What were the main characteristics of the Italian Renaissance?
One of the important characteristics of the Italian Renaissance was the emergence of humanism. Humanism, broadly defined, was a rediscovery of the study of classical authors, with a focus on the ethical content of their writings, and it informed many different cultural aspects of the Renaissance. It led to another cultural characteristic of the Italian Renaissance, which was secularism. While much of the art and the literature of the period remained strongly religious and spiritual in nature, Italian thinkers tended to place man, and the human condition, at the center of intellectual discourse. In particular, they rejected the implication that original sin had made all people inherently depraved and wicked, as humanist Pico Della Mirandola claimed in his seminal work Oration on the Dignity of Man:
...I have come to some understanding of how man is the most fortunate of living things and, consequently, deserving of all admiration; of what may be the condition in the hierarchy of beings assigned to him, which draws upon him the envy, not of the brutes alone, but of the astral beings and of the very intelligences which dwell beyond the confines of the world. A thing surpassing belief and smiting the soul with wonder. Still, how could it be otherwise? For it is on this ground that man is, with complete justice, considered and called a great miracle and a being worthy of all admiration.
Mirandola, like many of his contemporaries, placed man at the center of the world, which carried the obvious implication that intellectual endeavor ought to be focused on better the condition of men. Other characteristics of the Italian Renaissance were the advent of complex diplomacy between Italian city-states, which contributed to the development of rational statecraft most famously articulated by Machiavelli in The Prince.
Finally, the Italian Renaissance featured a focus on the visual arts, including painting, architecture, and scuplture, with an emphasis on technical ability and innovation not previously seen in the Western world since classical times. Artists for the first time were viewed as celebrities, and men like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo became very wealthy.