Italian Renaissance

John Florens | Dec 14, 2022

Table of Content


The Italian Renaissance is an intellectual-cultural movement, period and art style that emerged in Italy in the 14th century and reached its peak around 1500. Following the example of Jacob Burckhardt, historiography for a long time considered this cultural movement as a reckoning with the Middle Ages. This view is now considered outdated. Only in art and literature was there a clear break with the preceding period of the Middle Ages.

Some historians place the beginning of the Renaissance in the first half of the fourteenth century. However, many aspects of Italian culture and society remained medieval; for example, the Church remained as powerful as ever. Many Renaissance works of art have religious themes and are located in religious buildings, such as Leonardo da Vinci's fresco of the Last Supper in a Milanese monastery, and Michelangelo's ceiling paintings in the Sistine Chapel. And even the preeminent Catholic symbol of power, St. Peter's Basilica, was designed and built in the Renaissance. The notion of a Renaissance (the French translation of the Italian rináscita, rebirth, namely of classical antiquity) originally came from Florentines reflecting on, especially the cultural aspects of, their own history. Especially in Neolatine literature and visual art from 1300 onwards (the trecento), a progressively more negative attitude towards the preceding Middle Ages, the period between the end of the ancient world and the trecento, is noticeable. In it, the Middle Ages are increasingly portrayed as a period of darkness, devoid of eloquence, poetry, great sculptures and paintings. Examples of this attitude are found in the writings of Petrarch and Boccaccio, Salutati and Bruni, and in artists and architects such as Ghiberti and Alberti. These humanists and their followers aimed to revive classical ideals after the "period of barbarism," as they called the Middle Ages. The superior culture of classical antiquity was to be restored and, if possible, surpassed (translatio, imitatio and aemulatio). These developments, however remarkable, were supported only by a predominantly male elite. For the vast majority of the population, little changed: the Renaissance, as a cultural movement in Italy, remained largely confined to the circle of the literate and patrons.

The Italian Renaissance peaked around 1500, after which the Italian wars disrupted the region. However, Renaissance ideas and artistic expressions spread further in Europe. In many European countries, there was not only influence from Italy, but often similar cultural developments from home.

To begin with, the idea of the Renaissance as a golden age after centuries of obscurity was nothing but a story that the humanists of the time hung themselves; it was a very self-conscious movement that formed its own reputation. In 1492, for example, the Italian humanist Marsilio Ficino claimed credit for his hometown of Florence that "the free arts were restored there."

The idea of the Renaissance as a historical period concept was launched by Burckhardt in his 1860 book Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien. Burckhardt spoke of a Kulturepoche. He saw the Renaissance as a whole, expressed in all aspects (politics, science, religion,...) of society. He practically left art out of his work, because, in his opinion, it followed its own development. Key terms in the nineteenth-century view of the Renaissance are: realism, secularization and individualism. Opposite characteristics are attributed to the Middle Ages.

Following Burckhardt, the Italian Renaissance was long considered the beginning of the new age, the Italy of the Medici being the first "modern" culture. On this point, perceptions have since changed radically. Whereas Burckhardt saw a clear break with the Middle Ages, contemporary historians mostly see continuity. Rather than "modern," the world of the Renaissance is considered "archaic. Italy was primarily an agrarian society: much of the population worked in agriculture and was illiterate; the economy depended heavily on pack and draught animals. Of the 9 to 10 million people who lived in Italy, most lived in abject poverty. In fact, prosperity and intellectual culture were confined to the cities. Peter Burke points out that the peasant population of Italy possessed its own culture, but he then pays no attention to it in his study of the Italian Renaissance. It is a different subject. Compared to the flood of publications on the Italian cities, little research has been done on rural life during the Renaissance.

The idea that Renaissance art is superior to medieval art has long been the starting point of any study of the Renaissance. Even a comparison of medieval and Renaissance literary achievements fell a priori in favor of the latter. Then every researcher was faced with the task of explaining this sudden burst of creativity in Italy. An early humanist like Leonardo Bruni linked it to Florence's political freedom. For him, a republican state system and cultural flowering were inseparable. Giorgio Vasari, who published a collection of biographies of artists in 1550, was more likely to think of social factors, such as critical sense and mutual competition. Yet it took several centuries before serious historiography began to pay attention to cultural developments in Italy in the fifteenth century. Voltaire and the Enlightenment were the turning point in this case: after that, the study of social and cultural developments in the past was also taken seriously. Although by now the pioneering nature of the Italian Renaissance is in many respects considered an outdated view, it is generally agreed that in at least three areas there was a remarkable succession of artistic achievements: in painting, in sculpture and in architecture. But even in these fields the Renaissance has lost importance: modern art and modern architecture have quite consciously turned away from the classical tradition and thus from the Renaissance.

As is usually the case, the delineation in time of the Renaissance is controversial. The idea of a rebirth can be found in writings from ~1340 and was initially associated primarily with Dante and Giotto. The Italian Renaissance has no sharply defined beginning or end boundary; in art history, dating between about 1340 and about 1550 is common.

Of course, all data on the size of the population during the Renaissance are based on estimates. Unanimity will not be achieved about this. However, differences between the views of demographers did narrow. In the book Italy in the age of the Renaissance, 1300-1550, F. Franceschi gives the following numbers for the population of Italy:

Presumably a downward trend continued for some time after 1400. Recovery was stronger in the cities than in the countryside. It took a long time to reach the population level of 1300 again.

Italy's cultural flowering during the Renaissance cannot be separated from its economic and political structures. Italy was not a political, even a cultural entity, but only a geographical concept. Several Italian dialects coexisted. Here and there, other languages were also spoken. Tuscan, the dialect of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, enjoyed a certain prestige. Those who had been educated could often understand Tuscan.

Much of the country is mountainous and not suitable for agriculture. This, combined with its location in Europe and the fact that the sea is rarely far away, meant that it was precisely here that trade flourished early. Trade was concentrated in the cities. Around 1300, there were about 23 cities in northern and central Italy with a population of 20,000 or more. This made it one of the most highly urbanized areas in Europe. This was a necessary condition for the emergence of the Renaissance.


The city-states of northern and central Italy were (next to Flanders) the richest region in Europe for a long time. As a result of the Crusades, lasting trade relations had been established with the Levant. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) then inflicted great damage on its greatest commercial rival, the Byzantine Empire. This allowed Venice and Genoa to further expand their trade network. The main trade routes from the east passed through the Byzantine Empire or the Arab countries and then called at the ports of Genoa, Pisa and Venice. Luxury goods bought in the Levant, such as spices, dyes and silk, were imported into Italy and then sold again in the rest of Europe. The more inland city-states benefited from the rich agricultural lands of the Po Valley. Of great importance in the mechanism of economic exchange between France, Germany and the Low Countries were the foires de Champagne, a series of trade fairs held in the county of Champagne.

The growth of trade also stimulated agriculture and mining. The development of trade allowed northern Italy, although not rich in resources, to thrive. Florence became one of the richest cities in northern Italy, which it owed mainly to the manufacture of woolen fabrics. Production was overseen by the influential trade guild, the arte della lana.

In the thirteenth century, much of Europe was experiencing strong economic growth. The trade routes of the Italian states were connected to those of the important Mediterranean ports and later to the Hanseatic cities of the Baltic Sea and the northern regions of Europe. The major city-states of Italy expanded during this period and became de facto fully independent. During this period, a new commercial infrastructure was developed with double-entry bookkeeping, joint-stock companies, an international banking system, a foreign currency market, insurance, and public debt. Florence became the center of this financial sector and the gold florin became the main currency of international trade.

The new ruling merchant class adapted the feudal aristocratic model to its needs. A feature of the high Middle Ages in northern Italy was the rise of urban communes that had broken with control by bishops and local counts. In much of the region, the landed gentry were poorer than the urban patricians who had enriched themselves in the high medieval money economy through inflationary rise. The increase in trade during the early Renaissance further reinforced this evolution. For example, luxury goods were in high demand, leading to an increase in trade and a greater number of merchants who in turn demanded more luxury goods. These changes granted merchants almost complete control over the governments of the Italian city-states, which in turn stimulated trade. One of the most important consequences of this political control was security. Previously, those who amassed extreme wealth in a feudal state constantly ran the risk of confiscation by the monarchs, up to and including the loss of the lands they owned. More northern states, however, did retain many medieval laws that severely hampered trade, such as the law against usury and the prohibition against trading with non-Christians. In the city-states of Italy, these laws were repealed or rewritten.

Crisis and contraction

The fourteenth century was a period of economic recession for Europe. The medieval warm period came to an end and average temperatures declined, so that from the fifteenth century onwards there was even a minor ice age. This change in climate significantly reduced agricultural production, leading to repeated famines, exacerbated by the rapid population growth of the preceding decades. The Hundred Years' War between England and France disrupted trade throughout northwestern Europe; to the east, the Ottoman Empire began to expand throughout the region. The greatest devastation was caused by the Black Death, which ravaged densely populated northern Italian cities with recurring epidemics. Florence, for example, had a population of 45,000 before the plague, which declined by 25 to 50 percent over the next 47 years.

Paradoxically, it was precisely during this period of instability that the first Renaissance figures, such as Petrarch, came to the fore, and the first signs of Renaissance art could be seen in the realism of Giotto. Supposedly, the disasters of the fourteenth century that had affected the population also caused a labor shortage, which meant that the remaining part of the European population was richer, better fed and had more surplus to spend on luxury goods. In addition, the collapse of the Bardi and Peruzzi banks would open the way for the Medici in Florence. Historian Roberto Lopez Sabatino even argues that the economic collapse was one of the main causes of the Renaissance. Florentine supremacy in banking was confirmed by the rise of the Banco del Medici which, founded in 1397, by the mid-fifteenth century had branches in Milan, Pisa, Venice and Rome, outside Italy in Geneva, Bruges, London and Avignon.

In Italian cities at the time of the Renaissance, there was clearly an increasing need to measure time and space. Time was organized, made measurable. This shows a striving for order and regularity. From the end of the fourteenth century, the first mechanical clocks appeared. One of the oldest of these is the famous clock in Padua, completed in 1364. In the fifteenth century, similar bells were manufactured and hung in Bologna, in Milan (1478), and in St. Mark's Square in Venice (1499). Subsequently, smaller bells appeared for domestic use.

In older literature, following Marx and Burckhardt, it is often proclaimed that the Renaissance implied the "victory of the bourgeoisie. This interpretation has proved untenable. However, there are developments in Italian cities of the thirteenth century that can be referred to as "democratic tendencies. Before the thirteenth century, it was the nobility and chivalry that ruled. In the communes, however, the popolo gained a voice in city government. Popolo does not designate "the people," rather the middle class(es): non-royal rich and influential gentry, guild masters, merchants, bankers, entrepreneurs (usually called entrepreneurs in literature), doctors, teachers and notaries. Peasants, the poor and men who performed unskilled work were not part of the popolo. Within the popolo, primarily the merchants dominated, to a lesser extent the artisans. The fact that the influence of these groups increased significantly was due to their economic importance. To join the magistracy or the city council, one had to be a member of a guild, be of a certain age and have paid taxes for a (usually long) period of time.

Courant's view is that in time there was rather a strengthening of the hierarchy. The rich merchants and bankers adopted the style and customs of the old elite, the nobility. The turning point in this case was the plague epidemic in the mid-14th century and the subsequent economic crisis. From the moment when the economy stopped growing and shrank, social mobility decreased sharply. The influence of the lower middle classes diminished. Palaces became larger and more ostentatious over time. Members of the urban elites were willing to pay big money for a noble title or for the right to bear a family crest. Because in the city of Durazzo the risk of plague infection was very high, the doge of Venice preferred to have the city governed by a non-royal citizen.


Burke has compiled a list of the 600 most important writers, scholars and artists, those who defined the image of the Italian Renaissance. In this context, he speaks of the creative elite. He notes that only three women were among this intellectual elite: the poets Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara and Tullia d'Aragona. Creativity among women was apparently not encouraged. Joan Kelly argues that for women there was not even a renaissance at all, "at least not during the Renaissance." There were also female humanists during the Italian Renaissance, such as Isotta Nogarola, although they remained intellectually undervalued because of their gender. Scholarship in a woman was seen as unnatural, and was even - as with Isotta Nogarola - linked to a promiscuous lifestyle.

Incidentally, there is evidence that women gained more freedom of movement over time. More female writers and artists are known from the sixteenth century. Female painters from that century include Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana. There are still some sixteenth-century poetesses such as Isabella di Morra, considered by some authors as a pioneer of Romanticism. The fact that there was more and more writing in the vernacular presumably gave women more opportunities.

Politically, the boot of Italy consisted of three parts. This tripartition was the result of the long struggle between the kings

Thirteenth century

The northern Italian city-states had had to fight for their independence. Two German emperors defended the rights of the empire: Frederick I Barbarossa and his grandson Frederick II (1212-1250), who was also king of Sicily. The struggle between the emperors' supporters, the Ghibellini, and the papists, the Guelfi, influenced Italian political relations for a long time. The pope encouraged Charles of Anjou, a brother of Louis the Saint, to conquer Naples and Sicily. The battle of Benevento (1266) sealed the downfall of the Hohenstaufen. However, the regime of the French was so hated that a popular revolt drove them out of Sicily again in 1282.

Initially, almost all Italian city-states were republics. The city officials called themselves consuls. Over time, almost everywhere one man (and his family) drew power to himself. Such autocratic rule is called signoria.

The century of Dante and Petrarch (about 1275-1375)

In the late Middle Ages (from ~1300), Latium, the region around Rome, and southern Italy were poorer than northern Italy. Rome was a city of ancient ruins, and the Church State was a disjointed entity, vulnerable to external interference such as that of France. The papacy was defied by France, which, under pressure from King Philip the Handsome (1285-1314), installed a pope in southern France's Avignon. Sicily had experienced periods of prosperity during the Emirate of Sicily, and later during the two centuries it was an independent kingdom. The fall of the Hohenstaufen put an end to independence and economic prosperity. Economically, southern Italy and Sicily were important primarily as suppliers of raw materials, primarily grain and wool, and as markets.

The failed expedition of Roman King Henry VII of Luxembourg in 1310-1313 made it clear that the empire had become more or less irrelevant in Italy. The power of the French monarchy gradually declined after its peak under Philip the Handsome; as a result, France interfered less in the affairs of the peninsula for a long time.

Venice, Florence, Siena, Genoa, Lucca and Perugia were still republics in 1300. Most of the city-states had now become signoria.

From the Death of Petrarch to the Peace of Lodi (1374-1454)

In the years following Petrarch's death, Italy's political landscape underwent several significant changes. In 1376, Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome. From this point on, the popes began to become more actively involved in Italian politics again. The Western Schism from 1378 to 1417 tore apart Christendom and undermined the authority of the Church. The popes also struggled to maintain their authority over the Roman nobility.

In Florence, the guilds lost much of their political influence. The Ciompi of 1378, an uprising of Florentine textile workers, failed; the city government took on an increasingly oligarchic character. Similar developments took place in other Italian cities.

In addition to internal strife, war between city-states was a recurring phenomenon. For example, Gian Galeazzo Visconti (†1402), the first Duke of Milan, pursued an aggressive, expansionist policy. Unrest was also rife in the kingdom of Naples. Queen Johanna I was deposed in 1381. This was followed by struggles between the dynasty of Anjou and the royal house of Aragon. In time, the dynasty of Aragon won: in 1442 Alfons V conquered Naples. Above all, the republic of Venice succeeded in expanding its territory. The republic conquered not only Istria and Friuli, but also a large number of previously independent cities. Successively Treviso (1388), Vicenza (1404), Verona and Padua (1405), Brescia (1426) and Bergamo (1428) were added to Venice's territory. Several French kings sought to expand power in northern Italy. They believed that the Duchy of Milan belonged to them because Gian Galeazzo Visconti's daughter had married Louis of Orleans. From 1396 to 1409, the French ruled Genoa.

Gradually in the fifteenth century, some regional powers emerged: the Duchy of Milan, the republics of Venice and Florence, and the Ecclesiastical State. In the signory, rule had now become hereditary. Famous families include the Visconti in Milan, the Este family in Ferrara, the Gonzaga's in Mantua and the Della Scala's in Verona.

The military spending of the Italian city-states was of a considerable magnitude. Over time, these expenses increased, as did the city-states' state debts. In 1433, Florence's state debt was 4 million florins.

In 1375 a student of Petrarch, Coluccio Salutati, a humanist, became chancellor of the republic of Florence. In the following years a number of important artists were born: the architect Brunelleschi in 1377, the sculptors Ghiberti and Donatello in 1378 and 1386. It is therefore common to have the early Renaissance begin in these years.

High point of the Renaissance (1454-1527)

The wealth, cultural influence and divisions of the Italian states made Italy an attractive target for princes seeking territorial expansion. In the fifteenth century, the Turks already made some attempts to do so. In 1494, King Charles VIII crossed the Alps with a French army. Without much difficulty he marched up to the kingdom of Naples to claim the throne there, but after the Battle of Fornovo in 1495 he had to abandon all his plans for Italy. In the following decades, several European states nevertheless made attempts to conquer parts of Italy. The rivalry between France and the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire and the also Habsburg Spain played the leading role in this. The looting of Rome (Sacco di Roma) in 1527 by the troops of Emperor Charles V was a sad low point. Although it is difficult to pinpoint one specific year as the "end of the Renaissance in Italy," it was a sure sign: the heyday of the Renaissance was over in Italy.

After the Sacco di Roma (1527)

In the battle for Italy between the French Valois and the Habsburgs, the Habsburgs emerged as the clear winners. For nearly two centuries, the Spanish dominated Italian politics.

From ~1540, the Catholic Church followed a very different policy: combating the "Protestant heresies" was now given top priority. Many books were banned; the intellectual climate changed greatly. The spirit of the Counter-Reformation value around.

The importance of the constant rivalry and struggle between the cities and different social classes of Italy declined sharply. The cultural expressions of the Renaissance largely lost their connection to current events. Intellectual debate continued mainly in the study room.

For medieval people, all of life from birth to death was governed by the Christian faith. It was not unusual to attend daily Mass. The distinction between the sacred and the profane was often not sharp. (Only the Council of Trent (1545-1563) would change this.) Familiarity with the "sacred" manifested itself in behavior that later centuries would judge as "disrespectful. Numerous reports from contemporaries show that in Raphael's century it was not uncommon to talk during Mass, or to walk through the church. In churches, people ate, drank, danced, gambled and begged. Church buildings were used as warehouses.

In the cities of Italy, a substantial part of the population belonged to the clergy. Estimates have been made of the number of clergy in Florence. Burke refers to research by Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, published in 1978. They estimated the population of Florence in 1427 at 38,000. This included about 300 priests, and more than 1,100 monks, nuns and mendicant monks. Over time, the number of clergy actually increased relatively. Incidentally, the distinction between clergy and laity was not always clear. There are reports of clergy working as masons, or carrying weapons. There was no training for priests (yet). Consequently, there was much criticism of the clergy. In Italy the criticism sounded even fiercer than in neighboring countries. We find these critical sounds, among others, in the stories of Boccaccio and the writings of Poggio Bracciolini.

Renaissance Pope

Most Renaissance popes behaved like secular princes. Reconquest and later expansion of the Ecclesiastical State seemed to be their main goal. The papal curia was mainly set up to generate as much revenue as possible. Despite recurring calls for reform, everything remained as it was.

At the time of the Renaissance, the Borgia family, the Della Rovere family, and the Medici produced two popes each. The wealthy popes and cardinals increasingly acted as patrons of Renaissance art and architecture, taking the initiative in (re)building the architectural landmarks of Rome.

The humanists Nicholas V (1447-1455) and Pius II (1458-1464) managed to fulfill their role as pope with sufficient responsibility. Under Sixtus IV (1471-1484), decline set in. He used the authority he enjoyed as pope extensively for the benefit of enriching his family, Della Rovere. Infamous is his involvement in the Pazzi conspiracy (1478). Innocent VIII (1484-1492) mainly promoted the interests of his own children. His successor was the infamous Alexander VI, Rodrigo de Borja (1492-1503). He was a major player in the complex web of international European diplomacy. His warmongering on behalf of his son, Cesare Borgia, ultimately yielded very little. "Within the Vatican, this disastrous pontificate represented the nadir of corruption and moral decay.".

In the cities of northern and central Italy, a large part of the population could read and write. According to a note by Bonvesin de la Riva, there were more than 70 schoolmasters teaching students to read and write in Milan in 1288. Estimates have been made of the number of literate people in the city of Florence. According to one estimate, at least 67% - possibly even more - of the adult males in the city were literate. The result is confirmed by examination of the Florentine tax register (catasto). Every head of household was required to write his or her own declaration for the tax register. About 80% of heads of households were able to do so. Many girls also learned to read and write in Florence. The tax registers further show that even in towns around Florence many men were able to write their own declaration. In the Tuscan countryside, on the other hand, many were illiterate. The local notary wrote most of the declarations.

The large number of literate people made possible the sudden flowering of Italian literature. Before the thirteenth century, writers with some ambition always wrote in Latin. This contrasted sharply with developments in France and Spain, where literature was produced in the vernacular at a high level. In addition to literary purposes, the vernacular was widely used in everyday life from the thirteenth century on: people wrote countless sermons, business letters, political reports, diaries and family chronicles in the local vernacular. After the introduction of printing at the end of the fifteenth century, nowhere did so many books appear in the vernacular as in Italy.

Florence, the most important city in Tuscany, is rightly considered the first city of the Renaissance. It experienced an unprecedented cultural flowering during the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was a medium-sized city by Italian standards; in the fifteenth century it had about 60,000 inhabitants. The city owed its prosperity in particular to a flourishing wool industry, the manufacture of woolen cloth. Twelve artists' guilds regulated trade and formed the basis of Florence's commercial success. Wealthy members of the guilds held important positions in government and were among society's most influential citizens. The Palazzo Vecchio, built in 1299, was the home of the Florentine guilds. It functioned as the seat of municipal government and the heart of Florentine culture. It was here that the 5,000 guild members, who also held voting rights, met to discuss city affairs and make decisions. Among them, in addition to textile workers and bankers, were masons and builders, sculptors, lawyers and notaries.

It was a few Florentine writers who defined the image of the Renaissance. In the fourteenth century these were Dante, in fact still typically a medievalist, Petrarch and Boccaccio. Machiavelli (†1527) made an important contribution to political theory.

Around 1400, a war raged between Florence and Milan. Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti ruled not only in Verona, Vicenza and Padua, but also extended his power southward. He conquered Pisa, Perugia, Siena and Bologna. Florence felt rightfully surrounded. It managed to resist Milan's pressure until the duke succumbed to the plague in 1402. Florence's chancellor, Leonardo Bruni, defended Florence's political independence with a pen. He compared Florence to the Athens of Pericles and to Rome before the emperors had put an end to freedom.

During the fifteenth century, the Medici,a family of merchants and bankers, gradually seized power. The family owed its wealth to Giovanni de' Medici (1360-1429). Giovanni's son, Cosimo de' Medici (1389-1464), enjoyed the support of the poorer sections of the population. Although republican institutions were maintained, he controlled politics. Lorenzo il Magnifico (1449-1492), his grandson, enjoyed particular fame as a poet, art connoisseur and patron. Cosimo de' Medici attracted Niccolò Niccoli (1364-1437), an enthusiastic collector and copyist of ancient Greek manuscripts. Under his influence, Florence became a center of humanism.

The culture of the urban Renaissance and the penitential preaching of the mendicant orders clashed. The prior of a Dominican monastery, Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) had such an influence on the population with his preaching that it destroyed all signs of secular life: the ruling Medici family had to leave the city of Florence.

In the 16th century, Tuscany became a grand duchy. The Medici would rule there until 1737.

Renaissance ideals spread from Florence to its neighboring Tuscan states, such as Siena and Lucca. Tuscan culture soon became the model for all the states of northern Italy, and the Tuscan language variant of Italian became dominant (especially in written literature) throughout the region. When Francesco Sforza came to power in Milan in 1447, he rapidly transformed this medieval city into an important center of art and science. One of the scholars attracted by this was the architect and humanist Leone Battista Alberti, who would play an important role in the theory of Renaissance art. Duke Francesco Sforza had the Ospedale Maggiore built and restored the Palazzo dell'Arengo, among other buildings. The Sforzas were friends with the Florentine de' Medici family. Together they stabilized inter-city relations with the Peace of Lodi and other treaties so that a long period of peace dawned for all of Italy. This created an exceptionally favorable environment for the arts and literature to flourish.

Venice, one of the richest Italian cities due to its control of the Adriatic Sea, also became a center for Renaissance culture, especially architecture. Like Florence, Venice was a republic during the Renaissance. Actually, Renaissance Venice was more of an "empire," ruling over part of the territory of present-day Italy and controlling much of the Adriatic coast and many islands. Its stable political climate and thriving trade economy had weathered well the period of the Black Death and the fall of trading partner Constantinople. That healthy economy, as in Florence, was an important factor that fostered the flourishing of the arts. It attracted many artists who were able to obtain commissions from wealthy patrons in Venice.

Smaller cities also came under Renaissance influence through patronage: Ferrara and Mantua under the Gonzaga family and Urbino under Federico da Montefeltro.

In Naples, the Renaissance was ushered in under the patronage of Alfonso I, who conquered Naples in 1443. Artists such as Francesco Laurana and Antonello da Messina, and writers such as the poet Jacopo Sannazaro and the humanist scholar Angelo Poliziano he provided the necessary help and encouragement. During the period of the viceroys, Naples' population grew from 100,000 to 300,000. In Europe, only Paris was more populated. The most important of the viceroys was Pedro Álvarez de Toledo. He introduced heavy taxes but also improved the appearance of Naples. Thus, he had the main street (which still bears his name) widened, provided paved roads, had old buildings restored and new ones erected and the city wall reinforced.

Rome remained somewhat behind in those early years. Even though the papacy returned in 1417, the city remained poor and largely a ruin. Under the warlike Pope Julius II (Il Papa Terribile), the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica began. As the papacy fell under the control of the wealthy families of the north, such as the Medici and the Borgias, the spirit of Renaissance art and philosophy began to strongly influence the Vatican. Pope Sixtus IV continued the work of Nicholas V and commissioned the construction of the Sistine Chapel. Pope Sixtus V in turn pushed for a major Roman urban expansion.

Artists and architects did not usually stay in the city where they were born. Depending on the commissions they received, they sometimes stayed for years in another city. Michelangelo, for example, a Tuscan from Caprese, worked in Rome for several years. Raphael Santi was born in Urbino, went to Florence to take inspiration from the style of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and a few years later moved to Rome to work there.

Italy would remain a leader in the artistic field in Europe until the 17th century. Stimulated by initiatives of the French court, however, France took over this role during this century. The Royal Academy of Sculpture and Painting in Paris, founded in 1648, surpassed in fame even that of Florence (the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno), which had been founded in 1563 by Giorgio Vasari as the first academy of art in Europe. The academy of Rome was also surpassed in importance and stature by the French one, and it was primarily the Paris Academy of Art that would become the guiding light for academic art education in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The dissemination of Renaissance heritage, especially the visual arts, took place along three paths:

In particular, the linear perspective and precise depiction of human anatomy impressed artists outside Italy. Countries that came into contact with Italian Renaissance culture never assimilated the examples of the Italians indiscriminately, but developed their own "national" variants of architecture and painting, for example. In France, for example, the School of Fontainebleau emerged which, although inspired by Italian examples, took on a character all its own.

The artists and architects of the Low Countries also did not just blindly adopt themes and techniques of Italian masters, but gave them their own interpretation. The first Northern Dutch academies were founded toward the end of the 17th century. However, the situation for artists in the Republic of the Netherlands differed considerably from that of their Italian counterparts. Dutch visual artists hardly received any commissions from the court, which was not due to the quality of these painters, but to the fact that they preferred to depict non-classical subjects. Consequently, the court often granted the commissions to foreign artists. Northern Dutch artists could also expect few commissions from the clergy, as strict Calvinism prohibited depictions in churches and other buildings. Painting of the Golden Age thus took on a completely different face here than that of France, for example. People mainly painted landscapes, portraits and still lifes for wealthy citizens. However, classicism would also gain influence in the Low Countries as a reaction against naturalism towards the end of the 17th century. The art of the Flemish Primitives (or Early Dutch painting) - see, for example, Jan van Eyck - coincides with the Italian Renaissance, yet is often considered a separate art movement that is more closely aligned with medieval views of art.

The words "Italian Renaissance" are often associated primarily with the works of art from this (style) period: the frescoes, paintings, sculptures, buildings, etc. This overlooks the fact that contemporaries at the time rather boasted about rediscovering texts from Antiquity and what this had brought about: in the eyes of humanists nothing less than the revival of civilization. Following the example of the Romans, humanists liked to dress in togas and possessed a higher social position than a visual artist. Being able to write a speech in the style of Cicero or an ode like Horace was valued higher than being able to produce a painting or sculpture. An additional consequence of the intensive study of ancient manuscripts was the emergence of what can be called "modern research methods. Here was the initial impetus for the later modern study of history and linguistics. The passion for ancient writings and their critical study led to an innovation in the arts.

Further examination of the group Burke called the creative elite reveals that the group of writers, scholars and artists can be divided socially into two groups. On the one hand, there were the writers, humanists and scholars. Many of them were of nobility; also, most of them had received education at a university. The painters and sculptors were generally from less privileged backgrounds. Most knew little about theology and the classics and were therefore often dismissed as "ignorant. They had learned their skill in practice, as apprentices in the workshop of an established artist. Because many artists kept a kind of "store," they were sometimes compared to shoemakers and grocers.


It is a myth that Renaissance artists were free to develop their own ideas and creativity. It was largely the patrons who took the initiative in the creation of all architecture, sculpture and paintings. It is also incorrect to look back on the artist-patron relationship in this period with contemporary views of art. After all, in the fifteenth century it was the patron who was considered the true creator of the work. It was also the patron who exercised control over the final outcome of the commission. Not all art was commissioned. A market for art cautiously began to develop. Artists produced works of art and then tried to monetize them.

Hollingsworth distinguishes several groups of patrons during the period of the Italian Renaissance: the wealthy merchants of cities such as Florence and Venice, the politically powerful rulers of the various city-states (especially those of Milan, Naples, Urbino, Ferrara and Mantua), and the papal court in Rome. In addition to the aforementioned, one can of course think of less wealthy merchants, bankers of all kinds, and rulers of less powerful states such as Siena and Genoa who also acted as patrons for artists, architects, and artisans whom they engaged for the decorations of their houses. The main patron was the Church. This immediately explains why the lion's share of the paintings dealt with a religious subject. Incidentally, religious art was also in great demand among lay people. Some of it was hung in churches and chapels, some in private homes. Sometimes members of the clergy ordered non-religious art.

At the time of the Renaissance, those who produced "art" often maintained remarkably close ties to the milieu of those in power. Art was widely used to legitimize power. Conversely, a monarch was expected to regularly commission, and to contribute substantially to all manner of public rituals, such as parades and gatherings. Many important art collections were therefore formed by powerful and wealthy patrons. All belonged to the aristocracy of power (princes, dukes, kings, pope) and of economy (great merchants, who invested their money in the production of art). The royal courts were the centers where Renaissance culture par excellence flourished. Some examples:

The patronage of art and architecture was a means for the popes to increase the prestige of the Ecclesiastical State, as well as a consequence of the personal preferences of individual popes. The popes did not clearly assume their role as patrons of art and architecture until the fifteenth century. Because the popes resided or were divided in Avignon after 1309, Rome remained architecturally underdeveloped compared to other major cities. Pope Nicholas V founded the famous Vatican Library. Pope Sixtus IV took sweeping measures that had a significant beautifying effect on Rome's cityscape. He launched a grand project to redesign and rebuild Rome, widening its streets and demolishing its dilapidated ruins. He also sponsored the works on the Sistine Chapel and called on many artists from other Italian city states. Pope Julius II acted as patron of arts. His successor, Leo X, is known for his patronage of Raphael, whose paintings were given a major role in the Vatican's redecoration.

Philosophy and literature; humanism

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, humanists formed a new group of secular scholars. Medieval scholastics usually belonged to the clergy. With the growth of literacy in cities such as Florence, children of wealthy merchants now also had the opportunity to study.

In the Middle Ages, mainly the Bible and the Church Fathers were studied (exegesis). In addition, the works of pagan authors such as Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Caesar, Livius, Tacitus and Seneca were also read and copied. However, many manuscripts lay dormant in libraries; people often did not know where certain works were kept. As a result, more than half of the corpus seemed to have disappeared. A number of Greek texts were known in the West only in often poor translations into Latin.

The movement that later came to be called "humanism" originated in the thirteenth century. At the time, Lovato dei Lovati and Geri d'Arezzo advocated more time and attention to classical authors in education. This plea eventually became popular among teachers, notaries and other members of the elite. Early humanists were full of praise for the classical texts of Cicero, Virgil and Seneca, among others. These texts often had a practical purpose and were drafted as dialogues, speeches and treatises. In studying these texts, the humanists paid close attention to form and style, and they subjected the Greek and Latin manuscripts to a thorough analysis. In doing so, they laid the foundation for a critical philology that described in detail the literary and stylistic features of the texts. The great example of the humanists was the orator Cicero. They admired both his eloquence and his active political involvement and eye for the public interest.

Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) can be considered the "leader" of the humanists. He was the son of a merchant exiled from Florence. He spent part of his life near the papal court in Avignon. He studied law and received the lower ordinations. He traveled extensively. His restless, ambivalent nature is evident in his numerous letters and writings. He greatly admired both Cicero and Augustine. By even writing two letters to Cicero, he revived a classical genre. It was an established fact for Petrarch that eloquence and virtù (= virtue) are related. This idea is the starting point of the humanist movement. Petrarch also showed the way in terms of collecting and editing classical texts. Famous is his discovery in 1345 of a copy of the letters of Cicero to his friend Atticus.

One of the first humanists, besides Petrarch and Angelo Polziano, was the Florentine Leonardo Bruni. From him appeared "History of the Florentine People" (Historiae Florentini populi libri XII), which can be considered the first modern history book. Thus, he was the first historian to make a threefold division of history into the "great periods": antiquity, the Middle Ages and the new era. As secretary to the papal chancellery and later as chancellor of Florence, he also had great influence on politics. Other key figures in humanist philology include Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) and Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499).

During the Renaissance in Italy, the intellectual elite became more aware of human beings and the possibilities of their intellect. The work of the literati and philologists was later given the name "humanism. The umanista emphasized the study of classical texts in education and teaching. The term was derived from studia humanitatis, a fifteenth-century curriculum composed of grammar, poetry, rhetoric, history and ethics, aimed at elevating the intellectual and moral qualities of the individual. This ideal was also called the human virtù. To achieve this, a reform of culture was necessary. Hence Renaissance humanism can be considered the driving force of the Renaissance: the ignorant and passive medievalist had to give way to the active Renaissance man, who sought to utilize the full potential of the individual. It is sometimes suggested that the Christian faith lost importance due to the increased attention to the classics. The writings of the influential Petrarch do not show this at all. Petrarch was convinced that reading and studying classical authors would lead to a more virtuous and also more Christian walk of life.

Burckhardt believed that the goal of the humanists was "to know what the ancients knew, to write as the ancients wrote, and to think and even to feel as the ancients thought and felt." "Reproduction of antiquity" was the main goal of the humanists in this view. Reproduction was shaped by manuscript tracing, text criticism and imitation. Burckhardt's vision is somewhat naive and also does the humanists wrong. Reproduction was not the primary goal. The historical factual material and literary skills of Classical Antiquity were a powerful weapon the humanists wielded to interpret and justify the political reality in which they themselves lived. They opposed the courtly culture of the knights and the scholastic tradition of the universities. Of the great differences in the political, religious and social fields between antiquity and the present, they were well aware. "With this ability to discern both meaningful connections and pronounced differences, combined with the thirst to rival the cultural ideal of antiquity, Italian Renaissance humanism distinguishes itself from earlier attempts to revive classical ideals."

In the fifteenth century, Greek scholars fled to Italy after the conquest of Byzantium (1453) by the Ottomans. Their linguistic work would stimulate linguistic studies at the newly established academies of Florence and Venice during the Renaissance. On their flight from the Turks, these Byzantines took with them sometimes precious manuscripts and, of course, their knowledge of (Ancient) Greek. Thus they made a crucial contribution to the Renaissance. In Italy and abroad, humanist scholars searched monastery libraries for ancient manuscripts and thus rediscovered Tacitus and other Latin authors. With Vitruvius, the architectural principles of antiquity resurfaced. Renaissance artists were encouraged to surpass the great works of antiquity (in the spirit of the painter Apelles).

Aristotle remained the most influential Greek philosopher, although his thinking increasingly had to compete with that of Plato. Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) translated Plato's works and wrote commentaries to them that contributed greatly to the spread of Plato's teachings. Consequently, many Renaissance thinkers were adherents of Neoplatonism, which, in addition to Ficino, also became known in intellectual circles around Florence through the work of Georgios Gemistos Plethon and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. A philosophical bastion of Aristotle's thought remained the University of Padua. There Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1524) studied Aristotle's texts without the mediation of Thomism and Averroes. In general, it can be said that the theocentrism of the Middle Ages gave way to an anthropocentric worldview.

With the work of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), especially the Divina commedia, the literature of the Middle Ages reached its zenith. At the same time, there are elements in his work that point to later developments.

Francesco Petrarch and Boccaccio, like Dante, wrote part of their works in the vernacular. They stimulated interest in classical heritage by translating, imitating and, if possible, surpassing classical authors (translatio, imitatio and aemulatio). Petrarch's influence on later humanism is profound. Boccaccio is best known as the author of the Decamerone, which enjoyed almost immediate success throughout Europe. After Petrarch's death in 1374, virtually no poetry of significance was written in Italian for 100 years.

Famous fifteenth-century poets who wrote in the vernacular include Luigi Pulci (Morgante), Matteo Maria Boiardo (with the poem Orlando innamorato) and Ludovico Ariosto (Orlando furioso). Fifteenth-century writers such as the poet Angelo Poliziano and the Neoplatonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino made extensive translations from both Latin and Greek.

In the early sixteenth century, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote Il principe (The Principle) and Castiglione Il libro del cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier), both of which attempted to influence the political, intellectual and moral climate of their time. A key concept in Machiavelli's posthumously published Il Principe is virtù, which should be understood as incisiveness rather than virtue. After all, a ruler with virtù could break his word, lie and even commit murder in the interest of the state. Despite the fact that it is now considered one of the first works on political philosophy, Machiavelli's theories did not gain much traction among his contemporaries. His plays, on the other hand, including his masterpiece La mandragola (The alum) from around 1518, would be at the foundation of a whole new theater style. Because of the attention given to local, social problems, his theater works heralded for Europe the transition from the 15th-century works inspired by Latin comedies of Plautus and Terentius to English Renaissance theater with William Shakespeare as its best-known representative.

Of great importance in this whole development is the work of the printer Aldus Manutius who, with his established Aldine printing house in Venice, stimulated the production of the small, relatively inexpensive portable book. He was also the first to publish books in Ancient Greek.

Visual arts

The way people viewed art objects in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries differed fundamentally from today's way of viewing and interpreting them. The term "work of art" did not exist. According to Burke, it is more accurate to speak of images before ~1500. Contemporaries were very cognizant of the fact that paintings, for example, are impermanent.

Religious images were sacred. It was believed that (some) images of the Virgin Mary and of Christian saints could perform miracles. Images of St. Sebastian were very popular because this saint was expected to offer protection against the plague. Similar therapeutic powers were attributed to music. In Florence, people carried an image of the Blessed Virgin (from the church of Impruneta) in a procession through the city to end periods of drought or excessive rainfall. Some images with a non-Christian theme were also presumably expected to have "magical" influence. An example is the frescoes in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. These frescoes deal with astrological themes. For example, it is quite possible that Botticelli's Primavera aimed to evoke the favorable influence of the planet Venus.

In the Middle Ages, art was considered a craft, an ars mechanica practiced not for its own sake but for the purpose of beautifying or depicting something. The practical purpose prevailed here. Church buildings also had a kind of function in this respect, namely to bring man closer to God and to strengthen him in what he believed, and probably also to inspire awe. This was particularly evident in the Gothic architectural style, which is characterized by impressive, sky-facing structures. In this, the builder and artist was seen as a craftsman, not an intellectual.

This changed in the Renaissance. What had already been known as artes liberales (liberal arts) in the Middle Ages gradually became increasingly important and began to be part of a more intellectual vision of the visual arts. Art now had a much more individual purpose and became an intellectual process, associating it for the first time in art history with the theory of beauty. The humanists also found this relationship between intellect and art in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. These Greek thinkers would have a major impact on Renaissance art theory. Ultimately, Aristotle would exert a greater influence and the realization of beauty was determined primarily by the application of a set of fixed rules and not, platonically interpreted, as an imitation of an ideal that was actually unattainable.

Thus, what distinguished Renaissance art from medieval art included the following:

Incidentally, the majority of Renaissance artworks still dealt with a religious theme. Of a list of 2,229 paintings produced between 1420 and 1540, 237 paintings (~13%) dealt with a non-religious theme. Two-thirds of these are portraits. About half of the religious paintings depict the Virgin Mary. Christ is depicted in about a quarter of religious paintings, the various saints also in about a quarter. Very few paintings were produced that were inspired by the Old Testament. The list of paintings shows that over time the demand for non-religious art increased.

The one who gave art theory a theoretical foundation was Leon Battista Alberti. He wrote three tracts on art:

These tracts set the tone for a more empirical (Aristotelian) approach to the visual arts. Alberti's conception of art would prove very influential, and his ideas on disegno, imitatio and harmony (as a recreation of nature) quickly found acceptance among artists and humanists.

Someone whose views went against Alberti's emphasis on proper proportion and application of rules was the philosopher Marsilio Ficino. Rather, he emphasized the metaphysical and the invisible, something that could not be found in the material world through imitation of nature. For him it was actually more about the inspiration, intuition and creative idea, rather than the skill of the creator. So in this he followed Plato more than Aristotle.

By which artists these two views were followed is, of course, not so unequivocal. For example, in a letter to his friend Baldassare Castiglione, Raphael writes that in order to paint a beautiful woman he must be able to draw all kinds of beautiful parts of women. But then again, in that same letter, he says that - if those "parts" are not available appeals to a "certa idea," which in turn sounds very platonic.

Michelangelo, in turn, can count as an example of an artist who approaches his subject matter more from a metaphysical perspective. From him is known the statement that with the raw block of marble in front of him, he sees the sculpture already in it and just has to "take it out. Rather, he saw artistry as an individual talent, not as the application of set rules. An artist had to possess the "artist's eye" (giudizio dell' occhio).

The influence of Alberti's "Della pintura" (Latin: De pictura) was considerable. Central to this work are a number of concepts that every Renaissance artist was expected to know. Two of the most important were:

The goal of historia was a clear, ordered presentation that could move, instruct and amaze the viewer.


The presence of a large number of Roman ruins inspired Italian architects without actually copying these classical examples. This was probably due in part to the fact that these structures were not sufficiently preserved. Renaissance artists made sketches of the ruined buildings and used elements of what they found in their own work. For example, Brunelleschi's and later Michelangelo's domes were clearly inspired by the dome of the Pantheon, one of the better-preserved structures of the classical past. And Andrea del Palladio (1518-1580) would influence architecture far beyond Italy with his realizations of villas and churches.

In Florence, the Renaissance style was introduced by Leone Battista Alberti with a revolutionary but incomplete monument in Rimini. Alberti, with his De re aedificatoria X (Ten books on architecture), was the first to give a theoretical treatment of architecture in antiquity. Some of the oldest buildings with Renaissance features are Brunelleschi's Church of San Lorenzo and the Pazzi Chapel. The interior of the Spirito Santo expresses a new sense of light, clarity and space typical of the early Italian Renaissance. The architecture was to reflect the philosophy of humanism and clarity of spirit, in contrast to the "darkness" and spirituality of the Middle Ages. The revival of classical antiquity is also exemplified by the Palazzo Rucellai. The columns here follow the classical scheme with Doric capitals on the first floor, Ionic capitals on the second floor and Corinthian capitals on the upper floor.

In Mantua, it was Leone Battista Alberti who introduced the "new" antique style, although his main work, the Sant'Andrea, was not begun until after his death.

The High Renaissance, as the style is now called, was introduced in Rome with Donato Bramante's Tempietto in the courtyard of San Pietro Church in Montorio (1502) and his original, centrally conceived St. Peter's Basilica (1506). This remarkable architectural commission would influence many Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo and Giacomo della Porta.

The beginning of Late Renaissance architecture (Mannerism) in 1550 was marked by the development of a new column by Andrea Palladio. Colossal columns over two stories high or more decorated the facades.


Music was an inseparable part of everyday life; social activities without music (singing, dancing) were a rarity.

In the fourteenth century, music in Italy developed its own sound, which differed greatly from the ars nova in France. Musicologists link this to social developments. In France the power of the monarchy and political stability were growing strongly, in much of Italy anarchy prevailed. Moreover, there was hardly any tradition of polyphonic music in Italy as there was in France. In the courts of Italy, the tradition of the troubadours continued. The music of the trecento is strikingly simple and transparent; its expressiveness lies in its meandering melodies. Improvisation undoubtedly played a major role.

Although musicologists usually treat the music of the trecento (fourteenth century) together with that of the late Middle Ages, the following features can be associated with the early Renaissance:

Burckhardt paid virtually no attention to music in his studies. It would also be extremely difficult to associate the music of the fifteenth century with a "rebirth of classical antiquity. There was hardly any question of a rediscovery of music from antiquity. The music theory of the ancient Greeks was broadly known thanks to the work of Boëthius (†524). His idea of the "harmony of spheres" (musica mundana) was popular in learned circles both during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and still lives on in astrology. Only during the sixteenth century did the ideas of the ancient Greeks lead to experiments. A good example are the experiments with chromaticism of the theoretician Vicentino. His most important work appeared in 1555.

From the early fifteenth century to the mid-sixteenth century, the center of musical innovation was in the Low Countries. Italy produced few important composers during this period. However, music was in high demand. Venice and Rome (after 1420) were the main centers. To meet the increasing demand, a flood of talented composers and musicians from the Low Countries migrated to Italy. Many of them sang in either the papal choir in Rome or in the choirs of the numerous chapels established by princes and cardinals in Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Ferrara and elsewhere. They brought with them their polyphonic style, greatly influencing music in Italy. For example, Dufay wrote the motet "Nuper rosarum flores" on the occasion of the consecration of Florence Cathedral in 1436. The most important of the "Dutch" composers in Italy was Josquin des Prez. He was active in Milan, Rome and Ferrara.

In 1501, the printer Petrucci began publishing music in Venice. He began with chansons, masses and motets, the main genres. Some years he also published collections of frottole. Frottole, polyphonic songs for solo singers with a mostly amorous character, were popular at the Italian courts.

The predominant forms of church music in the sixteenth century were the mass and the motet. By far the most famous composer of sixteenth-century church music in Italy was Palestrina. He was the most prominent member of the Roman school, whose supple, emotionally controlled polyphony would become defining for the sixteenth century. Other Italian composers of the late sixteenth century focused on the era's most important secular form, the madrigal. For nearly a hundred years, these secular songs for multiple singers were distributed throughout Europe. Composers of madrigals include Jacques Arcadelt, Cypriano de Rore, Luca Marenzio, Philippe de Monte, Carlo Gesualdo and Claudio Monteverdi.

Italy was also a center of innovation in instrumental music. In the early 16th century, improvisation on the keyboard was highly valued, and there were also numerous composers who wrote virtuosic keyboard music. Also, many well-known instruments were invented and perfected in the late Renaissance, such as the violin, whose earliest forms came into use in the 1550s.

By the late sixteenth century, Italy was the musical center of Europe. Almost all the innovations that ushered in the transition to the Baroque period originated in northern Italy in the last decades of the century. In Venice, there were the polychoral works of the Venetian School.

An important music theorist was Zarlino (1517-1590).

Our knowledge of 15th-century Italian dances comes primarily from the surviving works of three Italian Renaissance masters of dance: Domenico da Piacenza, Guglielmo Ebreo and Antonio Cornazzano da Pesaro. Their work deals with roughly the same steps and dances, although some evolution is noticeable.

The main types of dances they describe are the bassa danze and balletti. These are the earliest well-documented European dances, so we now have a reasonable knowledge of the choreographies, dance steps and music used.

As much as they admired classical scholars like Plato, Galenus and Archimedes, it did not stop Renaissance intellectuals from investigating nature themselves and drawing their own conclusions. In geography, authorities like Ptolemy and Strabo were rediscovered, but Florentine scientist Paolo Toscanelli (1397-1482), for example, did not hesitate to place his own insights above classical masters. Toscanelli's ideas about a narrow Atlantic Ocean encouraged the Genoese Christopher Columbus to seek a westward route to Asia in 1492. Amerigo Vespucci, also a Florentine, showed that Columbus had discovered a New World of which the ancients had no knowledge. The great merit of "engineers" like Leonardo da Vinci who sought practical solutions to practical problems was the confidence they placed in experimentation. Thus da Vinci increased his knowledge of anatomy by observing himself, and as a sculptor he gained knowledge of casting metals. In turn, his study of the trajectory of a projectile helped him design catapults for the military. This was revolutionary, because in the Middle Ages people simply repeated what the authorities of the classical past had said. According to some researchers, Leonardo da Vinci could even be called the "father of modern science" because of the experiments he conducted and the clearly "scientific method" he used. Science would be revived during this period, however, especially in northern Europe, with figures such as Nicholas Copernicus, Francis Bacon and, even later, René Descartes. Italian mathematicians Scipione del Ferro, Girolamo Cardano, Niccolò Tartaglia and Lodovico Ferrari devised a solution to the third-degree equation and the fourth-degree equation. As a corollary, Rafael Bombelli devised the complex numbers. Finally, the Italian Renaissance culminated in the work of Galileo Galilei, who became one of the founders of the scientific method in the first decades of the 17th century with a series of pioneering astronomical and physical works.

Ptolemy's worldview was also widely accepted in scholarly circles: the earth was the center of the universe. Around the earth were the seven "celestial spheres," each with its own planet. Of these spheres, that of the moon was closest to the earth. Influences were attributed to the different planets. This ancient-medieval worldview is very beautifully described in the Divina commedia.

Although the Renaissance was not a time of groundbreaking innovations in the natural sciences, it can be said that the study of mathematics and medicine during this period was the impetus for a true scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries. However, the greatest intellectual attention during the Italian Renaissance went to the study of classical texts. Thus philologists laid the foundation for the philosophy of humanism.


  1. Italian Renaissance
  2. Italiaanse renaissance
  3. Najemy, J.M. (red.) (2004): Italy in the age of the Renaissance, 1300-1550, Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, p.126.
  4. Burke, P. (2012): The Italian Renaissance. Culture and society in Italy, second edition, polity, Cambridge, p.1.
  5. Le niveau de population de Florence est controversé[21],[22],[23].
  6. Selon les mots de Vasari à propos de Fontainebleau.
  7. ^ "Renaissance Historians of different kinds will often make some choice between a long Renaissance (say, 1300–1600), a short one (1453–1527), or somewhere in between (the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as is commonly adopted in music histories)." The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music (2005), p. 4, Cambridge University Press, Google Books. Or between Petrarch and Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), an even longer period. See Rosalie L. Colie quoted in Hageman, Elizabeth H., in Women and Literature in Britain, 1500-1700, p. 190, 1996, ed. Helen Wilcox, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521467773, 0521467772, Google Books
  8. ^ Burke, P., The European Renaissance: Centre and Peripheries (1998)
  9. ^ Burke, P., The European Renaissance: Centre and Peripheries (1998)
  10. ^ Sée, Henri. „Modern Capitalism Its Origin and Evolution” (PDF). University of Rennes. Batoche Books. Arhivat din original (PDF) la 7 octombrie 2013. Accesat în 29 august 2013.

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