renaissance - Les Cheneaux Community Schools

in Italy and
Europe I
The Emergence of
Liberal Humanism
Craig Benjamin
• During the 14th and 15th Centuries,
intellectuals in Europe began to think of
the previous 1000 years since the fall of
Rome as the ‘Dark Ages’
• They saw this as a period of cultural stagnation in contrast to
both the classical age that had preceded it, and their own age,
which seemed to be enlightened and ‘modern’ in comparison
• Thinkers of this new era called themselves ‘humanists’ and
dedicated themselves to the recovery and transmission of
the cultural and artistic heritage of Greece and Rome
• They believed they were living through a cultural revolution
that was associated with a rebirth of classical learning –
‘renaissance’ means rebirth
• Historians have called this period the Renaissance and discussed it
as a distinct revolution that dramatically affected European culture
• Historians today realize that the Renaissance had its roots
deep within the preceding Middle Ages, and now questioned
the idea of a revolutionary rebirth, stressing instead the
continuity of western civilization that simply evolved almost
seamlessly into this age of enlightened humanism
• To that end, the first part of this lecture will look at the
cultural achievements of the High Middle Ages, and consider
whether intellectuals of that era were already staging a
‘renaissance’ of their own
Sandro Boticelli early 16th C.
Rediscovery of the Classical Past
• But there is no doubt that the 14th
Century witnessed an intensification of
interest in classical literature and art,
itself the product of a more outward
looking and increasingly humancentered Europe
• Life was increasingly seen as something
meaningful and fulfilling in its own
right, not just as a temporary waystation on the road to eternity, as
Christianity preached
• Scholars began to search monasteries for
long-forgotten Latin and Greek
masterpieces, and reintroduced classical
learning back into the mainstream of
Western thought
• At the same time, artists in Italy were
stimulated and inspired by a study of
classical art and architecture
Origins of the Modern World
• But the Renaissance was not just an attempt to slavishly copy
and ‘reinvent’ some ancient past
• The humanists that emerged were the forefathers of the
modern world, widening and deepening the range of human
interests, looking both backwards and forwards to the
modern age with equal enthusiasm
• The Florentine thinker Alberti summarized the new
confidence intellectuals felt in human potential
by declaring that human beings could do all
things if they only so desired
• The Renaissance was thus one of the major
turning points in western history, challenging
the beliefs and institutions of the Middle Ages,
and setting human history off on a new trajectory
of individualism, critical thinking and scientific
enquiry that led directly into the modern age
• Part One: Art, Culture and Education During
the High Middle Ages
• Part Two: The Italian Renaissance
• Part Three: The Renaissance in Northern
To Include:
Art, Culture and
Education During the
High Middle Ages
• Before 12th C education carried out in church schools,
but when the church began to limit admissions
Uni of Bologna, 14th C
cathedral schools sprang up all over Europe
• Cathedral schools expanded their curriculums to include secular subjects,
particularly classical literature
• Demand for professional studies in law, medicine and theology led to the
emergence of universities (university = a group of people with a common purpose)
• Earliest universities (Bologna, Paris, Oxford) not officially founded but later
popes and kings gave universities charters of self-government, granting them
rights and elite legal status
Oxford University
• Scholars in the 12th and 13th
Centuries used logic and reason to
attempt to understand the truth that
they believed existed in Christian
and classical literature
• Task carried out in schools –
scholars used the method of
• Greatest thinker was Thomas
Aquinas: Summa Theologica dealt
with the great problems of
theology, philosophy, politics and
• His goal was to reconcile
Aristotelian philosophy with
church dogma, arguing that there
was no contradiction because
ultimately all truth came from God
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Women and
Hildegard receives divine inspiration
12th Century painting
• Convents of Europe served as
centers of learning for a select
group of aristocratic and middleclass women who pursued both a
devoted and intellectual life
• Outside of convents almost
impossible for women to
become scholars; the church
declared a woman had to either
be a housewife or virgin
• Some remarkable women made
great advances in thinking,
particularly the Benedictine
nun Hildegard of Bingen (10981179)
• A skilled composer of music,
author of plays and religious
works; also wrote scientific
treatises which cataloged
hundreds of plants and animals
for their medicinal value
El Cid
• Latin the common tongue for educated people,
providing intellectual cohesion; but by 12th C
more literature written in native languages
• Song of Roland (French, late 11th C) tells of the
retreat of Charlemagne’s army from the Pyrenees
• Poema del Mio Cid (Spanish, 12th C) a stirring epic
of chivalry
• Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Italian) an
allegorical tale of medieval man moving from earth
(hell) through conversion (purgatory) to union with
God (paradise)
• Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400)
provides a cross-section of English life and though
through a series of stories told by pilgrims
journeying to the shrine of Becket at Canterbury
Geoffrey Chaucer
• Great revival in
architecture took place
from the 11th Century;
new style later named
Romanesque (based
on Roman models)
• Round arch a standard
feature; cathedrals
symmetrical, had
massive stone walls
with small windows,
and plain interiors
Cathedrals featured vaults
with pointed arches; used
flying buttresses to
distribute weight more
evenly, allowing for large
stained glass windows and light and lofty interiors
Cathedrals featured vaults with pointed
rather than rounded arches, and used
flying buttresses to distribute weight
more evenly, which allowed for large
stained glass windows and light and
lofty interiors
In the
12th and
the Gothic
Interior and Exterior, Notre Dame, Paris
Castles and
Loire Valley Chateau
15th Century
• Castle building reached a high point by the 13th Century with
round towers and bastions along the walls; parts of the castle
could be independently abandoned and defended
• By the late Middle Ages there was less need for castles and
fortified towns, and increased wealth encouraged secular
Gothic architecture
• Town halls and guild halls, and the chateaux of the nobility,
all borrowed the delicate Gothic style to construct
magnificent secular buildings
The Italian Renaissance
• Eventually the Middle Ages flowed
seamlessly into the Renaissance,
initially in Northern Italy
• The Renaissance a product of
political, social and economic
changes that began to emerge
during the late Middle Ages
• Revival of towns and commerce in
the 12th and 13th Centuries, and
the emergence of a middle class,
set in motion cultural forces that
culminated in the Renaissance
Renaissance Florence
• Particularly obvious in the city states of northern Italy, which experienced
tremendous growth after the Black Death
• Italian nobles joined the wealthy middle class to fight off intervention in their
city’s affairs from foreign invaders
• By 1300 most of the land of northern Italy owned by commercial farmers and
merchants who produced food and goods for city markets and trade
• Export industries like cloth manufacturing in Florence (employed 30,000)
ensured emergence of a pre-capitalist system in these cities
of the
Merchant-capitalists accumulated so much wealth that they turned to
money lending and banking; between the 13th and 15th Centuries
Italians monopolized banking in Europe - Florentine Bank
Arts and
Michelangelo – ‘Slaves’
• Italian upper-class wealthy and
self-confident: effected their
attitude to art
• Elites paid sculptors and
painters to produce their busts
and portraits
• Architects constructed palaces
for wealthy families like the
Medici, Pitti, Strozzia and
Pazzi (still standing today)
• Dominant, wealthy,
accomplished urban elite also
promoted humanism, which
stressed both individualism and
a social conscience
• As well as continued patronage
of the Catholic church, the
elites embraced increasingly
secular values, and sought
examples of this from the
classical past
Pitti Palace in Florence: Stateroom Interior
The Renaissance and Patronage
• Elites displayed their wealth by patronizing artists and
intellectuals (who also received support from city governments)
• Renaissance artists enjoyed security and protection, living in
the great palaces and working on commissioned works
• Contrasts with later periods in art, when artists would paint
whatever they wanted to paint, and then try and sell them to buyers
• Famous patrons included the Medici (ruled Florence 1434-1494)
• Lorenzo Medici added so much magnificence to his city that he
came to be known as Lorenzo the Magnificent
• Renaissance popes also lavish patrons who made Rome the
foremost western center for art and learning, employing artists
like Michelangelo to beautify the city with magnificent
sculpture and painting
Renaissance Patrons
Lorenzo the Magnificent:
Marble bust by Donatello
Cosimo Medici:
Portrait by Bronzino
Tomb of Pope Julius II, Vatican:
Sculpture by Michelangelo
• Middle Ages intellectuals
interpreted literature and
philosophy of the classical past
through Christianity, distorting
original intentions of Greeks
and Romans
• In 14th Century Italy a new
perspective and fresh appreciation
of classical literature emerged
• Medieval teachers called
themselves humanists from a
phrase Romans used to describe
liberal, literary education –
studia humanitatis
• Medieval scholarship focused on
logic and professional training in
law, medicine and theology at the
expense of the arts
Liberal Humanism
• Humanists reversed this
and focused on the values of
human existence (the
humanities) – history,
poetry, philosophy and art
• Humanists saw themselves
equal to the ancients, rather
than inferior as medieval
scholars had believed
• Montaigne quoted from the
ancients not because he
agreed with them, but
because they agreed with
• Petrarch known as the ‘father of
• Distressed by unrest in Italy in the
14th Century, he escaped into the
literature of ancient Rome
• Fell in love with a married woman
(Laura) and began to write superb
lyric poetry, describing her as a
flesh-and-blood human
• Then went through a period of inner
conflict, torn by his feeling that
mortal interest should come before
his loyalty to Christianity
• Could not accept the Christian
argument that the pursuit of
individualism and human potential
had to be subordinated to religion
• A line from the Roman poet
Terrence was his motto: ‘I am a
man, and nothing human do I
consider alien to myself’
Giovanni Boccaccio
• Florentine romantic poet
Boccaccio survived the Black Death
(killed two-thirds of the population
of Florence) and then used the event
as the setting for the Decameron
• To escape the plague three young
men and seven women seek
seclusion in a villa where they
entertain each other by telling 100
• Stories ridicule the follies of
knights and other middle ages
people, and offer flesh-and-blood
portraits of modern life
• Boccaccio then came under the
influence of Petrarch and turned to
the study of the ancient past,
visiting monasteries in search of
ancient manuscripts
The Search for Ancient Manuscripts
• Study of classical literature soon become a mania
in Italy
• By mid-15th Century most of the surviving Latin
texts had been found in monastic libraries
• Books had always been there, but medieval
Scholasticists had not been interested
• Now well-educated nobles and merchants sought
them out
• Greek classics brought to Italy in 1453 from
Constantinople after that city fell to the Turks
The Sinaiticus: An ancient Greek version of the New Testament preserved in a monastery
Revival of Platonism
• With the rediscovery of classical
philosophy, humanists
gravitated towards Platonism
• Cosimo Medici founded the
Platonic Academy where Plato
was studied in the original
Greek, and translated into Latin
• Much like Thomas Aquinas had
done, Neo-Platonists attempted
to synthesize Plato’s philosophy
with Christianity
• The term ‘Platonic Love’
coined by Marsilio Ficino
(1433-1499) to describe an
ideal, pure form of love
Page of original manuscript of Ficino’s
‘Commentary on Plato’, National Library
of Hungary
Pico della Mirandola
• Mirandola had an insatiable
appetite for knowledge learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew
and Aramaic to read
everything he possible could
• Composed the essay ‘Oration
on the Dignity of Man’ – one of
the defining works of
Renaissance humanism
• He wrote: ‘There is nothing to
be seen more wonderful than
man … To him it is granted to
have whatever he chooses, to
be whatever he wills’
The Legacy of
Humanities v
• Humanism downgraded science
(although Aristotelian natural philosophy
remained a powerful alternative for Top – Padnos Hall (Sciences)
Below – Mackinaw Hall (Humanities)
many Renaissance intellectuals)
• This is the origin of the division Grand Valley State University
between science and
humanities that has
continued to plague
human knowledge
ever since
Legacy of Humanism
The Universal Man
Leonardo da Vinci: Uomo Universale
• Educational goal of humanists
(and the goal of liberal
education today) is to cultivate
the mind for individual
happiness and to play an
effective role in society
• Ideal person well-rounded,
versatile, accomplished and
socially assured – the uomo
• Universal Man (‘complete
man’) had to be capable in all
aspects of human behavior,
both intellectual and physical
(including music, dancing
and sports) reviving the
classical ideal of a healthy
mind and healthy body
• Wealthy Renaissance women
took advantage of the new
educational opportunities
humanism afforded women
• Many became highly educated in
Greek and Latin and produced
outstanding literature, but were
discouraged from pursuing a
professional career
• Exception was Sofonisba
Anguissola (1531-1625), great
female Renaissance artist whose
work was highly regarded all
over Europe
• Once she was appointed court
painter to the Spanish court of
King Philip II, male artists all
over Europe became more willing
to accept female students
Sofonisba Anguissola:
Self Portrait 1554
• In time Italian Renaissance values spread to other parts of
Europe, after hundreds of students from Europe enrolled at
Italian universities
• When they returned home they took manuscripts by
humanist writers, and scholars in the north were ready
to welcome this new outlook
• The arrival of block-printing in Europe
(following the work of Gutenberg in
Germany in the 1440s) critical: up to
40,000 works of classical literature
published between 1465 and 1500
• Availability of printed texts profoundly
influenced the evolution of intellectual
life in Europe
Model of Guttenberg’s original printing press
Erasmus and
Northern Humanism
Dutch humanist Desiderius
Erasmus (1466-1536) dominated
intellectual life in N. Europe in the
first half of the 16th Century
A cosmopolitan thinker, traveled all
over Europe and corresponded with
leading intellectuals of the day
In The Praise of Folly (1511)
Erasmus used satire to highlight
both the achievements and faults
of his age
Erasmus balanced in his criticism,
intolerant only of bigotry,
ignorance, greed and violence,
particularly amongst the clergy
Where Italian humanists often wrote
in praise of the elites in their citystates, Erasmus spoke out against a
broad range of political evils
Portrait of Erasmus (1517): Massays
Sir Thomas More and Utopia
• First major English humanist was
Thomas More (1478-1535) best
known for his novel Utopia (‘Land of
• Criticized his own age by comparing
it to an ideal world and way of life a
fictitious sailor stumbles upon
• Contrasts the poverty and misery of
ordinary people in his pre-capitalist age
with a Utopian planned, cooperative
• Executed by King Henry VIII for
treason, because he preferred a state
headed by the pope rather than a
Original facsimile
secular king
edition of Utopia
Rabelais’ Gargantua and
Pantagruel (left) and Gargantua (below) eating!
Sketches by Honore Daumier
• Best known French humanist
was Francois Rabelais (1483-1553);
his coarse and hilarious novel is
Gargantua and Pantagruel
• Based on French folk tales, it
recounts the exploits of the giants
Gargantua and his son Pantagruel
• Rabelais satirized his own society
(particularly its hypocrisy) while
promoting humanist views on
education and basic human
Montaigne (1553-1592)
Chateau de
• Last notable northern humanist was the French skeptic Michel
de Montaigne
• Montaigne retired from the practice of law aged 38 and developed a
new literary form called the essay
• He wrote 94 essays containing his personal views on a wide
range of subjects – leisure, friendship, education, philosophy,
religion, death – advocating open-mindedness and tolerance
Cervantes and Don Quixote (1547-1616)
• Transition from feudalism to Renaissance brilliantly realized by
the Spanish satirist Miguel de Cervantes in his masterpiece Don
Quixote de la Mancha
• By Cervantes time knighthood was an anachronism, although chivalry
retained an appeal
• By creating a tragic but appealing character who clung to this
outmoded way of life, Cervantes exposed the
inadequacies of chivalric idealism in a world that
had acquired more practical aims
• Quixote roams the Spanish countryside attempting
to right wrongs, accompanied by his modern and
realistic squire Sancho Panza
• On the surface Quixote a ridiculous old man
longing nostalgically for a lost way of life
• On a deeper level he embodies a set of ideals each
of us would like to live by, but that we must
compromise in the real world
The English Renaissance –
William Shakespeare
• English Renaissance climaxed
during the brilliant reign of
Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603)
which produced a number of
gifted writers and composers
• Court served as a center for
intellectual life; English writers
produced works that were
emotional, romantic,
extravagant and profound
• Supreme figure in western
literature is a product of this
Elizabethan Renaissance –
William Shakespeare (15641616)
Wax figure of Elizabeth I, Madame Tussauds
Shakespeare the Poet
Sonnet XXIX
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate,
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Shakespeare was one of the
finest poets in the English
language, renowned
particularly for his Sonnets
The Plays of Shakespeare
The Globe Theater, London
Midsummer Night’s Dream
• Shakespeare most famous for his 37 plays – comedies,
tragedies, histories and romances
• Mainly borrowed plots from earlier works, and then
created superbly realized characters, translating his
profound knowledge of human psychology into
dramatic speech and action
• Particularly in his tragedies, Shakespeare expressed the
Renaissance concern for human beings and their emotions
Twelfth Night
The Tragedies
• Othello analyzes jealousy; Macbeth ambition; King Lear
family relationships; Hamlet man’s struggle with his very soul
• Shakespeare was able to make every aspect of human thought and
action a universal truth; his observations as accurate today as they
were four hundred years ago
• Next to the Bible, Shakespeare is the most quoted of all literary sources
in the English language
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour
upon the stage
And then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
• In the Middle Ages in Europe people thought of
themselves as members of a community first –
manor, a guild, a monastic order, the Church
• A new sense of secular individualism emerged
that manifested itself in art, literature and
learning during an era we call the Renaissance
• This first became apparent in the city states of
northern Italy – an intellectual movement known as
humanism – before spreading to various other parts
of Europe
• The next lecture considers the extraordinary
achievements of Renaissance artists
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