10.1 The Italian Renaissance

From the 1300s to the 1500s, Western Europe enjoyed a golden age in the arts and literature, known as the Renaissance. The word literally means “rebirth.” The Renaissance was a time of great creativity and change in many areas—economic, political, social, and above all, cultural.

Illustration of a large Renaissance city built on two sides of a river, with rafts and multiple bridges crossing. Towers and domes rise above the shorter buildings, and a banner titled Fiorenza or Florence is placed in the sky.

The growth of urban areas helped spur and encourage a renewal of culture known as the Renaissance. This 19th century reconstruction of a 15th century painting shows Florence, Italy, in 1490.


  • Describe the characteristics of the Renaissance and understand why it began in Italy.
  • Identify Renaissance artists and explain how new ideas affected the arts of the period.
  • Understand how writers of the time addressed Renaissance themes.
  • Explain the impact of the Renaissance.

Key Terms

  • humanism
  • humanities
  • Petrarch
  • Florence
  • patron
  • perspective
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Michelangelo
  • Raphael
  • Baldassare Castiglione
  • Niccolò Machiavelli
  • vernacular

The Italian Renaissance

The Renaissance marked the transition between medieval and early modern times. During the Renaissance, Western Europe witnessed the growth of cities and trade, which greatly extended people's horizons.

A New Worldview

Most important, the Renaissance changed the way people saw themselves and their world. Spurred by a reawakened interest in the learning of ancient Greece and Rome, creative Renaissance minds set out to transform their own age. Their era, they felt, was a time of rebirth after the disorder and disunity of the medieval world.

Renaissance Europe did not really break with its medieval past. Much of the classical heritage had survived, including the Latin language and knowledge of ancient thinkers such as Euclid and Aristotle. Yet the Renaissance did produce new attitudes toward culture and learning. Unlike medieval scholars, who debated the nature of life after death, Renaissance thinkers were eager to explore the richness and variety of human experience in the here and now.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments