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The period of history between 1500 and 1600 years is a remarkable example of how the world can change and develop through the intensification of art, science, finance, trade, and other areas’ development. Jules Michelet, the historian from France, called it the European Renaissance for the first time in his book History of France, issued in 1855 (Brotton). The origins of the Renaissance are deeper than a regular person thinks – it is not just about literature, art, and science of that period. The term, coined by Michelet, described the fundamental changes in man’s self-perception, based on the extensive growth of knowledge base, science, artistic examples, etc. Michelet believed that people grew from inside, and became less narrow in their too religious perception of the world that came from the Middle Ages.
Concept of the Renaissance
Other historians such as Jacob Burckhardt, for example, refined the concept of the Renaissance, widened it and deepened. Thus, his book, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, issued in 1860, described the Renaissance as only Italian-originated phenomenon that was able to emerge due to the utter concentration of the artistic talents in the city-states – Leonardo, Mantegna, Botticelli, etc. (Brotton). However, the views of the historians of that time were rather limited as well, since they lived then and romanticized the entire era and the role of artists in the society of that time. The truth is in the fact that regardless of the achievements in art, sculpture, literature, and other similar areas, the vast and rapid spread of the Renaissance movement was not possible without a revolution in the world of finance and trade (Brotton).
Merchants from Europe traveled far to the Middle East and brought revolutionary changes back with them. Thus, east bazaars taught Europeans how to do business differently. Fibonacci, one of the Pisan merchants (his other name is far less known – Leonardo Pisan), was one of the first in Europe who learned Hindu-Arabic numerals in order to calculate the gains and losses of his business. Extensive trade with “other” world influenced the Renaissance itself, as well: art and culture were revolutionized by the influence of Oriental culture, in architecture, for example. Brotton states: “One Italian historian went so far as to claim that Venice came to resemble 'a colossal suq', so indebted was its opulent building style to the commercially driven cities of Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus and Aleppo.”
The Renaissance continued its spread across the globe, for instance, northern Europe could be proud of its artists like Hans Holbein and Albrecht Dürer, whose artistic styles were unique and fresh. Spain and Portugal funded voyages to faraway exotic countries, so the new worlds in the Far East as well as in the Western Atlantic were opened by the adventure seekers.
As a result, north European markets were flooded with goods brought from the west and east. Artists were able to marvel at incredible pieces of art from exotic countries, and Dürer used exquisite porcelain, sandalwood, coconuts, and parrots as inspiration for his paintings and drawings. His engraving depicting an Indian rhinoceros is a quite famous work of art (Brotton).
Dürer, being a very inquisitive artist, just like the artists in other countries who lived before him (Brunelleschi, Mantegna as well as Leonardo), closely followed the latest trends in political, scientific, and trade life. In would not be a mistake to say that such qualities as artists’ inquisitiveness, worldliness, open-mindedness make the Renaissance art original and technically brilliant. The Renaissance period played an incredible important part in the history of the development in culture and society of the western world (Brotton).
Two things that made the Renaissance possible were the widespread availability of the texts of classical literature, and the creation of Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440. The movable type of the press was used to print the first book – the Gutenberg Bible. Thanks to the invention, books spread from Italy to such countries as England and France. The writers there wrote many books, tragedies, and comedies based on the Renaissance ideas (Sider).
Thomas More’s Utopia
Thomas More’s Utopia can serve as an example of such a book. More created a perfect world, striving for changes in his society. Shakespeare’s tragedies are also a bright example of Renaissance literature as they were based on the concept of godlike nature of men. His drama Julius Caesar was based on the classical texts about Caesar’s life (Sider). The printing press, in fact, removed the church from controlling knowledge.
Italy’s convenient location, where major part of its territory was washed by the sea, allowed many traders and travelers to arrive to the country and travel to other countries through its lands. The times of the Roman Empire were represented by architecture and roads, benefitting the country even more. Florence was the place where the Renaissance saw its birth and subsequent spread to north. Italy of that time was split in cities that were states at the same time, like small countries with king rule quite often. The Medici family ruled Florence. They contributed greatly to the development of the Renaissance, supporting many local artists (Sider).
The Mongol invasion into China allowed the opening of the major trade route – the Silk Road, thus, enabling trade between Europe and China. Marco Polo’s trip through two continents and his description of his adventures in China gave food to people’s imagination, shocking Europe, and at the same time inspiring the European artists for the creation of new things. Many works of art have a distinct eastern fleur that allowed people to get a little closer to the exotic countries that they would never visit.
Studying the works of classic literature, people could learn much about human ability to make life better, and the Renaissance taught people to stop relying on God that would make their lives better. Instead, people had to rely on themselves (Sider). The Renaissance was the time when art, education, literature, and science started to really matter.
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The era of Renaissance Humanism emphasized the significance of a human being as a thinking and reasonable creature. The movement changed the way of thinking of the entire generations and still lives in different forms and manifestations. It was the time of Enlightenment and a growing interest in self-determination. People got tired of the dictation and intrusion of the rules, tastes, and social restrictions of the ruling elite, which was as usual a small group of people who wanted to preserve the state of things as it was before. Their power was based on the ancient regime or order of things straight from the ancient Rome and Greece that looked unbreakable for centuries (Sider).
Science, luxury, pieces of art, education, and many other things were a prerogative of the ruling class. New directions in art, literature, philosophy, and politics began to develop. They differed from the classic postulates that were too-rational and formalistic. Irrational fears, joy, happiness, idealization of everything around in art and literature was just the reflection of changes that people from different lifestyles experienced. The role of one person as only a small grain of sand in the society changed. “In the essays of Montaigne the individualistic view of life received perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent statement in the history of literature and philosophy” (Kreis).