Humanism and renaissance

After the crises of the late Middle Ages (the Hundred Years War, epidemics, famines), the XV and XVI centuries saw a new flowering of Europe. A new way of thinking animates the intellectual and religious life of the West, a new vision of the world appears. This is manifested by intellectual curiosity due to the rediscovery of the past. The man becomes the focus of attention. But, humanism (whose Renaissance in art transposes the humanist thought) also prepares the Protestant Reformation that splits Christianity

I – XVth century: the end of the middle Ages

A – the changes and the new European balance

In Eastern Europe, the Ottoman Turks penetrated Europe after having destroyed the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople, captured on May 29, 1453. They now threatened Roman Christianity. In Russia, Ivan III the Great founded a strong state, took the title of tsar and boasts the legacy of Byzantium by Moscow the third Rome.

In central Europe, the Holy Roman Empire was a constellation of 350 States and the emperor had no real power. Poland woke up and threatened the Empire. Italy was divided into ten states.

In the West, the monarchies became really powerful. After the Hundred Years War, King of France Louis XI established an administration, permanent taxes and a regular army. After defeating Charles the Bold, he seized a part of his possessions in Burgundy. In England, Henry VIII restored the royal authority after the Civil War of the Roses and imposed its dominion over Ireland. In Spain, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon created the Kingdom of Spain and completed the Reconquista (1492).

A new period of economic growth began. Agricultural production surpluses emerged again. Livestock and agriculture diversified their production (flax and sheep for example). The textile craft developed while mining and metallurgy provided new tools and weapons with blasted furnaces. Trade had been a great development. Powerful families based financial companies and enriched themselves. Italian cities dominated the Mediterranean while the hanseatic cities dominated the North Sea. The Rhine became a vital line of communication. A new middle class, whose enrichment was used to reach the comfort and power, emerged.

B – Origins of humanism

Italy, rich and steeped in Greek and Latin cultures, was the privileged place of the humanist intellectual revival. Scholars sought manuscripts and rediscovered forgotten texts (those of Plato, for example). The flight of the Greeks from Constantinople in 1453 promoted the development of Hellenism. Valla set up the foundations of Philology (the science that studies texts critically) and guaranteed the quality of translations. Patrons (rich people who financially support artists) as Lorenzo de Medici in Florence protected humanist scholars. Around 1450, the Pope founded the Vatican Library to keep manuscripts and printed books together.
But the artistic development of Northern Europe was remarkable too. In their works, the artists reflected the fear of death, characteristic of the late Middle Ages, as they saw many disasters (wars, epidemics, famines, climate cooling…), but they did so less pathetic. Princes and bourgeois patrons were rebuilding churches and beautify vital. The flamboyant Gothic art was illustrating the new hope. Tapestries appeared in monuments. Flemish painters developed the oil painting and their works spread across Europe (Jan Van Eyck, Brueghel the Elder, Bosch…). German painter Albrecht Durer was a master of engraving.
Humanists had a reflection centered on the man to whom they trusted. They exalted his greatness and freedom: man was able to act by itself. It was placed at the center of creation. Humanists wanted to reconcile human freedom with the principles of Christianity even they wanted to reconcile the ancient philosophical (Plato) with those of the Church, which was not without some difficulties.
In France, the humanist movement reached its apogee under Francis I. The king consulted theologians and Hellenists. It relied on the advice of the humanist Guillaume Budé, the future Collège de France for teaching. Francis was well-known as the « Father of Letters. »
Poets like Ronsard, keen on Greek and Latin poetry, have inspired the sixteenth-century French humanism also. However humanism known as French after the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts (1539) imposed the French in official documents, Joachim du Bellay wrote a defense of the French language. With other writers, he founded the group of the Pleiades, whose ambition was to rehabilitate the French language. Later, Montaigne (1533-1592) wrote and preached tolerance tests. Like Rabelais (French writer (1494-1553), monk, doctor, it is one of the figures of French humanism. He is the author of epics earthy mingling highbrow culture and popular traditions: Pantagruel Gargantua), he was interested in pedagogy.

Here is an excerpt of Rabelais: the letter Gargantua sent to Pantagruel student in Paris.

Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francis Rabelais

Chapter 2.VIII.

How Pantagruel, being at Paris, received letters from his father Gargantua, and the copy of them. Pantagruel studied very hard, as you may well conceive, and profited so; for he had an excellent understanding and notable wit, together with a capacity in memory equal to the measure of twelve oil budgets or butts of olives.  And, as he was there abiding one day, he received a letter from his father in manner as followeth.  Most dear Son,–Amongst the gifts, graces, and prerogatives, with which the sovereign plasmator God Almighty hath endowed and adorned human nature at the beginning, that seems to me most singular and excellent by which we may in a mortal state attain to a kind of immortality, and in the course of this transitory life perpetuate our name and seed, which is done by a progeny issued from us in the lawful bonds of matrimony.  Whereby that in some measure is restored unto us which was taken from us by the sin of our first parents, to whom it was said that, because they had not obeyed the commandment of God their Creator, they should die, and by death should be brought to nought that so stately frame and plasmature wherein the man at first had been created.

But by this means of seminal propagation there (« Which continueth » in the old copy.) continueth in the children what was lost in the parents, and in the grandchildren that which perished in their fathers, and so successively until the day of the last judgment, when Jesus Christ shall have rendered up to God the Father his kingdom in a peaceable condition, out of all danger and contamination of sin; for then shall cease all generations and corruptions, and the elements leave off their continual transmutations, seeing the so much desired peace shall be attained unto and enjoyed, and that all things shall be brought to their end and period.

And, therefore, not without just and reasonable cause do I give thanks to God my Saviour and Preserver, for that he hath enabled me to see my bald old age reflourish in thy youth; for when, at his good pleasure, who rules and governs all things, my soul shall leave this mortal habitation, I shall not account myself wholly to die, but to pass from one place unto another, considering that, in and by that, I continue in my visible image living in the world, visiting and conversing with people of honour, and other my good friends, as I was wont to do.

Which conversation of mine, although it was not without sin, because we are all of us trespassers, and therefore ought continually to beseech his divine majesty to blot our transgressions out of his memory, yet was it, by the help and grace of God, without all manner of reproach before men.

Wherefore, if those qualities of the mind but shine in thee wherewith I am endowed, as in thee remaineth the perfect image of my body, thou wilt be esteemed by all men to be the perfect guardian and treasure of the immortality of our name.

But, if otherwise, I shall truly take but small pleasure to see it, considering that the lesser part of me, which is the body, would abide in thee, and the best, to wit, that which is the soul, and by which our name continues blessed amongst men, would be degenerate and abastardized.

This I do not speak out of any distrust that I have of thy virtue, which I have heretofore already tried, but to encourage thee yet more earnestly to proceed from good to better.

And that which I now write unto thee is not so much that thou shouldst live in this virtuous course, as that thou shouldst rejoice in so living and having lived, and cheer up thyself with the like resolution in time to come; to the prosecution and accomplishment of which enterprise and generous undertaking thou mayst easily remember how that I have spared nothing, but have so helped thee, as if I had had no other treasure in this world but to see thee once in my life completely well-bred and accomplished, as well in virtue, honesty, and valour, as in all liberal knowledge and civility, and so to leave thee after my death as a mirror representing the person of me thy father, and if not so excellent, and such in deed as I do wish thee, yet such in my desire.

But although my deceased father of happy memory, Grangousier, had bent his best endeavours to make me profit in all perfection and political knowledge, and that my labour and study was fully correspondent to, yea, went beyond his desire, nevertheless, as thou mayest well understand, the time then was not so proper and fit for learning as it is at present, neither had I plenty of such good masters as thou hast had.

For that time was darksome, obscured with clouds of ignorance, and savouring a little of the infelicity and calamity of the Goths, who had, wherever they set footing, destroyed all good literature, which in my age hath by the divine goodness been restored unto its former light and dignity, and that with such amendment and increase of the knowledge, that now hardly should I be admitted unto the first form of the little grammar-schoolboys–I say, I, who in my youthful days was, and that justly, reputed the most learned of that age.

Which I do not speak in vain boasting, although I might lawfully do it in writing unto thee–in verification whereof thou hast the authority of Marcus Tullius in his book of old age, and the sentence of Plutarch in the book entitled How a man may praise himself without envy–but to give thee an emulous encouragement to strive yet further.

Now is it that the minds of men are qualified with all manner of discipline, and the old sciences revived which for many ages were extinct. Now it is that the learned languages are to their pristine purity restored, viz., Greek, without which a man may be ashamed to account himself a scholar, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldaean, and Latin.

Printing likewise is now in use, so elegant and so correct that better cannot be imagined, although it was found out but in my time by divine inspiration, as by a diabolical suggestion on the other side was the invention of ordnance.

All the world is full of knowing men, of most learned schoolmasters, and vast libraries; and it appears to me as a truth, that neither in Plato’s time, nor Cicero’s, nor Papinian’s, there was ever such conveniency for studying as we see at this day there is.

Nor must any adventure henceforward to come in public, or present himself in company, that hath not been pretty well polished in the shop of Minerva.

I see robbers, hangmen, freebooters, tapsters, ostlers, and such like, of the very rubbish of the people, more learned now than the doctors and preachers were in my time.

What shall I say?

The very women and children have aspired to this praise and celestial manner of good learning.

Yet so it is that, in the age I am now of, I have been constrained to learn the Greek tongue–which I contemned not like Cato, but had not the leisure in my younger years to attend the study of it–and take much delight in the reading of Plutarch’s Morals, the pleasant Dialogues of Plato, the Monuments of Pausanias, and the Antiquities of Athenaeus, in waiting on the hour wherein God my Creator shall call me and command me to depart from this earth and transitory pilgrimage.

Wherefore, my son, I admonish thee to employ thy youth to profit as well as thou canst, both in thy studies and in virtue.

Thou art at Paris, where the laudable examples of many brave men may stir up thy mind to gallant actions, and hast likewise for thy tutor and pedagogue the learned Epistemon, who by his lively and vocal documents may instruct thee in the arts and sciences.

I intend, and will have it so, that thou learn the languages perfectly; first of all the Greek, as Quintilian will have it; secondly, the Latin; and then the Hebrew, for the Holy Scripture sake; and then the Chaldee and Arabic likewise, and that thou frame thy style in Greek in imitation of Plato, and for the Latin after Cicero.

Let there be no history which thou shalt not have ready in thy memory; unto the prosecuting of which design, books of cosmography will be very conducible and help thee much.

Of the liberal arts of geometry, arithmetic, and music, I gave thee some taste when thou wert yet little, and not above five or six years old.

Proceed further in them, and learn the remainder if thou canst.

As for astronomy, study all the rules thereof.

Let pass, nevertheless, the divining and judicial astrology, and the art of Lullius, as being nothing else but plain abuses and vanities.

As for the civil law, of that I would have thee to know the texts by heart, and then to confer them with philosophy.

Now, in matter of the knowledge of the works of nature, I would have thee to study that exactly, and that so there be no sea, river, nor fountain, of which thou dost not know the fishes; all the fowls of the air; all the several kinds of shrubs and trees, whether in forests or orchards; all the sorts of herbs and flowers that grow upon the ground; all the various metals that are hid within the bowels of the earth; together with all the diversity of precious stones that are to be seen in the orient and south parts of the world.

Let nothing of all these be hidden from thee.

Then fail not most carefully to peruse the books of the Greek, Arabian, and Latin physicians, not despising the Talmudists and Cabalists; and by frequent anatomies get thee the perfect knowledge of the other world, called the microcosm, which is man.

And at some hours of the day apply thy mind to the study of the Holy Scriptures; first in Greek, the New Testament, with the Epistles of the Apostles; and then the Old Testament in Hebrew.

In brief, let me see thee an abyss and bottomless pit of knowledge; for from henceforward, as thou growest great and becomest a man, thou must part from this tranquillity and rest of study, thou must learn chivalry, warfare, and the exercises of the field, the better thereby to defend my house and our friends, and to succour and protect them at all their needs against the invasion and assaults of evildoers.

Furthermore, I will that very shortly thou try how much thou hast profited, which thou canst not better do than by maintaining publicly theses and conclusions in all arts against all persons whatsoever, and by haunting the company of learned men, both at Paris and otherwhere.

But because, as the wise man Solomon saith, Wisdom entereth not into a malicious mind, and that knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul, it behoveth thee to serve, to love, to fear God, and on him to cast all thy thoughts and all thy hope, and by faith formed in charity to cleave unto him, so that thou mayst never be separated from him by thy sins.

Suspect the abuses of the world.

Set not thy heart upon vanity, for this life is transitory, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.

Be serviceable to all thy neighbours, and love them as thyself.

Reverence thy preceptors:

shun the conversation of those whom thou desirest not to resemble, and receive not in vain the graces which God hath bestowed upon thee.

And, when thou shalt see that thou hast attained to all the knowledge that is to be acquired in that part, return unto me, that I may see thee and give thee my blessing before I die.

My son, the peace and grace of our Lord be with thee.


Thy father Gargantua.

From Utopia the 17th day of the month of March.

These letters being received and read, Pantagruel plucked up his heart, took a fresh courage to him, and was inflamed with a desire to profit in his studies more than ever, so that if you had seen him, how he took pains, and how he advanced in learning, you would have said that the vivacity of his spirit amidst the books was like a great fire amongst dry wood, so active it was, vigorous and indefatigable.

C Press printing and humanism

In 1450, a discovery was made by Gutenberg, printing by the use of typefaces in metal, mobile and reusable. Now a book can be printed hundreds of copies. The printing revolution causes cultural development is stunning throughout Europe. Writers see their influence grow and humanism spreads in Spain and England. The public is growing thanks to the cost of books. Universities are increasingly important; they are no longer reserved for church people. The printed book, accessible to all, diversity becomes a reason because authors can now influence upon living, what worries the authorities.

D The beginning of the renaissance in northern Italy

Renaissance born in northern Italy, probably Florence, where the Medici city rich fund work commissioned artists palaces, chapels, frescoes, sculptures … In each city, the princes beautify their homes. Of public works (hydraulic engineering) are made.
The architecture is inspired by antiquity. Symmetries, proportional relationships, mathematical precision are essential. Brunelleschi and Alberti are the founders of this movement. They introduce the palace courtyard in imitating the Roman atrium. The sculpture is very realistic. Painting using new techniques of perspective, modeling and light (Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli).

II – Reform and Reformation

A – The origins of the Reformation

At the end of the Middle Ages, the fear of death reflects a religious concern. Christians fear hell, and to avoid accumulating devotions (prayer) and buy indulgences (pardons granted by the Church to fishermen to shorten the suffering in the Hereafter). Humanists condemn the superstitions of an ignorant people. They advocate a return to the true message of Christ by a solid faith and sincere. They want to simplify worship and accessible to all by explaining, in French, the text of the Gospels.
However, the humanists did not want to leave the church and could not touch the mass of illiterate Christians. But they have contributed their critical start of the Protestant Reformation.

B – The Protestant Reformation

In the first half of the sixteenth century, the criticism of the Roman Church became clearer. A break occurs when Martin Luther, who had criticized the sale of indulgences in 1517 comes to challenge dogma and hierarchy of the Church. In 1520, he was excommunicated. Despite this conviction, his ideas spread through printing. The support of the German princes. The schism becomes irreversible. The first Protestantism was born. For Luther, the man is necessarily sinner cannot save but God can give grace-giving faith. : This is justification by faith. Lutheranism is developed especially in northern Germany and Scandinavia.
John Calvin publishes the French in 1536, the Institution of the Christian Religion. For him, God predestines man to heaven or to hell. Calvinism is particularly important in areas where the bourgeoisie is influential: Switzerland, Rhine Valley, the Netherlands, and Scotland.
In England, in the Acts of Supremacy in 1534 and 1559, sovereign Henry VIII and Elizabeth I-era are recognized supreme leader of the Church of England and created the Anglican religion close to Protestantism by the doctrine and close Catholicism by the pomp of ceremonies.
Protestants are Christians who do not recognize the Pope’s authority. Their churches are independent and are governed by assemblies called synods. Protestantism believes that man is unable to earn himself Paradise unlike Catholicism insists on free will. They reject the cult of the Virgin and Saints. The offices are in the national language.
Actors of the Reformation:
• Martin Luther: 1483-1546 German religious reformer, founder of Protestantism, and one of the first major German writers. In 1517, he displayed on the doors of the castle of Wittenberg his 95 theses, which he denounced in particular the sale of indulgences. He translated the Bible into German and founded the Lutheran Church.
• John Calvin: 1509-1564 French reformer based in Geneva where he exercised a dictatorship intolerant. His doctrine professed return to the authority of the Bible, the simplicity of worship and belief in predestination.
• Henry VIII of England from 1491 to 1547. Wishing to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he caused the schism with the papacy and became supreme head of the Church of England. He married six times and seized the property of the Church.

C – The Counter-Reformation or Catholic Reformation

The Roman Church, a moment passed by Protestantism, organized a political and military conquest became Protestant regions. It also reacts especially by reforming itself. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) condemned theses Protestant clearly redefines the doctrine of the Church and launched the Counter-Reformation. It reaffirms the necessity of good works, the practice of charity, worship and the sacraments. A catechism is published for the instruction of the faithful.
The Counter-Reformation is based on the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) founded in 1534 by Ignatius of Loyola. The Church of Rome, with nothing sold on dogmas, and regains some lost regions including France and southern Germany.
Humanists have thus failed to impose their pacifism since Europe is torn by wars of religion. These wars are particularly weakening France for many years. The discovery of the New World was not accompanied by the application of humanistic theories (treatment of Indians and slaves). Humanism was still inspired the renovation of the Church, and against the austerity Protestants, Catholicism is a large place to the Man who keeps track of his divine perfection.

III – The sixteenth century and the Renaissance

A – The second Italian Renaissance

In the first half of the XVII century, the art of the Renaissance is required. The ancient offering a new repertoire of mythological and allegorical subjects inspires it. Rome replaced Florence as the political upheavals led to the decline of the city. Popes beautify their city by building and decorating palaces and churches by many artists. After the sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V, Venice is required. Artists looking for Beau.
Some names include:
• In Florence, in architecture, Brunelleschi (Sainte Marie aux Fleurs). Painting, Botticelli (Spring, The Birth of Venus), Leonardo da Vinci (Mona Lisa, The Virgin, the Infant Jesus and St. Anne). For sculpture, Ghiberti (Gates of Paradise), Cellini (Perseus).
• In Rome, for architecture, Bramante (Tempietto San Pietro). Painting, Raphael (The School of Athens, La Belle Jardiniere), Michelangelo shows as well as an architect (Cathedral of Saint Peter), sculptor (David) or artist (Doomsday).
• In Venice, especially painters Titian (Pardo Venus), Tintoretto (Suzanne bath), Veronese (Wedding at Cana).
The beginnings of baroque art appear after the Council of Trent. Baroque seeks to strike the mind with the abundance and complexity of the scene, the curves and the theatrical aspect. At the end of the century, Caravaggio painting introduced in the brutal realism. It resorts to violent contrasts accentuated by shadows and light. Despite this last triumph of Baroque art in the following century with the Counter-Reformation.

B – The spread of Renaissance Europe

From 1494, the kings of France reported their Renaissance Italian Wars. Francis I-draws Leonardo. Art helps to magnify the sovereign. And the castles of the Loire, medieval Italian are strongly influenced by the regularity of the lines (especially horizontal), the symmetry and size of openings and decoration. Surrounded by gardens, they become pleasure richly decorated houses for a king and his court in continual movement. After 1540, the French style of the Italian model releases. The expansion of the Louvre is an example of the façade with pilasters and pediments Lescot.
In Northern Europe, the Italian influence is fading. The Gothic is used in the construction of cathedrals and palaces. Brueghel the Elder Flemish tradition continues through the use of symbols and allegories in his realistic landscapes.
Catholic Spain of Philip II is also affected as shown by the palace of El Escorial (1584). Greco, trained in Venice, overlooking the Spanish painting with his native mysticism of Toledo.

C – The knowledge, science

The birth of the scientific spirit allows the onset of experiments. Discoveries are advancing mathematics, human anatomy, astronomy and cartography. Vesalius practice dissections of the human body (before prohibited by the Church). Ambroise Paré invented artery ligation. Copernicus introduced the heliocentric and Mercator revolutionized geography. However, religious conservatism, superstitions and quackery hinder the development of knowledge (e.g. alchemists seeking the elixir of life or philosophers’ stone).
Finally, navigators and conquistadors expand the known world and discover other civilizations (Aztecs, Incas) during the Great Discoveries.
The Great Discoveries
• 1488: Bartholomew Diaz, Portuguese, bypasses the Cape of Good Hope and needles.
• 1492: Christopher Columbus, a Genoese in the service of Spain, reached the Americas in San Salvador in the Bahamas on October 12. He believes to be in India. It will be four voyages to the New World.
• 1497: John Cabot, English, covers North America.
• 1498: Vasco da Gama, Portuguese, reached Calicut in India by sea.
• 1500: Pedro Alvarez Cabral, Portuguese discovered Brazil.
• 1519-1522: Ferdinand Magellan, Spanish, discovered the strait that bears his name, enters the Pacific but died in the Philippines. His successor, Juan Sebastian Del Cano completes the first round the world proving that the Earth is round.
• 1534-1536: Jacques Cartier, French, discusses Canada and up the St. Lawrence.
• 1577-1580: Francis Drake, English, completes the second round of the world and discovers California.
Some names of the Renaissance:

Erasmus: born in the Netherlands in 1469, he trained as a school based on the explanation of sacred texts and classics. Ordained a priest, he traveled to France, England, where he attended the humanist circles. He went to Italy, where he deepened his knowledge of Greek. His travels symbolize the character of European humanism and help develop the network of the Republic of Letters. His fame is considerable. Nicknamed « Universal Doctor », he is respected popes and kings and is the mentor and model the humanists until his death in 1536.
Charles V 1500-1558 King of Spain, Prince of the Netherlands, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor (1519-1556). He received huge inheritance. He wished to impose on Europe in universal monarch. He wanted to restore religious unity but ran into Protestant Germany. He had to fight against the Turks that threatened Austria. He made war on France and the German princes. But the impossibility of restoring religious unity consecrated the division of Germany. Charles V abdicated his crown and retired to the convent of Saint-Just.
Francis : 1494-1547, king of France from 1515 to his death. Taking the Italian policy of his predecessors, he occupied Milan after the victory of Marignano in 1515. Perpetual Peace he signed with the Swiss and the Concordat of Bologna with the Pope. After 1521, he faced his rival, Charles. First bad start (defeat of Pavia in 1525), the fight turned to advantage through alliances Protestant princes of Germany and the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. His reign was advancing royal absolutism and ensured the development of the economy. By the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterets, he imposed the French language in the kingdom. He was a great patron of the arts and literature and built many castles (Chambord, Fontainebleau, Louvre).