The “humanities”

New awareness—new
concept of “self”
Individuals of the Renaissance thought of
their time as one in which mankind
changed fundamentally—men thought the
lives they lived and the ideas they held
made their age strikingly different from the
one(s) before.
During the Renaissance, men began to
develop a spirit of self-interest and a
heightened awareness of self (e.g.
composers/artists began to sign their
Whereas Medieval thought held that to
praise man was to praise God because man
was a creation of God, Renaissance
thinkers praised man himself as a creator
(i.e. man possessed the ability to think/act
for himself and was capable of “creating”
works of art as well as understanding and
controlling natural forces/phenomena).
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Self-Portrait”
Lover of learning/knowledge (life-long learner)
Renaissance Man
Belief that learning was necessary for cultural
improvement became more widespread.
Education was also utilitarian—helped one
become more successful in commerce, law,
politics, etc.
Well versed in Greek and Latin Classics
(Above): Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian
Man”; (Right): Some of da Vinci’s
Johannes Gutenberg (of
Mainz) and the printing
Printing press was one of the most important
technological innovations in the history of
Western civilization.—it amounted to the
difference between re-writing and copying.
The invention process, which culminated
sometime between 1445-1450, was evolutionary.
Gutenberg’s Bible was the first real book
produced using moveable type.
The Press provided an impetus to learning.—
printing facilitated cooperation among scholars
and helped produce standardized and definitive
During the 1460s, presses were set up
throughout the Holy Roman Empire.
By the 1470s, presses spread to Italy, France, the
Low Countries, Spain, and Eastern Europe.
Venice was a well-known printing center.
By 1500, Venice was home to almost 100 printers
who produced close to two million volumes.
There were over 1,000 printers in Europe who
published almost 40,000 titles (8-10 million
copies). Printing was becoming one of the largest
industries in Europe.
With the printing press, more people were
How to read and lay readers were reading more
New ideas (e.g. Reformation) were being
disseminated much more rapidly throughout
Religious materials, Classical works (both Greek and Latin),
medieval grammars, legal handbooks, philosophical
works, and popular romance novels were among the
printed works.
Renaissance revolution in thought characterized by the formulation of a
new educational program—the “humanities”
The humanist movement had a profound effect on education.
Humanist education intended to prepare young men for an active life of
service to the community (civic humanism).
Whereas Medieval scholars asserted that the only way a good life could
be attained was through hermetic/monastic living (i.e. withdrawal from
the earth and its material wealth), Humanists believed an active life in
the world and possession of wealth were not incompatible with virtue
(there was a new emphasis on an active and contemplative life).
Furthermore, while Medieval scholars/practitioners viewed Classical
Latin literature as pagan, Humanists sought to purify the Latin/Greek of
the ancients—such texts were used as the medium for instruction.
The “humanities”
moral philosophy/ethics
“Not everyone is obliged to
excel in philosophy, medicine,
or the law, nor are all equally
favored by nature; but all are
destined to live in society and
to practice virtue.
These courses of study were seen as
the best preparation for a life of
wisdom and virtue (i.e. a practical
Humanist educators thought that
humanist education was a practical
preparation for life—its aim was the
creation not of a great scholar but of a
complete citizen.
Humanities studies were all based
upon the study of ancient Greek and
Roman authors—Humanist educators
followed the Greek precept of a sound
mind in a sound body and they used
Cicero as the model for prose and
Virgil as the model for poetry.
Vittorino da Feltre (1378-1446)
Humanists were effective linguists, especially in Latin, although the rediscovery of Greek literature was equally important as
a whole new world of thought emerged (remember, Latin was the official/formal language of the Roman Catholic Church
during the Middle Ages).
The movement to revive “Classical” literature originated in Northern Italy during the 14th Century.
In humanist education were exemplified at least two of Burkhardt’s concepts: the revival of Antiquity (Classical works) and
the discovery of the individual.
Humanist were able to publish previously unknown Classical works—for the first time, scholars could read accurate editions
of Classical works and correspond with each other.
The ability to speak, read, write in Greek meant Greek works weren’t read through translations (i.e. Greek to Arabic to
Latin)—important given how some of the original material was often lost in translation.
Humanism was not merely concerned with rediscovering or editing Classical works, but rather, the discipline sought to
examine those texts for lessons/instructions on how to live. Renaissance scholars were committed to searching for the truth
and they demonstrated a willingness to challenge long-held beliefs if/when they seemed false. This process was facilitated
by the fact that Renaissance thinkers discovered, as their knowledge of the ancients increased, that ancient
philosophers/theologians, taken for granted as unquestioned/authoritative sources during the Middle Ages, possessed
differences of opinion amongst themselves and often contradicted one another, representing different schools of thought
(e.g. Galen, Aristotle, etc.). The only way around this problem was to find out for oneself by consulting the original source
(and not translations).
Nonetheless, Renaissance thinkers sought to rediscover—not invent; they sought to improve man’s condition, not by
looking forward toward the frontiers of knowledge, but by looking back to its reservoirs (i.e. Antiquity).
By the 15th century, a whole circle of Humanists were emerging in Italy (both monks and laymen).
This method of inquiry provided a strong stimulus for original scientific work and the best minds engaged in this type of
inquiry sometimes found that none of the theories of the ancients had been correct and that completely new ones had to
be devised (e.g. Copernicus).
It was at this point that the efforts of the Humanists became involved with the work of the late Medieval scholastic
philosophers—when these methods were combined, the results could be very original.
Why were the liberal studies (i.e. the
humanities) pursued?
The purpose of a liberal
education (and thus the
purpose of the study of the
liberal arts) was to produce
individuals who followed a path
to virtue and wisdom.
Humanist schools sought to
educate an elite class of
individuals who would then
comprise the ruling classes of
their communities.
Those individuals should
possess the rhetorical skills by
which they could persuade
others to take this path.
Petrus Paulus Vergerius (aka
Pietro Paolo Vergerio, 13701444)
“We call those studies liberal which
are worthy of a free man; those
studies by which we attain and
practice virtue and wisdom; that
education which calls forth, trains,
and develops those highest gifts of
body and mind which ennoble
Humanists eagerly pursued the works of
Plato, as well as Greek poets, dramatists,
historians, and orators, such as
Thucydides, Euripides, and Sophocles.
For instance, Cosimo de Medici
commissioned Marsilio Ficino (14331499)to translate Plato’s “Dialogues”
Ficino dedicated his life to the translation
of Plato and to the exposition of Platonic
philosophy (known as Neoplatonism).
In Florence, Humanists met at Ficino’s villa,
calling themselves an academy, or an
informal discussion group (in the Classical
Ficino’s academy was patronized ($
supported) by the Medici’s and it became
the model of countless academies founded
all over Europe in the following centuries
as centers for different types of learning.
Raphael’s “School of Athens”
Did more than any other individual in the
14th century to foster the development of
Petrarch sought to find forgotten Latin
manuscripts, thus setting in motion a
search of monastic libraries throughout
Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374): “the
Father of Italian Humanism”
Began the humanist emphasis on the use
of “pure classical Latin” (Latin as used by
To the writer/thinker Petrarch, Rome was
still the ideal—but the Roman empire had
been impaired, debilitated, and almost
consumed at the hands of barbarians and
what followed was a “dark age” not even
worth writing about.
Collected and translated classical works
and wrote numerous letters extolling
“Classical” authors , even writing in their
Like many other Humanists during the
14th Century, Petrarch remained devoted
to Christianity.
Petrarch was the forerunner of Christian
Humanism best represented by Desiderius
Christian Humanists combined an intense
devotion to Christianity with a great love
of Classical literature.
Petrarch (and other Christian Humanists)
had glorified intellectual activity/pursuit in
a life of solitude and rejected a life of
action in the community and family (far
different from Civic Humanists).
“Christ is my God; Cicero is the
prince of language.”
“What else then, is all history, if
not the praise of Rome?”
“Rome would rise again if she
but began to know herself….This
sleep of forgetfulness will not
last forever. When the darkness
has been dispersed, our
descendants can come again in
the former pure radiance.
Civic Humanism
In the busy civic world of Florence, intellectuals
began to take a new view of their role; a trend that
intensified when the city’s liberty was threatened
by the Milanese.
Florentine intellectuals responded to this
aggression with a passionate defense of their citystate’s independence (and they cited Cicero).
Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444) was a Civic Humanist,
Florentine Patriot, and Chancellor.
Bruni was devoted to both Classical literature as
well as to a responsibility to his respective citystate.
Not only did Bruni eulogize Petrarch, but his
biography of Cicero, “New Cicero,” praised Cicero’s
ability to fuse political action and literary
Bruni was impressed by Cicero’s political action as
well as his treatises/prose on liberty. Bruni
celebrated Cicero’s ability to take on an active
political life while still having time for reading and
writing (in fact Cicero believed this to be his civic
From Bruni’s time on, Cicero served as the
inspiration for the Renaissance ideal that one must
live an active life for one’s state and everything,
including riches, was considered good if it increased
one’s power of action.
Leonardo Bruni, a pupil of the Byzantine scholar, Chrysolaras ,
who taught in Florence between 1396-1400, was one of the
first Humanists to gain an interest in Greek literature and he
illustrated Humanism’s growing interest /preoccupion with
the Greeks (philosophy, writing, etc.).
Civic Humanism intensified the involvement of Humanists in government and
guaranteed that the rhetorical discipline they praised would be put to the service of the
State—small wonder that the Humanists served the State as chancellors, councillors, and
When the Medici’s strengthened their rule over Florence once again (and the republic
was undermined), the interest in civic humanism wanted (i.e. what’s the use for people
to participate in a city run by a despot or oligarchs)/
Humanists and their works
Francisco Petrarch
In Praise of Antiquity
The Labors of a Humanist
A Debate on Cicero
A Letter to Boccaccio: Literary Humanism
Leonardo Bruni
A Tribute to Petrarch
Study of Greek Literature
A Humanist Education
On Learning and Literature
Picco della Mirandola
Oration on the Dignity of Man
Marsilio Ficino
The Soul of Man
Giorgio Vasari
Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects: Leon Battista Alberti
The Development of Art
Peter Paul Vergerio
On the Liberal Arts
Lorenzo Valla
On the Forgery of the Donation of Constantine
Niccolo Machiavelli
The Prince
Desiderius Erasmus
The Education of a Christian Prince
Praise of Folly
Vernacular Literature
Vernacular: the language spoke in one’s own region (e.g.
Italian, French, or German).
During the Renaissance, some writers began to use the
vernacular to write their works.
Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is the story of the soul’s
journey to salvation, which was a basic concern of people
in the Middle Ages. This lengthy poem is divided into
three major sections (Hell, Purgatory, and
Paradise/Heaven). Dante is led on an imaginary journey
through each of these realms of the afterworld until he
reaches Paradise, where he beholds God, or “the love that
moves the sun and the other stars.”
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is a collection of
stories told by a group of twenty-nine pilgrims journeying
to the tomb of Saint Thomas à Becket at Canterbury,
England. This format provided Chaucer with the
opportunity to portray an entire range of English society
(both high and low born), such as the Knight, the Monk,
the Merchant, the Student, the Lawyer, the Carpenter, the
Cook, the Doctor, and the Plowman, as well as the “Good
Wife”. These pilgrims told an enormous variety of stories,
some uplifting and others anectdotal.
François Rabelais’ Pantagruel and Gargantua were comic
tales detailing the lusty adventures of the giant Pantagruel
and his father Gargantua. Rabelais went far beyond
Dante’s concern with salvation, making clear his own love
of life while exposing what he perceived as the follies of
the society of his day.
The Fictional king with a
gigantic appetite: Gargantua
Dante Alighieri
(attributed to
Studying works of art produced during a specific period in history can teach us a great deal about the
values of the people who created the art.
For example, much of the art of the Middle Ages reflects religious values.
In general, medieval art developed themes of faith and religious spirituality, rather than of human
Medieval paintings had stressed the world beyond everyday life.
They used formal figures to express religious concerns.
Artists had often portrayed the Holy Land.
In contrast, Renaissance art combined such religious themes with the humanistic values of the era.
As humanity became the center of life on earth, artists placed realistic human beings at the center of
their works.
Renaissance artists created realistic scenes and images.
They depicted lifelike human figures in their paintings.
Painters showed the rugged Italian countryside they knew so well.
Renaissance artists investigated movements as well as anatomical structures.
Overall, the 15th century in painting was a period of experimentation and technical mastery.
Renaissance artists and intellectuals were fascinated with Antiquity.
New emphasis on portraiture during the Renaissance. Patrons included within
works/paintings. Portrait statues honoring prominent Florentine citizens. Artworks revealed
wealth and power of their subjects. Marked by the exaltation of individuals.
Religious themes remained important, yet, more focus was given to secular themes.
Large wall spaces of Italian churches and buildings were allowed for frescoes.
High Renaissance artists who were extremely talented were seen as artistic geniuses with
divine-like creative energies. Artists were heroes. As a result, artists gained considerable profit
for their artwork (they became members of the upper class). They socialized with intellectuals
gaining new insights which were reflected in their works.
Patrons played an important role in the art of the Early Renaissance since art guilds depended
on commissions for their projects. Thus, they could determine both the content and purpose
of the paintings.
Renaissance Art
“The painter will produce pictures of
small merit if he takes for his standard
the pictures of others, but if he will
study from natural objects he will
bear good fruit…those who take for
their standard any one but
nature…weary themselves in vain.”
Renaissance artists sought
to imitate nature—they
wanted onlookers to see
the reality of the
object/subject/event they
were portraying.
In addition, humans
(viewed as the “center and
measure of all things”)
increasingly became the
focus of attention.
Early Renaissance artists were viewed as artisans (skilled craftsmen), no matter what their
Artists were perceived as creators like God.
Believed divine inspiration had animated their souls and guided their hands.
By their creator’s hands, dead material miraculously came to life.
Renaissance Italian artists sought to master technical skills that allowed them to portray
humans in realistic settings (required precise observations of people and nature).
Perspective: method of drawing and painting the illusion of depth (three dimensions) onto a flat
(two dimensional) surface. Depth makes objects appear real and true. They appear to extend
deeply into illusional space. Appears to be magic; creation of appearance of form, depth, and
natural play of light. Perspective considered to be the foundation of all good paintings/drawings.
Linear perspective: use of lines.
Atmospheric perspective: use of color (i.e. light and shadows)
Viewing (vantage) point: position from which we view the subject(s) in a painting. Appearance of
objects differ when viewed from various positions. For this reason, the viewing point must be
established and stuck with for the complete picture.
Drawing in perspective: drawing a subject onto a flat surface as it appears to the eye.
Proportion: correct distance and relationship between objects in a painting or drawing (correct size
and shape of objects or subjects). All objects appear to be smaller the farther away they are from
the viewing point. Any portions of the object that are farther away appear smaller than parts that
are nearest to our viewing point. If a number of objects are the same space apart, the space
between them appears to lessen as objects become smaller with distance.
Horizon line: common line upon which all objects appear to be receding. The farther away an object
appears, the closer to the horizon line it will be.
Linear Perspective
Masaccio Tribute Money
Masaccio used the frescoe technique—his works in Florence (beginning of the 15th century) have long been regarded
as the first masterpieces of early Renaissance art. Masaccio himself was regarded as a genius.
Unlike medieval subjects, Masaccio’s figures were not flat—they were three-dimensional (that is, they had depth and
seem to come alive thank to his mastery of the laws of perspective which enabled him to create the illusion of depth).
Beginning with Masaccio, a new, realistic style of painting emerged in terms of the relationship between the figures
and their background.
“The Last Judgment
Statue of Moses
Donato di Donatello Statue of Saint George (1416)
This statue is 6’10”
Donatello intended to portray his subject as
confident, relaxed and ready for battle.
This work radiates a simplicity and strength that
is meant to express the dignity of human
Donatello spent much of his time in Rome,
studying and copying the statues of the Greeks
and Romans.
New St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome
Old St. Peter’s Basilica (aka Basilica of Constantine)
Church of San Lorenzo
Brunelleschi was a friend of Donatello
who went with him to Rome.
Brunelleschi drew much inspiration
from the buildings of classical Rome
and he poured his new insights into
the creation of new architecture when
he returned to Florence.
The Medici family commissioned him
to design the church of San Lorenzo.
Filippo Brunelleschi’s interior
Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio,
Rome, 1502, by Bramante.
This small temple marks the place
where St. Peter was put to death.
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