The renaissance was a period in European cultural history that began in Italy around 1400 and lasted there until the end of the 16th century. It flourished later elsewhere in Europe and lasted until the 17th century. The Renaissance brought an all around change in the way people thought and in their beliefs. People began to discover the world and discover themselves as individuals. The world was beginning to change, technology progressed, and art and music became liberated. The Renaissance could also be known as a “Revival of Learning”.
People began to question the basic facts of life of which they were forced to accept. Acceptance was replaced with questioning, experimenting, understanding and learning. Central to the renaissance was humanism, the belief in the active, rather then the contemplative life and a faith in the republican ideal. However the greatest expression of the renaissance was in arts and learning. For example Alberti, in his writings on painting, created both methods of painting using perspective to create an illusion of a third dimension and a classically inspired non-religious subject matter.
Even in his architecture, he created a system of simple proportion that was to be followed for hundreds of years. The Renaissance was heralded by the work of the early 14th-century painter Giotto in Florence, and in the early 15th century a handful of outstanding innovative artists emerged there: Masaccio, in painting, Donatello, in sculpture, and Brunelleschi, in architecture. At the same time the humanist philosopher, artist, and writer Leon Baptista Alberti recorded many of the new ideas in his treatises on painting, sculpture, and architecture.
These ideas soon became widespread in Italy, and many new centres of patronage formed. In the 16th century Rome superseded Florence as the chief centre of activity and innovation, and became the capital of the High Renaissance. The cultures throughout Europe were hugely diverse and have remained so to this present day. So therefore it is highly likely that the renaissance took on different meanings and interpretations throughout Europe. In northern Europe the Renaissance spirit is apparent in the painting of the van Eyck brothers in the early 15th century.
The Italian artists Cellini, Rosso Fiorentino, and Primaticcio took the Renaissance to France through their work at Fontainebleau. The ideas, concepts, understandings and priorities of the renaissance could not have been the same throughout a continent that differed in social, cultural, political and religious issues. So there is no query that the artistic renaissance originated in Italy.
And this change in Art had a huge impact on art in the north. Artists in the rest of Europe were impressed by the new ideas on art from Italy. Italy therefore attracted many of the great artists from elsewhere in Europe. When we look at the works of art during the renaissance in both Italy and the north, we can see that they both set out to achieve the same goals more or less, “such as, an interest in individual consciousness and a desire to make images of the visible world, often portraying a religious scene, more believable and accessible. 1 However there are many striking differences in methods and techniques due to a manifold of reasons. Because the patrons in the north tended to be of the bourgeois class, rather that religious or noble, the artists that they sponsored, painted for civic or even domestic display. Communities commissioned works for their chapels and town halls. This could be the reason why the works of art from the northern renaissance were often on a smaller scale than those from the Italian renaissance. There was a frequent use of grisaille to portray a more sculptured look on the triptych covers.
The climate had a great impact on the methods of painting in the north and south. Frescoing was more common in Italy as the warm climate enabled the paintings to dry quicker, whereas with the damp, colder climate of the north, frescoes took longer to dry. The artists wanted to meet public demand and thus produced smaller, mobile works of art. It is also clear that the northern artists and patrons were concerned about their social status. They wanted to show their current and even potential social positions. The Italian artists seemed somewhat oblivious to their step on the social ladder.
Symbolism seemed central to the northern artistic renaissance. One example of this is Holbein’s The Ambassador, which features a number of valuable objects, which attempt to display the status of the subjects and their interests in intellectual matters. The northern artists crowded their paintings with many minor details in the background and on the subject matter with the aim of displaying their wealth. The Italian artists did not feel the need to include these small objects of everyday use when depicting biblical scenes or in their portraits of their wealthy sponsors.
It is therefore clear that both the northern artists and the Italian artists aimed to achieve a sense of realism and credibility in their work, but they both contained many unique features, which differed greatly from each other. One of the key features of the renaissance is Humanism. This is associated more with the northern renaissance. Humanists believed that God had given each person free will and that it was up to everybody to use their talents to the full and to achieve their true potential. When we think of humanism, we think of the famous Erasmus, Petrarch or Moore.
These humanists played an important role in the renaissance. Erasmus had a thorough training in the classic authors as well as in the languages and grammar, which he mobilised in the cause of Christian scholarship. He was probably the greatest classical scholar of his age and he used his knowledge of Greek and Latin sources to demonstrate the profound effect of ancient culture on Christianity. He believed that the classics could inspire good taste, stimulate sound and clear thinking and could cultivate clear, accurate and precise verbal and written expression.
He also believed that their study along with the Bible would promote greater religious devotion and goodness. This piety through literature was the basis of Erasmus’s educational philosophy and his religious reformism. Erasmus attacked clerical abuse through his literature, he wrote “I could see that the common body of Christians were corrupt not only in its affections, but in its ideas. ” Like Erasmus, Petrarch restored the Latin classics and he initiated the recovery and revision of ancient texts that followed with the early 15th century.
Petrarch would be considered a northern humanist because although he was born in Florence, he was raised in Provence. However although Humanism is associated more with the northern renaissance, the humanists of Italy had similar beliefs – Alberti of Florence believed that each person was responsible for their own destiny. The longing to come to terms with the way in which the world worked was an essential attribute in the learning of the renaissance, and it is certainly no big shock that important scientific developments occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Although Columbus was born in Italy, he would be associated with the northern renaissance, as his culture was purely Spanish. All his letters, even those addressed to Italians, were in Spanish. His studies of the Pole Star led him to the conclusion that the Earth was pear-shaped. Another man from the northern renaissance was Copernicus from Poland. Copernicus was a famous astronomer who by careful observation, with the naked eye, of the phases of an eclipse, he had discovered the dual motion of the planet on their own axes and around the sun. By 1512, he had this system worked out to the smallest detail.
However, he hesitated to publish his work as he said, “I can well believe that when what I have written becomes known, there will be an uproar. ” Copernicus changed the way the world thought forever as he argued that the earth was the centre of the universe and not the earth, with the planets and their satellites revolving around it. “The amazing thing about he discoveries of Copernicus is that they were the products of pure reason applied to facts known to the ancients and carefully noted by ptolemy”2 So it was clear that the northern universities led the way in the new astronomy.
It is doubtful whether the cause of scientific development stems greatly from the Italian renaissance. Indeed, it was the thesis of Toffanin that the rise of humanism stifled the sciences in favour of literature. The Germans invented printing and certainly Copernicus was born in Poland, and Francis Bacon precedes Galileo, who only gives a scientific achievement to Italy well into the 17th century, outside the chronological limits usually set to the renaissance. Also an independent spirit of enquiry arose in European biology and medicine.
Human dissections were routinely performed from the 14th century and anatomy emerged as a mature science from the eager activity of the Belgian, Andreas Vesalius, whose De humani corporis fabrica is one of the masterpieces of the Scientific Revolution. His achievement was to examine the body itself rather than relying simply on Galen; the illustrations in his work are simultaneously objects of scientific originality and of artistic beauty. The rediscovery of the beauty of the human body by Renaissance artists encouraged the study of anatomy by geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci.
Shortly afterwards, an Englishman, William Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood and established physiology on a scientific footing. His little book De Motu Cordis (1628; ‘On the Motion of the Heart’) was the first great work on experimental physiology since the time of Galen. The eccentric wandering Swiss doctor Paracelsus had also deliberately set aside the teachings of Galen and other Ancients in favour of a fresh approach to Nature and medicine and to the search for new remedies for disease.
These discoveries were all made by men from the northern renaissance, which may indicate that the renaissance in the north was more concerned with discovery and solving the unknown rather than just art. The Catholic Church was extremely affected by the renaissance too. The renaissance way of think brought about the reformation and there is no doubt that the church could see it coming. Humanists such as Erasmus, Petrarch and Moore questioned the church. They let their beliefs be known that each man controlled his own destiny, and therefore there was no divine rights given to anyone from God.
The renaissance was an age of reformers. Above many reforms in art, literature, science and technology was the renewal of the relationship between humanity and God by thoroughly reforming the church. Through reason and education, these humanists aspired to transform not only the church but also society. So in fact it was the northern humanists who paved the way for the reformation. Therefore the Catholic Church faced many threats to its authority during the renaissance period. In both north and south, artists strove to perfect realism in their art and began to analyse nature and the human body.
The church had originally exerted control over the masses by keeping them in the dark so to speak, by not encouraging them to investigate, explore or question what they were told. It was not a priority or aim of the northern and southern renaissance to contradict the teachings of the church, but by systematically reasoning and analysing the basic facts of life, they gradually took away the power of the church upon the people. The style of renaissance architecture, which began in 15th-century Italy, was based on the revival of classical, especially Roman, architecture developed by Brunelleschi.
It is characterised by a concern with balance, clarity, and proportion, and by the external use of columns and fluted pilasters. Many Roman buildings were still extant in Renaissance Italy and artists and scholars studied their proportions and copied their decorative motifs. The architectural books of the Roman Vitruvius, 1st century AD were made popular by Leon Battista Alberti in his influential treatise De re aedificatoria/On Architecture 1486 but the first major work of the age was the successful construction by Brunelleschi of a dome 1420-34 on Florence Cathedral.
Alberti himself designed a new fai?? ade for Santa Maria Novella, completed 1470, in Florence, and redesigned a church in Rimini subsequently called the Tempio Malatestiano, c. 1450. Bramante came closest to the recreation of classical ideas with works such as the Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome, c. 1510 and the new basilica of St Peter’s in Rome, begun 1506. Other Renaissance architects in Italy include Michelangelo, Giulio Romano, Palladio, Vignola, Sangallo, and Raphael.
As Renaissance architecture spread throughout the rest of Europe it often acquired a distinctively national character through the influence of indigenous styles. Renaissance architecture in England is exemplified by the Queen’s House at Greenwich, London, built by Inigo Jones 1637 and in France by the Louvre Palace built for Frani?? ois I 1546. In Spain, a fusion of Renaissance and Gothic architectural forms led to the flamboyant style called Plateresque, ‘Manuellian’ in Portugal, typified by the fai?? de of the university at Salamanca, completed 1529.
Overall, we can see that although the renaissance throughout Europe, meant a change in the way people thought, its’ priorities varied from country to country. The Italian renaissance prioritised their art producing many famous works of art such as de Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, Michaelangelo’s ‘David’ and hundreds more, nevertheless, humanism and discovery were not excluded. However the northern renaissance prioritised Humanism and discovery, although playing an important role in renaissance art.