What were the main characteristics of the Renaissance?

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The main ideas of the Renaissance centered around original principles; the thinkers of the Renaissance wished to get back to what they called the "Golden Era" of ancient Greece and Rome. This led to more of a focus on humanism and logic. Art reflected this humanism in that more emphasis was spent on studying the human body and facial features. Paintings such as Mona Lisa celebrated humanity by making the person the focus of the work. Writers and philosophers studied ancient Greeks and Romans and even took pseudonyms that made them appear to be from the era. Renaissance religious thinkers wished to go back to the earliest days of the Christian Church; Martin Luther sought to create the Church as it appeared to the apostles in the New Testament.

Another main feature of the period was the overall growth in learning. Gutenberg's printing press made books more available for the masses, and more people learned to read. Languages other than Latin became popular, and with the growth of languages such as French and English, nationalism also began to increase. Monarchs sought to increase their power through developing strong armies at the expense of feudal lords. This led to what is referred to as the Military Revolution, in which large states developed large armies. There is a debate in scholarly circles whether the need for large armies or the need for more efficient taxation measures came first in history, but the modern state comes from this period. Secularism also rose with secular literature and the overall weakening of the Vatican. Trade increased as more people demanded the spices of Asia. This led to exploration by the maritime powers of Europe, thus making the states of Spain, England, and France, among others, quite wealthy.

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The Renaissance was a cultural and intellectual movement which began in Italy in the later Middle Ages and, by the sixteenth century, had enveloped the rest of Europe. One of the defining characteristics of this movement was a revival of interest in ancient texts and ideas which is best reflected in the art, music and literature of this period.

Secondly, the Renaissance was characterised by an emphasis on individual ability. This belief, also known as humanism, held human dignity in high regard and emphasised the potential of individuals to achieve and succeed. It is best summarised by the contemporary architect, Leon Battisti Alberti, who said: "Man can do all things if they will."  

Economic recovery is another defining characteristic of the Renaissance. In the decades preceding this movement, Medieval Europe was ravaged by the Black Death, an outbreak of plague which killed around one-third of the European population. It also heavily disrupted trade and brought about an end to the system of feudalism.

Finally, as trade picked up again during the Renaissance, there was a growth of new industries across Europe. As people's wealth increased, a number of new luxury industries came into being which supplied people with silks, glassware and handcrafted items made from precious stones. This period also witnessed the birth of printing and mining which grew at a phenomenal rate and came to rival more traditional industries, like textiles.


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