The Renaissance in Florence and the Reformation in Geneva

Emerging from the Middle Ages, a time when people lived in fear of god, the Renaissance was a time of intellectual and artistic achievement happening in places such as Florence. People began to question their authorities, which led to new ideas and beliefs. This “Renaissance mindset” arguably contributed to the Protestant Reformation, a time in which theologists such as Martin Luther and John Calvin challenged the authority of the church and accused it of being corrupt. The Reformation Era brought about radical change in Europe in terms of religion, for many cities converted to Protestantism and were no longer under the control of the Catholic Church.

One such city was Geneva, a place governed by Calvin’s strict religious principles that limited the freedom of its citizens.

In contrast to the Renaissance in Florence which promoted the spread of varied and secular ideas, the Reformation in Geneva allowed the Calvinist Church to use religion to to control the populous and limit their freedom.

Although both were born from the similar idea of questioning authority, the Reformation in Geneva and the Renaissance in Florence were vastly different from one another in several different ways. One of the main differences was the religion practiced in the two places. Florence was a Catholic city, although religion did not necessarily dictate the lives of Florentine citizens. Since humanism was at large, people were encouraged to indulge in other non-religious aspects of life such as art and education. In fact, the Catholic Church even sponsored artists, encouraging them to continue pursuing their secular occupations.

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The same was not true in Reformation Geneva.

The Calvinist Church closely monitored the lives of the Genevan citizens and held them to a high standard. The Church expected every adult and child to know and follow the guides and laws of god. Dissimilar to the Church in Renaissance Florence which promoted freedom of the human mind, the Calvinist Church in Geneva limited the freedom of its citizens by imposing strict religious guidelines and rules. The differences in the churches of Geneva and Florence also contributed to the difference of governments. Florence was technically ruled by a republic; however, said republic held little to no real power. The true rulers of Florence were wealthy patricians, namely the Medici banking family. The Medicis were huge patrons of the arts and used art to increase the wealth and status of their family and of Florence itself.

Focus on the arts led to more freedom of the mind and creativity. Artists were more valued than before and people were able to express themselves through these works of art that not only benefited their reputation, but the reputations of their patrons, too. In Geneva, however, there was no separation between religion and government. The Calvinist Church decided how people were to live their lives and what happened to those who didn’t comply with the church. During a 4 year period in Geneva, more than one hundred people were banished or executed because they did not comply to the church’s demanding standards. The Florentine government was very supportive of free human expression, whereas the religion-based Genevan government limited free thought by harshly governing the lives of its citizens.

As a result of the way these cities were governed, Genevan and Florentine citizens led contrasting everyday lives. Wealthy citizens of Florence enjoyed a more creative and lavish life filled with artistic wonders and new possibilities. People had free time to come up with new ideas and express their creativity. The same could not be said for the poor citizens of Florence. They really did not have time to educate themselves and come up with new innovative ideas, for they had to constantly work in order to make a living. This does not necessarily mean that they were held back from free thought by the government, but rather that they just did not have time to do these things due to their financial situations and priorities. As expected, the Genevan everyday life was quite different. The Calvinist Church oversaw what Genevans were being taught and what they were doing. Harsh laws regarding lifestyle were imposed. These rules included: not speaking out against your minister, no dancing, and no card playing or gambling.

These strict laws were meant to limit the expression of the human mind, for the church believed that humans were made to be corrupt. Breaking any of these rules could very well have resulted in banishment, excommunication, and in some extreme cases, execution. The Genevan people lived their lives in fear of authority, not expressively like the Florentine citizens did. Renaissance Florence and Reformation Geneva were incredibly different. While the Renaissance focused on the beauty and potential in humans, the Reformation strived to shut down human expression, for it was believed that humans were corrupted by evil. In Florence, art and education were heavily valued, and religion, although still prominent, was no longer the only focus of people’s lives. In Geneva, however, people were harshly governed by religion, similar to the Middle Ages. It is strange how two societies with such different values originated from the same idea of questioning authority. The differences in human expression between the two cities show that when humans are told that they are naturally bad, they will not strive to be creative and express their wonderful ideas.

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The Renaissance in Florence and the Reformation in Geneva. (2021, Dec 17). Retrieved from

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