The Renaissance, which began in Italy in 1300s, was one of the largest periods of growth and development in Western Europe. The increase in trade caused an abundance in wealth that resulted in the focusing of the arts. Such things as literature, paintings, sculptures and many more works are known to have blossomed from the period known as the Renaissance. The Renaissance was started by many rich Italian cities, such as Florence, Ferrara, Milan, and Venice (Bram 274). Because these cities were very wealthy, many merchants started to spend money on different things, such as painting, learning, new banking techniques, and new systems of government. These things gave rise to a new type of scholar, the humanist, and a new philosophy, humanism.
To understand the term humanism, one must first know what some assume humanism to be. Many definitions are widely proclaimed by different groups and organizations. The American Humanist Association(AHA) defines humanism as a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. It advocates the extension of participatory democracy and the expansion of the open society, standing for human rights and social justice. Free of supernaturalism, it recognizes human beings as a part of nature and holds that values--be they religious, ethical, social, or political--have their source in human experience and culture. Humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny. (Schafersman)
Humanism is also defined as "a democratic and ethical" point of view on life that reiterates the fact that human beings have the right to and responsibility of giving meaning to and shaping one's own life, according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union (Schafersman). The Union also believes their philosophical view on humanism "stands for the building of a
more humane society through ethics" based upon the reason and the inquisitive capabilities of the human nature. The Bristol Humanist Group's view on their ideology is much simpler. It states, "Humanism is an approach to life based on reason and our common humanity, recognizing that moral values are properly founded on human nature and experience alone" (Schafersman).
This new word, humanist, and the principal practice became more prevalent during the late 15th-century in Italy and was used to describe a tutor or teacher of the "humanities". The word humanities refers to "those subjects which formed the curriculum
in the educational program formulated by Florentines like Leonardo Bruni" (Hays 9). These formulations were put into regular practice by Guarino da Verona and Vittorino da Feltre (Hays 9). The new form of education was set up for the purpose of educating the young adolescent males of the Renaissance for a productive and active life of service within the community. This goal was achieved by providing the young scholars with a "solid stock of knowledge," along with a sturdy foundation of morality, along with the eloquent tongue and graceful hand of a well fluent
statesman (Hays 9). Some of the other works the young students were made to learn about were those of not just Plato, but also of Dionysius, Alexander, Plutarch, and Trajan. This new
educational outlook put more emphasis on the attitude that was less God-centered, and more self or human-centered.
The Latin language was one of the many antiquities that was acquired by these scholarly humanists. The works of the great thinkers of Greek and Roman decent were now upheld in high regard. The humanists of the day did, and still do, believe them to contain both the "lessons one needed to lead a moral and effective life and the best models for a powerful Latin style" (Billington). The humanist movement started in Italy, where the late medieval Italian writers Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Francesco Petrarch greatly contributed to the finding and conservation of classical works (Danto). The study of this ancient grammatical rhetoric led in turn to the interest into the Roman literatures. "Humanists were not necessarily susceptible to artistic experience." Their admiration for antique art was often motivated by aesthetic interests (Hays 36).
Salutati's program for a series of Famous Men in the Palazzo Vecchio and Bruni's for Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise were probably characteristic of the attitude of early 15th-century humanists to living artists: they were primarily concerned with the contents of artistic
creation. (Hays 36)
Some of these creations that were of 'primary concern' were those of the knowledgeable philosophers Plato and Plotinus (Thompson 39). Once these great thinkers' works were translated, they became common place with the educational system of the time.
"Leone Battista Albertie marks the turning point in combining humanist learning with artistic theory and creation" (Hays 36). However, when he came to Florence, after being released from exile in 1434, the artistic style had begun to change. "Deeply impressed by the creations and new art he saw in the city, and by his On Painting (1435) and On Architecture (around 1452)," he
provided it with a "theoretical foundation" that had been originated from "the teachings of the ancients and from antique models" (Hays 36). Denys Hays also states that many of these artistic explorers achieved a "fresh aesthetic sensibility by merging literary and artistic classicism in their love of Roman art" (36). Whether it had been for reasons of aesthetics or the "antiquarian," Humanism's followers began to collect antiques. "Ancient statues, gems and coins were bound to mould their tastes as well as those of their patrons."
As the humanists movement progressed, it began to become
recognized and others came to call these peoples, followers of
humanism. Although in the loose and intellectually unkempt usage
of the words, humanism, humanist, and humanistic, they have been read back into Renaissance humanism (emphasis added). The humanists, however, were in no way the initiators of a particular "philosophy of life: they were not as a group any more anti-religious or this-worldly than their counterparts in the Middle Ages or than other groups in their own centuries" (Thompson 44). With the political changes that occurred from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance one can tell that the progression of humanism pushed the old ways of the Feudal System out and made way for a more flexible and liberal class system. These changes within Europe were most notable in Italy, particularly in Florence.
In Germany, humanistic circles established themselves for the first time. This, however, was more strongly Christian-oriented than what their Italian counterparts had patterned, and showed more nationalist and anti-roman tendencies (Spitz 7). The writings of "Erasmus of Rotterdam," a theologian and humanist from the Netherlands, and of "Ulrich of Hutten," a German humanist and publicist, as well as the "Epistolae obscurorom virorom," Latin for "obscurantist letters, faked letter collection of different humanistic authors," were literary peaks (Spitz 9). Some of the other centers of German humanism
were "Nuremberg, represented by Willibald Pirkheimer," "Gregory
of Heimburg, a German scholar of rights." Yet, more of the German humanists still follow; such as "Konrad Peutinger," "Heidelberg, represented by Philipp the Sincere, Johannes Geiler of Kaisersberg, German theologians and a preachers" (Spitz 9).
At this same time, the humanism in Germany "finds entry into the universities with Conradus Mutianianus Rufus," "Johannes Reuchlin and Philipp Melanchthon, reformer" (Spitz 10).
Through the years known as the Renaissance, the amount of growth, economically, intellectually, and artistically, led to one of, if not the most, enlightening periods in all of history. Humanism is just one of the many social factions that were forged within this marvelous era in time that so many of the modern scholars are intrigued by. The American Humanist Association website author makes these comments, "Humanism is a joyous alternative to religions that believe in a supernatural god and life in a hereafter," and that this life is the "only life for which we have certain knowledge" and with that knowledge we owe ourselves and others the due credit and overall responsibility for making the life for "ourselves and and all with whom we share this fragile planet" (Schafersman).
Billington, James H. Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture: "Humanism." Washington D. C.: Library of Congress, 23 Oct. 2001
Bram, Leon L. Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. Ed. Dickey, Norma H. Vol. 13. United States: R. R. Donnelley and Sans Co., MCMLXXI
Danto, Arthur C. "Humanism." Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001, 22 Oct. 2001
Hays, Denys, ed. The Age of the Renaissance. London: Thames and Hudson, 1967
Spitz, Lewis W., ed. The Northern Renaissance. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1972
Schafersman, Steven. The American Humanist Association. 22 Oct. 2001
Thompson, Stephen P., ed. The Renaissance. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000
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