Late Medieval & Renaissance Europe
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Late Medieval & Renaissance Europe The arts and the inventions, the knowledge and the books, which suddenly became vital at the time of the Renaissance, had long lain neglected on the shores of the Dead Sea, which we call the Middle Ages. It was not their discovery which caused the Renaissance; but it was the intellectual energy, the spontaneous outburst of intelligence, which enabled mankind at that moment to make use of them. The force then generated still continues, vital and expansive, in the spirit of the modern world. . . . During the Middle Ages man had lived enveloped in a cowl. He had not seen the beauty of the world, or had seen it only to cross himself and turn aside, to tell his beads and pray. ... During the Middle Ages . . . the plastic arts, like philosophy, had degenerated into barren and meaningless scholasticism—a frigid reproduction of lifeless forms copied technically and without inspiration from debased patterns. . . .
A Short History of the Renaissance in Italy (1893)
Evaluate the historical validity of the statements above. What are the major claims being made about the Renaissance & Middle Ages? Do you primarily agree or disagree? Explain.
Late Medieval & Renaissance Europe It is obvious that some term, descriptive of the change which began to pass over Europe, has to be adopted. That of Renaissance . . . is sufficient for the purpose, though we have to guard against the tyranny of what is after all a metaphor. We must not suffer it to lead us into rhetoric about the deadness and the darkness of the middle ages . . . Entry on ‘The Renaissance’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Thirteenth edition (1926)
CONTINUITY: Unlike the Roman world, medieval civilization did not “fall.” There were no waves of invading barbarians, no collapse of civic order and commerce. On the contrary, western Europe at the “close” of the Middle Ages displayed a remarkable vitality and an expansive spirit. It moved, without a noticeable break, into “modern” times. Thus we cannot point to any historical event or series of events and say, “Here ended the Middle Ages.” We might even say that our present civilization is an extension of medieval times. . . . A Brief History of the Western World (1997)
CHANGE: Above all, three salient movements of change brought the Middle Ages to an end. The first was the Renaissance, or cultural rebirth, engendered by the rediscovery of classical texts. . . Second, as we have seen, was the exploration & colonization of the New World, which would ultimately help end the Mediterranean Sea’s role as the center of European prosperity. . . . The third was the Reformation, which, beginning in the second decade of the sixteenth century, challenged the unity of the Roman Catholic Church. . . . Thus, by 1500, in the waning years of the Renaissance, the stage had been set for the trends that would shape early modern Europe. A History of Modern Europe (1996)
Renaissance as Revolutionary Change The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) by Jacob Burckhardt
The worldliness, through which the Renaissance seems to offer so striking a contrast to the Middle Ages, owed its first origin to the flood of new thoughts, purposes, and views which transformed the medieval conception of nature and man. . . . It is a lofty necessity of the modern spirit that this attitude, once gained, can never again be lost. . . . 
Burckhardt: Emphasized novelty & modernity of Renaissance 1) New secular ideas of government (modern state) 2) New ways of exploring nature (science & art) 3) New revival of Greco-Roman classics (humanism) 4) New emphasis on the individual (individualism) 5) In contrast to the backward Middle Ages (“Dark Ages”)
Renaissance as Continuity It is useless to draw a sharp line between one period called the 'Middle Ages' and another called the 'Renaissance'. The early Renaissance . . . coexisted with that of late medieval Europe. The European Renaissance (1998) To Jacob Burckhardt, the nineteenth-century Swiss historian and art critic who marked the starting point of all modern interpretations of the Renaissance with his great Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), the Renaissance was the spirit of self-discovery and fulfillment, of recognition of human worth, and a dynamic outpouring of artistic activity. It was also the beginning of modern times, for Renaissance Italy was "the firstborn among the sons of modern Europe." Since Burckhardt's time, many have criticized his interpretation. . . . He did over emphasize the cultural break between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and failed to recognize the equally marked distinctions between Renaissance society and the modern industrial world. History, after all, is both continuity and change. He probably laid too much stress on individualism and secularism as Renaissance characteristics and not enough on its deep religious content. Yet his recognition of the dynamic nature of Renaissance society and its cultural grounding in classical literature and art is well founded and important. The Meaning of the Renaissance (1996) by De Lamar Jensen
Renaissance as Continuity It should be understood, of course, that recognition of the Renaissance as a period in history does not imply that it was completely different from what preceded and what followed it. Even in a dynamic view of history, periodization may prove a very useful instrument if properly handled. The gradual changes brought about by a continuous historical development may be in large part changes in degree, but when they have progressed far enough they become for all practical purposes changes in kind. To follow a good humanist precedent and argue from the analogy of the human body, the gradual growth of man from childhood to maturity is an unbroken process, yet there is a recognizable difference between the man and the child he has been. Perhaps the analogy, as applied to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, is unfortunate in that it suggests a value judgment that might be regarded as invidious . . . Wallace K. Ferguson, “The Reinterpretation of the Renaissance” (1959)
Italian Renaissance: Economic & Political Context by 1300: growing city-states, 23+ cities (20,000+) oligarchies/republics: Siena, Florence, Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Bologna % of male citizens could vote: 12%, 14th c. Bologna, 2%, 15th c. Venice despotic: Milan (Visconti--> Sforza) Ferrara (Este) Mantua (Gonzaga) Why were these city-states successful? good location--> geographical advantage textile manufacture --> wool from England & Spain agricultural surplus --> grain, wine, vegetables merchant capitalism --> erodes nobility’s power survival of Roman law & system of roads Venice & Genoa -major banking, trade, shipbuilding & insurance -woolens, linen, metals --> to the East -cotton, silk, spices, slaves, other luxuries --> from the East
Italian Renaissance: Economic & Political Context Florence (‘cradle of the Italian Renaissance’) -walled city, Arno River, Tuscan dialect -many schools, high literacy, wealthy merchants -(1434) de’ Medici family seizes political control Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464) banking & textiles patronage of arts & philosophy Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492) In the late Middle Ages the Italian peninsula was the scene of a sudden expansion in banking, trade and the textile industry. This brought with it the reconstruction of great cities . . . It brought extreme wealth to some and it also altered the fabric of human experience. During this period the first systematic recovery of urban life since the days of the Roman Empire took place. The textile industry required a considerable workforce to maintain profitable production, and cities on a large scale sprang up to serve it. This urban expansion also brought about a social crisis. Tens of thousands of impoverished rural labourers flooded towards the cities--one of the largest of which was Florence . . .
Renaissance (1999) by Andrew Graham-Dixon