Culture of the Renaissance

September 6, 2009 | | 6 Comments

When people think of the Renaissance the usually think of Michelangelo and the Sistene Chapel, Leonardo da Vinci and his Mona Lisa, and Florence. It was not only a cultural movement associated with the arts, but a movement also associated with the study of ancient Greek and Latin works. However, it was not above all a literary as the author,Frankforter, suggests. Although the scholars of the age did search out old and forgotten works. the artists, sculptors and architects of the age also looked back to old works of art. They invented new techniques and new ways of representing old ideas and classical works, as well as creating new ones.

According to the author the Humanists were the intellectual leaders of the Renaissance. During the Renaissance people were focused on the individual and life. The Renaissance was full of new ideas.  People were able to break away from the church with the invention of the printing press and the translation of major works, particularly the translation of the Bible, into the vernacular. The printing press allowed for greater access to literature and understanding of the Bible. The Renaissance was very tolerable of religion, and a break from the traditional form of the church did not mean that people seperated themselves from religious teachings and ideas. In fact, during the Renaissance there was a large number of religious paintings a scultures. The humanists also valued a normal life and thought that people should get married, and have families, anf focus on life and enjoy its pleasures.

Example of humanism

As a time of renewal of ancient works and innovation of new ideas the Renaissance became of time in which poets, writers, artists, sculptors, and architects where widely recognized and valued as important contributors to society. In earlier years this had not been the case. It seemed as if people did not appreciate literature as they did in the Renaissance. One reason may have been that before the Renaissance many books had not been printed in the vernacular. Most books had been printed in Latin or Greek, and had to be interpreted to the common people by means of the church, or other highly educated scholars. Writers such as Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, and Boccaccio wrote in Latin when producing a scholarly work, but they were recognized for what they wrote in Italian. They believed that people should also write inthe language that was familiar to the people.

Dante and Petrarch are two of the Renaissance’s most recognized writers. Dante’s ideas and thoughts were similar to those of the Middle Ages, but he lived and wrote like a Renaissance man. His most famous works include, De Vulgari Eloquentia – a work that was a treatise , La Vita Nouva – The New Life, and his most famous work The Divine Comedy. His treatise urged scholars to break away from tradition and write in the vernacular. His other two works were poems and prose which had ideas of passion and dreams rooted in them. His works theology were medieval, but their links to human nature and love were clues of the growing Renaissance.              Petrarch was more of a Renaissance writer than Dante. he is recognized for beginning the Renaissance’s interest in classical works. He is known as “the father of Humanism”.  He advocated for progress based on educational reform. his most ambitious work was Africa. It showed his passion for ancient works and its incorporation into the age of the Renaissance. The printing press was a major invention of the Renaissance age that allowed more people to study and aford books. Books and writings could also be printed in masses which made them more accessible, and when printed in the vernacular more widely read and understood.  With the invention of  the printing press common people no longer had to rely on the church and the scholars to translate books for them and telling them their opinions. The vernacular literature helped the Renaissance to spread beyond the humanists.

Artists and architects also helped the Renaissance idea  spread. They really allowed of the spirit and ideas of the Renaissance to be displayed in everyday life. The Renaissance was greatly focused on the individual and the classics. Sculptors, artists, and architects combined classical ideas with the humanists idea of emphasis on the individual. Renaissance sculptors focused on creating their subjects as they would be in a particular moment. Two major sculptors of the age were Donatello and Michelangelo. Florentine scultor Donatello carved statues that were meant to stand alone, and be viewed from every angle. michelangelo might be most well knoown for his painting on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, but he thought of himself first as a sculptor and not a painter. His most famous sculpture is likely his gigantic David created to stand in front of Florence’s town hall. The sculture has the form of the idealistic human body shows the focus on the individual.

Michelangelo’s David

Architects of the Renaissance age began to move away from the Gothic style that had originated in France and turned to more older Roman styles. Many arthitects drew their inspiration and even some material from Italy’s ruins. Filippo Brunelleschi ones one of the first great architects if the Renaissance. The great dome he desiigned for Florence’s cathedral was the largest in the world at the time. See full size image



Brunellesci’s Dome

Many architects of the time focused on proprtions, symmetry. and perspective. The most ambitious Renaissance architectual project was the remodeling of Europe’s largest church St. Peter’s. The architects included Donato Bromante, Gianlorenzo Bernini, and, yes, Michelangelo. Michelangelo was the true embodiment of the perfect Renaissance man a sculptor, painter, architect, and a poet. The reconstruction of St. Peter’s took two centuries but was finally completed inthe 1600’s.

For painters of the Renaissance age it was harder for them to look back at ancient artwork because their was not many works to study. So instead of being inspired by classical artwork they got their inpiration from classical sculptures. While earlier paintings had been of two-dimensional figures against blank backgrounds and combined many scenes in one painting, Renaissance paintings focused on one particular scene or moment in time in a three-dimensional realistic view. Painters of the Renaissance researched perspective and creating the illusion of a three-dimensional area. Most earlier painters would work on wooden boards or walls with wet plaster with tempera a medium that dried quickly and did not blend well. Northern european painters resolved this issue by mixing their colors with oils. They were also some of the first artists to practice and experimant landscape painting. The Northern artists also invented the use of the canvas as their surface for painting. Italy was intruduced to oil painting and painting on canvas in the late fifteenth century. This greatly expanded the market for artwork as the costs for art was reduced and transporting pictures became easy. The church used to dominate as the main commissioners of artwork but as the urban classes began to prosper and art became cheaper more people could afford to commission works of art. The Renaissance was alos an era where people had a craving for luxury. Some of the most recognized artists of the time were Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio, Raphael, and of course the most famous Leonardo da Vinci.    Mona Lisa


The Marriage of the Arnolfinis by Jan Van Eyck (a northern painter)

The Renaissance was the movement that led the way for the new age and romance of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. It reshaped people’s views and  interest. It was a movement in which looking back to classical literature, architecture, and sculptures allowed people to break away from traditional views, ideas, and practices into a new way to look at things and a new way of thinking.                                                                                                                            Vidoe representing the art and culture of the Renaissance


6 Comments so far

  1.    MQuez on September 6, 2009 9:52 pm

    Like Frankforter emphasizes, the Italian city-states were a main jump start to the Renaissance period. A wave of Italian urbanization helped the ports of Naples, Venice and Genoa quickly grow into “hotspots” of international trade. Even landlocked city-states profited through the control of specific trade routes through the mountains.
    There is an interesting irony that Frankforter could have emphasized a little more however. The seeming irony is how a place of such political and social insecurity can be so inspiring intellectually and culturally.

  2.    MQuez on September 6, 2009 10:11 pm
  3.    MQuez on September 6, 2009 10:24 pm

    Political organization and Social classes were hard to define during these formation of city-states. The communes that were before city-states were run through ineffective town councils with a lack of checks and balances. Families of power would constantly fight among each other for political control. In this sense, the transition to city states was not radically different. Although there was a different balance of population and industry (Money earned through the trade industry helped the banking industry take off) the political power still rested with a wealthy minority while the mass of wage laborers had no voice. An ultimate ruler of Italy was resisted because the Pope wanted to maintain his religious leadership over Europe without a national contender. Also city-states did not want their monetary assets available towards a monopoly of one ruler’s choosing.

  4.    MQuez on September 6, 2009 10:41 pm

    Political and Economic fighting among city-states wore down Italy as a whole and by the 1350’s most banks had closed. Merchants only supported the wealthy while wage earners were left in the dust. Cosimo de Medici restored the time, using his fathers revenue to buy political power and balance the powers of city-states with the Peace of Lodi treaty.

    From here it can be seen how wealth was created in social classes that are not noble. Bankers and merchants were forced to interact directly with Nobles and land owners. With the transition of wealth came a transition of property as Nobles would default on their loans to Bankers of lower class. It is this unique interaction that set the stage for an open-minded, ambitious, more powerful middle to lower class of intellectuals and artisans. Frankforter explains that artisans became seen as honored guests rather than slave-type people, but I don’t think he emphasizes enough how the economic shift of the Italian city-states pushed the renaissance in the right direction.

  5.    MQuez on September 6, 2009 10:43 pm

    Here is Richard Hooker’s explanations and critique regarding the backgrounds to the Italian Renaissance, which I feel complements those of Daniel Frankforter.

  6.    179. Renaissance Pleasure Faire | Dinacharya on June 3, 2013 3:12 am

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