in the Middle Ages they threw off the authority of prince, king, or emperor. In their place the merchants created a system of government through interlocking and balanced councils. Large deliberative assemblies, comprising of one hundred, two hundred, or more adult males, elected or chosen by lot, debated and created laws. Executive committees, often six, eight, or a dozen men elected for two to six months, put the laws into action. Short terms of office and rules against self-succession made it possible for several hundred or more adult males to participate in government in a few years. The system of balanced and diffused power ensured that no individual or family could control the city. It was a government of balanced power and mutual suspicion.

Borrowing terminology and legal principles from ancient Roman law and local tradition, the men who formed oligarchies called their governments "republican" and their states "republics." They believed that their rule was based on the consent of the people who mattered. But they were still oligarchies, because only 5 to 20 percent of the adult males of the city could vote or hold office. Members of government almost always came from the leading merchants, manufacturers, bankers, and lawyers. Some republics permitted shopkeepers and master craftsmen to participate as well. But workers, the propertyless, clergymen, and other middle and low groups in society were excluded. Occasionally the laws conceded to them extraordinary powers in times of emergency. Those living in the countryside and villages outside the city walls had neither a role in government nor the right to choose their rulers. Indeed, the city often exploited them financially and in other ways. Venice, Genoa, Lucca, Florence, Pisa, and Siena in Italy, and Augsburg, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, and the Swiss cantons were republics. Some city-state republics were small in comparison with monarchies and princedoms. But the Republic of Venice commanded an overseas empire of considerable size and commercial importance, while Florence's merchants and bankers played a large role in international trade, and the city participated forcefully in Italian politics.

Renaissance Europe presented a constantly shifting political scene. No government escaped external threats and very few avoided internal challenge. The numerous weak small states tempted powerful rulers and states. Despite their eloquent proclamations in defense of the liberty of states and citizens, republics were just as aggressive in conquering their weaker neighbors as were princedoms, while monarchies were always on the watch for another princedom, landed noble estate, or republic to absorb. It was the same within the state. Some powerful group or individual within the state would attempt through force or stealth to take control and change its nature. Many succeeded. The maneuvering for advantage, the shifting diplomatic alliances, plots, threats of war, and military actions made Renaissance politics extremely complex.

Two broad political developments prevailed. Princedoms grew in number and strength, and more powerful states, especially monarchies, absorbed smaller states. Republican city-states became princedoms, as a powerful individual or family within the city took control while maintaining a facade of republican institutions and councils. The gradual transformation of the Republic of Florence into a princedom ruled by members of the Medici family is the classic example. Meanwhile, princedoms fell into the hands of monarchies through military action or dynastic marriages. Three examples will suffice. France and the Habsburgs divided the Duchy of Burgundy between them when its duke, Charles the Bold, was killed in battle in 1477, leaving no male heir; Spain took control of the Kingdom of Naples by military force in 1504; and Spain absorbed the Duchy of Milan as the result of an alliance when the Duke Francesco II Sforza died without an heir in 1535. Strong republics also grew at the expense of their neighbors. The Republic of Venice conquered almost all the independent towns and small princedoms in northeastern Italy in the first half of the fifteenth century in its successful drive to create a mainland state. Small states survived at the price of careful neutrality, which avoided giving offense to more powerful neighbors, or by aligning themselves with larger powers. Such alliances came at a price. The small state lacked an independent foreign policy and might itself become a victim if the larger state fell.


The very complex and ever-shifting political reality stimulated the rapid development of diplomacy. The resident ambassador, that is, a permanent representative of one government to another, was a Renaissance innovation. He went to live in the capital city or court of another state where he conveyed messages between his government and the host government. Or to use the words that Sir Henry Wotton (15681639), the English ambassador to Venice, supposedly wrote in 1604, "a resident ambassador is a good man sent to tell lies abroad for his country's good." Perhaps more important than the messages, or lies, was the information that the resident ambassador and his staff gathered about the host country. Ambassadorial reports full of every kind of information are invaluable sources for modern scholars studying the Renaissance. The reports of papal nuncios and Venetian ambassadors are particularly useful.

The instability of forms of government, the many wars, and the fluidity of international politics stimulated an enormous amount of discussion about politics, including several masterpieces of political philosophy. Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527), having observed both, wrote about princedoms in his Il principe (The Prince, written in 1513), and on republics in Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio (Discourses on the first ten books of Titus Livy, written 15141520). Numerous humanists wrote treatises advising a prince or king how he might be a good prince, work for the good of his people, and, as a result, see his state and himself prosper. Erasmus wrote the most famous one, Institutio Principis Christiani (1516; Education of a Christian prince). Jean Bodin (15301596) argued that state and society needed the stability that only a sovereign and absolute power can provide, and that this must be the monarchy, in his Six livres de la république (1576; Six Books on the commonwealth; in Latin, 1586).


Vernacular literatures flourished in the Renaissance even though humanists preferred Latin. In 1400 standard English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and other vernaculars did not exist. People spoke and sometimes wrote a variety of regional dialects with haphazard spelling and multiple vocabularies. Nevertheless, thanks to the adoption of the vernacular by some governments, the printing press, and the creation of literary masterpieces, significant progress toward elegant and standard forms of modern vernaculars occurred.

German was typical. German-speaking lands inherited many varieties of German from the Middle Ages. In the fifteenth century some state chanceries began to use German instead of Latin. Hence, versions of German associated with the chanceries of more important states, including the East Middle Saxon dialect used in the chancery of the electorate of Saxony, became more influential. Next, printing encouraged writers and editors to standardize orthography and usage in order to reach a wider range of readers. Most important, Martin Luther (14831546) published a German translation of the Bible (New Testament in 1522; complete Bible in 1534), which may have had three hundred editions and over half a million printed copies by 1600, an enormous number at a time of limited literacy. And many began to imitate his style. Since he wrote in East Middle Saxon, this version of German eventually became standard German. Literary academies concerned about correct usage, vocabulary, and orthography rose in the seventeenth century to create dictionaries. A reasonably standardized German literary language had developed, though the uneducated continued to speak regional dialects.

Similar changes took place in other parts of Europe, with the aid of Renaissance authors and their creations. In Italy three Tuscan authors, Dante Alighieri (12651321)medieval in thought but using Tuscan brilliantlyPetrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio (13131375) began the process. Literary arbiters, such as Pietro Bembo (14701547) insisted on a standard Italian based on the fourteenth-century Tuscan of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Major sixteenth-century writers, including Ludovico Ariosto (14741533), Baldassare Castiglione (14781529), and Torquato Tasso (15441595), agreed. None of the three was Tuscan, but each tried to write, and sometimes rewrote, their masterpieces in a more Tuscan Italian. Then the Accademia della Crusca (founded in Florence in the 1580s) published a dictionary. Tuscan became modern Italian. William Shakespeare (15641616) and three English translations of the Bible, that of William Tyndale (printed 1526 and 1537), the Geneva Bible of 1560, and the King James Bible of 1611, had an enormous influence on English. The writers and dramatists of the Spanish Golden Age, particularly Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (15471616), did the same for the Castilian version of Spanish.


Art is undoubtedly the best-loved and -known part of the Renaissance. The Renaissance produced an extraordinary amount of art, and the role of the artist differed from that in the Middle Ages.

The Renaissance had a passion for art. Commissions came from kings, popes, princes, nobles, and lowborn mercenary captains. Leaders commissioned portraits of themselves, of scenes of their accomplishments, such as successful battles, and of illustrious ancestors. Cities wanted their council halls decorated with huge murals, frescoes, and tapestries depicting great civic moments. Monasteries commissioned artists to paint frescoes in cells and refectories that would inspire monks to greater devotion. And civic, dynastic, and religious leaders hired architects to erect buildings at enormous expense to beautify the city or to serve as semipublic residences for leaders. Such art was designed to celebrate and impress.

A remarkable feature of Renaissance art was the heightened interaction between patron and artist. Patrons such as Lorenzo de' Medici (14491492) of Florence and popes Julius II (reigned 15031513) and Leo X (reigned 15131521) were active and enlightened patrons. They proposed programs, or instructed humanists to do it for them, for the artists to follow. At the same time, the results show that they did not stifle the artists' originality. Men and women of many social levels had an appetite for art. The wealthy merchant wanted a painting of Jesus, Mary, or saints, with small portraits of members of his family praying to them, for his home. A noble might provide funding to decorate a chapel in his parish church honoring the saint for whom he was named. Members of the middle classes and probably the working classes wanted small devotional paintings. To meet the demand, enterprising merchants organized the mass production of devotional images, specifying the image (typically Mary, Jesus crucified, or patron saint), design, color, and size. It is impossible to know how many small devotional paintings and illustrated prints were produced, because most have disappeared. Major art forms, such as paintings, sculptures, and buildings, have attracted the most attention, but works in the minor arts, including furniture, silver and gold objects, small metal works, table decorations, household objects, colorful ceramics, candlesticks, chalices, and priestly vestments were also produced in great abundance.

The new styles came from Italy, and Italy produced more art than any other part of Europe. Art objects of every sort were among the luxury goods that Italy produced and exported. It also exported artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci, who died at the French court.

The ancient world of Rome and Greece, as interpreted by the humanists, greatly influenced Renaissance art. Artists and humanists studied the surviving buildings and monuments, read ancient treatises available for the first time, and imbibed the humanist emphasis on man and his actions and perceptions, plus the habit of sharp criticism of medieval styles.

Stimulated by the ancients, Renaissance artists were the first in European history to write extensively about art and themselves. Leon Battista Alberti (14041472) wrote treatises on painting (1435) and on architecture (1452); Raphael wrote a letter to Pope Leo X (c. 1519) concerning art. Giorgio Vasari's (15111574) Lives of the Artists (first edition 1550, revised edition 1568) was a series of biographies of Renaissance artists accompanied by his many comments about artistic styles. It was the first history of art. The silversmith Benvenuto Cellini (15001571) wrote about artistic practices and much more about himself, much of it probably fictitious, in his Autobiography, written between 1558 and 1566.

The social and intellectual position of the artist changed in the Renaissance. The artist began as a craftsman, occupying a relatively low social position and tied to his guild, someone who followed local traditions and produced paintings for local patrons. He became a self-conscious creator of original works of art with complex schemes, a person who conversed with humanists and negotiated with kings and popes. Successful artists enjoyed wealth and honors, such as the knighthood that Emperor Charles V conferred on Titian (Tiziano Vercelli, c. 14881576) in 1533.


The Renaissance was a hierarchical age in which the social position of a child's parents largely determined his or her place in society. Yet it was a variegated society, with nobles, commoners, wealthy merchants, craftsmen, shopkeepers, workers, peasants, prelates, parish priests, monks in monasteries, nuns in convents, civil servants, men of the professional classes, and others. It was an age of conspicuous consumption and great imbalances of wealth. But Renaissance society also provided social services for the less fortunate. Ecclesiastical, lay, and civic charitable institutions provided for orphans, the sick, the hungry, and outcast groups, such as prostitutes and the syphilitic ill. Although social mobility was limited, a few humble individuals rose to the apex of society. Francesco Sforza (14011466), a mercenary soldier of uncertain origins, became duke of Milan in 1450 and founded his own dynasty. The shepherd boy Antonio Ghislieri (born 1504) became Pope Pius V (reigned 15661572).


Renaissance Europe had considerable cultural and intellectual unity, greater than it had in the centuries of the Middle Ages or would again until the European Economic Union of the late twentieth century. A common belief in humanism and humanistic education based on the classics created much of it. The preeminence of Italy also helped because Italians led the way in humanism, art, the techniques of diplomacy, and even the humble business skill of double-entry bookkeeping.

The prolonged Habsburg-Valois conflict, often called the Italian Wars (14941559) because much of the fighting occurred in Italy, and, above all, the Protestant Reformation began to crack that unity. Moreover, many typical Renaissance impulses had spent their force by the early seventeenth century. The great revival of the learning of ancient Greece and Rome had been assimilated, and humanism was no longer the driving force behind philosophical and scientific innovation. Italy no longer provided artistic, cultural, and scientific leadership, except in music, as a group of Florentine musicians created lyric opera around 1600.

Europe began a new age on the eve of the Thirty Years' War (16181648). More powerful monarchies with different policies ushered in a different era of politics and war. Exuberant baroque art and architecture of the seventeenth century were not the same as the restrained, classicizing art of the previous two centuries. Galileo Galilei and René Descartes (15961650) discarded Renaissance Aristotelian science in favor of mathematics and mechanics. The universities of Europe were no longer essential for training Europe's elite and hosting innovative research. France would be the military, literary, and stylistic leader of the different Europe of the seventeenth century.

See also Art ; Bible: Translations and Editions ; Cellini, Benvenuto ; Copernicus, Nicolaus ; Education ; English Literature and Language ; Erasmus, Desiderius ; Galileo, Galilei ; German Literature and Language ; Humanists and Humanism ; Italian Literature and Language ; Leo X (pope) ; Medici Family ; Monarchy ; Political Philosophy ; Printing and Publishing ; Republicanism ; Spanish Literature and Language ; Universities .


Brand, Peter, and Lino Pertile, eds. The Cambridge History of Italian Literature. Rev. ed. Cambridge, U.K., 1999. See articles on Renaissance authors and genres.

Burns, J. H., ed., with the assistance of Mark Goldie. The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 14501700. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.

Copenhaver, Brian P., and Charles B. Schmitt. Renaissance Philosophy. Oxford and New York, 1992. Excellent one-volume survey.

Elton, G. R. England under the Tudors. 3rd ed. London, 1991. Standard study.

Ferguson, Wallace K. The Renaissance in Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Interpretation. New York, 1948. Classic study of the concept of the Renaissance from the fourteenth century to the twentieth.

Grendler, Paul F. Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning, 13001600. Baltimore and London, 1989. Explains humanistic education.

. The Universities of the Italian Renaissance. Baltimore and London, 2002. Survey of all sixteen universities and curriculum changes, 14001600.

Grendler, Paul F., et al., eds. Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. 6 vols. New York, 1999. Nearly 1,200 articles and 800 illustrations on every aspect of the Renaissance.

Hall, A. Rupert. The Revolution in Science, 15001750. 3rd ed. London and New York, 1983. Good survey.

Hardin, James, and Max Reinhart, eds. German Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation, 12801580. Detroit, 1997.

Hays, Denys, and John E. Law. Italy in the Age of the Renaissance, 13801530. London and New York, 1989.

Hirsch, Rudolf. Printing, Selling and Reading, 14501550. 2nd printing with a supplemental annotated bibliographical introduction. Wiesbaden, 1974. Excellent short account of the first century of printing.

Kristeller, Paul Oskar. Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic, and Humanist Strains. New York, 1961. Pioneering account of humanism by the most important twentieth-century scholar of the Renaissance.

Lynch, John. Spain under the Habsburgs. Vol. 1, Empire and Absolutism, 15161598. Oxford, 1965.

Mattingly, Garrett. Renaissance Diplomacy. Boston, 1955, with many reprints. Classic study not yet superseded.

McFarlane, I. D. Renaissance France, 14701589. London and New York, 1974. Survey of French literature.

Paoletti, John, and Gary Radke. Art in Renaissance Italy. 2nd ed. New York, 2002.

Rabil, Albert, Jr., ed. Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1988. Articles on humanism everywhere in Europe.

Schmitt, Charles B., et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K., 1988. Comprehensive coverage.

Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. New York, 1985.

Stephens, John. The Italian Renaissance: The Origins of Intellectual and Artistic Change before the Reformation. London and New York, 1990.

Turner, Jane S., ed. Encyclopedia of Italian Renaissance and Mannerist Art. 2 vols. New York, 2000. Part of the 34-volume Dictionary of Art (1996).

Wear, A., R. K. French, and I. M. Lonie, eds. The Medical Renaissance of the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge, U.K., 1985.

Paul F. Grendler

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The term Renaissance (English, French, German; rinascità in Italian) refers to (1) "a rebirth of arts and letters" noticed by authors and artists living between the 1300s and the 1600s; (2) Italian cultural history from about 1300 to 1520 ("La Rinascimento"), as in the period concept of Jacob Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860); or (3) a period of European history starting in Italy as early as the fourteenth century and extending into the seventeenth century in England. In the twentieth century, those studying other European nations sought to document outside Italy the presence of both a renaissance of arts and letters and the Burckhardtian characteristics of Renaissance civilization. The Renaissance, especially in American humanities courses on "Western" civilization and to members of the Renaissance Society of America (founded 1954), became a full period concept for European civilization from Petrarch to Milton, including trade routes and colonization.

Medievalists, led by Charles Homer Haskins, researched a succession of medieval renaissances (Carolingian, Ottonian, twelfth century), suggesting that the fourteenth-and fifteenth-century Renaissance may be viewed as an extension of late medieval culture. Nevertheless, Erwin Panofsky in Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1972) argued that the Italian Renaissance differed from the earlier ones in that the revived classical heritage became a permanent possession and ancient forms were reunified with ancient content; to experience Panofsky's point, visit in the renovated Galleria Borghese in Rome the succession of rooms of pagan gods such as Venus or Hermaphrodite.

Comparison of Culture to Horticulture

Petrarch, who was a practical gardener, viewed the rebirth of culture as plants regrowing in the sunlight of spring. Petrarch's French disciple Nicolas de Clamanges refers to flowers together with the Latin term renasci, meaning "to grow again" or "to be reborn." Boccaccio praised Dante for inviting back the Muses and Giotto for restoring the art of painting. Borrowing from the ancient vegetative imagery, such as the older Cato's image of a broken clover regrowing and Pliny's examples of vegetative matter regrowing as sprouts, humanists praised the work of fourteenth-century Italian artists and writers. Northern humanists continued a strategy of nourishing, cultivating, and transplanting from classical texts and images the seeds of virtue and knowledge. In the circle of King Francis I of France, in flowery rhetoric humanists praised him for the rebirth (renaître ) of letters, and in the architecture, decorative arts, and manuscript and book collections in the court at Fontainebleau, there was a "renaissance of arts and letters." Visual evidence for concepts of the rebirth of culture include Simone Martini's illumination that Petrarch commissioned for his copy of Virgil's Georgics and Eclogues, Da Vinci's image of a trunk resprouting (a botanical lesson from Virgil's Georgics ), and Botticelli's Primavera.

The Influence of the Burckhardtian Renaissance

Burckhardt claimed "the Italian Renaissance must be called the mother of our modern age" and described its six major characteristics: the vision of the state as a work of art in both princedoms breeding egocentric leaders and republics breeding new independent individuals; the development of the individualnewly subjective, conscious of fame, and multi-faceted; the revival of antiquity, especially ancient Latin culture; the discovery of the world and of humanity as evidenced by mapmaking, landscapes, natural science, poetry, biography, and social commentary; the equalization of society through festivals that expressed a common culture; and the advent of an immoral and irreligious age with revival of ancient pagan superstitions and an oscillation between religiosity and secularity. Medievalists sought to show that especially the first four Burckhardtian characteristics were already present in the medieval world, that in fact a rich Roman culture persisted more in the north than in the divided Italian peninsula. They documented individualism in Thomas Aquinas and Eleanor of Aquitaine and medieval advances in science and in naturalistic art. Scholars of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries in England, France, Spain, the Low Countries, the German lands, Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere have likewise claimed Burckhardtian Renaissances, usually like the medievalists emphasizing the first four traits, although in French scholarship a secular, doubting French Renaissance had a vogue to which Lucien Febvre responded in The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais (1982). In the expansion by later Burckhardtians, the Italian city-states were a model in miniature for the development of the nation-states (see Garett Mattingly on diplomacy, Hans Baron on civic humanism in Florence as a precedent for the United States), and individualism emerged not only from political turmoil but from the development of capitalist, middle-class occupations (Alfred von Martin, E. P. Cheyney).

Today the Burckhardtian Renaissance is evident in textbooks, in films on Renaissance individuals, and in art exhibitions. The term "renaissance" meaning a flowering of culture is positive and optimistic, and thus it has been extrapolated to other contexts, such as the "Jewish Renaissance" of Hebrew with the rebirth of Zionism in nineteenth-century Europe, the "Harlem Renaissance" of African-American culture in the 1920s, and numerous discussions of urban renewal as a "renaissance."

Burckhardtian scholarship continues to emphasize Burckhardt's first four characteristics of the Renaissance, finding isolated precedents in the medieval period. As social and economic historians and women's historians have made evident the hierarchies of rank and gender that marked the age, scholars have recognized that the fifth characteristic, "equalization," was limited to the mingling and rising of burgher to noble status and that a few daughters tutored along with sons and women's presence at courts did not add up to Burckhardt's "footing of perfect equality with men."

In claiming Burckhardtian Renaissances for other nations, generally scholars isolated the "immoral and irreligious age" to the Italians, although in some postcolonial interpretations (such as that of Walter D. Mignolo), point fourthe discovery of the world and of humanityprovides the strongest evidence of point sixthe immorality of the European colonialist, slave trader, and missionary.

Scholars of the Protestant Reformation have always emphasized the Christian characteristics of northern humanists. Criticizing Luther for authoritarianism and asceticism, Ernst Troeltsch (1906) contrasted medieval traits of the reformation with modern traits of the Renaissance; admiring Luther for redirecting Christian freedom to vocations in this world, Wilhelm Dilthey (1923) interpreted the Renaissance and Reformation together as the foundation of the modern world. Especially in the United States, where scholars specializing in the Renaissance and the Reformation often interpret the Reformation as a culmination of the Renaissance and focus on the humanist's inquiries into Christian antiquity, the term "Christian humanism" is applied to humanists of both the Italian and the northern Renaissance. Nevertheless, we must note that curious and daring humanists employed Jews and Greek Orthodox to explore texts in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, and openly read and commented upon works written by ancient pagans; Jewish humanists in Italy brought about a renaissance of ancient Hebrew genres (see Cecil Roth and Arthur Lesley in Renaissance Rereadings ).

Rebirth of Culture as a Regrowth of Plants in the Spring

Petrarch, Secretum, c. 1343: "When too many plants are sown in a narrow ground, namely that there growth is prevented by crowding, the same thing happens to you, so that no useful roots are put down in the soul that is too occupied and nothing fruitful grows."

Pierre Belon, Observation, 1553: "The minds of men have begun to wake up and to leave the darkness where for so long they have remained dormant and in leaving have put forth and put in evidence all kinds of good disciplines, which to their so happy and desirable renaissance, all as the new plants after a season of winter regain their vigor in the heat of the Sun and are consoled by the mildness of the spring."

source: From Maryanne C. Horowitz, Seeds of Virtue and Knowledge, pp. 115, 297, n. 96; pp. 156, 309, n. 7.

Historical Challenges from Annales School and from Early Modernists

Coincident with national movements of independence from colonization by European nations, historians in Paris developed a movement disparaging the historical studies focused on "What's new?" The Annales school focused on structures of long duration, emphasizing land patterns, family structures, religious and political rituals, and popular customs that have changed slowly and not in accordance with the traditional dates of historical periodization. Funded as social science and utilizing increasingly computerized databases on demography and prices of material goods (whether wine, salt, or catechisms), scholars are accumulating more precise information on living conditions in the premodern world.

The work of scholars seeking out lives of lesser-known people (women and the marginalized) and seeking documents of public performances (confraternity events, religious and political rituals) has provided a fuller awareness of premodern cultures. To be inclusive of popular as well as elite cultures and to start afresh without the ideological implications of nineteenth-century interpretations of "Renaissance," some scholars prefer the period term "early modern." Such scholars tend not to be working on the Italian Renaissance of the 1300s and early 1400s but to start after 1450, when the invention of the printing press accelerated the spread of the renaissance of arts and letters throughout Europe. For those scholars, who view either the invention of the printing press or Martin Luther the protester as the turning point from the Middle Ages to the early modern period and who drop Renaissance as a period concept, the Renaissance in Europe becomes closer to its original definition as a movement in arts and lettersin the early modernist's viewpoint, the first movement in a succession of overlapping movements of the early modern period.

A strain of scholarship has emerged to historicize the development of the concept of a Renaissance period. Scholars are fascinated by various versions of ideas of the Renaissance, such as those of Jules Michelet, Burckhardt, the Victorians, J. P. Morgan, and Virginia Woolf. Pascal Brioist emphasizes that Michelet published his Introduction à la Renaissance in 1855, the year Burckhardt began writing his more famous work. Even though Michelet originated the phrase "the discovery of the world and the discovery of man," the term "Burckhardtian" remains the common adjective for "Renaissance" with a capital R.

While "medievalisms" are also studied, the brunt of historicizing of the period concept of Renaissance suggests that the Burckhardtian Renaissance is a nineteenth-century historical fiction or a utopian vision. J. B. Bullen traces the development of the "myth" of the Renaissance between Voltaire (1756) and Walter Pater (1873). Burckhardtians have responded to the undermining of the period concept by printing editions of his work with art illustrations, as art more than any other medium demarcates a distinctive period. The 1793 creation of the Louvre Museum, with its succession of rooms of great civilizations (Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the centrally placed Renaissance) set a pattern spread by Napoléon to Madrid, Naples, Milan, and Amsterdam, and imitated in New York, Boston, and Chicago (see Carol Duncan's 1995 study, Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums ). Daniel Ménager in 1992 emphasized the aesthetic, in fact the religion, of beauty that distinguishes the creativity of the Renaissance. Paula Findlen, in a 1998 American Historical Review forum on "The Persistence of the Renaissance," demarcated the period by its passion for collecting objects of antiquity and taking creative inspiration from that collecting. The general public, as well as the tourist industry, recognizes the innovation, distinctiveness, and sheer visual beauty of art from, say, the cardinal and Christian virtues and vices of Giotto's Arena Chapel in Padua to the nude forms of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling and Last Judgment.

Humanists and Early Scientists

Meanwhile, neither humanist nor reformer ushered in the world of the post-Sputnik generation; government funding of the sciences, including the history of science, has taught historians that the major intellectual shift of modernity occurred in the development of the sciences, especially from Galileo to Newton. Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter (1999) illuminates the contrasting mentalities of this shift as represented by the scientist's relationship (through correspondence) with his daughter Maria Celeste, a nun. The interpretation of Copernicus and Galileo as early scientists rather than as "Renaissance men," as well as the seeking of the origins of science in the practices of apprenticeship, the work of artisan workshops, and in the inventions accompanying military battles and world navigation, rivals the outpouring of current scholarship documenting the humanist movement in countries throughout Europe.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the decrease in humanists educated in Greek and Latin letters, the rise in the status of scientists and those educated in "science" or "social science" curricula, and the funding of the history of science encouraged a search for the origins of modernity in the seventeenth-century innovations in science and technology. To create global and multicultural liberal arts curricula, colleges and universities have condensed posts across the disciplines for pre-modern Europe, making it sensible for those doing scholarship on topics from antiquity to the French Revolution to advocate their common interests in the creation of academic centers, funding of journals, and defending posts in premodern studies. For those in the historical profession, "early modern" is the category used globally by the American Historical Association.

Renaissance of the Renaissance Society of America

Together with practical on-line resources for accessing published books, such as Early English Books, 14751700, Elizabeth Eisenstein's Printing Press as an Agent of Historical Change refocused attention on 1450 as a turning point. E-mail groups such as FICINO and conferences have discussed the rivalry of the term "Renaissance" and the term "early modern," but "Renaissance" persists as a period label for books and articles in disciplinary histories such as art history, music history, and history of science, in national and comparative literatures, and in history. While the Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies appeared in 1997 with the new title Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, expanding its reach to "European and Western Asian cultural forms from late antiquity to the seventeenth century," its home base at Duke University remained the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Women's studies scholars, delving into women's writings and disregarding the stereotype "Renaissance woman," created the Society for Study of Early Modern Women with a home base at the University of Maryland Center for Renaissance and Baroque Studies.

Encouraging regional and topical organizations, the Renaissance Society of America holds council meetings with affiliates. As of 2003, there was no early modern umbrella organization. From the 1985 national meeting of the Renaissance Society of America at Occidental College, the Huntington Library, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, which ushered in open calls for papers on distinctive topics of the European Renaissance (collected in Renaissance Rereadings: Intertext and Context, a selective anthology commemorating the conference) to the RSA's international meetings in 2000 in Florence, Italy, and in 2005 in Cambridge, England, there has been an international renaissance of Renaissance studies.

See also Cultural History ; Humanism: Renaissance ; Periodization ; Periodization of the Arts ; Reformation ; Science, History of .


Benson, Robert L., and Giles Constable, eds., with Carol D. Lanham. Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Brioist, Pascal. La Renaissance: 14701570. Paris: Atlande, 2003.

Bullen, J. B. The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Translated by S. G. C. Middlemore. New York: Penguin, 1990. Illustrations aid in providing visual evidence that Burckhardt did not include.

Ferguson, Wallace F. The Renaissance in Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Interpretation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948.

Findlen, Paula, and Kenneth Gouwens. "AHR Forum: The Persistence of the Renaissance." American Historical Review 103 (1998): 51114.

Gentrup, William F., ed. Reinventing the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Constructions of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1998.

Horowitz, Maryanne Cline. Seeds of Virtue and Knowledge. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Horowitz, Maryanne Cline, Anne J. Cruz, and Wendy A. Furman, eds. Renaissance Rereadings: Intertext and Context. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 22, no. 1 (winter 1992). Special issue: "The Idea of the Renaissance in France." See especially Jean Delumeau, "Une histoire totale de la Renaissance"; Gisèle Mathieu-Castellani, "Pour une renaissance de la Renaissance"; and Daniel Ménager, "La Renaissance et la religion de la beauté."

Kerrigan, William, and Gordon Braden. The Idea of the Renaissance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. Committed to vitality of the concept.

Marcus, Leah S. "Renaissance/Early Modern Studies." In Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: Modern Language Association, 1992.

Mignolo, Walter D. The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Maryanne Cline Horowitz

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"Renaissance." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . 12 Oct. 2016 <>.

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Renaissance (rĕnəsäns´, –zäns´) [Fr.,=rebirth], term used to describe the development of Western civilization that marked the transition from medieval to modern times. This article is concerned mainly with general developments and their impact in the fields of science, rhetoric, literature, and music. For a discussion of developments in the arts see Renaissance art and architecture.

Historical Background

In the 12th cent. a rediscovery of Greek and Roman literature occurred across Europe that eventually led to the development of the humanist movement in the 14th cent. In addition to emphasizing Greek and Latin scholarship, humanists believed that each individual had significance within society. The growth of an interest in humanism led to the changes in the arts and sciences that form common conceptions of the Renaissance.

The 14th cent. through the 16th cent. was a period of economic flux in Europe; the most extensive changes took place in Italy. After the death of Frederick II in 1250, emperors lost power in Italy and throughout Europe; none of Frederick's successors equaled him. Power fell instead into the hands of various popes; after the Great Schism (1378–1415; see Schism, Great), when three popes held power simultaneously, control returned to secular rulers.

During the Renaissance small Italian republics developed into despotisms as the centers of power moved from the landed estates to the cities. Europe itself slowly developed into groups of self-sufficient compartments. At the height of the Renaissance there were five major city-states in Italy: the combined state of Naples and Sicily, the Papal State, Florence, Milan, and Venice. Italy's economic growth is best exemplified in the development of strong banks, most notably the Medici bank of Florence. England, France, and Spain also began to develop economically based class systems.


Beginning in the latter half of the 15th cent., a humanist faith in classical scholarship led to the search for ancient texts that would increase current scientific knowledge. Among the works rediscovered were Galen's physiological and anatomical studies and Ptolemy's Geography. Botany, zoology, magic, alchemy, and astrology were developed during the Renaissance as a result of the study of ancient texts. Scientific thinkers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo, Tycho Brahe, and Johannes Kepler attempted to refine earlier thought on astronomy. Among Leonardo's discoveries were the revelation that thrown or shot projectiles move in one curved trajectory rather than two; metallurgical techniques that allowed him to make great sculptures; and anatomical observations that increased the accuracy of his drawings.

In 1543 Copernicus wrote De revolutionibus, a work that placed the sun at the center of the universe and the planets in semicorrect orbital order around it; his work was an attempt to revise the earlier writings of Ptolemy. Galileo's most famous invention was an accurate telescope through which he observed the heavens; he recorded his findings in Siderius nuncius [starry messenger] (1610). Galileo's Dialogo … sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo [dialogue concerning the two chief world systems] (1632), for which he was denounced by the current pope (because of Galileo's approval of Copernicus), resulted in his living under house arrest for the rest of his life. Tycho Brahe gave an accurate estimate of planetary positions and refuted the Aristotelian theory that placed the planets within crystal spheres. Kepler was the first astronomer to suggest that planetary orbits were elliptical.

Rhetoric and Literature

Humanism in Renaissance rhetoric was a reaction to Aristotelian scholasticism, as espoused by Francis Bacon, Averroës, and Albertus Magnus, among others. While the scholastics claimed a logical connection between word and thought, the humanists differentiated between physical utterance and intangible meditation; they gave common usage priority over sets of logical rules.

The humanists also sought to emulate classical values. Joseph Webbe wrote textbooks that taught Latin through reconstruction of the sentences of classical authors from individual phrases and clauses. Roger Ascham taught that one could learn to speak effectively by studying the speeches of ancient orators. Thomas Elyot wrote The Book Named the Governor, which suggested rules for effective statesmanship. Thomas More's most significant contribution to humanism was Utopia, a design for an ideal society based primarily on works by classical authors.

The effect of humanism on English literature was wide and far-reaching. It is evidenced, for example, in the works of Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare. The poems and plays of Jonson often center on the difference between virtue and vice; Jonson considers sincerity, honesty, self-discipline, and concern to be chief virtues, while dissimulation, lying, or masking of identity is vicious behavior. His Volpone and The Alchemist exemplify humanist values. In a play such as Shakespeare's Tempest, a main character (Prospero) embodies a full range of human abilities: father, creator, ruler, magician, master, and scholar. In addition, Shakespeare took subject matter for many plays from classical sources (e.g., Coriolanus,Troilus and Cressida, and Julius Caesar).

In France Michel de Montaigne and François Rabelais were the most important proponents of humanist thought. Montaigne's essays are memorable for their clear statement of an individual's beliefs and their careful examination of society. In "On the Education of Children," he suggests a remaking of secondary education according to classical models; in "On Cannibals," he writes that cannibals are more civilized than others because they are removed from the dissimulation and vice of human society. Rabelais was the author of Gargantua and Pantagruel, the satirical biographies of two giants; the characters may be said to represent the humanist belief in the immensity of human capability. Guillaume Budé, Pierre de Ronsard, Guillaume Du Bartas, Joachim Du Bellay, and Jean Bodin are other major French humanist figures.

In Italy Petrarch is considered a founder of the humanist movement. His De viris illustribus, a set of heroes' lives, included both ancient heroes and such men as Adam; he also wrote a series of letters to classical figures (e.g., Cicero and Ovid). Giovanni Boccaccio, a follower of Petrarch, wrote works that include De genealogia deorum gentilium [on the genealogy of the gods of the gentiles], a collection of classical myths, and the Decameron, a book of 100 stories told by Italian courtesans taking refuge from the Black Plague. Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406) was a Florentine political administrator who wrote treatises on humanism, taught thinkers Poggio and Bruni, and accumulated a large library of ancient Greek and Roman texts.

The Renaissance Italian Leone Battista Alberti is famed for a series of dialogues in which he teaches classical virtues in a vernacular tongue. Niccolò Machiavelli wrote Il Principe [the prince], in which he memorably described the various shapes a ruler must assume in order to become an effective leader, and Discorsi [the discourses], in which he studies Livy in a search for classical values. The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione is essentially about Castiglione himself; in it the author delineates the characteristics of a perfect gentleman.


Renaissance music took great liberties with musical form. In 1300 the most popular music was French and secular. Although secular music gradually spread all over Europe, it flowered in Italy. In fact, in about 1330 an Italian school of musical composition developed in Padua, Verona, Bologna, Florence, and Milan. Often this music was written in the vernacular; its primary composers, thinkers such as Leonardo Giustiniani (1398–1446) and Marsilio Ficino, would often improvise words to the accompaniment of a lute-viola. This experimentation led to the development of contrapuntal music, or music that hinged on the pleasing interplay of two melodic lines.

Josquin Desprez composed masses, chansons, and motets, of which his Hercules Dux Ferriare mass and Misere motet are lasting examples; he was one of the first composers to use imitation, or repetition of melodies, successfully within a composition. Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina also composed mainly religious music. He distinguished himself with his motets and masses, namely Veni creator spiritus,Missa brevis, and Accepit Jesus calicem; he also made full use of the cantus firmus, or pre-existing melody around which other melodies are intertwined, in his compositions. Orlando di Lasso was also a noted composer whose work included motets, chansons, and madrigals.

Madrigals were popular throughout Europe; the best known, The White and Gentle Swan, was by the Flemish composer Jacob Arcadelt. English composers rivaled the Flemish; leading English madrigal composers of the Renaissance include Thomas Weelkes, William Byrd, Thomas Morley, and Orlando Gibbons. Often, English madrigal composers were influenced by the work of Italians. The main Italian madrigal composers were Luca Marenzio, Carlo Gesualdo, and Claudio Monteverdi. Monteverdi was the most accomplished artist of the three; in addition to composing madrigals, he composed the first major operas, including L'Arianna and Orfeo.


See Burckhardt's oft-translated classic, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860); J. H. Plumb, The Horizon Book of the Renaissance (1961); J. R. Hale, ed., A Concise Encyclopedia of the Italian Renaissance (1981); P. A. Ramsey, ed., Rome in the Renaissance (1982); A. B. Giamatti, Exile and Change in Renaissance Literature (1984); J. Snyder, The Northern Renaissance (1985); M. Elsky, Authorizing Words: Speech, Writing and Print in the English Renaissance (1986); J. Hale, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance (1994); L. Jardine, Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance (1996).

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Renaissance (rebirth) characterizes the impulse, initiated in Italy, towards improving the contemporary world by discovering and applying the achievement of classical antiquity. The movement was at its strongest from the time of Petrarch (1304–74) through the ‘long 16th cent.’ (1450–1625). ‘Renaissance’ is now generally used to describe the politics, beliefs, philosophy, science, scholarship, discourse, literature, handwriting, printing, painting, engraving, sculpture, architecture, and music of that period. The 20th cent. identified stages of this renaissance (pre- or proto-, early, high, and late), as well as earlier revivals of classical studies (Carolingian, Byzantine, 12th-cent.), and unrelated other ‘renaissances’ (American, Bengal, black).

‘Renaissance’ was first used alone in the 19th cent., though Giorgio Vasari (1550) saw a ‘rinascità delle arti’ in his own time, and Voltaire two centuries later a ‘renaissance des lettres et des beaux-arts’ in Medicean Florence. ‘Renaissance’ tout court, current French in the 1830s and employed in 1842 by Queen Victoria to define a style, was influentially used by Jules Michelet as title for a volume of his Histoire de France (1855). The concept of an epoch marked by ‘the discovery of the world and of man’ was taken up in Jakob Burckhardt's Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (1860). For Burckhardt the defining emphasis of the Renaissance was secular and individual; the new attitudes he detected in the Italy of that epoch to nature, morality, religion, affairs, art, and literature made him see it as inaugurating the modern era. Some later historians intensified Burckhardt's stress on paganism. Others reacted against it both by indicating continuities with medieval Christianity and by positing earlier renaissances. Post-Burckhardtian valuation of social, economic, and political factors has led to stress on difference in continuity, with classical learning, defence of the active life and of the virtue of possessions seen as coexistent with earlier knowledge and ideals.

The Renaissance discovery of classical antiquity was essentially a revival of learning, which Petrarch believed had dispelled the ignorance which had prevailed since late antiquity. Petrarch's mode of studying and transmitting the Latin classics became the province of the 15th-cent. (h)umanista, or teacher of Latin and Greek (hence ‘humanist’ and, but not until the 19th cent. ‘humanism’). From the 15th cent. onwards, humanist activity spread to other countries. At the turn of the 15th–16th cents. German imperial scholarship claimed a translatio studii parallel with the Carolingian translatio imperii. Later German humanists such as Melanchthon were usually advocates of the Reformation. Greek studies flourished especially in 16th-cent. France.

The English Renaissance was influenced by the Italian indirectly, through France, Burgundy, and the Netherlands, as well as directly. In its earliest phase, the patronage of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (1390–1447), was important; later, under Henry VII, William Grocyn and Thomas Linacre, after Italian experience, won a reputation for Greek. From about 1500, however, the chief force in English humanism was the concept of pietas literata, or evangelical humanism, associated with Erasmus. The friendship of Erasmus with John Colet and with Thomas More was particularly significant. Colet's St Paul's School was influenced by Erasmus; he and More translated Greek together; his Praise of Folly (1511) was dedicated to More.

England produced no humanist scholar of the first rank, More's Utopia being the finest Latin achievement of its early Tudor phase. Many classical and humanist works were translated into the vernacular, however. A pattern of civility on the Italian model was offered by Sir Thomas Elyot (Book Named the Governor, 1531) and Sir Thomas Hoby (translation of Castiglione's Courtier, 1561). Machiavelli's Prince, known in the 1530s, was printed in Italian at London in the 1580s, as were works by the philosopher Giordano Bruno. Greek studies were notable, from the 1520s especially in association with the Reformation. Erasmus' Greek New Testament with Latin translation (1516–19) was used by Martin Luther for his German New Testament (1521): William Tyndale used both for his English version (1526–34); later reformed English versions, including the Authorized (1611), kept much of Tyndale's language.

A protestant Renaissance poetic tradition embodied by Edmund Spenser, who was also, like John Donne, influenced by Italian Renaissance poetry, poetics, and Neoplatonism, extends to Andrew Marvell and John Milton. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, had earlier introduced Italian lyric forms. In drama, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson were much indebted to the Italo-classic tradition.

The visual arts and architecture of Renaissance England remained predominantly

traditional, in spite of the presence of Italian sculptors and of north European painters such as Hans Holbein the Younger, Rubens, and Van Dyck. The first English architect and designer of international stature was Inigo Jones, the Palladian (1573–1652). Music similarly remained traditional until the flowering of the Italian fashion (1575–1625).

The Renaissance in Scotland was notable for logical and theological studies, and for its connections with French humanism. Its earlier stages produced three of the finest poets of their time in Robert Henryson (d. 1490), William Dunbar (d. c.1515), and Gavin Douglas (d. 1522); Douglas was also the first translator of the whole of Virgil's Aeneid into any British vernacular. George Buchanan (1506–82) won a lasting European reputation as humanist, poet, and historian; he was also tutor to the young James VI and I.

J. B. Trapp


Hale, J. R. , The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, 1450–1620 (1993);
Kraye, J. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism (Cambridge, 1996);
Panofsky, E. , Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (Stockholm, 1960);
Rice, E. F., Jr., and and Grafton, A. , The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460–1559 (2nd edn. New York, 1994);
Skinner, Q. , The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, i: The Renaissance;
ii: The Reformation (Cambridge, 1978).

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Renaissance, Renascence. From the French renaître (to be born again) and the Italian Rinascimento (rebirth), the term is given to the great revival of arts and letters under the influence of Classical precedents which began in Italy in C14 and continued during the following two centuries, spreading to virtually all parts of Europe. It is also a convenient label for the style of architecture that developed in, and was characteristic of, that period from the time of Brunelleschi in Florence (early C15) to the beginnings of Mannerism (c.1520), and which was based on the architecture of Roman Antiquity. Indeed, it was referred to as maniera all'antica, and the style was codified by Alberti in De re aedificatoria (begun around 1450), drawing on the exemplary work of Vitruvius. In architecture the Renaissance includes the High Renaissance (c.1500–c.1520) in which Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael flourished, but it does not include the Baroque. Elsewhere in Europe, Renaissance architecture tended to acquire Italian Renaissance motifs, either from printed sources or from the observations of travellers, but each country or region produced buildings that looked un-Italian: German, French, Flemish, Spanish, and English (the latter associated with Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture) Renaissance styles all had distinct flavours. English, Flemish, German, Polish, and Scandinavian Renaissance buildings of C16 and early C17 fall into the Northern Renaissance category, but the infusion of Mannerism gave French Renaissance architecture a different flavour. Only in the early C17 was uncorrupted Renaissance architecture, firmly based on Italian prototypes, introduced in England (see Paesschen) by Inigo Jones, an event that was enormously influential in C18, first in England, and then elsewhere. There were various national Renaissance Revivals in C19 once Neo-Classicism had become wearisome. There are some (e.g. the late John Harvey (1911–97) ) who held that the introduction of Renaissance architecture was a disaster, destroying the living, indigenous, and inventive Gothic tradition of England and Northern Europe.


Chilvers, Osborne, & Farr (eds.) (1988);
Lewis & Darley (1986);
H. Osborne (1970);
Jane Turner (1996)

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"Renaissance." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . 12 Oct. 2016 <>.

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Renaissance the revival of art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th–16th centuries; the culture and style of art and architecture developed during this era.

The Renaissance is generally regarded as beginning in Florence, where there was a revival of interest in classical antiquity. Important early figures are the writers Petrarch, Dante, and Boccaccio and the painter Giotto. Classical techniques and styles were studied in Rome by the sculptor Donatello as well as by the architects Bramante and Brunelleschi, who worked on the theory of perspective, which was developed in the innovative frescoes and paintings of Masaccio.

The period from the end of the 15th century has become known as the High Renaissance, when Venice and Rome began to share Florence' importance and Botticelli, Cellini, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo were active. Renaissance thinking spread to the rest of Europe from the early 16th century, and was influential for the next hundred years.
Renaissance man a person with many talents or interests, especially in the humanities, supposedly exhibiting the virtues of an idealized man of the Renaissance.

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"Renaissance." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . 12 Oct. 2016 <>.

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Renaissance (Fr. ‘Rebirth’) Period of European history lasting roughly from the mid-l5th century to the end of the 16th century. Late 15th-century Italian scholars used the word to describe the revival of interest in classical learning. It was helped by the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, which resulted in the transport of classical texts to Italy. In Germany, the invention of a printing press with moveable type assisted the diffusion of the new scholarship. In religion, the spirit of questioning led to the Reformation. In politics, the Renaissance saw the rise of assertive sovereign states – Spain, Portugal, France, and England – and the expansion of Europe beyond its own shores, with the building of trading empires in Africa, the East Indies, and America. The growth of a wealthy urban merchant class led to a tremendous flowering of the arts. See also Renaissance architecture; Renaissance art; Renaissance music

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"Renaissance." World Encyclopedia. . 12 Oct. 2016 <>.

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Ren·ais·sance / ˈrenəˌsäns; -ˌzäns/ the revival of art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th–16th centuries. ∎  the culture and style of art and architecture developed during this era. ∎  [as n.] (a renaissance) a revival of or renewed interest in something: rail travel is enjoying a renaissance.

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"Renaissance." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 12 Oct. 2016 <>.

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renaissance ‘revival of learning’ in Europe beginning in Italy in the 14th century. XIX. — F., f. RE- + naissance birth (:- L. nāscentia, f. nāscī be born; or f. naiss-, pres. stem of naître :- Rom. *nascere); see -ANCE.
So renascence rebirth, renewal XVIII; as substitution for renaissance XIX. f. renascent XVIII (- L. renāscēns, -ent-, prp. of renāscī).

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"renaissance." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 12 Oct. 2016 <>.

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Renaissance (Fr., ‘rebirth’). In mus. parlance, the Renaissance period is that between ‘medieval’ and ‘baroque’, i.e. from early 15th to early 17th cents.

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"Renaissance." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . 12 Oct. 2016 <>.

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Renaissanceabeyance, conveyance, purveyance •creance • ambience •irradiance, radiance •expedience, obedience •audience •dalliance, mésalliance •salience •consilience, resilience •emollience • ebullience •convenience, lenience, provenience •impercipience, incipience, percipience •variance • experience •luxuriance, prurience •nescience • omniscience •insouciance • deviance •subservience • transience •alliance, appliance, compliance, defiance, misalliance, neuroscience, reliance, science •allowance •annoyance, clairvoyance, flamboyance •fluence, pursuance •perpetuance • affluence • effluence •mellifluence • confluence •congruence • issuance • continuance •disturbance •attendance, dependence, interdependence, resplendence, superintendence, tendance, transcendence •cadence •antecedence, credence, impedance •riddance • diffidence • confidence •accidence • precedence • dissidence •coincidence, incidence •evidence •improvidence, providence •residence •abidance, guidance, misguidance, subsidence •correspondence, despondence •accordance, concordance, discordance •avoidance, voidance •imprudence, jurisprudence, prudence •impudence • abundance • elegance •arrogance • extravagance •allegiance • indigence •counter-intelligence, intelligence •negligence • diligence • intransigence •exigence •divulgence, effulgence, indulgence, refulgence •convergence, divergence, emergence, insurgence, resurgence, submergence •significance •balance, counterbalance, imbalance, outbalance, valance •parlance • repellence • semblance •bivalence, covalence, surveillance, valence •sibilance • jubilance • vigilance •pestilence • silence • condolence •virulence • ambulance • crapulence •flatulence • feculence • petulance •opulence • fraudulence • corpulence •succulence, truculence •turbulence • violence • redolence •indolence • somnolence • excellence •insolence • nonchalance •benevolence, malevolence •ambivalence, equivalence •Clemence • vehemence •conformance, outperformance, performance •adamance • penance • ordinance •eminence • imminence •dominance, prominence •abstinence • maintenance •continence • countenance •sustenance •appurtenance, impertinence, pertinence •provenance • ordnance • repugnance •ordonnance • immanence •impermanence, permanence •assonance • dissonance • consonance •governance • resonance • threepence •halfpence • sixpence •comeuppance, tuppence, twopence •clarence, transparence •aberrance, deterrence, inherence, Terence •remembrance • entrance •Behrens, forbearance •fragrance • hindrance • recalcitrance •abhorrence, Florence, Lawrence, Lorentz •monstrance •concurrence, co-occurrence, occurrence, recurrence •encumbrance •adherence, appearance, clearance, coherence, interference, perseverance •assurance, durance, endurance, insurance •exuberance, protuberance •preponderance • transference •deference, preference, reference •difference • inference • conference •sufferance • circumference •belligerence • tolerance • ignorance •temperance • utterance • furtherance •irreverence, reverence, severance •deliverance • renascence • absence •acquiescence, adolescence, arborescence, coalescence, convalescence, deliquescence, effervescence, essence, evanescence, excrescence, florescence, fluorescence, incandescence, iridescence, juvenescence, luminescence, obsolescence, opalescence, phosphorescence, pubescence, putrescence, quiescence, quintessence, tumescence •obeisance, Renaissance •puissance •impuissance, reminiscence •beneficence, maleficence •magnificence, munificence •reconnaissance • concupiscence •reticence •licence, license •nonsense •nuisance, translucence •innocence • conversance • sentience •impatience, patience •conscience •repentance, sentence •acceptance • acquaintance •acquittance, admittance, intermittence, pittance, quittance, remittance •assistance, coexistence, consistence, distance, existence, insistence, outdistance, persistence, resistance, subsistence •instance • exorbitance •concomitance •impenitence, penitence •appetence •competence, omnicompetence •inheritance • capacitance • hesitance •Constance • importance • potence •conductance, inductance, reluctance •substance • circumstance •omnipotence • impotence •inadvertence • grievance •irrelevance, relevance •connivance, contrivance •observance • sequence • consequence •subsequence • eloquence •grandiloquence, magniloquence •brilliance • poignance •omnipresence, pleasance, presence •complaisance • malfeasance •incognizance, recognizance •usance • recusance

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"Renaissance." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 12 Oct. 2016 <>.

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