Classical Humanism

Categories: HumanismPhilosophy

During the Renaissance period, the church/ religion was a big part of everyday life being a guide for how life should be lived. There was protocol and how life was meant to be lived and women and men had standards to uphold such as women being dainty and beautiful, men had to have a sort of strength and masculine leader type quality being the head of the household. Classical Humanism gave mankind a realization of their own worth and dignity as a person, questioning religion and trying to find where their own morals and beliefs stood with them as a person in the society that had these ideas of what a man and women must be.

Religion began to separate from everyday life. Realizing one’s own personal needs and values in life that they lived and knew was real was more important than a promise of an afterlife which no one could be certain of. Classical Humanism was the beginning of humankind being independent of the church.

Paintings and artists during the Classical Humanism time express this change of putting morals and one’s personal ideals above the ideals of the church and expressing their feelings whether it be negative or positive to the church. Artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Sandro Botticelli express themselves during this time. Their paintings helped to express their ideas and views that they wanted to show.

Sandro Botticelli used feminine figures in many paintings, capturing the elegance and beauty of women. During the Renaissance era when women are portrayed in a painting the idea of what a woman came from the idea of Eve tempting Adam with the forbidden fruit expressing that there was this side to a woman that she could be tempted by evil and lust.

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Botticelli’s paintings lacked naturalism, his style consisted more of a fantasy element. Carl Rollyson says in Sandro Botticelli, ‘Ethereal feminine beauty is so much a part of Botticelli’s classical and religious paintings that it has been speculated that he was deeply influenced by the Neoplatonists, who equated the concept of Beauty with Truth.”(Rollyson 11). His paintings features were elegant and expressed feminine sexuality in a way that was not thought of as a taboo.

Sandro Botticelli’s painting ‘Birth of Venus’ is one of his most famous paintings. Jane C. Long says in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as Wedding Painting*, ‘If Botticelli’s lack of naturalism places the painting in the fantasy realm, it is, of course, the goddess’ unabashed nudity that most directly raises issues of sexuality”(Long 5). The idea of sexuality is a fifty/fifty concept, even in religion nudity is not always a positive concept. For instance, in the Chapter of Genisis when Adam and Eve realize they are naked after eating the forbidden fruit they feel ashamed of being naked. The way religion has portrayed nudity is not a positive idea unless in a divine or higher power concept. In certain ideas, it is holy, such as Christ. The nudity in ‘Birth of Venus’ being portrayed in an elegant fashion with the facial features and soft casual pose gave a sense of peace. The color tones and background highlighting a goddess feeling being based on Aphrodite. Botticelli’s painting is an example of classical humanism because of the sexuality in the painting, along with portraying the ideal of how and what a woman should look like. The painting expresses love, and with the idea that Venus is based on the goddess Aphrodite it also expresses fertility. The painting shows that Religion and the idea of having morals can coexist. That it is possible to have religion and life.

Hieronymus Bosch, as an artist his paintings were very dark. His art explored the side of religion that is associated with the bad parts/ the evil in a way. His art stood out from your typical artists in the renaissance era with the holy figures. Bosch in a way went in the other direction of other artists in his time, expressing the imagery of the other side of religion that not had been illustrated in art yet. Diane Wolfthal states in the biography of Hieronymus Bosch, “Bosch’s art stands outside the mainstream of early Netherlandish painting. While Bosch’s holy figures are plain and at times awkward, most Netherlandish artists, such as Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and Hans Memling, idealize and dignify the Holy Family and saints.”(Wolfthal 6). Wolfthal describes Bosch’s technique to be unique of his time.

While holy figures that were painted by artists always had a sense of a regal look to them, whether it be the colors or the clothes or the position of their figure. However, Bosch when he painted holy figures he portrayed them like humans in a way, showing that they were saints but had a dark side to themselves. Either by altering their appearances/ flaws or having them in a way that it represented a sin. Taking place in an era where religion was a heavy influence on life it brought conflict but taking place in the Classical Humanism period where people put their own worth and ideas first above religion found his paintings to be interesting. Diane Wolfthal also says, “Bosch’s obsession with sin, death, and corruption expresses an undercurrent that is easily detected in northern Europe.

Some in the North accepted new ideas, such as the Humanistic belief in the dignity of humanity; however, for others, the time around 1500 produced only fear, conflict, and uncertainty.”(Wolfthal 7). Bosch’s art expresses the ideas that an artist was able to imagine and come up with based on the idea of religion taught by the church, using that knowledge to be inspired and create his pieces. The ideas that Bosch expressed in his paintings showed the views of the Classical Humanism. The dark features and colors combined with the same ideas of questioning religion by using dark elements like the bat wings and rats.

His paintings expressed the ideas of humankind finding where they stood in life and trying to find where religion took place in life. S.F. says in Damned delight: heaven, hell, and Hieronymus Bosch, ‘He took these creatures on the periphery and made them central characters within his panel paintings. He combined them with his observations of comical scenes from everyday life and images taken from Medieval proverbs, fables, and myths — some of which did not have a pictorial tradition — to illustrate sins and follies.”(S.F. 10). When saying Bosch used ideas that artists had not tried yet it brought to light the style of his paintings. The dark themes and tones to his creations.

One of Bosch paintings ‘The Creation of Eve: Garden of Earthly Delights’ expresses many ideas. In the first frame, the painting expresses the beginning, Adam and Eve in The Garden of Eden with God. The holy figures that represent the beginning of humanity. As the painting continues Bosch expresses the seven deadly sins and the corruption from the seven deadly sins. Traditionally the concept of Adam and Eve is viewed in a beautiful view. while showing elements of the story of Adam and Eve it portrays elements that are looked down upon by the church and society, the seven deadly sins. It is an example of classical humanism because the painting brings the idea of religion into play intertwining Adam and Eve into the seven deadly sins. The idea of using the biblical teaching of Adam and Eve and showing the decedents of Adam and Eve tempted by sins.

Classical Humanism was a very interesting point in art. The change in personal values and the weight of the church in the household was a big deal. Humankind started to think for themselves and having a voice. Classical Humanism was the beginning of humankind being independent of the church. The ideas of fitting into a mold and upholding an ideal type of image to society started to change. It paved the path for the ideals we have today. While Bosch and Botticelli did not share the same style they both expressed certain ideas.

Bosch the sins and follies of culture the darker side to religion combined with fantasy and humankind, Botticelli the beauty and fantasy. They both pushed the boundaries of religion and society bringing to light the concepts of certain topics that may have been taboo but also expressing that religion and life did not have to be one over the other but that it is possible for both. Using their imagination and binging to light their fantasies. That humankind could define in their own life what they deemed to be okay and not have religion choose for them, if needed it could even guide them.

Work Cited

  1. Fiero, Gloria K. “Renaissance/ Baroque Humanities.” McGraw-Hill Education, 2015
  2. Long, Jane C. “Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as Wedding Painting.” Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art, 2008, p. 1. EBSCOhost, 25 Sept. 2018
  3. S. F. EBSCOhost, 29 Sept. 2018.
  4. Rollyson, Carl. “Sandro Botticelli.” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2013. EBSCOhost, 26 Sept. 2018
  5. Wolfthal, Diane. “Hieronymus Bosch.” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2013. EBSCOhost, 27 Sept. 2018

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Classical Humanism. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved from

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