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Renaissance - History and Politics

political

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Renaissance


Renaissance is the name of the great intellectual and cultural movement of the revival of interest in classical culture that occurred in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries -- a period which saw the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times. The inpenetration of Greek and Latin culture that occurred as a result of the formation of extensive Latin dominions in the Eastern Mediterranean after the 4th Crusade can be regarded as the basic condition, if not directly the cause, of the Renaissance. It began in Italy, and its first period was marked by a revival of interest in classical literature and the classical ideals. It was a great revolt against the intellectual sterility of the medieval spirit, and especially against scholasticism, in favour of intellectual freedom and its first sign was a passion for the cultural magnitude and richness of the pagan world. Traces of this revolt can be seen in Dante (1265- 1321), who, although thoroughly medieval in his sympathies, chose the Roman poet Virgil as his model, and who, in the vigour and magnificence of his own verse, was a striking contrast to his contemporaries and earlier medieval authors. Petrarch (1304-1374) was the first true poet of the Renaissance. His poems written in Latin hexameter followed the classical models of poetry. He travelled to foreign countries and thus was familiar with a larger world than his predecessors. Further, he may be said to have rediscovered Greek, which for some six centuries had been lost to the western world. His friend and disciple Boccaccio studied that language, and by his master's advice made a translation of Homer into Latin. In 1360 the first chair of Greek was established in Florence. Greek scholars were now encouraged to come from Byzantium to Italy, and in 1396 in turn the learned Manuel Chrysoloras began to teach in the chair of Greek at Florence which become the cradle of the classical revival. Outstanding Italian humanists of that epoch visited Byzantium in order to learn Greek and to buy old manuscripts, saved from pillages, conflagrations, and devastation of the invaded country. Many Greek texts were brought from Constantinople. Europe was ransacked for copies of the long unused Latin classics and copyists multiplied them. Libraries were founded, and schools for the study of both Greek and Latin in their classic forms were opened at Rome, Mautua, Verona, and many other towns. Pope Nicholas V earnestly fostered the new movement and laid the foundation of the great Vatican collection. Cardinal Bessarion presided over the formation of the Library of St. Mark at Venice. Individual scholars went about looking for manuscripts of lost authors, for coins, medals; for anything that could give a better knowledge of classical antiquity. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 Renaissance gained a further impetus because of a number of Greek humanists who moved from Byzantium to Italy. In 1462 the Platonic Academy was opened in Florence under the patronage of Cosimo de' Medici. Its leader became Marcilio Ficino.



The second period of the Renaissance is marked by a continued zeal for classical study, and by the developmental of a broad learning and the new view of the intellectual life which is now known as Humanism. By this time the movement had spread to Germany, Poland and France, the Netherlands and to other northern countries, where it developed into the wide scholarship and sound learning of men like Thomas More, Campanella, Bruno, Ronsard, Erasmus, and Copernicus. The movement had gone far beyond the mere revival of classical studies and was felt in every department of life. In philosophy it gradually replaced the purely formal methods of thought that scholasticism had fostered. In science it led to the great discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton. In architecture it brought about the revival of the classical style. In the fine arts it inspired new schools of painting in Italy, such as of Giorgione, Raphael, Leonardo, Bellini, and Michael Angelo, and the Flemish school in the Netherlands. In religion its influence can be seen in the revolt of Martin Luther. Also, it indirectly inspired the passion for exploration that led to the discovery of the New World.

                                History and Politics

Political Theory

The crucial issue that faced political thinkers in the Renaissance was that of the position of the papacy. This was hardly a new issue; the question of what worldly powers could be wielded by a pope, and what powers could be wielded by a king, had long o ccupied both theorists and propagandists. But the issue was made crucial by the claims of Boniface VIII, especially in the bull Unam sanctam, then by the removal of the papal government to Avignon, and finally and most importantly, the Great Schis m (1378-1416).

Most significant of the early writers in our period is Marsilius of Padua, who laid out a thoroughgoing basis for denying political power to the pope and claiming it for the emperor instead. French and English writers contributed to the dialogue over the course of the 14th century, with Wycliff being one of the more important.

The Great Schism catalyzed the discussion, rendering it urgent. Those who argued that some sort of representative body of Christians was in fact superior to the pope in matters not only of faith but even of administration, these are grouped together by m odern historians under the heading of 'Conciliarists' -- which is to say, they argued that a General Concil of the Church was the supreme body in Christendom.

Once papal supremacy in temporal matters had been effectively denied, the way was open for successors to Marsilius to argue that every king was supreme within his own kingdom. That, in turn, opened the very tricky question of the basis for that supremacy . By what right did a king rule?

The relative position of king and pope was more or less settled by the second half of the 15th century. When Luther came along and shattered the religious unity of Europe, the door was opened for the nation-state to assume pride of place in Western Civil ization. I won't spend much time on that development, for we have a separate course on the Reformation, but that event is the pivotal point in the end of Christendom and the invention of Europe. What we will concentrate on here are the developments ante cedent to that.

                              Economy, Trade, and Exploration

              


Tools developed in the Middle Ages for exploration continued to be used during the Renaissance. One of these was the astrolabe, a portable device used by sailors to help them find their way. By measuring the distance of the sun and stars above the horizon, the astrolabe helped determine latitude, an important tool in navigation. Another tool, the magnetic compass, which had been invented in the twelfth century, was improved upon during the Renaissance.

Maps, too, became more reliable as Portuguese map makers, called cartographers, incorporated information provided by travelers and explorers into their work. Shipbuilding also improved during the Renaissance, as large ships called galleons became common. These ships were powered by sail rather than by men using oars.

The Beginning of Trade

Although navigation was still an imprecise science, sailors were able to go farther than they had before. This was important because as the economy of the Renaissance continued to improve, there were ever-increasing demands for imported goods and new places to export local products.

For traders, sailing proved to be a better option than traveling by land, as the network of roads that crisscrossed Europe was poor, and the few good roads that did exist were frequented by thifes

The Renaissance sailor first took to the seas to supply Europeans with the many Asian spices they demanded. Peppercorns, nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon all came from lands to the east. Also from the East came precious gems and fine silk, a fabric especially sought after for women's clothing. These trading voyages were often paid for by investors.

                          Royalty




          Kings and Queens of England from 1485 to the Present

                        

            Religion & Philosophy

 In this example of Lutheran art Martin Luther holds the interest of a large congregation as he expounds his teachings.

As Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg*, Luther formulated the doctrine which became the basis of the Protestant Reformation. He despaired that humans were incurably evil by nature and that no amount of 'good works' could possibly merit a person's salvation. But in studying the Greek text of the Pauline Epistles he found new inspiration, which led him to teach a doctrine based on three revolutionary principles:

  1. By faith alone
  2. By scripture alone
  3. By grace alone

1) Sola fide ('by faith alone').

'The just shall live by faith.' (Romans 1:17)

Humans can gain salvation through faith, rather than through 'good works' or the dispensations of the Church. Until the Reformation, the Church held an effective monopoly on God's grace, which was dispensed through the sacraments* and guaranteed by the granting of indulgences*. The doctrine of justification by faith alone removed the need for a priestly hierarchy to mediate between God and the individual.

2) Sola scriptura ('by Scripture alone')

Religious truths can be known only through reading the Word of God as revealed in the Bible. This principle opened the door for 'radical' interpretations of God's Word, bringing those Catholic doctrines and rituals under attack which had uncertain Scriptural grounds*.

3) Sola gratia ('by grace alone')

'For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.' (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Humans are innately evil, incapable of either knowing religious truth or acting for the good without God's grace. Faith is only in the gift of God, and only through His inscrutable mercy are an elect few granted salvation. The Reformed Churches thus adopted a belief in predestination and the enslavement of the will by the flesh for those not predestined to salvation.

Women in the Renaissance-Literature for women

The audience of literate women in Shakespeare's time was not great, but it was large enough to make it worth a printer's time to publish books especially for them: books on cookery, household medicine, religious attitudes, and correct behaviour.

One work which combines many of these subjects was The English Housewife, by Gervase Markham

Containing the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman; as her skill in physic, cookery, banqueting-stuff, distillation, perfumes, wool, hemp, flax, dairies, brewing, baking, and all other things belonging to a household.

                                  Renaissance Art  

Like their medieval precursors, Renaissance painters were concerned with meaning and the ideal, but there were several developments that led to a more naturalistic style.

  • Painters were experimenting with new techniques, both in the medium--the refinement of oil paints for example--and style, especially in the discovery of the principles of perspective.
  • Their social status and role changed with the emergence of new patrons amongst the nobility and the rising merchant class.
  • Artists learned from classical art.
  • And the intellectual ferment of humanism created a new emphasis on drama and character in all arts.

Renaissance Architecture

Taking their cue from the simple lines of the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, the architects of the Renaissance designed buildings with the flat, wide windows that new engineering techniques made possible, but used simple arches, pediments, and columns.

The style thus created is usually known as Palladian, from the name of its most original practitioner.

Pictured here is the Banqueting Hall at Westminster, designed by one of the few great Renaissance English architects, Inigo Jones. Ironically, by the time he was creating the elegant simplicity of this building and others like it, architects in Europe were moving towards a more ornate style, the Baroque, where the detail, while still classical in inspiration, became more elaborate.








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