Describe Humanism and the Renaissance and how they differed from the social reality of the Middle Ages

Expert Answers
larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Humanism during the Renaissance promulgated the idea that expresses the values of humanity, that is human beings, and celebrates that value. Renaissance Humanists valued classical learning and studied the classics in the original Greek and Roman. Humanist thinking is often reflected in the art of the Renaissance period which often depicts people quite realistically (even anatomically correct at times.) Humanism did not deny the existence of God; but rather held that man was God's greatest creation and should be celebrated as such.The great Humanist thinkers of the day were people like Disiderious Erasmus who found errors in the Vulgate translation of the Bible; and Sir Thomas More. The works of great artists such as Michaelangelo and Leonardo reflect humanist ideals.

During the Middle Ages, the typical concept of human beings were that they were imperfect, sinful, and moving through temporary lives. Speculation and experimentation were discouraged, as this would lead to error, which would lead to sin. The art of the period does not depict people realistically, nor does it show emotion or perspective. The only authorities accepted during this period were Aristotle and the Bible; curiously because Medieval Scholars believed that those two authorities complemented each other. The prevailing doctrine, the study of these two authorities, was known as Scholasticism. This was rejected by Renaissance thinkers who went beyond these two authorities in search of greater meaning. The great Medieval thinkers were people such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Jerome.

martinjmurphy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The work of the artists, writers and architects that were sponsored by wealthy Italian ruling families reflected the ideas of humanism.  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.  Unlike medieval art which was flat and 2 dimensional, Renaissance 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.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting question, because really the social realities and lived experiences of the vast majority of Europeans did not change all that much as a result of the Renaissance or the emergence of humanist thought that characterized it. Indeed, it is doubtful that most Europeans, who remained peasants and small farmers throughout the period, would have known a Renaissance was occurring (or would have cared if they did know).

What did change, then? The answer was a change in worldview among many, but not all, European intellectuals and writers. Humanism was a system of thought that emphasized worldly concerns alongside spiritual ones, and that looked to classical antiquity as a source of wisdom and knowledge. In art that meant the glorification and idealization of the human form, the valorization of the artist, and experimentation with new techniques. In philosophy, a new generation of thinkers like Erasmus and (in very different ways) Machiavelli abandoned the rigid Scholasticism of medieval thinkers and rooted their critiques of contemporary politics and culture in pragmatic, real-world thinking. Writers also embraced secular themes and began to write in vernacular languages like French, Italian, English, and German rather than in Latin.