Text 4. The Spirit of the Renaissance

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Text 4. The Spirit of the Renaissance

Read the text and answer the questions.

1. What ideas marked Renaissance thought?

2. Why did the Renaissance begin in Italian cities?

3. How did the Renaissance spread beyond Italy?

4. What aspects of Greek and Roman culture appealed to some people during the Renaissance?

5. What were the effects of the invention of movable type?


Late in the Middle Ages, new ways of looking at life took hold in Europe and soon affected human affairs of all kinds as a new spirit of optimism, confidence, and creativity developed. This remarkable period began in the fourteenth century in the city-sates of Italy and lasted into the sixteenth century. It is known as the Renaissance, from the French word for “rebirth,” and is considered by historians to mark the opening phase of the modern era.

The Renaissance began about 1350 in the northern Italian city-states. These cities, profiting from their central location, had long dominated trade routes between Eastern and Western Europe and between Europe and the Middle East. By the 1300’s they had become the richest cities in Europe.

Italian merchants and bankers had the wealth to acquire libraries and fine works of art. They admired and encouraged art, literature, and scholarship. Surrounded by reminders of ancient Rome – amphitheaters, monuments, and sculptures – they took an interest in classical culture and thought.

In Italy the most famous patrons – supporters – of the arts were the members of the Medici family. The Medici were bankers who had branch offices in cities all over Western Europe. They became active in the politics of Florence in the 1400’s and controlled the city for most of the next 300 years.

The best-known member of the family was Lorenzo de Medici (1449-1492), known as “the Magnificent.” Lorenzo was a scholar, a skilled architect, and a talented poet. He collected a huge library of classical manuscripts, which he invited other thinkers to use. To give the city’s young people an opportunity to study classical literature, he expanded the university at Florence. Lorenzo also hired painters, architects, and sculptors to create works of art not only for his palace but also for the city of Florence. many of these works still survive, making Florence one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Like Lorenzo the magnificent, many wealthy Italians of the fifteenth century took a keen interest in the ancient Romans. they paid for the restoration of old monuments and works of art. They searched out classical manuscripts in the libraries of European monasteries; often finding them in poor condition and entirely forgotten. Popes, princes, and merchants collected these neglected treasures and stored them in magnificent libraries. There they could be studied by scholars from every corner of Europe.

Renaissance scholars’ interest in Greek and Roman learning developed into the study of the humanities – subjects concerned with humankind and culture, as opposed to science. The humanities included Latin and Greek language and literature, composition, history, and philosophy. Music and mathematics were sometimes studied as well. Those who read and wrote about these subjects were called humanists.

Enthusiasm for ancient Greece and Rome spread from scholars to the rest of the Italian upper classes. Many people imitated not only the language but the customs and ways of life of the classical civilizations. Some even tried to trace their ancestry back to ancient Rome.

Francesco Petrarch, an Italian poet born in 1304, led the early development of Renaissance humanism. Regarding ancient Roman times as a much grander period than his own day, he studied Roman literature and philosophy and encouraged others to do the same. A collector of ancient manuscripts, Petrarch rediscovered a number of Roman authors whose work had been forgotten during the Middle Ages.

In his scholarly writings in Latin, Petrarch discussed the ideas of Roman writers and copied their style. He also wrote hundreds of love poems in Italian.


New Attitudes

Interest in earthly life. Thinkers in the Middle Ages, such as the Scholastics, had tried to use ideas borrowed from the ancient writers to support and clarify Church teachings. In contrast, Petrarch and other Renaissance humanists tried to understand the entire civilization of the ancient world. Medieval thinkers had thought of earthly existence chiefly as preparation for an afterlife. The people of the Renaissance, following the examples of classical Greece and Rome, believed that life on earth should be lived as fully as possible.

Development of individual talents. Another characteristic borrowed from classical times was an intense appreciation of the individual. The people of the Renaissance were interested in the unique qualities that made one person stand out from others. Like the Romans, they were ambitious for fame and worldly success. Like the Greeks, they believed human beings could achieve great things. These attitudes encouraged a spirit of curiosity and adventure.

The men and women of the upper classes benefited most from the new spirit of the times. They had the money and leisure to develop their talents. The Renaissance ideal was a well-rounded person: educated, witty, charming, and artistically creative. In addition, men were expected to practice swords-manship and other military skills. People of both sexes were expected to develop their athletic abilities.

Public service and politics. Like the ancient Greeks and Romans, upper-class Italians valued public service and praised those who were useful to society. They believed that an education in the humanities was a sound preparation for a rewarding life. The skills admired by the humanists – effective public speaking, polished manners, an elegant writing style – were valuable ones for social and political leaders.

The political climate in Renaissance Italy was one of intense rivalry. The Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the rulers of France and Spain all hungered for power. As a guide, they turned to handbooks on how to succeed in politics.

The most famous of these handbooks was written by Niccolo Machiavelli of Florence, a diplomat and student of politics. Machiavelli (1469-1527) drew on Roman history to set up guidelines for rulers of his time. Machiavelli argued that a ruler should do whatever was necessary to gain and keep power. In his book The Prince, written about 1513, Machiavelli pointed out that rulers often lied, broke treaties, and killed. In politics, he said, actions must be judged only by their results. Machiavelli’s controversial ideas have been debated ever since. The Renaissance was a time of change in technology as well as in culture. The most exciting development was the printing press. In the 1450’s Europeans first used movable metal type to print a book. On small pieces of metal they engraved single letters of the alphabet. These could then be arranged and rearranged to form words and sentences. A German, Johann Gutenberg, is usually credited with printing the first book, a copy of the Bible. By 1500 there were hundreds of printers, in nearly every country in Europe.

The invention of movable type had three main effects. First, bookmaking became much cheaper, which meant that more people could afford to own books. As a result, literacy became more widespread.

Second, bookmaking became faster, so that many more books could be published. The earliest printed books dealt with religious subjects, but the new reading public wanted books on other subjects as well. Many of the new books were published in the vernacular (the language of the common people) rather than in Latin.

A third effect was that scholars had better access to one another’s works and to the great books of the ancient and medieval worlds. This leap in communication brought important advances in knowledge.

Printing helped carry the spirit and ideas of the Renaissance northward from Italy to France, England, Germany, and the Netherlands. While sharing the Italians’ admiration of classical civilizations and respect for individual achievement, northern Europeans were deeply concerned with religious questions as well.



Ex. 1. Translate the text into Russian.

Features of Renaissance Art

Individualism. Like the writers of the Renaissance, the artists of the time looked back to the ancient Greeks and Romans for their themes and ideas. They used ancient works of art as their models in painting a variety of subjects – stories from Greek mythology, scenes from Roman history, incidents in the Bible, and Church history. They also captured on canvas Renaissance politicians, patrons of art, and ordinary people busy with their daily activities.

Medieval artists had used their creativity mainly to serve the Church and express their religious feelings. Their paintings generally showed people who were stiffly posed and whose faces had little individuality. Renaissance art, like classical art, emphasized the uniqueness of each human face and figure. In portraits, Renaissance artists tried to show each individual’s character and personality in a lifelike way.

Balance and proportion. Renaissance artists and architects saw nature as the standard for balance and proportion. They hoped to achieve these same qualities in their own work so that it would look more realistic. While medieval painters had often drawn people larger than buildings, Renaissance artists tried to show people, trees, buildings, and mountains in their proper sizes.

Renaissance architects scorned the Gothic cathedral, the symbol of the Middle Ages, which soared upward toward heaven and seemed to defy all the laws of balance. Renaissance architects turned back to the Romanesque style, adding domes, windows, and balconies to let in light and air. They tried to make all the parts of a building appear perfectly balanced in size and shape.

Use of perspective. Another step toward realism was the discovery of how to achieve perspective – the impression of depth and distance on the flat surface of a painting. The Florentine painter Giotto had first used this technique about 1300. Giotto’s realistic style seemed odd to medieval eyes, however, and his advances were ignored until the Renaissance.

In the 1400’s the Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi discovered that painters could use mathematical laws in planning their pictures. In this way they could show perspective accurately. Masaccio a friend of Brunelleschi’s, applied these laws in his paintings.

New materials. Medieval painters had commonly used a kind of paint called tempera. it dried so quickly that painters could not change or correct what they had painted. A new technique, oil painting, was developed by the Flemish painter Jan van Eyck, who lived from about 1380 to about 1440. Oil painting let artists work more slowly, create new colors, and obtain more lifelike effects. For example, they could show realistically the look and texture of different fabrics.

The use of oil-based paints quickly spread from Flanders to other parts of Europe. In Italy, Renaissance artists soon began to use both perspective and oil painting to produce many important works that are now considered masterpieces.


Ex. 2. Translate the text into English.

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