Renaissance in detail

Renaissance literally means rebirth. It is the revival of anything which has long been in decay or passing into a state of disuse. The word in history particularly refers to the movement in Europe from the 15th century to the 18th century A. D., during which a transition from the medieval to the modern period of life took place. Middle ages was followed by a period of transition leading to the modern age.

.”Renaissance” is a French term meaning rebirth or revival. In general the term indicates the changes that took place in almost every field of human interest, such as – art, literature, science, society, law, government, philosophy, religion and others. It is a change in the way of life, in thinking and culture.

The study of ancient Roman and Greek literature, is considered classical learning. It was an age of learning. Renaissance means revival. In the European renaissance, it was the revival of the past fund of knowledge.

According to G. R. Elton, “The term renaissance denotes a particular complex of ideas and a definable civilization.” He also describes it as, “a period during which a self conscious recovery of the achievements of the ancient world produced new intellectual and artistic attitudes and results”1 Historians have recognised the 15th and 16th centuries in the history of the West as the period of renaissance. During this age of awakening, the spirit of questioning the tradition had an important place. This was a method adopted much earlier to find out truth and beauty in everything that concerned man. During the European Renaissance, this quality of questioning and rational thinking reappeared.


  1. The history of the world may be divided into 2 definite parts to study this period – world before renaissance and the world after renaissance. The ancient age,the early middle and the later middle age upto the fall of Constantinople in 1453, may be included under the first part. The second part would start from the fall of Constantinople to the present.

2.The Roman empire was divided into the Eastern and Western parts. Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern empire. Many Greek and Roman scholars had settled in Constantinople. When Constantinople was taken over by the Ottaman Turks in 1453, the learned men ran away with, their treasure of precious works to the West, fearing the Turks. In the West, in places like Italy, Spain, Germany and England, the treasure carried by theGreek and Roman scholars created a new interesting learning. Therefore renaissance refers to the time, spirit and activity of the revival of classical learning.

Features of Renaissance:

1.Rebirth and rediscovery

Though historians debate the precise origins of the Renaissance, most agree that it – or one version of it – began in Italy some time in the late 1300s, with the decline in influence of Roman Catholic Christian doctrine and the reawakening of interest in Greek and Latin texts by philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, historians including Plutarch and poets such as Ovid and Virgil. One spur was the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) to the Turks in 1453, which encouraged many scholars to flee to Italy, bringing printed books and manuscripts with them. The extraordinary flowering in visual art that occurred in the great Italian city states of Florence and Venice in the early 16th century, including artists such as Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, was another. Yet another was Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press around 1440, which enabled books to be mass-produced in the Western world for the first time.


As already suggested, education was a driving force, encouraged by the increase in the number of universities and schools – another movement that began in Italy. Gradually, the concept of a ‘humanistic’ curriculum began to solidify: focussing not on Christian theological texts, which had been pored over in medieval seats of learning, but on classical ‘humanities’ subjects such as philosophy, history, drama and poetry. Schoolboys – few girls were permitted to receive an education at this point – were drilled in Latin and Greek, meaning that texts from the ancient world could be studied in the original languages.Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Jonson, Bacon: almost every major British Renaissance intellectual one can name received a humanist education.

Impact of Renaissance:

1.Philosophy:In the field of philosophy and literature the works of Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Xenophone of Greece, Cicero, Ceasar, Virgil of Rome and others were studied and translated. Almost all European languages owe a great debt to the renaissance which revealed that all of them had their roots in the Graeco – Roman literature. Changes appeared in almost all European languages and literatures. In Italy the earliest developments with regard to literature appeared in the works of Dante, Petrarch, Boccaceio and the early humanists and artists of the 14th century. Italy was the home of renaissance.

In England Spenser, More, Milton, Chaucer were renaissance writers. Shakespeare was a product of renaissance. Montaigne in France, Descartes and Cer vantes were renaissance writers. There was a brilliant and artistic as well as literary development all over Europe at that time.

Humanism’was one of the most important characteristics of renaissance and since then, man assumed an important position in art and literature. Scholars started studying man and his various activities with interest. Religion and mythology which had the upper hand as a matter of study gave way for man and his activities.

2.Reformation:Earlier to renaissance, education consisted mostly of the learning of the scriptures and the Bible. Nothing against this was allowed and even the total information about these scriptures was not imparted to the common man. The church held all the authority. The spirit of enquiry caused a lot of fundamental changes in Christianity. Bible was translated into English and other European languages. People could now easily know the word of God without the interference of the church. This no doubt caused a lot of revolution. People like Wycliff and Huss had to sacrifice their lives. The activities of the church were questioned. Martin Luther, for example questioned the validity of the indulgence. He was a monk who preached and wrote against some of the Catholic practices and beliefs. Erasmus – a Dutch scholar, Thomas More – for some time the Lord Chancellor of England and the writer of ‘Utopia’ – like many others at that time were sincere believers in Christianity, but were also aware of the shortcomings of the church. These and such people were responsible for the revival of thinking

3.Art:In art, artists like Leanordo-da-Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphel and others not only revived the classical painting and art, but also introduced modern techniques. It was an age of enthusiasm, new spirit and research. Man wanted to do things new and to learn. Pre – Christian Greek and Roman traditions of scholarship and artistic achievements which were of high culture and fearless speculations were revived now.

4.Education:Humanism stimulated academic interests and concern for academic freedom. This led to educational reforms. The new way of life and thinking also gave more importance to man, his activities, life and interests. Faith in his power and achievements were exhibited.

It attacked every province of knowledge and in a few years it transformed all. Experimental science, the science of philosophy, the science of politics, the critical investigation of religious truth, all took their origin from this renaissance – this ‘new birth’ of the world.

.Science:As the revival of classics made way for new thinking and techniques, scientific discoveries were made. Copernicus discovered the movement of the earth and solar system, Galilieo the telescope, and William Harvey – the circulation of blood.

5.Paper and printing-At the same time learning was made more easy because paper and printing were invented. These actually were gifts from China as was the mariner’s compass.It helped the wide spread of knowledge more quickly. Books were produced on a large scale. They were made easily available to common man and this in turn led to learning on a large scale.

6.Gunpowder which too was used by the Chinese earlier for fireworks, was now taken over by the Europeans to be used as a weapon.

7.The ideal of civilization was also a gift of the ancient Greek and Roman thinking. They considered it important to live in cities, to make one civilized. Discipline and education could be made available to people in cities. Thus movement away from the rural towards the urban became a main feature of renaissance. These also developed trade and commerce in turn.

8.Nation:Until the renaissance the idea of a ‘nation’ was non existent. People belonged to different races, places and faiths. The idea of nations occurred only after the revival of learning, which in turn changed everything – way of life, thinking, ideas and all.

9.Renaissance in Europe led to religious reformation and they together made way for the French and the Industrial Revolutions. The French Revolution of 1789, started democratic sentiments with its slogan of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Modern democratic ideas were unleashed which were expressed in the works of Bacon, Locke, Smith, Voltaire and Rousseau. Poets of England like Wordsworth, Shelly, Byron and Burns were influenced by its spirit.

10.Industrial Revolution :Industrial revolution caused further changes in the life of man. Industrial revolution meant standerdisation, mass and cheap production of consumer goods. Industrially advanced countries such as England, Germany, France and others produced more than what they required. They had to dump the excess of produce on other industrially backward countries. So they started conquering and colonising many countries of Asia, Africa, Australia and America.

11.New worlds

As much as the rediscovery of old culture was important, it’s impossible to understand the European Renaissance without referring to the way in which its horizons increased – both scientifically and geographically. In 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas while seeking a westwardpassage to Asia, initiating a headlong rush by European powers for resources and territory in this so-called ‘New World’. Throughout the 16th century, maritime powers such as Spain, Portugal and – later – England battled for control of what became America and the West Indies, while adventurers and traders also pushed eastwards, around Africa, towards East Asia.

12.Colonisation:. As a result of the fall of Constantinople the European trade route to India and other Eastern countries were cut off. The Turks, who had occupied Constantinople, stopped the trade route of the Europeans to India. The Turks were Muslims who did not want to interact with the Christians of the West. This naturally induced the European merchants to find different routes to arrive at India. The easiest was to find a sea route. After a number of trial and errors by different mariners to find a sea route, ultimately, Vasco – da – Gama of Portugal succeeded in reaching India in 1498. Thus the age of colonisation was born

Indian Renaissance

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