Global History I mr. Mintzes The Renaissance as a Turning Point Introduction: why Italy?



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Literature and learning

throughout the Middle Ages were centered on the Church.  Consequently, most books were of a religious nature.  There were Greek and Roman texts stashed away in the monasteries, but few people paid much attention to them.  All that changed during the Renaissance.  For one thing, increased wealth and the invention of the printing press created a broader public that could afford an education and printed books.  Most of these newly educated people were from the noble and middle classes.  Therefore, they wanted a more practical and secular education and books to prepare them for the real world of business and politics.


In response to this, new schools were set up to give the sons of nobles and wealthy merchants an education with a broader and more secular curriculum than the Church provided: philosophy, literature, mathematics, history, and politics.  Naturally much of the basis for this new curriculum was Greek and Roman culture.  Classical authors such as Demosthenes and Cicero were used to teach students how to think, write, and speak clearly.  Greek and Roman history were used to teach object lessons in politics.  This curriculum provided the skills and knowledge seen as essential for an educated man back then, and served as the basis for school curriculums well into the twentieth century.  Only in recent decades has a more technical education largely replaced the curriculum established for us in the Renaissance.
Along the same lines, a more secular literature largely replaced the predominantly religious literature of the Middle Ages.  History, as a study of the past (Greek and Roman past in particular) in order to learn lessons for the future, was emerging.  So was another emerging new discipline deeply rooted in history: political science.  The father of this discipline was Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527).  His treatise on governing techniques, The Prince, urges the prince to carry on with whatever ruthless means were at his disposal.  This serves as a stark contrast to St. Augustine's concept of the "just war."
Another book of a secular nature was Castiglione's The Courtier, which spelled out the ideal education and qualities of a nobleman attending a prince's court.  Unlike the usually illiterate and rough mannered medieval noble, Castiglione's courtier should be versed in manners (such as not cleaning one's teeth in public with one's finger).  This ideal of the well-rounded "Renaissance Man" hearkens back to the Greek ideal of a well-rounded man and has continued to this day.
Art

is the one field most people associate with the Renaissance since it saw the most radical innovations and breaks with the Middle Ages.  Medieval art was religious in tone and for the glory of God.  As a result, artists neglected mundane details, thus making the art flat and lifeless.  Faces and bodies were cartoon like, having no individual features or anything approaching anatomical detail.  Other details such as background, perspective, proportion, and individuality were all virtually unknown.

Renaissance art contrasted sharply with medieval art in all these respects.  More paintings were on secular themes, especially portraits.  And even the religious paintings paid a great deal of attention to glorifying the human form and accomplishments.  Starting with Giotto in the early 1300's, Renaissance artists increasingly perfected and used such things as background, perspective, proportion, and individuality.  In fact, Leonardo's detail was so good that botanists today can identify the kinds of plants he put into his paintings.
Although painting was especially prominent during the Renaissance, other art forms also flourished. For example, architecture broke somewhat with the medieval Gothic style during the Renaissance.  However, it was less innovative and relied more heavily on classical forms, in particular columns, arches, and domes as well as building on a massive scale.  Possibly the supreme example of this is the dome of St. Peter's in Rome which was designed by Michelangelo and towers 435 feet from the floor.  Music in the Renaissance saw developments that would later blossom into classical music.  Instruments were improved and the whole family of violins was developed.  Counterpoint (the blending of two melodies) and polyphony (interweaving several melodic lines) also emerged during this period.
Science

saw little advancement, but it was also important for future developments.  In particular, classical authorities were discovered who contradicted Aristotle, whose works were accepted by the Church almost as gospel.  Finding conflicting authorities forced Renaissance humanists to ask questions that would lead to developing new theories, which in turn would lead to the birth of modern science in the 1600's and 1700's.





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