15: The Early Renaissance


Van Eyck - Arnolfini Portrait

Arnolfini and His Bride
Jan van Eyck, 1434

Key Terms

  • The Medici
  • Humanism
  • Machiavelli
  • Erasmus
  • Florence Baptistery
  • Donatello
  • Michelangelo
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Guillaume Dufay
  • Present reasons for the cultural ascendancy of Florence in the fifteenth century
  • Discuss major artists and works of the first phase of the Early Renaissance
  • Explain the elements of the Florentine Renaissance style
  • Discuss the cultural patronage and personal achievements of the Medici family
  • Detail the characteristics of Renaissance humanism, including the major humanists like Erasmus
  • Describe the role of printing technology in spreading humanism
  • List major female humanists of the Early Renaissance
  • Describe the most important features of music in the fifteenth century and the contributions of famous musicians like Guillaume Dufay
  • Know The Prince, Michelangelo’s David, and the Florentine Baptistery

I. Historical Context

  • Crises of the 14th Century come to an end
  • Moving toward the Renaissance
  • Florence, first important center of the Italian Renaissance

II. Politics

  • A. The Florentine Republic
    • Trade guilds, those who run the economy run Florence
    • Trade - wool
    • Banking - stable monetary system
    • Allow the Medici to come to power

  • B. Rise of the Medici
    • Wealthy family, proud of city
    • Cosimo de’ Medici
      • Opened a Platonic Academy
      • Financially supported priest who translated platonic works into Latin
      • Pater Patriae - patron of the arts
    • Piero de’ Medici
      • Continued patronage of arts
      • Religious and civil art and architecture
    • Lorenzo il Magnifico
      • Continued patronage of arts
      • Also focused on centers of learning

III. Texts

  • Gutenberg’s Printing Press
    • Johann Gutenberg in Germany 
    • Printing Press in 1455
    • 6-9 million books with 13,000 editions before 1500
  • Humanism
    • Oration on the Dignity of Man Pico della Mirandola
    • Man bridges the gap between heaven and creation
    • Humanity as miracle
    • Famous students
    • Proliferation of Humanist texts

IV. Education

  • A. Humanism
    • Aristocrats and families who saw education as a priority
    • Rise of printing and accessibility of books contributed to accessibility of education

  • B. Machiavelli’s The Prince
    • Secular Humanism
    • Secular study of political theory
    • Realistic pragmatism - ruthless wisdom
    • Christianity in politics is disastrous
    • “The end justifies the means”

  • C. Erasmus The Praise of Folly
    • Christian Humanist
    • Attacked religious corruption
    • Sweeping social criticism

  • D. Women in the Early Renaissance
    • Educated women become writers
    • Typically members of the upper class or convents
    • Criticized for not following traditional roles

Fra Savonarola

You fill the churches with your own vanity.

Do you think that the Virgin Mary went about dressed as she is shown in paintings?

You would do well to destroy pictures so unsuitably conceived. You make the Virgin Mary look like a whore. How the worship of God is mocked!

V. Religion

  • A. Religion and Humanism
    • Fra Savonarola
    • Dominican preacher and reformer
    • Laurentian Florence vs. Medieval Piety
    • Influential following the Medici rule
    • Defied papal excommunication and died publicly

  • B. The Protestant Reformation
    • Devout Catholics protest against the Church’s practices and seek to reform them
    • Resulted in many branches of Christianity
    • Most significant leader is Martin Luther who nailed 95 Theses ona church door
    • His purpose was to call for reform

VI. Early Florentine Art

  • A. The Transition from Gothic to Renaissance Art
  • B. Early Florentine Sculpture
    • Baptistery Competition for the Florence Cathedral North Doors
    • Theme: Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac
    • Winner - Lorenzo Ghiberti
    • Also commissioned for East Doors = Gates of Paradise

VII. Medici Era Art

  • A. Under Cosimo’s Patronage
    • Donatello
      • Versatile sculptor
      • Early work showed classical ideals, traditional
      • Later work showed more variety, emotion, innovation
    • Renovations of the Dominican Convent of San Marco
      • Michelozzo - architect
      • Fra Angelico - painter
      • Annunciation - similarities to Holy Trinity above
    • Paolo Uccello
      • Medici Palace paintings
      • Three massive paintings that stretch 34 feet
      • Illustrate the Battle of San Romano
      • Civic Pride, Proportion and Scale

  • B. Under Piero’s Patronage

  • C. Under Lorenzo’s Patronage
    • Botticelli
    • Leonardo da Vinci
    • Michelangelo
      • David - statement of idealized beauty
      • Towered over Plazzo Vecchio as a symbol of civic power

VIII. Architecture

  • Brunelleschi’s Dome
  • Cathedral of Florence
  • Church unfinished for a century - no buttresses outside, no supports inside
  • Brunelleschi spends 3 years designing a dome that would support itself
  • Technical achievement and aesthetic success

IX. Music

  • Guillaume Dufay
  • Synthesis of religious and secular
  • First time a folk tune integrated into the Mass

X. Historical Context

  • What is the Renaissance?
    • Humanism as an outgrowth of Classical learning
    • Renewed interest in Classical world
    • Artists as individuals seeking fame
    • Advancement of self and society
  • What comes next?
    • 1453 - fall of Constantinople
    • 1469 - Unity of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella
    • 1485 - Henry VII is the first Tudor King of England
    • 1492 - New World
    • Renaissance, Baroque Era, Romantic Era, Age of Revolution, Modern Era