Early Renaissance Literally, “re-birth”



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Early Renaissance

  • Literally, “re-birth”

  • 1400-1494

  • Renaissance values emerge in different places at different times.


Renaissance Culture

  • “Rebirth”: Implies some “dead” cultural element is “reborn”

  • Classical learning

  • Humanism and humanistic values

  • Scientific method

  • Classical forms of literature (epic poetry)

  • Public theatre (secular comedy and tragedy)

  • Classical forms of sculpture

  • Classical orders of architecture



Renaissance Culture

  • But if some Classical elements were “reborn,” other aspects of medieval culture doubtless continued into the Renaissance

  • Christianity

  • Social class hierarchy

  • Patriarchal values



Renaissance or “Early Modern”?

  • Scholarly debate over whether the period is characterized by a re-birth of ancient values, or by the appearance of modern values.

  • Rise of the nation-state

  • Rise of early capitalism

  • Rise of the rule of law

  • Rise of a paid military

  • Rise of secularism



Renaissance Literature

  • Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529)

    • The Courtier (1528)
  • Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

    • The Prince (1513)


Castiglione, The Courtier

  • a guide to courteous behavior or “conduct book” for the upper classes

  • composed as a set of after-dinner conversations between ladies and gentleman

  • a continuing debate over the traits that define the ideal courtier and lady



Castiglione, The Courtier

  • The gentleman:

    • education in the arts and humanities
    • skill in horsemanship and swordplay.
    • a man of letters
    • proficient in music, drawing and dance.
    • ready for war / athletics


Castiglione, The Courtier

  • The Lady:

    • a civilizing influence
    • consummate hostess
    • charming, witty, graceful
    • physically attractive, utterly feminine
    • well versed in the same areas as men, except for athletics and arms
  • --p. 323



Castiglione, The Courtier

  • Question: What’s missing from these lists of attributes of the ideal gentleman and lady?

  • status as faithful Christians

  • Is Christianity assumed? Yes, somewhat; but no longer a central item of emphasis.



Castiglione, The Courtier

  • Question: Who is the audience for this text? That is, who needs a guide to the characteristics and appropriate behaviors of the aristocracy?

  • The upwardly mobile mercantile class.



Machiavelli, The Prince (1513)

  • the first “modern” text of statecraft and political science

  • a kind of guidebook for “princes,” or anyone leading a state

  • primarily concerned with pragmatic leadership, not with ideals

  • See Readings, pp. 17-20.

  • See p. 323-324 in text.



Machiavelli, The Prince

  • Famous (or infamous) advice:

    • “It is better to be feared than loved.”
    • “Rulers should cultivate a public image and reputation suggesting their virtue, but should be prepared to act otherwise when necessary.”
    • “If it were possible to change one’s character to suit the times and circumstances, one would always be successful.”


Machiavelli, The Prince

  • “Real truth, rather than imagination”

  • “gulf” between how one should live, and how one does live….

  • “A man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”



Machiavelli, The Prince

  • “Since ecclesiastical principalities are controlled by a higher power, which the human mind cannot comprehend, I shall refrain from discussing them. Since they are raised up and maintained by God, only a presumptuous and rash man would examine them. Nevertheless, one might ask how it has happened that the temporal power of the Church has become so great….”



Machiavelli, The Prince

  • As a work of history, the emphasis is on causation, and it does not look to the workings of Providence.

  • As a work of philosophy, it assumes that mankind cannot live up to the stated ideals of virtue and right behavior.

  • Anticipates late-Renaissance Skepticism (Montaigne, Shakespeare)



Secularism in Renaissance lit.

  • Castiglione

    • Concerned with ideals of courtly behavior
    • Concerned less with religion than with social class and accomplishments.


Origins of the Renaissance

  • Medieval crusades had been launched from Venice

    • development of Venetian naval power, shipping routes (and wealth!)
  • Finance for the crusades was done in Florence

    • development of banking (and wealth!)


Origins of the Renaissance

  • Rome, Florence, Venice (to a lesser extent other Italian cities)

  • Engaged in a rivalry for prestige.

  • Each wants to be known as a city of art, culture, and learning.

  • Each governed by non-feudal oligarchy or autocracy

  • Lots of patronage for artists, scholars, composers, etc.



Renaissance Humanism

  • Humanism: the revived Classical notion of the value and dignity of mankind; chief characteristic of the Renaissance

  • Reflected in the studia humanitatis

  • A response to the growing interest in and availability of Classical texts.

  • Revived interest in Greek, as well as Latin.

  • Educational curriculum grew beyond the medieval liberal arts to include such fields as history and poetry.



Renaissance Humanism

  • One of the chief philosophical pursuits of Renaissance humanism was Neo-Platonism (Ficino, the leading voice of Florentine Neo-Platonism; his student Pico della Mirandola)

  • Brings Plato in line with Christianity, including Plato’s idea of the immortality of the soul

  • The importance of mankind’s free will (dignity)

  • The notion of Platonic love: All love on earth is an echo of the divine idea of love. Images of beauty (visual, musical, poetic) are pleasing to the senses. But the soul also associates those images with a higher level, with the beauty of divine love. So all beauty, all love, becomes a metaphor for divine love.



Renaissance Humanism

  • Great Chain of Being

  • A means of understanding how humanity fits into the plan of God’s creation.



Aesthetic Principles

  • A return to Classical principles: balance, symmetry, control, thought, simplicity

  • In architecture:



Aesthetic Principles

  • In sculpture:

    • revival of free-standing figures
    • revival of the contrapposto stance,
    • nudes
    • equestrian statues


Aesthetic Principles

  • In painting:

    • invention of “perspective”: the illusion of creating a three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional artwork. Giving “depth” to a two-dimensional work.
  • Linear perspective: as objects move away (toward the horizon) size gets smaller; objects tend to converge at a vanishing point.

  • Atmospheric perspective: as distance increases, clarity and color decreases.



Renaissance Architecture

  • Architecture: Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), representing the Early Renaissance style, wanted to make a complete break with the Late Gothic style. Leone Batista Alberti was the theoretician of the Early Renaissance style who wrote about the mathematical aspects of painting. Brunelleschi also invented linear perspective (achieving the illusion of depth on a two dimensional surface, by organizing the picture space around a center point, or vanishing point).



Renaissance Architecture

  • Brunelleschi’s studies led to the concept of the Renaissance space (the notion that a composition should be viewed from one single position). After four hundred years, the renaissance space as well as linear perspective was challenged by Manet in the 19th century.



Renaissance Painting

  • The genius of the revolution in painting in the early Florentine school was Masaccio (1401-1428). In the history of Western painting, Masaccio’s Holy Trinity fresco is the first example of the Renaissance space.



Renaissance Painting

  • Another masterpiece by Masaccio is The Tribute Money. In the 1480s, Florentine school was moving toward its culmination in the early works of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

  • It is with Giovanni Bellini that Venice becomes another center of Renaissance art comparable to Florence




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