The Italian Renaissance

The Renaissance began in Italy and lasted from ca. 1350-1600. The period we know as the high Renaissance, when most of the famous art and architecture was created, lasted from ca.1450-1550. The word Renaissance means rebirth, and it is called that because it was a cultural renewal, or rebirth, following the middle ages. But why did the Renaissance begin in Italy? Mostly that had to do with geography.

Italy is located in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. Because it is a peninsula, Italy has lots of ports for trading. And the location of the Mediterranean Sea was the center of the known world in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Think about it -- the Mediterranean is the crossroads of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. That made it an important crossroads of trade, as well, especially with the powerful Islamic Empire. And Italy had a major hand in that trade, meaning they gained a lot of wealth. In addition to wealth, Italy was exposed to ideas from other cultures, and these two things combined to give birth to the Renaissance. Within Italy, the cities that were central to the Renaissance were Florence, Rome, and Venice

But there’s someone else who deserves some credit. His name was Francesco Petrarch, and he is known as the Father of Humanism, the dominant philosophy of the time. Petrarch popularized studying ancient Greek and Roman texts, and that also had a huge influence on Renaissance thinking. Renaissance artists studied ancient Greek and Roman architecture and statues and modeled some of their own artworks after the ancients.

Some of the most famous Renaissance artists were Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, and Michaelangelo Buonaroti, who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and sculpted the statue of David. In addition to famous artists, there were important politicians such as Niccolo Machiaveli and the Medici Family, which ruled Florence for hundreds of years and supported the development of famous artworks.