Century global skills

Europe’s Notable Renaissance Figures

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Europe’s Notable Renaissance Figures
Introduce the historical figures who emerged from other European countries during this era.
Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543). Born and raised in Poland, he went to Italy to study medicine and church law when he fell in love with astronomy. He made the discovery that the universe did not rotate around the earth, but that the earth and other planets traveled around the sun. Night and day were caused by the Earth rotating on its axis. Although Copernicus was a religious person and dedicated his book to the Pope, the Catholic Church condemned his book as heresy, because it contradicted the church’s belief that the Earth was the center of the universe.

Have students model the Heliocentric Universe which Copernicus proposed. Why would the church be opposed to this model? Isn’t a progress when a new discovery is made?


Introduce the book of human anatomy written by Vesalius and found at the above address.

BELGIUM- Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). A Belgian Scientist and doctor. Vesalius challenged the long-held theories of the Ancient Greek anatomist Galen. By doing careful dissections and drawings, he managed to revolutionize how people understood the workings of the human body. His book was the first step on the road to modern medicine, because it relied on careful observation, not superstition or tradition.

Have students sketch the human body indicating as many different bones that they can.

Elizabeth I (1533-1603) ruled 1558-1603. Daughter of Henry VIII by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was literally the daughter of English Protestantism, as her mother and father’s marriage was the cause for England’s split from the Roman Catholic Church. Like Isabella, Elisabeth was intelligent and strong. She supported educations for all and was a patron of the arts. Her defeat of the Spanish Armada is said to be the greatest in the navel history of the country.

Show students the movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age which gives a good account of the changes which were introduced by this monarch.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616). An English playwright and poet, perhaps the most famous playwright in the world today. Shakespeare’s plays, and to a lesser extent, his sonnets, expressed a strong humanism in their emphasis on emotion and human behavior, and his plays do not deal explicitly with religious themes, but with secular ones.
Introduce students to Shakespeare’s book of sonnets by reading one to the class. Ask for volunteers to read one. Discussion: How is the language different from the English that we use?

Isabella I. (1451-1504), ruled 1474-1504. A strong, intelligent queen of Spain who is credited unifying Spain under a single religion (Catholicism), and supporting the arts and education. She also weakened the feudal organization of society by reducing the power of lords and local leaders in order to enhance her own.

Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616). Spanish writer, author of Don Quixote, the most famous satire of the Renaissance, and one of the most famous in Western literature.  This wonderful story has been immortalized in the play and film titled “The Man of La Mancha” which you can view free at:

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). German Artist. Durer was a painter, draftsman, print maker, and art theorist. He painted portraits, nature scenes, and most famously, woodcuts. Durer is significant for bringing the ideas of the great Italian masters to Northern Europe, and for bringing the art of woodcuts to a new level. Woodcuts were important for illustrating books, which, thanks to Gutenberg, were emerging as a major new form of popular expression.

His complete works can be viewed for discussion at:


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