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What Was the Italian Renaissance?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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The Italian Renaissance was a period in European history that was marked by a renewed interest in history, literature and the arts, and it is often credited with marking the end of the Medieval period in Europe. Medieval times are frequently referred to as the Dark Ages. The Renaissance, by contrast, is commonly described as an enlightenment. Florence is well regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. The elites and high society members in that city were among the first to embrace a love of the arts, and it was this love that turned the popular view away from reliance on the Catholic Church and the government and toward the production of ideas and individual thought.

In many ways, the Italian Renaissance began as leaders and influential citizens started to challenge the ways in which they had been taught to think. They started to intellectually rebel against age-old doctrines of government, education and religion, and they began defining new ideals separated from established institutions. Whereas most Italian citizens had been subservient to feuding and warring governments and the strict dictates of the Orthodox Catholic Church during the Medieval era, they began to break away and rely more on independent thought during the Renaissance.

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Artwork, literature and musical compositions are some of the things for which the Italian Renaissance is best known. It was during this period that Leonardo da Vinci painted his masterpieces, and it was when Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni reached the height of his sculpting and artistry. Scientific achievements by Galileo Galilei and his contemporaries in many ways revolutionized the way that people saw the world. The Renaissance was essentially an awakening to individual expression and discovery. In this sense, Renaissance and culture largely go hand in hand.

There are no fixed dates that can be pinned to the Italian Renaissance, because it represented a slow ebbing and flowing of ideas rather then the start and end of a regime. Just the same, it generally is believed that the Renaissance began in the late 1400s and lasted until about 1600. It began in Florence and from there slowly spread throughout the major cities of Italy and eventually throughout Europe.

Although the Italian Renaissance is largely taught as a major cultural and sociological shift, it began among the elite and was in many ways contained within that class. Not a lot is believed to have changed for peasants and serfs during this period, and most of them likely were unaware that much had shifted at all from Medieval times. Only after the Renaissance had really taken hold among the influential members of the ruling class did changes that affected all citizens start being wrought.

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stoneMason
Post 3

We usually think about England when we hear the word "Renaissance." This is a great article that reminds us that the Renaissance began in Italy. It actually took quite a while for the Renaissance to start in England.

bear78
Post 2

@SteamLouis-- I see what you're saying but I don't agree with you. Of course, movements about thought and philosophy will start with the elites. Because these are the people who are educated. They are reading and writing and discussing various issues. Unfortunately, in this period in Europe, literacy rates were very low and mostly reserved to the upper classes.

But the Renaissance was significant because it started to change that. It was during the Italian Renaissance that books began to be printed and that too in languages other than Latin. Most commoners did not know Latin and could not read for this reason.

So although the movement began with the elites, it did have significant effects on the common people, especially in the following centuries. The literature of this period established the groundwork for many philosophies and social and political systems. Take Machiavelli for example. He was an Italian Renaissance writer and is the founder of political science.

SteamLouis
Post 1

The Italian Renaissance is always talked about as a time of rebirth (what renaissance literally means) and enlightenment. But if these changes did not reach to the common people, does it really matter?

I'm disappointed to know that the Renaissance was only really experienced by the Italian and European elite.

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