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9-08-2015, 15:25


During this era, educated individuals and professionally trained writers, artists, and composers developed new and distinctive types of cultural products, but they also continued to share many traditions with their less-educated neighbors. The percentage of the population that could read and write increased slowly from 1450 to 1750, and was highest among urban upper- and middle-class men in northwestern Europe. Universities offered the most advanced education, and increasingly adopted humanist curricula that emphasized original texts. Humanists asserted that educated men should be active in political life, and several humanists wrote important works of political theory addressing key issues of the day, including how rulers should govern, whether women should rule, and when subjects had the right to resist an unjust monarch. Italian humanists grew interested in Greek philosophy, especially that of Plato, while northern humanists such as Erasmus regarded humanism as a way to bring about needed reforms in the Christian church. The increase in literacy provided a market for all types of printed books in vernacular languages, and theatres staged the works of playwrights for a variety of audiences. People told stories to one another while they worked or in the evenings, and sang ballads or played musical instruments. Professional musicians entertained at court and played and sang in major churches, often in multi-part harmony. 160 early modern europe, 1450–1789 The word “Renaissance” was fi rst used by authors writing about art in the sixteenth century, who began to see painters, sculptors, and archictects as creative geniuses rather than simply artisans. Artists, especially in Italy, developed an innovative style in which they tried to achieve a sense of balance, proportion, and harmony in their buildings, depictions of the human form, and portrayal of the natural world. Artists studied for many years perfecting their craft, and the few female painters who became known were almost all the daughters of painters. Artistic works were generally created for individual or group patrons, who often provided specifi c guidelines for what they wanted in a portrait, a statue, or even a building. As we will see in the next chapter, religious reformers in the sixteenth century had strong opinions on nearly every aspect of Renaissance culture – education, humanism, political theory, vernacular literature, art, and music. Religious and secular authorities throughout Europe saw threats to public order and propriety everywhere, and thought that God would not look favorably on cities or communities where people did not live a moral or upright life. Their opinions shaped every aspect of culture, and much more, in a Europe increasingly divided over religious issues.


1 How were opportunities for formal schooling and artistic training shaped by social class and gender in early modern Europe? 2 What did people see as the purpose of education in this era? What skills and values were students supposed to acquire? 3 Political theory in any era often refl ects actual political developments, but is also concerned with ideals. How is this balance between the real and the ideal refl ected in the political ideas of Machiavelli and Jean Bodin? 4 How did humanism change in the fi fteenth and early sixteenth century, both in Italy and as it spread beyond Italy? 5 How did playwrights and other authors who wrote in vernacular languages make their works appealing to audiences and readers? Why are some of these works, such as Don Quixote or the plays of Shakespeare, still appealing today? 6 What were the most important stylistic features of Renaissance painting, sculpture, and architecture? How did these relate to humanist ideas, and how were they shaped by the wishes of patrons? 7 Some scholars argue that the distinction between “high” culture and “popular” culture that was reinforced by the Renaissance ended in the twentieth century. Do you agree? Are certain forms of music, art, or other cultural products still taken less seriously than others?


Charles G. Nauert, Jr. , Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2006), provides a thorough introduction, as do the many works of Paul Oskar Kristeller , such as Renaissance Thought and its Sources (New York : Columbia University Press , 1979). Jack Goody , Renaissances: The One or the Many? ( New York : Cambridge University Press , 2010), compares episodes of cultural fl owering outside of Europe to the Renaissance. Discussions of basic education include R. A. Houston, Literacy in Early Modern England: Culture and Education 1500–1800 ( London: Longman, 1988; 2nd edn, 2001); George Huppert, Public Schools in Renaissance France ( Urbana: University of Illinois Press , 1984); Paul Grendler , Schooling in Renaissance Italy: Literacy and Learning 1300–1600 ( Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press , 1989). For more advanced education, see Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine , From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth and Sixteenth-Century Europe ( Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 1986). Charles Trinkaus , “In Our Image and Likeness”: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought ( South Bend, IN : University of Notre Dame Press , 1995), examines humanists’ views on human nature. For single humanists, see Peter Ackroyd , The Life of Thomas More (New York and London : Nan A. Talese , 1998); James Tracy , Erasmus of the Low Countries (Berkeley: University of California Press , 1996). On political thought, see Quentin Skinner , The Foundations of Modern Political Thought ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1978); Gordon Schochet, Patriarchalism in Political Thought ( New York : Basic Books , 1975). Stephen Greenblatt , Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare ( New York : Norton, 2004), interweaves what we know about the life of the playwright with a broader analysis of Elizabethan culture, while Jean Howard , The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England ( London: Routledge, 1994), and Stephen Orgel, Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare’s England ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1996), also set English theatre in the context of broader social issues. Richard A. Goldthwaite, Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy, 1300–1600 ( London and Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press , 1993), analyzes the economic context of Renaissance art, while Peter Burke, The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Europe ( Princeton: Princeton University Press , 1986), discusses the social setting, and Lauro Martines, Power and Imagination: City-States in Renaissance Italy ( New York : Vintage Books , 1980), examines the political background. Craig Harbison, The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art in its Historical Context ( Upper Saddle River, NJ : Prentice-Hall , 1995), provides a good overview of northern European developments, while Suraiya Faroqhi , Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Everyday Life in the Ottoman Empire ( London: I. B. Tauris , 2000), examines art, literature, and popular culture. Allan W. Atlas, Renaissance Music: Music in Western Europe, 1400–1600 ( New York : Norton, 1998), provides an excellent introduction to the topic. Charles Nicholl, Leonardo: Flights of the Mind ( New York : Viking , 2004), provides a broad rendering of Leonardo’s life and times. For more suggestions and links see the companion website www.cambridge.org/wiesnerhanks .


1 Giorgio Vasari , Lives of the Artists, trans. George Bull ( Harmondsworth: Penguin Books , 1965), p. 205. 2 Ibid., p. 253. 3 Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Leo Paul S. de Alvarez ( Prospect Heights, IL : Waveland Press , 1980), p. 101. 4 Ibid., p. 149. 5 The Political Works of James I, ed. Charles Howard McIlwain (New York: Russell and Russell, 1965), pp. 272, 307.