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The Renaissance and Humanism Essay

The middle ages were a time of ignorance and lack of progress. The church had taken over the majority of power in the western world, and feudalism kept everyone in their place so that a time continued where the people of Europe made practically no progress. Humanism is the belief that a person has the power and duty to be the best person they can be. The middle ages could have stretched on loner, but due to the black plague exterminating a third of the population, social and economic needs changed. People that did not have much power could be lifted to a higher rank simply because so many upper class people had died. It almost seems like the men and women that survived the plague were proving to god and themselves that they deserve to be alive because they had something to contribute to the new dynamic climate of the renaissance. Humanism was the most important philosophy to the renaissance because it encouraged the kind of glorification of self that was needed to get out of the dark ages.

A renaissance man was a humanist, but a humanist did not have to be a renaissance man. A renaissance man is a classic and very specific person. He must be trained in diverse skills and be good at all of them. Many higher-ranking men at this time accomplished being a renaissance man. Leonardo de Vinci was an Italian renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientists, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, botanist and writer. His genius, perhaps more than any other figure, epitomized the renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo de Vinci practiced humanism all his life and made many radical changes away from traditional western ways. His dissection of human bodies was the first time someone tried to understand the workings of man without any religion.

Humanists like Leonardo do Vince caused conflict with religion because humanism spread through Italy and began effecting priests and other religious people. The humanist priests wanted to go back to the original holy texts, just to make sure what is being taught was really was needed to be taught. The focus on religion from the dark ages continued to the renaissance, after all. The great artists and writers were just using their talents to celebrate god. Michelangelo was the most influential artist of the renaissance. His countless influences on western art mostly drew from his understanding of the figure. Pre renaissance art was very stiff and declarative in its nature. Michelangelo focused on the perfection of the human figure, a very humanist statement in his artwork. Humanism affected all aspects of the renaissance from art to politics.

Humanists believed that there was a standard of excellence that had to be achieved by mastering many different skills. The ultimate humanist by that definition was Baldassare Castiglione. He was an Italian courtier, diplomat, soldier and a prominent author. His most influential writing was the Book of the Courtier; it remains the definitive account of renaissance court life. Because of this it is considered one of the renaissance’s most important works. He described a humanist and a renaissance man that knew exactly how to behave. The influence of this book caused an even bigger expansion of the renaissance.

A sudden burst of intellectual and humanist light cut through the superstitious fog of the dark ages, and it was called the renaissance. Humanism started and drove this movement from within. A realization of the power of man, the intellectual expanse of religious philosophy, and the holiness of human beings each headed new ideas in western civilization.


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