Birth of a New Era
Despite the problems of the fourteenth century, it marked the beginnings of extraordinary changes in numerous facets of fifteenth century society. This astonishing revolution was coined the Renaissance, which meant “rebirth.” The Renaissance led to such literary pioneers as Niccolò Machiavelli. His work, The Prince, gave detailed instructions as to what qualities a perfect leader must possess and how to use these qualities. Machiavelli presented a thorough account of a perfect prince and how he achieved and maintained power. Machiavelli’s The Prince is a classic literary example of Renaissance writing in the ideas it conveys and how it conveys them.
The Renaissance, a time of cultural achievements and economic and political evolution, developed out of the plague, famine, and death of the fourteenth century. As opposed to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance introduced such ideas that embodied three characteristics: individualism, humanism, and secularism. With the arrival of the Renaissance came the cultural evolution and the introduction of many remarkable individuals, such as Michelangelo. Due to the emphasis in the Middle Ages to religion, individualism during the period was nonexistent because of the Christian determent of self-absorption. Literature emerged in the Renaissance accentuating the individual, which helped to give birth to talented artists and writers. Individualism put emphasis on personality and uniqueness and using one’s abilities to their full potential. The Renaissance was all about a quest for glory. Oddly enough, Middle Age artists typically painted and sculpted anonymously but the Renaissance saw the emergence of artwork with the artist’s signature. Pages 232-234 of Discovering the Western Past illustrate examples of Renaissance artwork and the cultural achievements of the period. Each page contains a portrait of an individual, something unheard of during the medieval period because of the medieval period’s tendency to stress the group. Painters began painting realistically in the attempt to mirror reality and the wealthy hired painters to paint their portrait to immortalize a part of themselves in a depiction of their glory and accomplishments.
The Middle Ages introduced the importance of education of becoming a civilized person, and learning was still an important aspect that continued into the Renaissance. The difference between the two periods was how scholars went about their studies of past literary culture. The Renaissance style of learning became known as humanism, or “new learning.” Humanists studied the Latin classics to learn about human nature and emphasized human beings’ achievements, interests, and capabilities. On the other hand, medieval scholars studied ancient works to understand God and interpreted them purely in a Christian sense. Although Renaissance humanists possessed strong Christian values, they studied the classics far differently than those in the...