Renaissance means rebirth. The word is usually used about the revival of learning of classical literature between the fourteenth and the sixteenth century. During this period there developed a spirit of inquiry, a spirit of freedom of thought and action. Social, political, and religious ideas were all revolutionized. In the words of Prof. Jebb, “The Renaissance in the largest sense of the term is the process of transition in Europe from the medieval to modern order”. The word “Renaissance” suggests different things to different people. To the love of art and literature Renaissance means the recovery of the masterpieces of the ancient world and the revived knowledge of Greek and Latin. Hence, Walter Pater is right in calling the Renaissance “a complex and many-sided movement”.
Renaissance Inventions and Discoveries
There were certain inventions and discoveries, which contributed to the general movement of the Renaissance. Of these, the most important was the invention of the printing press. The art of printing was introduced into Europe by John Gutenberg of Germany in 1454 and a few years, presses were established in every important town of Western and Central Europe. The first Latin Bible was printed in 1455, at Mainz in Germany. The art of printing reached all over the world. The first printing press in England was established in 1476 by William Caxton at Westminister. Another invention of great importance was the “mariner’s compass”, which enabled sailors to undertake longer voyages that had hitherto been possible. Along with this came also the invention of the telescope, a century later. The invention of the telescope marks the beginning of the science of astronomy.
Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio prepared the ground for the Renaissance in Italy. Italian states were ruled by despots who competed with one another in the splendor of their courts. Another great Italian writer of the period was Machiavelli. In France, the effect of the Renaissance was seen in the lyric poetry of Ronsard, the vigorous prose of Francis Rabelais, and the scholarly essays of Montaigne. In Spain, the literary glory of the Renaissance was the glory of Cervantes. His “Don Quixote”, a burlesque of the romances of Chivalry is the most beautiful gift of the Renaissance of the literature of the world. In England, the Renaissance was heralded by Geoffrey Chaucer and selling who had contacts with Italy. A good start was given by three Oxford friends, Thomas Linacre, William Grocyn, and Hugh Latimer. All of them studied in Italy and later lectured on Greek at Oxford University.
Renaissance Art and Literature
The period of Renaissance was also an age of translation. Virgil, Ovid, Cicero…were all translated into English. The first part of Chapman’s “Homer” appeared in 1598. Thus people like Shakespeare who knew little Latin and less Greek became familiar with classical mythology. The Renaissance in literature may be said to have begun in England with Sir Thomas More. His Famous work, “Utopia”, which is a Greek word meaning “nowhere” was written in Latin and first published in 1516. The English translation was published in 1551. Spenser, the author of the first great English epic “Faerie Queene”, is the representative poet of the English Renaissance. The names closely associated with the Renaissance in Art and literature are those of Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. They were all-rounder’s, poets, painters, and sculptors. Their work is the glory of the picture galleries in Europe. As a sculptor, Michael Angelo’s most famous work is the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ on her lap. As a painter, he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the great fresco of the “Last Judgement” on the walls of the same Chapel. As a poet, Michael Angelo wrote many sonnets and love poems. Leonardo da Vinci is famous for the fresco of the “Last Supper” in the refectory of Maria Delle Grazie in Milan.
The Renaissance in religion consists of two movements, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The Reformation started in Germany. Martin Luther, the leader of the Movement, translated the Old and New Testaments into German. William Tindale gave an English rendering of the translation made by Erasmus. These translations of the Bible helped people to read and interpret the text for themselves. As an antidote to this, there started a Counter-Reformation and founding of the society of Jesus by Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. As an outcome of this Renaissance in religion, there was a split in the church and those who protested against the supremacy of the pope came to be known as Protestants.