What are the main features of humanism?

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martinjmurphy | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The Italian city-states and the idea of humanism played important roles in the Renaissance.  The work of the artists, writers and architects that were sponsored by wealthy ruling families reflected the ideas of humanism.  At the end of the Middle Ages, Italian towns grew into wealthy independent city-states, governing themselves and the surrounding country.  Spurred by overseas trade, these city states began to grow and huge fortunes were made by Italian merchants and bankers. Wealthy families, such as the de Medicis of Florence, began to rule these city states.  The independence of these city states allowed these rulers to experiment in government and in the world of ideas.  The wealth of these ruling families allowed them to sponsor artists and writers and pay for statues and new buildings.

Humanists took an interest in the classical writing and admired the classical culture of ancient Greeks and Romans and stressed the importance of the individual. It emphasized classical learning and human potential and achievements. These beliefs had a strong influence on Renaissance art.  Artists began to make their paintings more realistic through the use of perspective, making them appear 3 dimensional as opposed to the 2 dimensional artwork of previous times.  Religion was an important subject in Renaissance art just as it was in the Middle Ages.  But with the ideas of humanism, religious subjects were portrayed as realistic and human and did not convey a spiritual ideal like Medieval artists.  The emphasis on individual human achievement was also portrayed in Renaissance art.  Renaissance artists painted realistic portraits which showed the distinct character of the individual.  The human body was glorified by artists such as Michelangelo, emphasizing the individual and the potential of the human person and reflecting the ideals of classical Greek and Roman art.

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