During the Renaissance, there was a new emphasis on individual achievement. Indeed, the Renaissance ideal was a person with talents and skills in many fields.
The Renaissance supported a spirit of adventure and curiosity that led people to explore new worlds or to reexamine old ones. Columbus, who sailed to the Americas in 1492, represented that spirit. So, too, did the scientists who looked at the universe in new ways.
An Italian thinker, Pico della Mirandola, captured this spirit of adventure and confidence in human abilities when he wrote: “To [man] it is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills.”
The Church was an important patron of Renaissance art, commissioning paintings and sculptures. Here, the pope meets with artist Michelangelo.
At the heart of the Italian Renaissance was an intellectual movement known as humanism. Humanist scholars studied classical Greek and Roman cultures, hoping to use the wisdom of the ancients to increase their understanding of their own times. Though most humanists were pious Christians, they focused on worldly, or secular, subjects rather than on the religious issues that had occupied medieval thinkers.
Humanists believed that education should stimulate the individual's creative powers. They emphasized the humanities—subjects such as grammar, rhetoric (the study of using language effectively), poetry, and history—that had been taught in ancient Greek and Roman schools.
Francesco Petrarch (PEE trahrk), who lived in Florence, a city in north Italy in the 1300s, was an early Renaissance humanist. From monasteries and churches, he hunted down and assembled a library of Greek and Roman manuscripts. Through his efforts, and those who followed his example, the speeches of Cicero, the poems of Homer and Virgil, and Livvy's History of Rome again became known to Western Europeans.
Petrarch also wrote poetry. His Sonnets to Laura are love poems, inspired by a woman he knew only at a distance, but their style greatly influenced writers of his time. Petrarch wrote in the vernacular, or everyday language of ordinary people, as well as in Latin.
Francesco Petrarch, an Italian Renaissance scholar, poet, and humanist.
What were some important characteristics of the Renaissance?