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There are several important differences between the Italian Renaissance and that of Northern Europe. At the end of the Middle Ages, Italian towns grew into 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. In contrast, the Northern Renaissance developed differently. In the Middle Ages, feudalism was more highly developed in Northern Europe than in Italy. The traditions of chivalry and knighthood were stronger there. Therefore, in Northern Europe, it was nobles and royalty that had the most power and money. Kings, queens and nobles were patrons of the arts there as opposed to wealthy merchant and banking families in Italy. Learning in Northern Europe centered around royal courts, not the homes of great families.
In Italy, the work of the artists, writers and architects that were sponsored by these wealthy 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. Northern Humanism differed from Italian humanism. Northern Europe had fewer large towns which could act as cultural centers, so the church played a more active role in the Northern Renaissance. Northern humanists stressed the importance of spiritual life more than the Italians. Though Northern humanists studied the classical works of Greece and Rome, they also learned the Greek and Hebrew language in order to carefully study the writings and thoughts of early Christians. Artistic styles also differed. In the North, oil based paints were used which dried more slowly allowing colors to be mixed more easily creating newer, more subtle shades.
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