The Renaissance

by Walter Pater

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What are four characteristics of the Renaissance?

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The characteristics of the Renaissance included a revitalized interest in classical Greek and Roman thought, an increased receptiveness to humanist philosophies, a commercial and urban revolution, and the inception of the modern state.

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The Renaissance, which literally means “rebirth,” was an era of dynamism, excitement, and change. Human beings reached out toward new ideas and new goals and extended themselves beyond the limits of what they thought they could achieve.

The Renaissance was characterized first by the growth of humanism, the centrality of the human being and human achievements. Renaissance writers, thinkers, and artists focused their attention on what it means to be human. Writers explored the human condition. Artists painted the human body in new and creative ways. Thinkers explored the inner workings of the human mind, human relationships, and human society. Just think about the human-centered works of Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, or Machiavelli's political musings in The Prince to get an idea of Renaissance humanism.

Even as Renaissance people were looking inward at themselves, though, they were also looking backward toward the past. The Renaissance was a time of rediscovery of the classical Greek and Roman traditions, and scholars immersed themselves in the philosophies and texts of the ancient world. They learned the languages, created new translations, and drew life lessons from their ancestors. Renaissance queen Elizabeth I of England, for instance, translated several ancient works by the likes of Cicero and Seneca.

The Renaissance was also a time of discovery, a time when people reached out to the wider world. Explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus took to the oceans to find new trade routes and new continents. New navigational tools like the astrolabe and magnetic compass came into wider use as sailors ranged farther afield. Whole new worlds opened up before European eyes, worlds they had hardly even dreamed to exist.

With this exploration and discovery, commerce flourished. The Renaissance saw the rise of a money economy, expanded trade, banking, and city life. More people became involved in business activities and money making. International, even worldwide, trade blossomed as new sea routes opened new or expanded commercial channels (like spices from the Indies, for example), and cities grew to incorporate these new ventures.

Indeed, the Renaissance was an exciting time, filled with possibilities, beauty, great ideas, scientific discoveries, new vistas, and increasing opportunities.

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One of the characteristics of the Renaissance was an expanded sense of possibility. With the rediscovery of ancient learning, Western man found himself possessed of a newfound confidence in his ability to learn more about the world around him. It seemed to many that there were no limits to the knowledge that man could acquire now that he was equipped with a humanistic world view free from the shackles of medieval scholasticism—a system of learning which had become increasingly incapable of saying anything meaningful about the empirical world.

Another characteristic of Renaissance humanism was its consonance with the values and doctrines of the Church. Despite this, however, it paved the way for later generations of thinkers to develop wholly secularized academic disciplines which would no longer need to conform their teachings to the demands of official theology.

A third characteristic of the Renaissance is that its thinkers tended to believe that developing our intellectual and cultural potentialities was a way for man to honor his divine maker, making full use of the talents given to us by God. There was thus no dichotomy between the pursuit of earthly wisdom and sincere worship of the Almighty.

However—and this is the fourth and final characteristic of the Renaissance we're going to examine—this great intellectual and cultural movement unwittingly laid the foundations for subsequent generations to take humanism a step further and dispense with formal religion altogether. This drove a wedge between faith and reason, the secular and the religious, the sacred and the profane, thus creating divisions that have characterized intellectual life in the West since the Enlightenment.

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The Renaissance, or "Rebirth," was a revival of learning and art in Europe after the Dark Ages. Here are major characteristics of this period:

1. The influence of the Italian scholar Petrarch, who revitalized interest in the classical thought of the Greeks and Romans. This revival of classical thought was a rejection of the "barbarism" and the "corruptions" of the centuries since the times of the Greeks and Romans.

2. The embracing of Humanism made sweeping changes. Whereas medieval scholars had been concerned with the harnessing of reason in the service and defense of religion, the Renaissance scholar, poet, and philosopher concerned himself with the real world, the world of nature and men, As a consequence, universities became more secular, producing now educated laymen; heretofore, only those of the religious orders had been scholars. Renaissance art, too, became more natural and realistic.

3. The commercial revolution began as feudalism died and different areas of the European countries developed important urban commercial centers. Regional self-sufficiency also began as areas concentrated on what they best produced, such as raw materials, grain and other foods, or creation of needed tools, etc. By the middle of the period, small-scale trading evolved into commercial capitalism and a revolution had certainly begun as trading was conducted overseas.

4. The creation of the Renaissance state came about after the decline of papal and Imperial dominance left Italy and a bellicose condition began as larger states absorbed lesser ones. As a result, the forerunners of the modern state began as the Medieval republican city governments that ruled outlying territories as well were replaced by an individual despot in Milan, a powerful, rich oligarchy in Venice and Florence, and by the pope in papal states around Rome.

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The first characteristic is a philosophical basis in humanism, or the belief that any problem in civilization could be solved by human rationalism. Whereas religious doctrine promoted the belief that people were inherently sinful and could only be redeemed by the denial of the body and submission to God, humanists declared that the human mind and body were extraordinary and should be admired.

In keeping with its love of the human mind and body, Renaissance artists revived the aesthetics of the Classical era, using the remnants of Ancient Rome as inspiration. Thus, the second characteristic is a revival of the Classical arts.

Outside of the arts, the Renaissance also saw the expansion of mercantilism. Trade expanded throughout the Italian city-states, leading to great wealth and the creation of the merchant class. The Medici family is the best known example of successful merchants. The Dutch also successfully participated in trade.

A fourth characteristic of the Renaissance is that, due to the wealth of merchants, arts patronage became common. Members of the merchant class commissioned artists to paint portraits of them which often showcased their wealth and prestige. The Jan van Eyck painting The Arnolfini Marriage is an example of this.

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What are the characteristics of the Renaissances?

The Renaissance period is a period in history which is placed between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age. It is usually considered to have taken place in the fifteenth and sixteenth century throughout Europe, mainly in Italy.

The term Renaissance means “re-birth.” One of the main characteristics of the Renaissance period is the re-birth of the classical culture and its values. People at the time started to rediscover and value classical scholarship, leading to a re-birth of the classical values and the trends of ancient Rome and ancient Greece. The works of classical philosophers became fashionable again and were studied eagerly, in the hope that society could be improved through them. As a result, there was a huge surge in scientific improvement during the Renaissance period. People took an increased interest in nature, having been inspired by the works of classical philosophers and writers. Rather than just relying on religion to explain nature, people during the Renaissance period tried to figure out natural and scientific laws in order to answer their questions about life.

Through the invention of the printing press, written work could now be copied and passed on to others, thus creating a much wider audience. In art, the classical influence can be seen in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, for example. Following the trends in classical art, Renaissance art is very much depicting nature and other objects as they are, following mathematical principles. In architecture, Renaissance led to a revival of the ancient temple shapes, with columns and domes.

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