1 Introduction to The Renaissance Marshall High School Western Civilization II Mr. Cline Unit Two AA
2 Italy: Birthplace of the Renaissance In today's lesson, we will be discussing Italy as the birthplace of the Renaissance, a historical period beginning in the late fourteenth century in which people started taking an interest in the learning of earlier times, specifically in the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome. As the French word 'Renaissance' implies, it was a rebirth in the appreciation and study of these classical times. It was also a rebirth in the interest of the individual and the human capacity to learn, otherwise known as humanism. For our purposes we're going to stick with, and sort of stretch a bit, the idea of the Renaissance as a rebirth. This being said, we all know that every birth needs a mom, so for this lesson, Italy will play the role of Mamma Renaissance. The great Italian city-states of Florence, Venice, Milan, and the Papal states centered in Rome will play the roles of her very wealthy, intelligent, yet rather cantankerous children.
3 Italy: Birthplace of the Renaissance Before we get to her offspring, let's first discuss the other reasons why Italy was the perfect mom for the Renaissance. Why the Renaissance Began in Italy Reason number one is quite simply her location. Italy is located directly in the middle of Eastern and Western Europe, making it very easy for her, through trade, to spread her new ideas all over the continent. Overseas trade, spurred on by the Crusades, had brought great wealth to Italy. Also, and even more obvious, Italy is actually the home to ancient Rome and many of the Greek beliefs that Rome held. Every day, Mamma Italy was able to draw inspiration from the ruins of Rome that surrounded her.
4 Why the Renaissance Began in Italy In many ways, it's as if maybe she woke up one morning and said 'Enough is enough! Why in the world am I obeying the ideas of those Northerners, those Dark Age Neanderthals, just telling me to suffer through life and wait for some eternal reward? Well, I've had enough of this. I want to live now - I want to live like my ancestors did in the ancient glorious Roman Empire!' This very idea was trumpeted, albeit much more eloquently, in the writings of Petrarch, a citizen of Mamma Italy who has come to be known as the Father of Humanism. He too desired to trade in the stuffiness of old medieval ideals for the beautiful, human-oriented works of Ancient Rome, specifically those of Cicero and Virgil. Reason number two for Italy being the perfect Renaissance mom was her wealthy merchant class.
5 Why the Renaissance Began in Italy Unlike most of Europe, feudalism, or the idea of wealth through land ownership, never gained a firm hold in Italy. Because of this, Italy, specifically northern Italy, was urban, while the rest of Europe was mostly rural. Fortune was not to be made in Italy through land ownership but instead through commerce and trade. This gave rise to a wealthy merchant class. The Bubonic plague struck Italy in the 1300s, decimating over 60% of her population. This brought more wealth to the common class. Simply put, because there were fewer laborers, the surviving workers could demand more money.
6 Why the Renaissance Began in Italy Furthermore, this decimation of the population made it more difficult for the uber-wealthy merchant class to expand their businesses. This freed their money up to be spent on more interesting things, like the arts, architecture, and literature. A perfect example of this is the wealthy Medici family of Florence, a banking family who financially backed many Renaissance artists, the greatest of these being Michelangelo himself. And now we come to reason number three, our final reason for the success of Italy as the mother of the Renaissance: her four city-state children. Again, they are Florence, who grew powerful due to the trade of wool; Venice, who gained power through trade at sea; Milan, who had a strong monarchy and was ruled by a powerful line of dukes; and the Papal states, funded by the Church centered in Rome.
7 Why the Renaissance Began in Italy Here it should probably be mentioned that Italy had a very different parenting style than that of the other European countries. Unlike them, she did not rule over her household with an iron fist. She did not unite her children under one kingdom or one supreme head. Instead, her kids were much more independent, each forming their own sovereign city-states, making their own decisions, and having their own forms of government. Now, as I mentioned earlier, these four children, like any other children who are given a bit too much freedom, had the nasty habit of fighting and causing some real trouble. The beginning period of the Italian Renaissance was marked with warfare between not just the four wealthiest siblings but also the smaller, unmentioned city-states.
8 Why the Renaissance Began in Italy Ironically, most of these wars were not fought by the actual citizens of Italy but were instead fought by mercenaries, or condottieri as they were called back then. No matter their name, they were soldiers for hire drawn from the northern countries of Europe, specifically Germany and Switzerland, to do the dirty work of the squabbling siblings. As you can probably guess, the city-states with the most money who could hire the most soldiers - therefore the four wealthiest siblings, Flo, Vinny, Millie, and Roma - quickly absorbed the smaller ones into their folds. After decades of fighting on land, Florence, Milan, and Venice emerged as the most dominant players. At sea, there were also many battles with the weaker siblings of Pisa and even Genoa.
9 Why the Renaissance Began in Italy Again, in this contest, the wealthier Venice reigned supreme, giving her hegemony, or a fancy word for domination and absolute rule, over the Italian seas. As the power of these northern city-states continued to grow, the Papal states of Rome were also growing and changing. The Pope, who held the responsibility of the Catholic Church, also ruled Rome. However, as the wealth of the city-states increased, the Pope became more of a politician than a spiritual leader. Corruption infiltrated the Church, and, as often happens, money followed the corruption, giving Rome her place as one of the wealthy siblings of Mamma Italy. As these four siblings matured in power and wealth, they finally decided to play nice, setting aside their differences with the Peace of Lodi in 1554.
10 Why the Renaissance Began in Italy With this truce, a period of peace reigned over these cities. Without the need to spend money on war, the siblings decided to grow up a bit, turning their attention to the culture of the arts, ancient Latin, architecture, and the humanistic ideals. Because of this, we have been given the beauty of Michelangelo, the wisdom of Leonardo, and the architecture of Brunelleschi. The Definition of Humanism Let s now discuss the concept of humanism, the term generally applied to the overreaching social and intellectual philosophies of the Renaissance era, in which the beauty of the individual was elevated to preeminence. To put it in simpler terms, humanism is the belief that man has beauty, worth, and dignity. Therefore, life here on Earth should be cherished rather than simply endured.
11 Why Humanism Developed Before we delve headlong into humanism and the effect it had on the individual, we must first discuss the reason behind its development. During the Middle Ages, between about the 3rd and 13th centuries, life and culture were primarily focused on the Church and religion. However, toward the beginning of the 14th century, the power of the Church began to greatly decline. This decline is the main reason for the development of humanism, as people became less interested in thinking about God, the afterlife, and the saints and more interested in thinking about themselves, their natural world, and the here and now. Many historians believe there were two main causes of this decline, the first being the bubonic plague which ravaged Europe and killed over half of many countries' populations. As the plague devastated and destroyed, the Church was helpless to stop it.
12 Why Humanism Developed People prayed, and people filled cathedrals, yet loved ones continued to die. This led many to disenchantment, causing them to seek out other explanations beyond the spiritual for human suffering and loss. The second, and perhaps most profound reason for the decline of the Church, was the rise of the market economy. As money began to be amassed through trade, the power of the Church declined even more. From this rose city-states and monarchies governed more by economy than religious restriction. All in all, the Church became too stuffy, too impractical, and too rigid; thus, it was replaced with the secular human's capacity to learn, create, and especially, enjoy!
13 Why Humanism Developed In short, it was replaced with the idea of humanism, where the study of human progress and human nature is at the center of all things. Now that we've covered the reason for the development of humanism, we can dive into what this actually meant for the individual in the areas of independence and interests. How Humanism Changed Individual Independence First, humanism radically changed the idea of individual independence. Prior to the 14th century, much of Europe, and especially Northern Europe, practiced the feudal system in which wealth was based on land ownership. Generally speaking, under this system, people were seen as part of a collective whole to keep feudal society and the manor system intact. Serfs, or the poor workers, were tools used by the wealthy to work their land holdings and keep their wealth intact.
14 How Humanism Changed Individual Independence Adding to this imprisonment of sorts, the Church believed that to be concerned with yourself and your rights was nothing more than arrogance, rebellion, and sin! One should only be concerned with obeying the rules and following them without question. However, as we mentioned earlier, thanks to the plague and the rise of trade, the power of the Church and feudalism shrank and the importance of the individual grew. Man and human nature were no longer seen as totally sinful and in need of punishment but instead as independent, beautiful, and individual creations of God. This is particularly seen in the writings of Petrarch, the Father of Humanism, in which he states, 'Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure!,' or in other words, 'Go on and express yourself!'
15 How Humanism Changed Individual Independence These ideals were further expressed in the famous speech, The Dignity of Man, in which the renowned orator Mirandola states, 'You with no limit or no bound, may choose for yourself!' Again, he's saying, 'You're an individual - you're an independent - you're free!' How Humanism Changed Individuals' Interests This brings us to how humanism changed not only the idea of individual freedom, but also how humanism changed the interests of the individual. Remember, up to this point, anything not centered around the Church was considered sinful. Man and earth were wicked, and only heaven and the afterlife were worthy to encompass human thought.
16 How Humanism Changed Individuals' Interests Humanism turned this idea completely on its head as scholars, artists, and writers began centering their works on man and his experience while here on earth rather than in the afterlife. Instead of spending their time and efforts on penance and selfdenial, humanists resurrected the ideals of the ancient Greeks, who placed the study and progress of human nature at the center of their interests. This is plainly seen in the writings of Dante's Divine Comedy as he explains his individual journey to God, rather than a journey to God through the Church. This led many to be curious about a personal relationship with God rather than a religion sculpted by the Church. Interest in the human rather than the afterlife is also seen in the famous work The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio.
17 How Humanism Changed Individuals' Interests In this humanistic writing, ten young people fleeing the Black Death hide out in an abandoned villa and fill their days and nights by telling each other rather racy and torrid tales of love and romance. Ironically, during a time of such great death and crisis, the author chooses not to have their interests turn toward the medieval church ideals of repentance and penance but instead to enjoying the moments in which they live. Again, humanism wins the day as the individual chooses to enjoy the human story rather than the old Church ideals of pain and punishment. And this, in itself, summarizes the beauty of the individual in the eyes of the humanist.
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