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Essay on Renaissance Art

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The Renaissance was a period of European history that began in 14th-century Italy and spread to the rest of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. In this period, the feudal society of the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century) was transformed into a society dominated by central political institutions, with an urban, commercial economy and patronage of education, the arts, and music. The term renaissance, literally meaning "rebirth," was first employed in 1855 by French historian Jules Michelet (Paolucci 14). Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt, in his classic work The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), defined the Renaissance as the period between Italian painters Giotto and Michelangelo (Paolucci 18). Burckhardt characterized it as the birth of modern humanity after a long period of decay, although modern scholars have since debunked the myth that the Middle Ages were dark and dominant (Paolucci 18).

The Italian Renaissance developed in cities such as Florence, Milan, and Venice, which had emerged during the 12th and 13th centuries as new commercial developments allowed them to expand (Paolucci 12). This mercantile society contrasted sharply with the rural, tradition bound society of medieval Europe. A significant break with tradition came in the field of history, as Renaissance historians rejected the medieval Christian views of history (Cole 40). Studies such as the Florentine History (1525) of Niccolo Machiavelli revealed a secular view of time and a critical attitude toward sources (Cole 44). This secular view was expressed by many Renaissance thinkers known as humanists. Humanism was another cultural break with medieval tradition; under its ideas scholars valued classical texts on their own te...


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...rper and Row, 1987. 40-76.

Gilbert, Creighton. History of Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture Throughout Europe. New York, N.Y.: H.N. Abrams, 1973. 36-67.

Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300-1550. Munich: Prestel-Verlag; New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986. 20.

Harbison, Craig. The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art in Its Historical Context. New York, N.Y.: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Publishers, 1995. 12-56.

Italian Renaissance Art and Architecture: History Through Art and Architecture. Boulder, Colo.: The Press, 1985. 20-67.

Koerner, Joseph L. The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 25-28.

Paolucci, Antonio. The Origins of Renaissance Art: the Baptistry Doors, Florence. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: George Braziller, 1996. 14-37.


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