Term Paper: Cultural Transmissions by the Italian Renaissance

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Cultural Transmissions by the Italian Renaissance

European Renaissance of the 14th-17th century is considered to be a revival of antique culture and humanism ideas after prolonged Dark Ages of feudalism in Europe. it's generally agreed that starting from approximately 1000 AD Europe experienced crisis which lied in breaks of feudal economy. Absence of economical premises for development led to political, cultural and diplomatic stagnation all over Europe. Moreover, domination of Catholic Church, which persecuted progressive ideas that contradicted with Christianity dogmas and oppressive methods of inquisition led to self isolation of European states. Only Italy and southern Spain experienced some interaction with Arab world, later due to Crusades Europeans got acquainted with Arabic culture, Muslim world and Ancient Greek cultural legacy which was preserved in Byzantine. it's a historical fact that Italy became the first European nation to accept ideas of humanism and introduce them to culture, art and contemporary ethics. Revival of antique humanism in 14th -17th century is also known as period of European Renaissance which led to considerable social and political changes all over Europe. Italian Renaissance prepared ideological background for Reformation, bourgeois anti-absolutist revolutions in Britain, Netherlands and later in France. It changed outlook of Europeans, due to Great geographic discoveries, findings of scientists and religious reforms also inspired by humanist ideology of Renaissance.

Birth of Renaissance in Italy and historical premises for its spread all over Western Europe

Modern historians agree that Italian Renaissance started in North Italian cities of Venice, Florence and Siena. Later ideas of Renaissance spread all over Northern Italy to central areas such as Rome. Italian Renaissance flourished by the end of the 15th century, until country got involved in wars with foreign invaders also known as Italian wars. Despite the fact that Italy is considered to be the birth place of European Renaissance, it mainly concerned nobility and rich bourgeoisie (merchants) who could allow spending money on education, fine arts and music. For the rest of Italians life and culture changed from earlier epoch of dark Ages.

Historical premises for the spread of Renaissance ideas all over Europe were not only resulted by economical reasons, even though that economy played a significant role. End of Reconquista in Spain, which unified country and promoted its rise, development of trade, which boosted after plague epidemics and feudal wars lead to capital accumulation. The epoch of Great Geographic Discoveries only promoted further prosperity of European courts and defined economical reasons for Renaissance spread, as nobility and royalty had enough assets to support artists, poets, architects and other men of arts. From the other side by late 15th century European society was ready for social changes due to a number of reasons resulted by universal social shocks: feudal wars, failure of Crusades, Great plague, famines and epidemics. Gradually constant misfortunes which people experienced in the Middle Age epoch undermined authority of Catholic Church and of religion in general, sometimes leading to revolts and riots against existing orders. Such social shocks influenced consciousness of generations in different parts of Europe, forming their ethnic mentality which became different according to geographic location. That explains particularities of Renaissance spread in both Southern and Northern Europe as well as the fact that Europe radically changed in such short period of time with relatively little blood involved in it.

Renaissance period in Northern Italy started in the 13th century, as besides economical prosperity Italian cities-states developed under different political situation than most of European countries. Unlike other countries, such cities as Venice and Florence became fully independent from Holly Roman Empire and didn't suffer from absolutism of monarchs or obscurantism of Catholic Church. Besides, citizens of cities experienced more liberties which also defined penetration of secular ideals of Renaissance epoch to society of Italian elite.

Due to a favorable geographic position of Italy, Italian merchants established tight economic relations with Arabs and later with Turks promoting imports of eastern luxury products to Europe. Due to access to eastern dyes and big financial potential Northern cities of Italy turned into textile center of Europe. Goods exchange and availability of precious metals which were universal measure of exchange turned Northern Italy into the most prosperous region in Europe, which allowed Italian merchants to establish a prototype of banking system.

Ideology of Renaissance has a direct relationship to the revival and spread of humanism ideas all over Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. Humanism appeared in Italy and later penetrated to other western European countries. Interaction with Arab world allowed Italian merchants not only to establish permanent economical ties for imports of Eastern luxury goods to Europe but also allowed to rediscover works of antique authors and accept secular culture values and scientific knowledge of Arab Golden Age, which were inspired by works of ancient Roman and Greek authors: "Humanists emphasized the value of the classics for their own sake, rather than for their relevance to Christianity" (Hileman, 1)

Benjamin Khol writes that origins of humanism appeared in works of late medieval Italian writers such as Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and Boccaccio who were among the first to rediscover classic literature genre. On the hand with human centered beliefs of humanists, who adopted human centered outlook of antique pagan authors, humanists were pure Christians, yet, they had an idea to make society more secular in order to continue inevitable progress and development of knowledge. Today it's generally agreed that Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola is considered to be earliest ideologist of humanism as of system of values and secular beliefs. He developed this secular philosophy on the base of works of Pluto, Aristotle and Jewish Kabbalah, had common beliefs with other prominent scholars of the epoch (R. Bacon) that scientific knowledge should be have empirical basis. In Oration on the Dignity of Man Pico developed main principles on "natural philosophy" or philosophy of natural sciences which had to be based on pure experiment.

The development of humanistic traditions in later years was also stimulated by Byzantine scholars who fled to Italy (mainly to Florence) after fall of Constantinople to Ottoman Empire in 1453. Byzantine scholars founded Platonic Academy, which flourished in the 15th century under patronage of Cosimo de Medici, dictator of Florence who encouraged development of fine arts and architecture.

Later, the spread of humanistic thought continued rapidly after printing press was invented by Johann Guttenberg in 1440, which had dramatically increased the number of classic manuscript copiers. Starting from late 15th century copies and translations of classics became spread among European clergy and nobles. For both secular and clergy classes antique philosophy and antique literature works had a deep interest, which gradually was changing people's outlook.

In Northern Italy which didn't experience total dominance of feudalism and Catholic clergy humanism mainly developed in the fields of literature, fine arts and political sciences (works of Machiavelli). But penetrating to central Europe humanism extended in such fields as religious studies, theology, government and education. From this point it's important to note works and political life of Czech professor John Huss and German scholars Reuchlin and Melanchton, who prepared ideological background for Reformation.

Speaking about penetration of Renaissance ideas to European countries it's important to note that both fine arts and philosophical views got specific particularities in later epoch. Depending upon location works of art varied from pure classical genres to more realistic themes. For example Spanish and Italian art was mainly influenced by classics, as majority of Spanish and Italian paintings and sculptures of this period were done for glorification of elite as they were close to works of antique authors by their grandeur and magnificence. Italian and later Spanish elite possessed wealth, which they did not invest either in manufacturing or in agriculture, but instead invested in fine arts. American colonies of Spain supplied court and nobility with gold and silver, which was then exchanged on goods in Europe or was spent on art.

In such countries as Belgium, Netherlands, German states and Britain classic genre was gradually replaced by more realistic genres, as local bourgeoisie began to show growing interest in fine arts and was rich enough to support it. Today we know Northern Renaissance mainly due to portraits of "new elite": merchants, bourgeoisie, officers, urban themes, etc. It can be explained by historical particularities of economy in European countries. Colonial empires such as Spain and Portugal did not develop local manufacturing and instead preferred to purchase manufactured goods from Western European states which had developed local economies. Such situation created inequalities in wealth distribution countrywide, which as a result defined the level of Renaissance ideas penetration. As a result, secular ideology and outlook of Renaissance epoch got wider spread in Western and Northern Europe as local bourgeoisie appeared to be more willing to accept progressive changes.

Despite the fact that humanist ideology was closer to more people in Western Europe rather than in Southern Europe, literature in France, England or Germany was not influenced much by works of earlier Renaissance authors:

Clearly the non-Italian peoples of Europe identified themselves… [END OF PREVIEW]

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