Beginning in Italy, the Renaissance (or “rebirth”) was an era that rediscovered the culture of ancient Greece and Rome. It was also a time of recovery from the fourteenth century. The Renaissance had a more secular and individualistic ethos than medieval society. It might best be seen as evolutionary in its urban and commercial continuity from the High Middle Ages. In the North Sea, the Hanseatic League competed with merchants from the Mediterranean, where the Venetians had a commercial empire. In Florence, profits from the woolen industry were invested in banking.

The aristocracy remained the ruling class, its ideals explicated in Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier. Peasants were still the vast majority, but serfdom and manorialism were dying out. The inhabitants of towns and cities formed an important minority, with merchants and bankers at the apex and the unskilled workers, the unemployed, and slaves at the bottom. The father or husband as a dictator dominated the extended family, and marriages were arranged for social and economic advantage. Wives were much younger than their husbands, with their primary function being to bear children; the mortality rate in childbirth and for infants and young children remained high.

Italy was dominated by five major states: the duchy of Milan, Florence and Venice, the Papal States, and the kingdom of Naples. There were also other city-states that were centers of culture and where women played vital roles. At the end of the fifteenth century, Spain and France invaded the divided peninsula. The concept of the new statecraft was exemplified in Niccolò Machiavelli’s (d. 1527), The Prince, which describes the methods of gaining and holding political power: moral concerns are irrelevant, for the ends justify the means.

There was an increased emphasis upon the human. Among the influential humanists was Petrarch (d.1374) in his advocacy of classical Latin writers. Civic humanism posited that the ideal citizen was not only an intellectual but also a patriot, actively serving the state, and humanist education was to produce individuals of virtue and wisdom. The printing press was perfected, multiplying the availability of books. In art, the aim was to imitate nature by the use of realistic perspective. Masaccio (d.1428), Donatello (d.1466) and Michelangelo (d.1564) made Florence a locus of the arts. The High Renaissance of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci (d.1519) and Raphael (d.1520) combined natural realism with Platonic idealism. The artisan might become a great artist, and thus transform his social and economic status.

It was the era of the “new monarchies.” In France, Louis XI (d.1483), the Spider, established a centralized state. England’s Henry VII (d.1509) limited the private armies of the aristocracy, raised taxes, and left a more powerful monarchy. In Spain, Isabella (d.1504) and Ferdinand (d.1516) created a professional army and enforced religious uniformity by the conversion and expulsion of Jews and Moslems. The Holy Roman Empire remained weak, but the Habsburg emperors created a strong state of their own through numerous marriages. The were no “new monarchies” in eastern Europe, but Russia’s Ivan III (d.1505) ended Mongol control. Lastly, in 1453 the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople.

The church was besieged by problems. John Wyclif (d.1384) and John Hus (d.1415) condemned the papacy for corruption, its temporal concerns, and demanded the Bible in the vernacular. The popes reflected their era, and their secular involvements overshadowed their spiritual responsibilities. Some preferred war and politics to prayer and piety, and others ignored their vows of celibacy, ambitiously advancing their families over the needs of the faithful. Most were great patrons of the arts, but religious concerns ranked behind the pleasures of this life.

  1. Explain the context in which the Renaissance and Age of Discovery developed.
    1. The rediscovery of works from ancient Greece and Rome and observation of the natural world changed many Europeans’ view of their world.
      1. A revival of classical texts led to new methods of scholarship and new values in both society and religion.
      2. The visual arts incorporated the new ideas of the Renaissance and were used to promote personal, political, and religious goals.
  2. Explain how the revival of classical texts contributed to the development of the Renaissance in Italy.
    1. Italian Renaissance humanists, including Petrarch, promoted a revival in classical literature and created new philological approaches to ancient texts. Some Renaissance humanists furthered the values of secularism and individualism.
      • Illustrative Examples: Petrarch, Lorenzo Valla, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola
  3. Explain the political, intellectual, and cultural effects of the Italian Renaissance.
    1. Humanist revival of Greek and Roman texts, spread by the printing press, challenged the institutional power of universities and the Catholic Church. This shifted education away from a primary focus on theological writings toward classical texts and new methods of scientific inquiry.
      • Illustrative Examples: Leonardo Bruni, Leon Battista Alberti, Niccolò Machiavelli
    2. Admiration for Greek and Roman political institutions supported a revival of civic humanist culture in the Italian city-states and produced secular models for individual and political behavior.
    3. In the Italian Renaissance, rulers and popes concerned with enhancing their prestige commissioned paintings and architectural works based on classical styles, the developing “naturalism” in the artistic world, and often the newly invented technique of geometric perspective.
      • Illustrative Examples da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, Andrea Palladio, Leon Battista Alberti, Filipo Brunelleschi
  4. Explain how Renaissance ideas were developed, maintained, and changed as the Renaissance spread to northern Europe.
    1. The Northern Renaissance retained a more religious focus, which resulted in more human-centered naturalism that considered individuals and everyday life appropriate objects of artistic representation.
      • Illustrative Examples: Breughel, van Eyck, Bosch, Dürer
    2. Christian humanism, embodied in the writings of Erasmus, employed Renaissance learning in the service of religious reform.
  5. Explain the influence of the printing press on cultural and intellectual developments in modern European history.
    1. The invention of printing promoted the dissemination of new ideas.
      • Illustrative Example: Gutenberg
      1. The invention of the printing press in the 1450s helped spread the Renaissance beyond Italy and encouraged the growth of vernacular literature, which would eventually contribute to the development of national cultures.
  6. Explain the causes and effects of the development of political institutions from 1450 to 1648.
    1. The struggle for sovereignty within and among states resulted in varying degrees of political centralization.
      1. The new concept of the sovereign state and secular systems of law played a central role in the creation of new political institutions.
    2. Monarchs and princes, including the English rulers Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, initiated religious reform from the top down in an effort to exercise greater control over religious life and morality.
    3. New monarchies laid the foundation for the centralized modern state by establishing monopolies on tax collection, employing military force, dispensing justice, and gaining the right to determine the religion of their subjects.
    4. Across Europe, commercial and professional groups gained in power and played a greater role in political affairs.
    5. Continued political fragmentation in Renaissance Italy provided a background for the development of new concepts of the secular state.

Reading 1: Pages 333-335

Meaning and Characteristics of the Italian Renaissance
The Making of Renaissance Society:

 Economic Recovery

Reading 2: Pages 335-340

The Making of Renaissance Society:
 Social Changes in the Renaissance
 The Family in Renaissance Italy

Reading 3: Pages 340-343

The Italian States in the Renaissance:
 Five Major States
 Warfare in Italy
 Independent City-States
 The Birth of Modern Diplomacy
 Machiavelli and the New Statecraft

Reading 4: Pages 344-350

The Intellectual Renaissance in Italy:
 Italian Renaissance Humanism
 Education in the Renaissance
 Humanism and History
 The Impact of Printing

Reading 5: Pages 350-357

The Artistic Renaissance:
 Art in the Early Renaissance
 The Artistic High Renaissance
 The Artist and Social Status
 The Northern Artistic Renaissance
 Music in the Renaissance

Reading 6: Pages 357-361

The European State in the Renaissance:
 The Growth of the French Monarchy
 The Unification of Spain
 The Holy Roman Empire: The Success of the Habsburgs
 The Struggle for Monarchy in Eastern Europe
 The Ottoman Turks and the End of the Byzantine Empire

Reading 7: Pages 361-364

The Church in the Renaissance:
 The Problems of Heresy and Reform
 The Renaissance Papacy