Though some perceived the Italian Renaissance as a Golden Age, a model for the present, others cast it as a negative example, contrasting the resurgence of the arts with the decadence of society and the loss of an ethical and political conscience. The triumphalist model had its detractors, and the reaction to the Renaissance was more complex than it may at first have appeared.
Through a series of essays by a group of international scholars, volume editors Lina Bolzoni and Alina Payne recover the multidimensionality of the reaction to, transformation of, and commentary on the connections between the Italian Renaissance and nineteenth-century modernity. The essays look from within by Italians and from without by foreigners, expatriates, travelers, and scholars , comparing different visions and interpretations. These included the increasing failure of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire to provide a stable and unifying framework for the organization of spiritual and material life, the rise in importance of city-states and national monarchies, the development of national languages, and the breakup of the old feudal structures.
While the spirit of the Renaissance ultimately took many forms, it was expressed earliest by the intellectual movement called humanism.
Humanism was initiated by secular men of letters rather than by the scholar-clerics who had dominated medieval intellectual life and had developed the Scholastic philosophy. Humanism began and achieved fruition first in Italy.
The fall of Constantinople in provided humanism with a major boost, for many eastern scholars fled to Italy, bringing with them important books and manuscripts and a tradition of Greek scholarship. Humanism had several significant features. First, it took human nature in all of its various manifestations and achievements as its subject.
Renaissance -- Out of the Middle Ages
Second, it stressed the unity and compatibility of the truth found in all philosophical and theological schools and systems, a doctrine known as syncretism. Third, it emphasized the dignity of man. In place of the medieval ideal of a life of penance as the highest and noblest form of human activity, the humanists looked to the struggle of creation and the attempt to exert mastery over nature.
Finally, humanism looked forward to a rebirth of a lost human spirit and wisdom. In the course of striving to recover it, however, the humanists assisted in the consolidation of a new spiritual and intellectual outlook and in the development of a new body of knowledge. The effect of humanism was to help men break free from the mental strictures imposed by religious orthodoxy, to inspire free inquiry and criticism , and to inspire a new confidence in the possibilities of human thought and creations.
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From Italy the new humanist spirit and the Renaissance it engendered spread north to all parts of Europe, aided by the invention of printing, which allowed literacy and the availability of Classical texts to grow explosively. Foremost among northern humanists was Desiderius Erasmus , whose Praise of Folly epitomized the moral essence of humanism in its insistence on heartfelt goodness as opposed to formalistic piety. The intellectual stimulation provided by humanists helped spark the Reformation , from which, however, many humanists, including Erasmus, recoiled.
It was in art that the spirit of the Renaissance achieved its sharpest formulation. In the hands of men such as Leonardo da Vinci it was even a science , a means for exploring nature and a record of discoveries. Art was to be based on the observation of the visible world and practiced according to mathematical principles of balance, harmony, and perspective , which were developed at this time. Francis of Assisi had rejected the formal Scholasticism of the prevailing Christian theology and gone out among the poor praising the beauties and spiritual value of nature.
His example inspired Italian artists and poets to take pleasure in the world around them. The great poet Dante lived at about the same time as Giotto, and his poetry shows a similar concern with inward experience and the subtle shades and variations of human nature.
Although his Divine Comedy belongs to the Middle Ages in its plan and ideas, its subjective spirit and power of expression look forward to the Renaissance. Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum. Peasants worked the land for the nobles, for which they received protection and their own small parcels of land. These rural peasants worked from sunup to sundown, but even the nobles had few creature comforts.
The Renaissance in the 19th Century
In feudal cities, where there was a small middle-class population, life was a little easier and individuals had the freedom to pursue whatever trade or industry they liked. In the late Middle Ages, when the threat of invasion from barbarians had lessened, people left the country for towns and cities so they could engage in more profitable pursuits.
Life in the city was soon to change drastically. During the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance the bubonic plague, also called the "Black Death," devastated one half of the population of Europe.