The Renaissance Begins in Italy

The Renaissance began in Italy in the mid-1300s and later spread north to the rest of Europe. It reached its height in the 1500s. The Renaissance emerged in Italy for several reasons.

Italy's History and Geography

The Renaissance was marked by a reawakened interest in the culture of ancient Rome. Since Italy was the center of ancient Roman civilization, it was only natural for this reawakening to begin there. Architectural remains, antique statues, coins, and inscriptions were all daily reminders of the glory of ancient Rome.

Italy differed from the rest of Europe in another important way. Italy's cities had thrived during the Middle Ages. In the north, city-states like Florence, Milan, Venice, and Genoa grew into prosperous centers of trade and manufacturing. Rome and Naples also contributed to the Renaissance cultural revival.

At trading ports along Italy's coastlines, ships brought goods, people, and ideas from the Muslim world, which had preserved much learning from ancient Greece and Rome. Many texts—and much knowledge—that had been lost in Europe were recovered through these trading contacts.

A class of wealthy and powerful merchants emerged in Italy's city-states, and they promoted the cultural rebirth. These merchants exerted both political and economic leadership, and their attitudes and interests helped to shape Renaissance Italy. They stressed individual achievement and spent lavishly to support the arts.

Florence and the Medicis

Florence, perhaps more than any other city, came to symbolize the Italian Renaissance. Like ancient Athens, it produced a dazzling number of gifted poets, artists, architects, scholars, and scientists in a short space of time.

In the 1400s, the Medici (MED dee chee) family of Florence organized a banking business. Their business prospered, and the family expanded into manufacturing, mining, and other ventures. Money translated into cultural and political power. Cosimo de' Medici gained control of the Florentine government in 1434, and the family continued as uncrowned rulers of the city for many years.

The best known Medici was Cosimo's grandson, Lorenzo, known as “the Magnificent.” Lorenzo represented the Renaissance ideal. A clever politician, he held Florence together through difficult times. He was also a generous patron, or financial supporter, of the arts. At Lorenzo's invitation, poets and philosophers frequently visited the Medici palace. Artists learned their craft by sketching ancient Roman statues displayed in the Medici gardens.

A map shows Italy's city states and sea trade.
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The states and kingdoms of Italy lay at the center of Europe's sea trade. Why were so many banking centers located in Italy?

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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