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chapel in Rome. Michelangelo labored for almost four years on a high platform to complete this work. He covered the curved ceiling with brilliantly colored scenes from the Bible. The scenes contain over 300 figures and continue to awe visitors to Rome today.

In this famous scene from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, God is reaching out to touch the finger of Adam, the first man in the Bible story of creation. Adam seems to be coming to life under God’s touch.


chapel a room, sometimes inside a larger church, set aside for prayer and worship
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30.4 Titian, Italian Painter

Titian (about 1488–1576) was born in a village in the Italian Alps. The exact date of his birth is uncertain. Early in life, Titian’s talent took him to the wealthy society of Venice. He became the city’s greatest Renaissance painter.

Personality and Training As a boy, Titian was sent to Venice to train with famous painters. As a young man he worked with an artist named Giorgione, a master of fresco painting. (A fresco is painted on the wet plaster of a wall or ceiling.) Titian also studied examples of art from Rome and Florence. In time, he outgrew the influence of his teachers and created his own style.

Titian was a persuasive man. According to legend, long after he was rich and famous, he persuaded patrons to support his art by claiming to be poor. But he was also said to be quite generous with his friends.

Talents and Achievements Titian’s early work was precise and detailed. Later he developed a freer style. He used blobs of paint to create vivid forms, colors, and textures. He was known for his inspired use of color and for loose, lively brushwork that made his pictures appear to be alive. His work also shows a flair for expressing human personality.

Titian painted many classical myths and Bible stories. As a court painter, he created portraits of the rich and powerful. In 1516, he was named the official painter of Venice. Later, Holy Roman emperor Charles V made him court painter of Italy. Titian made many portraits of Charles V and other royalty.

Charles greatly admired Titian’s work. There is a story that the emperor once picked up a paintbrush that had fallen to the floor. Titian protested, “I am not worthy of such a servant.” The emperor replied, “Titian is worthy to be served by Caesar,” referring to the emperor of ancient Rome. Charles even made Titian a knight—a first-time honor for a painter.

Titian is often described as a “painter’s painter” because of his influence on other artists’ use of color and brush strokes. Centuries later, many painters still try to copy his techniques.

This is one of many portraits of Emperor Charles V that Titian painted during his years as court painter of Italy.


30.5 Albrecht Dürer, German Artist

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) was born in the German city of Nuremberg. He earned fame for his paintings, drawings, prints, and writings on art.

Personality and Training As a boy, Dürer received a varied education. The son of a goldsmith, he learned his father’s trade. At 15, he began training with a well-known painter and printmaker. (A printmaker uses printing to make copies of works of art.) He also studied math, Latin, and classical literature.

As a young man, Dürer traveled through Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. He became friends with many humanist artists, writers, and thinkers. He studied classical sculpture for years to learn ideal human proportions. He wanted to be able to show the parts of the human body correctly sized in relation to each other.

Dürer’s self-portraits show him to be a fashionable, confident man. He had an intellectual approach to life and art. He asked himself, “What is beauty?” His art was an attempt to answer that question.

Talents and Achievements In his painting, Dürer blended the detailed style of Germany with the perspective and idealized beauty that he learned from Italian painting. He encouraged artists to study measurement and geometry as the keys to understanding Renaissance and classical art.

Dürer was especially skilled at making engravings and woodcuts. These are prints made from an original that is specially prepared for printing. The original may be etched, or engraved, in metal, or it may be cut into a block of wood. Then it is inked to make copies. In Renaissance times, printers used engravings and woodcuts to illustrate books.

Much of Dürer’s art shows religious figures. He also painted subjects from myths and did a series of self-portraits. Like other artists of his time, he did many portraits of royalty and wealthy patrons. He worked for years as a court artist for Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I.

Dürer’s work is widely admired, particularly his beautiful engravings and woodcuts. These works set a new standard in printing because of their clarity, expressiveness, and fine detail. Dürer also wrote influential books about human proportions in art. Many modern artists still read these writings.

Dürer’s woodcut The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse illustrates a vision of the end of the world that is described in the Christian Bible.

Albrecht Dürer

proportion the relative sizes of things, such as the length of an arm compared to the overall size of the human body

engraving a print of an image that has been engraved, or etched, in a hard surface, such as metal

woodcut a print of an image that has been carved in wood
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30.6 Nicolaus Copernicus, Polish Scientist

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) was born in Torun, Poland. He is often called the father of modern astronomy.

Personality and Training When Copernicus was 10 years old, his father died. His uncle, a Catholic bishop, became his guardian. He made sure that Copernicus received a good education.

As a young man, Copernicus attended Poland’s University of Krakow. Then he went to Italy to study medicine and church law. In Italy he rented rooms at an astronomy teacher’s house. Soon he became fascinated by astronomy.

Copernicus’s scientific work would show that he was highly creative. He was also a free thinker, unafraid to question accepted beliefs.

Talents and Achievements Copernicus was skilled in mathematics and observation. He based his thinking on what he truly saw, rather than on what he thought he should see.

Like others of his day, Copernicus had been taught that Earth was at the center of the universe. According to this idea, the sun, stars, and planets traveled around Earth.

As Copernicus studied the motion of the planets, he became dissatisfied with this explanation. He proposed a revolutionary idea. People, he said, had it backward. In reality, Earth and the other planets revolve (travel) around the sun. Earth rotates, or turns, on its axis. This turning is what makes the sun and other objects in the heavens seem to move across the sky.

In 1514, Copernicus printed a booklet that outlined his theory. Then he began years of work on a full-length book. He called it On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. (Celestial means “heavenly.”) According to legend, he saw his book in print just a few hours before his death in 1543.

Copernicus dedicated his book to the pope. However, the idea of Earth traveling around the sun went against the church’s belief that God had placed humans at the center of the universe. In 1616, the church forbade people to read Copernicus’s book.

Despite the church’s disapproval, Copernicus’s theory had a major influence on a few key scientists. Eventually it was proved to be correct. Today the Copernican theory is part of the basis of modern astronomy.

Since ancient times, most people believed that Earth was at the center of the universe. This engraving illustrates Copernicus’s theory that Earth and the other planets travel around the sun.

Nicolaus Copernicus

axis an imaginary line drawn through a sphere, or ball, such as Earth
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30.7 Andreas Vesalius, Belgian Scientist

Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) was born in Brussels, in what is now Belgium. He became an outstanding scientist. His work changed medicine and the study of anatomy.

Personality and Training Vesalius came from a family of doctors and pharmacists. (Pharmacists are people who prepare medicines.) He was always interested in living things, and especially in anatomy. As a young boy, he studied stray dogs and cats.

Vesalius attended universities in Belgium, France, and Italy. In 1537, he earned his medical degree, specializing in anatomy. Later he became a personal doctor for Italian and Spanish royalty.

Vesalius was hardworking, curious, and confident. He was also said to be gloomy and distant at times.

Talents and Achievements Vesalius was a talented observer and an independent thinker. He also had the artistic skill to draw his observations.

In Vesalius’s day, physicians’ understanding of human anatomy was based on the works of the ancient Greek physician Galen. Vesalius studied Galen, but he soon broke with this tradition. Like Copernicus, he was determined to observe things for himself.

Vesalius began dissecting, or cutting open, dead human bodies. His research showed that Galen’s work had relied on studies of animals. As a result, it had many errors when applied to humans.

Vesalius made many discoveries about the human body. For example, he showed that that the human heart has four hollow areas, called chambers. His discoveries led him to write his own seven-volume textbook of anatomy.

Vesalius called his book On the Structure of the Human Body. It explained the construction of the body and how the body functions. The book contained prints by artists that were based on Vesalius’s drawings of the body.

Vesalius’s book was a major breakthrough. It changed what people knew about human anatomy and how they studied it. It also changed physicians’ understanding of medicine. Today his book is seen as the world’s first modern medical textbook.

Vesalius dissected dead bodies to study human anatomy. He insisted on performing dissections himself rather than relying on untrained assistants.

Andreas Vesalius

dissect to cut and separate the parts of a living thing for scientific study
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30.8 Isabella I, Queen of Spain

Queen Isabella I (1451–1504) was born in the Spanish kingdom of Castile. She is best remembered for helping to unify Spain and for sponsoring the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

Personality and Training Isabella was the daughter of the king of Castile. She was highly intelligent, strong-willed, and a devoted Catholic. Girls at that time received little education, so Isabella’s schooling was limited. In adulthood she educated herself by learning Latin. As queen, she supported scholarship and art, collected fine paintings, and built schools.

When her father died, Isabella’s half-brother, Henry, became king. At 13, Isabella was brought to Henry’s court. There she learned about court affairs.

Talents and Achievements Isabella was a forceful woman who could hold her own in court politics. Against Henry’s wishes, in 1469 she married Ferdinand of Aragon, prince of the other major kingdom in Spain at that time. When Henry died five years later, Isabella became queen of Castile. In 1479, Ferdinand inherited the throne of Aragon. The two monarchs now ruled jointly over a united Spain.

Isabella and Ferdinand actively encouraged exploration. Isabella gave her support to Christopher Columbus, an Italian who proposed to find a new sea route to Asia. In 1492, Columbus sailed across the Atlantic and stumbled upon the Americas. His discovery of this “New World” would lead to a Spanish empire and create great wealth for Spain. You will learn more about his voyages and their impact in Unit 8.

Isabella and Ferdinand also sought to further unify Spain as a Catholic country. Jews who refused to convert to Catholicism were forced to leave the country. This harsh action cost Spain many of its most talented and productive citizens. For the Spanish Jews, it was a tragedy.

Queen Isabella I helped sponsor Christopher Columbus’s attempt to find a route across the Atlantic Ocean to Asia. Instead of Asia, Columbus found the Americas. In this painting, Isabella wishes Columbus a safe and successful voyage.

Queen Isabella I

New World the name given by Europeans to the Americas, which were unknown in Europe before the voyages of Christopher Columbus
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30.9 Elizabeth I, Queen of England

Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) was one of England’s most popular and successful monarchs. Born in London, she was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Personality and Training When Elizabeth was two years old, King Henry lost interest in her mother, Queen Anne. Claiming that Anne had been unfaithful to him, he had her beheaded.

Elizabeth was raised in a separate household, away from the royal court. An English scholar became her teacher and educated her as a possible future monarch. Elizabeth was a gifted student. She became highly educated and learned to speak Greek, Latin, French, and Italian.

Elizabeth was strong-minded ruler, but she was not stubborn. As queen she was willing to listen to good advice, and she was always devoted to England.

Talents and Achievements Elizabeth became queen at age 25 and reigned for 45 years, until her death. She never married, because she feared that a husband would take her power. She said she was married to the people of England.

Elizabeth was a conscientious and able ruler. She was strong and independent, but she was also flexible. She was willing to change unpopular policies. She showed political skill in balancing the interests of different people in her court. She inspired great love and loyalty from her subjects, who called her “Good Queen Bess.”

Elizabeth’s long reign is often called England’s Golden Age. Culture thrived under her. She supported theater, fashion, literature, dance, and education. Poets and playwrights composed some of the greatest works in the English language.

Elizabeth worked to strengthen England’s economy, and she encouraged trade and commerce. She authorized English trading companies in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Her funding of sea exploration helped England gain a foothold in North America. In 1588, the English navy defeated the Spanish Armada, a mighty fleet that tried to attack England. This victory sparked a national celebration and further strengthened England’s sea power. By the time Elizabeth died, England was one of the strongest and richest countries in the world.

Queen Elizabeth I welcomed artists, writers, dancers, musicians, and other cultural figures to her court. One frequent visitor was poet and playwright William Shakespeare.

Queen Elizabeth I

subject a person under the rule of a monarch

playwright an author of plays

armada a large fleet of ships
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30.10 Shakespeare, English Poet and Playwright

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was born in the English town of Stratford-on-Avon. He was a major figure in the English Renaissance. He is often called the world’s greatest playwright and one of its finest poets.

Personality and Training Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker. As a boy, William studied Latin and classical literature in grammar school. He never went to a university. His plays, however, show a broad knowledge of many subjects, from history and politics to music and art.

In his early 20s, Shakespeare became an actor with a theater company in London. He learned about drama by performing and writing plays for the company. Many of his plays were first presented at the Globe Theatre.

Shakespeare had a reputation for being quiet and a bit mysterious. His writings show that he was curious and keenly observant. He thought deeply about life and its sufferings. Yet he also had a sense of humor and found much to laugh at in life.

Talents and Achievements Shakespeare was a skilled actor, but he was an even greater poet and playwright. He had an enormous talent for expressing thoughts and feelings in memorable ways. His plays show that he had a deep understanding of human behavior and emotions. Above all, he had the skill to present his understanding through vivid characters and exciting drama.

Shakespeare’s poetry is widely admired, especially the 14-line poems called sonnets. Many of his sonnets are beautiful love poems. He is best known, however, for his plays. He wrote both comedies and tragedies. Many of his 38 plays are still performed today around the world. Among the most popular are Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and The Merchant of Venice.

Shakespeare’s plays cover a broad range of subjects. He wrote about history, romance, politics, prejudice, murder, suicide, and war. His plays remain popular in part because he wrote about timeless themes such as love, jealousy, power, ambition, hatred, and fear.

Shakespeare has had a deep influence on writers. He also left a lasting mark on the English language. Many common sayings come from Shakespeare, such as “Love is blind” and “All’s well that ends well.” People often quote his witty, wise lines, sometimes without knowing that they owe their graceful words to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare wrote about life with both humor and drama. This tragic scene is from his play Romeo and Juliet.

William Shakespeare

comedy an amusing play with a happy ending

tragedy a serious play with a sad ending
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30.11 Miguel Cervantes, Spanish Writer

Miguel Cervantes (1547–1616) was born near Madrid, Spain. He is best known for his comic novel Don Quixote.

Personality and Training Little is known of Cervantes’ education. He may have studied with priests influenced by humanism. It is certain that he loved to read.

Much of Cervantes’ education came through hard experience. At 23, he became a soldier. In a battle at sea, he was shot twice in the chest. He also injured his left hand so badly that the hand became useless. Several years later, he was taken prisoner at sea by pirates. He spent five years as a slave in North Africa until his family bought his freedom.

Cervantes’ early life shows that he was adventurous and courageous. His sense of humor could be biting, but he also turned it on himself. He once bragged that the public liked his plays enough not to boo them off the stage or throw vegetables at the actors.

Cervantes’ life also had a shady side. He was imprisoned twice for disputes involving money and was once a suspect in a murder.

Talents and Achievements A gifted writer, Cervantes wrote many plays, poems, and novels. He had a particular talent for

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