[Note: If this page prompts an alert on your pc for a "PUP", it is only for the streaming audio on this page, from Magnatune, "Pastorelle" by Fortune's Wheel.  It's perfectly safe to allow and a beautiful piece.]

The term "Renaissance" is from the same French word, meaning "rebirth." It comes from the Italian Rinascimento,  "Re" meaning "again" and "nascere"  meaning "be born." The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. Its influence affected literature, philosophy, art, politics, science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual enquiry.

German Stained glass, from the cloister of Mariawald Abbey, Saint Cornelius, about 1520 - 1521


As a cultural movement, the Renaissance period encompassed a rebellion of classical-based learning, the development of linear perspective in painting, and gradual but widespread educational reform. Traditionally, this intellectual transformation has resulted in the Renaissance being viewed as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. Although the Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term "Renaissance man".

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni                                                                                                   Leonardo da Vinci



                                  Pastourelle by Fortune's Wheel                                                


The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling                 

  Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man clearly shows the effect writers of antiquity had on Renaissance thinkers. Based on the specifications in Vitruvius's De Architectura, da Vinci tried to draw the perfectly proportioned man.



There is a general, but not unchallenged, consensus that the Renaissance began in Tuscany in the 14th century. Various theories have been proposed to account for its origins and characteristics, focusing on a variety of factors including the social and civic peculiarities of Florence at the time; its political structure; the patronage of its dominant family, the Medici; and the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy following the Fall of Constantinople at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.


Dome of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy



Renaissance scholars employed the humanist method in study, and searched for realism and human emotion in art. Humanism was not a philosophy per se, but rather a method of learning. In contrast to the medieval scholastic method, which focused on resolving contradictions between authors, humanists would study ancient texts in the original, typically written in Latin or ancient Greek, and appraise them through a combination of reasoning and empirical evidence. Scholars scoured Europe's monastic libraries, searching for works of classical antiquity which had fallen into obscurity. One such hunt by Poggio Bracciolini, who was credited with the discovery of the complete works of fifteen different authors, turned up Vitruvius' work on art and architecture, allowing for the completion of the Duomo of Florence by Filippo Brunelleschi. In such texts they found a desire to improve and perfect their worldly knowledge; an entirely different sentiment to the spirituality stressed by medieval Christianity. Humanist education was based on the study of poetry, grammar, ethics and rhetoric. Above all, humanists asserted "the genius of man; the unique and extraordinary ability of the human mind."   They did not reject Christianity; quite the contrary, many of the Renaissance's greatest works were devoted to it, and the Church patronized many works of Renaissance art. However, a subtle shift took place in the way that intellectuals approached religion that was reflected in many other areas of cultural life.

Title page of "Petrarch's Virgil" (c. 1336) Illuminated manuscript by Simone Martini


Artists such as Masaccio strove to portray the human form realistically, developing techniques to render perspective and light more naturally. Political philosophers, most famously Niccolò Machiavelli, sought to describe political life as it really was, and to improve government on the basis of reason. In addition to studying classical Latin and Greek, authors also began increasingly to use vernacular languages; combined with the invention of printing, this would allow many more people access to books, especially the Bible. In all, the Renaissance could be viewed as an attempt by intellectuals to study and improve the secular and worldly, both through the revival of ideas from antiquity, and through novel approaches to thought.

Niccolò Machiavelli, Philosopher


Raphael originally sketched this painting without the figure leaning on the block at the foot of the stairs towards the left.  As a tribute to his rival, Raphael added him to his final work.
He is Michelangelo.

One of the distinguishing features of Renaissance art was its development of highly realistic linear perspective. Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337) is credited with first treating a painting as a window into space, but it was not until the demonstrations of architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446) and the later writings of Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) that perspective was formalized as an artistic technique. The development of perspective was part of a wider trend towards realism in the arts. To that end, painters also developed other techniques, studying light, shadow, and, famously in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, human anatomy. Underlying these changes in artistic method was a renewed desire to depict the beauty of nature, and to unravel the axioms of aesthetics, with the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael representing artistic pinnacles that were to be much imitated by other artists. Other notable artists include Sandro Botticelli, working for the Medici in Florence, Donatello another Florentine and Titian in Venice.


Five Masters of the Florentine Renaissance, Louvre Museum, Paris, France
This 210cm x 42cm Wooden panel, much repainted, was originally thought to be by Paolo Uccello (1397 - 1475), but now the consensus is that it was painted a bit later. The consensus is also that the faces do not all match the names inscribed underneath them by some helpful soul some time after the painting was done. The true identities are thought to be (left to right) Antonio Manetti - Brunelleschi's biographer and mathematician friend of Uccello (artist and perspective freak), Donatello, Paolo Uccello himself, Tommaso Masaccio, and Filippo Brunelleschi.


Portrait of Henry VIII (1491-1547) aged 49, 1540
by Hans Holbein the Younger




The upheavals occurring in the arts and humanities were mirrored by a dynamic period of change in the sciences.  The Renaissance saw significant changes in the way the universe was viewed and the methods with which philosophers sought to explain natural phenomena. 

Galileo Galilei


Science and art were very much intermingled in the early Renaissance, with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci making observational drawings of anatomy and nature. Yet the most significant development of the era was not a specific discovery, but rather a process for discovery, the scientific method. This revolutionary new way of learning about the world focused on empirical evidence, the importance of mathematics, and discarding the Aristotelian "final cause" in favor of a mechanical philosophy. Early and influential proponents of these ideas included Copernicus and Galileo. The new scientific method led to great contributions in the fields of astronomy, physics, biology, and anatomy.         

Nicolaus Copernicus


Early Renaissance music (1400 – 1467) gradually dropped the late Medieval period's complex devices of isorhythm and extreme syncopation, resulting in a more flowing style. What the music "lost" in rhythmic complexity, it gained in rhythmic vitality, as a "drive to the cadence" became a prominent feature around mid-century.

In the early 1470s, music starts to be printed using a printing press. Music printing had a major effect on how music spread for not only did a printed piece of music reach a larger audience than any manuscript ever could, it did it far cheaper as well. Also during this century, a tradition of famous makers began for many instruments. These makers were masters of their craft. An example is Neuschel for his trumpets. Towards the end of the 15th century, polyphonic sacred music had once again become more complex, in a manner that can perhaps be seen as correlating to the stunning detail in the painting at the time.

In Venice, from about 1534 until around 1600, an impressive poly-choral style developed, which gave Europe some of the grandest, most sonorous music composed up until that time, with multiple choirs of singers, brass and strings in different spatial locations in the Basilica San Marco di Venezia (St. Mark's Basilica). These multiple revolutions spread over Europe in the next several decades, beginning in Germany and then moving to Spain, France and England somewhat later, marking the beginning of what we now know as the Baroque musical era.


The Roman School was a group of composers of predominantly church music in Rome, spanning the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Many of the composers had a direct connection to the Vatican and the papal chapel, though they worked at several churches; stylistically they are often contrasted with the Venetian School of composers, a concurrent movement which was much more progressive. By far the most famous composer of the Roman School is Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, whose name has been associated for four hundred years with smooth, clear, polyphonic perfection.

The brief but intense flowering of the musical madrigal in England, mostly from 1588 to 1627, along with the composers who produced them, is known as the English Madrigal School. The English madrigals were a cappella, predominantly light in style, and generally began as either copies or direct translations of Italian models. Most were for three to six voices. Musica reservata is either a style or a performance practice in a cappella vocal music of the latter, mainly in Italy and southern Germany, involving refinement, exclusivity, and intense emotional expression of sung text. In addition, many composers observed a division in their own works between a prima pratica (music in the Renaissance polyphonic style) and a seconda pratica (music in the new style) during the first part of the 17th century.

Instruments of the Renaissance


Many instruments originated during the Renaissance; others were variations of, or improvements upon instruments that had existed previously. Some have survived to the present day; others have disappeared, only to be recreated in order to perform music of the period on authentic instruments. As in the modern day, instruments may be classified as brass, strings, percussion, and woodwind.


Brass instruments in the Renaissance were traditionally played by professionals. Some of the more common brass instruments that were played:  Slide trumpet  Cornett  Trumpet  Sackbut  (Image at right)




Strings were used in many circumstances, both sacred and secular. A few members of this family include:  Viol    Lyre    Irish Harp  

Hurdy Gurdy  Cittern (below)  Lute  Harpsichord  Virginal  (at right)


Percussion Some Renaissance percussion instruments include the triangle, the Jew's harp, the tambourine, the bells, the rumble-pot, and various kinds of drums.  Tambourine  Jew's harp (image at right)


Woodwinds (Aerophones) The woodwind instruments (Aerophones) use a column of air vibrating within a pipe that has little holes along it to generate vibration with the airflow through the pipe and control the length of the sound waves produced by the vibrating air. A player could create this air column by using a few different

methods. The first is blowing across a mouth hole (as would be done with flutes). The second is blowing into a mouthpiece with a single reed (as would be found with the clarinet or saxophone) or a double reed (which is used with oboes and bassoons).


The woodwind instruments of the Middle Ages are not the same as modern day woodwinds. They were more eccentric and exotic. For example, you would find that modern woodwinds fit the natural position of the hand. Woodwinds in the Renaissance used simple holes drilled in the instrument.

 Reed pipe   Hornpipe   Bagpipe   Panpipe  Transverse flute  Recorder   Shawm  (Image at right)


Information for this page comes from Wikipedia


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