Renaissance and Middle Ages

Category: Middle Ages
Last Updated: 26 Mar 2020
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Historians call the period we live in Modern Times. Modern Times began with the Renaissance, one of the rare periods of genius in the world’s history. Beginning in the 14th century and reaching its height in the 15th, the Renaissance was a new age filled with remarkable accomplishments meaning “rebirth”. The Renaissance refers to the rediscovery by humanists of the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The individualization of man began in this era, and it was during this period that man began to focus on the secular aspects of life rather than hierarchical Christianity, which was the stranglehold of the Middle Ages.

The ordered, formalistic medieval society broke down and Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. The Renaissance was a period of discovery in many fields. Advances in science were numerous and contributed to the growth of the era. Beliefs and theories that were common during the Middle Ages were gradually being rejected and scientific investigation during the Renaissance lead to an increased understanding of the natural world. Along with discoveries in science, the Renaissance proved to be one of the great ages of fine arts, leaving a rich legacy.

The art from the Middle Ages was revolutionized in the Renaissance and is one of the most prominent variances between the two eras. The intellectual energies of the Renaissance, however, came from the literature of many masters. Humanism was emphasized, which contrasted the church driven society of the Middle Ages. Advances and accomplishments in science, fine arts and literature made the Renaissance a golden period, which flourished far beyond the achievements of the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, discoveries in science, particularly in astronomy, physics, and anatomy exceeded those of the Middle Ages.

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Vital to the growth of scientific investigation was a progressive rejection of astrology and magic, creed that was prevalent in medieval times. The scientists of the Renaissance rejected any sort of magic because observation and experimentation did not support it. Scientists of the Renaissance made many breakthroughs increasing their knowledge and understanding of the world. Important inventions were medieval in origin as well. For example, the magnetic compass that directed Renaissance explorers to Asia and the Americas was innovated in the Middle Ages.

But it was the humanism that was brought out in the Renaissance, which separates it from the Middle Ages. Equally important to the development of science was humanism, for among the ancient writings that the humanists collected were those that inspired scientific research. Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus challenged the ideas of astronomy and forever changed the way Western civilization looks at the universe. At Copernicus’s birth, Europeans believed that the earth was stationary, at the center of the universe, and all other heavenly bodies, including the sun, revolved around the earth.

Copernicus used observation and mathematical analysis to overturn this concept. After careful calculations and observations, Copernicus realized that the earth both revolves around the sun and rotates about its own axis. The importance of Copernicus’ discovery was not only that he provided future astronomers with groundwork; he challenged pervious theories on astronomy and the universe. Studying the heavens, however, was very difficult as the human eye could only see so much. Italian astronomer Galileo constructed a telescope for observing the galaxy.

With this device, he discovered that the surface of the moon was covered with craters, mountains and valleys, and discovered other satellites orbiting the planet Jupiter. The rationality and reason promoted by renaissance researchers would become increasingly important not only to science but to Western thought. Those who came after this period would refine its methods and techniques and open up much more of the natural world to human understanding, but they would always be indebted to the pioneering work of these early scientific thinkers.

The Renaissance was also one of the great ages of art. It was an era of artistic experimentation and discovery led by famous painters and sculptors whose works are perhaps more than any other accomplishments representative of the Renaissance in today’s world. The art from the Middle Ages differed tremendously from the Renaissance. During the Middle Ages, the arts had reflected that period’s deep interest in religion. Paintings for instance, were either portraits of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the saints or illustrations of scenes from the Bible.

In the Renaissance however, art became less religious in nature. Much of it dealt with more worldly subjects: portraits, of living people, landscapes, and scenes of everyday life. Religious subjects did not disappear entirely. Some of the greatest religious art dates from the Renaissance, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s 1497 painting the Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s 1504 sculpture David. Yet, there was a more secular tone to Renaissance art than to medieval art. This artistic shift came in part because the patrons of artists were often nobles nd business and civil leaders rather than, as in the Middle Ages, the church. A second difference between Renaissance and medieval art was the supreme importance of architecture during the Middle Ages. To the medieval world, architecture was the most sublime of arts because architects were responsible for the design and building of the great churches and cathedrals of the period. At this time, both painting and sculpture were used almost exclusively to decorate these church buildings.

Although architecture remained important in the Renaissance, painting and sculpture were the chief arts. Again this change in emphasis had a great deal to do with the rise of the private patron: few, like the Catholic Church, could afford to finance a building but any one of whom could pay for a statue. A third difference between medieval and Renaissance art was the latter’s emphasis on realism. Renaissance artists tried to represent the human figure as realistically and naturally as possible. To achieve this realism, both painters and sculptors studied anatomy and the world around them.

They worked hard to portray their painted or sculpted subjects in authentic detail, for as Italian Leon Battista Alberti instructed in his 1435 Della pittura: “It will help, when painting living creatures, first to sketch in the bones, for they always occupy a certain determined position. Then add the sinews and muscles, and finally clothe the bones and muscles with flesh and skin. As Nature clearly and openly reveals all these proportions, so the earnest painter will find great profit from investigating them in Nature. Because of its close association with the observation of the natural world, this Renaissance realism came to be known as naturalism. Leonardo da Vinci is seen as one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. Far more than just a painter, he was also an engineer, mathematician, inventor, architect, and writer. Moreover, he was a scientist, whose interests were in biology, physics, and chemistry. The aim of his studies, particularly those in anatomy, was to make his paintings better. He believed firmly that studying the paintings of others alone would produce only minor work.

However, a painter who also studied nature would, in his opinion, produce great art. The art produced in the Renaissance was a rebirth of the classical Greek and Roman works. After centuries of stiff representation, artists began again to study Nature herself, and to work from the living model. New ideas of grace, harmony, and beauty were cultivated into classic works that revolutionized fine art of that period from a sacred to a secular tone. Parallel to the development of fine arts, was an awakening of the human intellect through written works.

Innovation and invention were the hallmarks of Renaissance literature. As in art, humanism influenced its literature through both its ideas and its focus on classical writings. A contributing factor to the spread of humanism was printing. Until the Renaissance, books were produced by hand. In 1465, the printing press was invented in Germany. Although printing technology had been developed in China as early as the second century AD, the 15th century printing press was combined with another innovation: moveable metal type. With this invention, came a rise in literacy.

Books became available to everyone, significantly speeding up the spread of classical knowledge and humanist ideas. During the Middle Ages, only the clergy and a few others could read, whereas Renaissance readers came from all social classes. By the 16th century, about half the population of London could read and write to some degree. One of the most important developments that took place in Renaissance literature was the expanded use in books and poems of such languages as Italian, French, and English, rather than Latin.

Although Latin remained the international language of Europe, Renaissance authors increasingly wrote in their native languages. The rise of the vernacular made it possible for the middle classes of Europe to read and write in their own language rather than Latin. Many prominent writers of the time such as Petrarch (1304- 1374), and Dante (1265- 1321) saw the use of the vernacular as a means of passing on classical virtues and knowledge to a far wider audience than was possible with Latin. The scholars Thomas G. Bergin and Jennifer Speake note: “Petrarch’s determination that the classical ideal should permeate every aspect of life led to what has been called the “humanism of the vernacular”: the ennobling not only of the native tongue, but also of everyday experience under the influence of classical models. ” Poets and other writers were generally enthusiastic about the use of the vernacular, feeling that their native languages brought their work alive in a way no ancient, outdated language could. Writers in the Renaissance era began to experiment with new forms of literature.

In France, the great pioneer in vernacular writings was the French humanist Francois Rabelais. He not only experimented with writing in French, but he also began a new literary form, the novel. The result was the birth of the French novel, which ridiculed the medieval church and way of thought during the Middle Ages. This new kind of literature contrasts the writings of the medieval times which were mainly church inspired. Most writings were during the Middle Ages were done by Churchmen and most of it was in Latin.

Biographies of the lives of the saints were extremely popular. The printing press in the Renaissance led to a rise of literacy in Europe; therefore the middle class was better educated. The rise of the vernacular also revolutionized literature in the Renaissance, which made it possible for the rising middle class of Europe to read and write in their own language rather than Latin. These breakthroughs in literature separate the Renaissance from medieval times. Emerging from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance was a new age filled with impressive accomplishments.

The Dark Ages was a time in which the Church was the center of economic, social and political life while the Renaissance was a period in which human affairs and the advancement of Man were emphasized. Scientific discoveries made by many scholars such as Copernicus and Galileo revolutionized medieval theories on astronomy. If one aspect of Renaissance culture differed noticeably from the Middle Ages, it was art. Artists of this time period strayed from the stiff, religious mold of art to a more realistic approach to art displaying great detail and a variety of emotions. Advances in literature reformed the Renaissance.

Inventions such as the printing press and the development of the vernacular led to the rise of literacy in all social classes, which greatly differs from the Middle Ages where only the clergy and few others could read and write. The Renaissance era crackled with energy, filled with remarkable discoveries and advancements. Many would have agreed with the French physician Jean Fernel, who wrote in the early 1500s: “The world sailed round, the largest Earth’s continents, discovered the printing press sowing knowledge, ancient manuscripts rescued, all witness to the triumph of our New Age. ”

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Renaissance and Middle Ages. (2017, Apr 22). Retrieved from

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