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The Renaissance was a period of time from the 14th to the 17th century in Europe. This era bridged the time between the Middle Ages and modern times. The word "Renaissance" means "rebirth".

Coming out of the Dark

The Middle Ages began with the fall of the Roman Empire. Much of the advances in science, art, and government that had been made by the Greeks and Romans were lost during this time. Part of the Middle Ages is actually called the Dark Ages because so much of what was learned earlier was lost.

The Renaissance was a time of "coming out of the dark". It was a rebirth of education, science, art, literature, music, and a better life for people in general.

A Cultural Movement

A big part of the Renaissance was a cultural movement called humanism. Humanism was a philosophy that all people should strive to be educated and learned in the classical arts, literature, and science. It looked for realism and human emotion in art. It also said that it was okay for people to pursue comfort, riches, and beauty. ona lisa

The Mona Lisa - perhaps the world's most famous painting - was painted during the Renaissance

It began in Italy

The Renaissance started in Florence, Italy and spread to other city-states in Italy. Part of the reason it began in Italy was because of the history of Rome and the Roman Empire. Another reason it began in Italy was because Italy had become very wealthy and the wealthy were willing to spend their money supporting artists and geniuses.

City-states played a big role in the rule of Italy at the time. They were often ruled by a powerful family. Some important city-states included Florence, Milan, Venice, and Ferrara.

The Renaissance Man

The term Renaissance Man refers to a person that is an expert and talented in many areas. The true geniuses of the Renaissance were great examples of this. Leonardo da Vinci was a master painter, sculptor, scientist, inventor, architect, engineer, and writer. Michelangelo was also a superb painter, sculptor, and architect.

Fun Facts about the Renaissance

  • One of the most popular Greek philosophers was Plato. Many men studied Plato's writings at the Academy in Florence.

  • Venice was famous for its glass work, while Milan was famous for its iron smiths.

  • Francis I, King of France, was patron of the arts and helped Renaissance art spread from Italy to France.

  • Artists were initially thought of as craftsmen. They worked in workshops and belonged to a guild.

  • Two of the biggest changes to art from the Middle Ages were the concepts of proportion and perspective.

  • Michelangelo and Leonardo became rivals when Michelangelo mocked da Vinci for not finishing a statue of a horse.

  • Hunting was a popular form of entertainment for the wealthy.

  • Artists and architects would often compete for a job, or commission, to create a piece of art.

Document 1 continued.



  1. The Renaissance occurred from the early 14th century to the late 16th century.

    2.  The invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1450 is a milestone which marks the 

    beginning of the Renaissance. Ideas were able to be spread quicker and farther because 
    of the printing press. It allowed communication to occur through all of Europe.

    3.  The Renaissance was a time of great beauty and art.  Artists like Leonardo da Vinci and 

    Michelangelo created greats works of art during this time.  Writers like William Shakespeare 
    were producing their own masterpieces.

    4.  It was also a time of creativity, imagination and curiosity.  The Renaissance was the age

    of exploration.  The voyages of many great explorers like Columbus, Vespucci, Ponce de Leon,
    Polo, De Soto and Balboa occurred  during the Renaissance.

    5. The word 'renaissance' is a French word which means 'rebirth'. The people credited with

    beginning the Renaissance were trying to recreate the classical models of Ancient Greek and Rome.

    6.  The Renaissance was a time when Venice was the world's busiest seaport and Florence was the heart of great art.

    7.  At the beginning of the Renaissance, Italy was the center of world culture. Genoa, Milan, Venice,
    Rome, Verona and Florence were economic, trade and financial leaders for Europe.

    8.  There were changes in thinking during Renaissance. New ideas in art, science, astronomy,

    religion, literature, mathematics, philosophy, and politics were developed and advanced.

    9.  The influence of the Renaissance impacted and shaped the future.  The changes that happened

    led to a modern era.

    10.  One of the institutions that began to decline was the Catholic Church.  

    Religion was still important, however.  New religions and ways of thinking were being discussed. 
    Martin Luther had broken away from the Catholic Church and was spreadinng the Protestant religion throughout

Read this document- #2 if you wish to know more

The Italian Renaissance (Overview)

eonardo da vinci\'s vitruvian man drawing

"Vitruvian Man," or The Proportions of the Human Figure, one of many scientific illustrations by Renaissance icon Leonardo da Vinci. [Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy]

One of the most storied chapters in European history, the Italian Renaissance initiated tremendous changes in art, literature, science, society, and culture. Beginning in the late 13th century and continuing through the 16th century, the Italians were the first Europeans to embrace the changes now known as the Renaissance, or "rebirth" of culture and thought on the Continent. With its emphasis on classical knowledge, humanism, and science, the Italian Renaissance brought about a series of political, cultural, and social innovations that impacted far beyond the Italian peninsula for many centuries.

Rediscovery of Classical Learning and the Rise of Humanism

ante alighieri

Although the word "Renaissance" (Rinascimento in Italian) was not used to describe the era until the 19th century, the term is appropriate, as the Italian Renaissance was hallmarked by a vibrant revival in classical philosophy, as well as new interpretations of art, literature, and science that borrowed from the ancient past as well as Islamic societies in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East. Central to the Renaissance was the concept of humanism, a late-medieval movement that rejected the rigidity of the Scholasticism found in the Church's educational traditions. Humanists studied the disciplines known today as the humanities, including rhetoric, history, philosophy, grammar, literature, and poetry. They did this with an eye to becoming engaged and morally upright civic citizens, and they developed a concept of becoming well-rounded in their knowledge base, with the idea of sharing that knowledge with the world.

Humanism developed as a strong influence in the Italian city-states that launched the Renaissance, such as Florence, Siena, and Venice. This was a world of wealth, where merchants and notables benefited from trade with the Islamic and Byzantine empires, rich agricultural harvests, and a thriving textile industry. Moreover, it was in these central and northern Italian city-states that vast quantities of ancient knowledge had been "rediscovered" via works of Arab intellectuals to their south in the centuries leading up to the Renaissance. The roots of the Renaissance were sown in this fertile period. Even the events of the so-called Fourteenth Century Collapse (including the Black Plague and the Little Ice Age) could not stop the Renaissance. Indeed, it was in confronting death and destruction that many of the finest minds of the Italian Renaissance (including Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio as well as Renaissance forerunner Dante Alighieri) brought forth their masterpieces.

iovanni boccaccio

The influences on these thinkers and other Italian Renaissance icons lay in classical writings. Although European scholars had been reading classical works, many of which were "rediscovered" from encounters with scholars and traders in the Islamic empires during the High Middle Ages, the focus on interest changed in the 13th century. Previously, most scholars in Europe had been interested in mathematics, natural science, and philosophy from the Greeks, largely transmitted from the Arabs. However, in the early Renaissance period, the emergence of humanism widened scholarly interest to literature, history, and the works of great classical orators, particularly from the ancient Greek traditions. This was a watershed moment for European scholarship, as most ancient Greek texts of these genres had been lost to them for centuries. This rediscovery introduced new ideas and paradigms, and in particular, the concepts of well-rounded, optimistic, civic-minded members of society made a deep impression upon those who would come to be known as Italian Renaissance scholars and artists.

Literature, Art, and Science

One of the most important contributions of the early Italian Renaissance was the development of new forms of literature. Led by Petrarch, whose Canzoniere was a collection of 366 sonnets written in vernacular Italian, Italian literary greats began to produce works in the language of daily life rather than writing exclusively in the traditional scholarly language of Latin. Other writers, such as Boccaccio (author of the Decameron), and Dante (author of the Divine Comedy) followed suit, creating masterpieces in the Italian language that continue to enchant readers to the present day. Writing in the vernacular dramatically enhanced the audience of their works. Previous Italian authors had written primarily in Latin, which greatly limited the reading audience. However, by opening up their audience to those who read the vernacular, these writers were able to appeal to the growing class of educated merchants, many of whom became patrons to their favorite writers and artists.


Indeed, developing relationships of patronage between the merchant classes and artists in the Italian city-states was central to the development of the Italian Renaissance. Perhaps this is best illustrated in the visual arts, where prominent merchant and ruling families, such as the Medicis of Florence, became great patrons of painters, sculptors, and architects who employed new concepts about perspective in their works. Early Renaissance painters such as Masaccio became famous for the impressions of three-dimensional perspective in their art, while later painters and sculptors such as Michelangelo astonished viewers with works that engaged naturalistic portraits with extraordinary feelings of realism.

It was not merely art that changed in the context of the Italian Renaissance, however; scientific writings were particularly important as well. Challenging the dominant perspectives of the Church as well as the other scientists of his day, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei is the best-known of the Italian Renaissance's astronomers. His assertion of a heliocentric universe, while disputed in his own era, is embraced as irrefutable fact in the modern period. Other Italian Renaissance scientists in Italy became particularly enamored with human biology and anatomy. By implementing elements of the Aristotelian and Arab traditions of the scientific method, they emphasized observation as a key part of the process of understanding how the human body functioned. Perhaps the most famous example of this is represented by the person who most epitomizes the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and his "Vitruvian Man" drawing (ca. 1487). This drawing represents the ideal proportions of the human male body, both in terms of classical aesthetics and Leonardo's contemporary Renaissance take on them.

Renaissance Man: Leonardo da Vinci

Indeed, Leonardo da Vinci has become the most prominent example of the so-called "Renaissance Man," a person who exemplified the many traits of the Italian Renaissance. A polymath with many skills, producing works as a painter, scientist, architect, sculptor, musician, mathematician, writer, inventor, botanist, engineer, and geologist just to name some of his accomplishments, Leonardo created some of the most iconic artistic images of the Renaissance, including the Last Supper (1495–1498) and the Mona Lisa (ca. 1503–1519). Moreover, his drawings include prototype inventions that astonish modern scholars, including early versions of the helicopter, the solar panel, and various mechanisms of war, including a tank-like creation for the battlefield. His works are numerous, and in particular, his notes on human anatomy, perspective, and hydraulics are remarkably contemporary in their accuracy and functionality.

Renaissance Women

ortrait of isabella d\'este (da vinci)

Leonardo represents the ideal "Renaissance Man," but not all participants of the Italian Renaissance were male. Prominent women from the important families of the Italian city-states deeply entrenched in this new era of knowledge were highly educated alongside the men of their families, reading Greek and Latin classics and becoming well-versed in multiple languages. Many of these women became patrons of great artists and thinkers. For example, Elisabetta Gonzaga, the wife of Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino, filled her court with a variety of artists, writers, and philosophers. Another prominent woman, Isabella d'Este, wife of Francesco Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua, was an acclaimed performer of her own songs and poetry, as well as a great collector and patron of the visual arts.

The Spread of Renaissance Ideas

While the European Renaissance began in Italy, it spread north during the 15th century. By the end of that century, the European arrival in the New World, coupled with Vasco da Gama's circumnavigation of Africa, initiated an era of new financial and political powerhouses states (Spain, Portugal, England, and Holland) and the importance of the Italian city-states as trading interlocutors with the East began to fade. However, by this time, the art, literature, and science of the Italian Renaissance was influencing thinkers and artists throughout the Continent, enshrining the significance of the Rinascimento in Western history to the present day.

 MLA Citation

Stockdale, Nancy. "The Italian Renaissance (Overview)." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2014. Web. 15 May 2014.

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