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The Defining Concept of the Renaissance

The defining element of the Renaissance was the humanist movement. It was this single concept that affected every area of the Renaissance society and closed the door on the Middle Ages. Humanism was the essence of the Renaissance.

The many forms of art: painting, sculpture, music, and drama was touched by the surge of Humanism during the 1480-1520 European Renaissance. Music was mostly found within the churches. Baldesar Castiglione commented on how one could find “refreshing spiritual food in music.” Music was just not for dancing or worship. It was “always celebrated and held sacred among the ancients, and how very sage philosophers were of opinion that the world is composed of music, that the heavens make harmony in their moving, and that the soul, being ordered in like fashion, awakes and as it were revives its powers through music.” No longer was music part of the past or of the religious sect. Music was to become a part of every man.

Painting became more real and expressive. Humanism brought art out of flat surfaces and gave paintings and sculptures dimension. It was an “increasing mastery of realism among the painters of the fifteenth century [that] made the use of symbols even more exact and complex.” With Humanism, art began to tell many stories within one peace. One hundred people could look at the same painting and receive the same number of messages. Classical references increased in pieces as more of the ancient texts were read. Anyone who was educated and learned in the classics would be able to see even more in the pieces than the average person could. Castiglione said that painting had “the summit of excellence among the ancients”. It was something to be admired.

The creative spirit of the artist came directly out of Humanism. Creativity was not suppressed as in ages past. The artists were allowed to explore and let their piece tell the story. The individual received more power.

As the individual person could express their feelings through art, the individual was also finding ways to improvement themselves intellectually. Humanism taught that “man had the power so to shape his own development that he could become either bestialized or spiritualized, it led to a reappraisal of how, and what, men should think.” In the past, a man was born to be whatever his father and grandfather had been. Humanists began to see that man could shape his own destiny and not just sit back and let the world direct him: “Man, when he entered life, the Father gave the seeds of every kind and every way of life possible. Whatever seeds each man sows and cultivates will grow and bear him their proper fruit.”

By taking ones own destiny into ones hands, the humanist turned to the ancient texts “of moral, ethical, and religious belief, rather than studying them through debased texts and medieval commentators.” Humanism allowed man to ignore the opinionated and sometimes agenda filled teachings and go back to the sources of the teachings in the original languages. Tradition and ‘fact’ that had been corrupted were beginning to be pushed aside for something stronger that Humanism allowed.


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