During the European Renaissance scholars and artists began to seek other sources of inspirations beyond the Catholic faith. Many adopted a humanistic outlook-focusing on the potential and the achievements of human beings. In addition art changed, becoming more realistic. How did the Renaissance thinkers and artists view human beings during this time?
The question pretty much answers itself. One of the most notable achievements of the Renaissance was the freedom artists and scientists suddenly felt to diverge from Church orthodoxy and create images and present findings predicated on actual science rather than those predicated upon dictates from above. The most important artists from the Renaissance, mainly Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, presented human images that were anatomically accurate. Da Vinci, inarguably the quintessential “Renaissance man,” injected a great deal of realistic imagery into his work and, in fact, his Vitruvian Man is an enormously important depiction of man through both artistic and scientific prisms. Similarly, Albrecht Durer, a German artist and mathematician, drew and carved images of wildlife, most prominently, his woodcut of a rhinoceros, that were attempts at presenting anatomically-correct depictions that, while not always accurate for never having actually witnessed the item depicted, nevertheless were representative of the approach that became characteristic of the Renaissance period. The casting-off of religious iconography and its replacement with humanist depictions of nature marked a radical departure, and one for which artists could suffer for their art.
Perceptions of mankind characteristic of the Renaissance were noticeably more realistic than those that preceded this period of time. The knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome had been subordinated to theological descriptions of the origins and nature of man that were often at variance with what artists and others were able to see for themselves. Individuality and nonconformity became the norm, and idealized visions of people far removed from reality were increasingly marginalized. Suggestions of divine presence and a theologically-driven concept of an afterlife were sublimated to more worldly manifestations of human nature. While “realism” was occasionally influenced by the tastes and demands of those commissioning the works, there was far greater latitude for artists in how they interpreted subject matter. Basically, perceptions of beauty were allowed a much greater range of expression than heretofore had been the case.
As much as art benefited from the Renaissance, advances in astronomy, a field of study particularly susceptible to influence from the Catholic Church, were equally striking. Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei all made substantial and important contributions to our understanding of the universe, beginning with Copernicus’ assertion that the Sun and not Earth is the center of a system around which the planets orbit. Church orthodoxy held that the Earth was the center of the universe, and any suggestion otherwise was a punishable offense. The Copernican heliocentric theory of the solar system represented a courageous and scientifically-sound formula, upon which the other astronomers listed would build. It would take effort to gain acceptance of these theories, but the contributions of these individuals cannot be overstated.
The Renaissance in essence was the exploration of the achievements of man. Prior to the Renaissance, the people believed that their purpose in life was to live a life worthy of getting into Heaven. Their religious standings held more importance than their individual characters. Humanism changed that; instead, it said to celebrate what man can do. They brought back the classical concepts of the Greeks and Romans to enjoy life and to live it to the fullest. There was still a religious inspiration, but instead of the giant golden halos and the disproportionate sizes, the paintings became more human with human backgrounds and with human proportions.
What the Renaissance thinkers and artists brought was a deviation from orthodox thinkings - that the Church is not always right.