The Baltic region is the part of northeastern Europe on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. During the Renaissance, this area contained many small states. The new ideas and artistic styles of the Renaissance had considerable influence in the states of Prussia and Livonia and helped create enduring links between these areas and western Europe.
A religious military order known as the Teutonic Knights had considerable influence and land in the Baltic region. The Knights played a major role in bringing the ideas of the Renaissance to eastern Europe. Members of the order visited Rome and the court of the Holy Roman Emperor* on a regular basis. Young Knights traveled to Germany and brought back the latest styles in art and literature. The Knights also sent many young men to be educated in Italy.
Two other factors helped link the Baltic region with the rest of Renaissance Europe. The first was its closeness to the Polish city of Cracow. Home to a major university, Cracow was a famous center of Renaissance thought, art, and architecture. The second factor was the influence of merchants and burghers* in Baltic cities such as Riga, Königsberg, and Danzig (also known as Gdansk). These wealthy eastern Europeans followed the examples of their German peers in sending their sons away for a university education. They also copied the architectural styles of Germany and Poland. The Prussian city of Danzig contained many notable examples of northern Renaissance architecture, some of which still exist.
The influence of the Renaissance was strongest in Prussia. Education helped promote Renaissance thought, especially among the upper and middle classes. The Prussian city of Königsberg was home to the most famous university in northeastern Europe, founded by a leader of the Teutonic Knights. In addition, many towns had their own schools for local youths. Between 1450 and 1540 Prussia produced several important Renaissance scholars, including the great astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Although Polish by birth, Copernicus lived most of his life in Prussia.
To the northeast, the state of Livonia was more remote and difficult to reach than Prussia. It also had a smaller population and lacked the resources to develop Renaissance ideas and styles fully. Local clergy, nobles, and merchants could only afford to support modest building projects and a handful of artists and humanists*. Unlike Prussia, which followed the examples of Poland and Germany, Livonia had little contact with the rest of Europe and its new ideas. As a result, Livonia lagged far behind Prussia in adopting Renaissance ideas and styles. However, several striking buildings from the period survive in the cities of Riga (now in Latvia) and Reval (in present-day Estonia).
- * Holy Roman Emperor
ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806
- * burgher
well-to-do middle-class inhabitant of a town or city in central Europe
- * humanist
Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)