Comparing the Italian and Northern Renaissance

The Renaissance was a period that drastically changed Europe from the end of the 13th century. During this time many works of art, science, and philosophy created a new value system in society. This spread throughout Europe for the next few centuries. Each part of Europe experienced their own unique changes due to their differences in cultures, but historians map out two major Renaissance movements in Italy and Northern Europe. Though these two renaissances share some commonalities, they also have distinct differences. 

The Renaissance began in Italy in the late 13th century and lasted until the 1600s. This period marked the transition from the medieval period to Early Modern Europe. The French term renaissance means “rebirth”, and it was believed that this period was a “rebirth” of the learning of ancient culture and philosophy. This interest in ancient knowledge led to many cultural achievements such as the development of the humanist philosophy which inspired many brilliant works of literature and art. The Italian Renaissance was heavily focused on the upper class with elaborate works of art that were commissioned by wealthy families and organizations. The art focused on Greek and Roman mythology and had many religious themes. Italy was governed by city-states which influenced how the Renaissance spread.

The Northern Renaissance occurred in northern Europe and areas outside of Italy. There was little influence from the Italian Renaissance until 1450. After 1450, ideas such as humanism began to spread around Europe and resulted in renaissance movements in Germany, France, England, the Netherlands, and Poland. Many countries imported Italian art which also helped start renaissances in northern Europe. Art of the Northern Renaissance was focused on daily peasant life and valued simple pious living. The Northern Renaissance was directly linked to the Protestant Reformation characterized by continued conflicts with the Roman Catholic Church. The North had more centralized nations that did not produce as many wealthy merchant classes that commissioned art. 

In both renaissances, the art produced imitated nature through emotional intensity. They also included religious scenery and themes. The power of education and individualism were foundational beliefs in both movements. Through the cultivation of knowledge of the classics, the Italian and Northern Renaissance impacted Europe and history forever.