Rise of Renaissance:
Meaning of the Term Renaissance:
The word “Renaissance”, which in French means “rebirth”, was a cultural movement. It refers to the significant changes that took place in Europe during the transition period between the medieval and modern. During this period there was a revival of learning based on classical sources, the rise of courtly and papal patronage, the development of a new perspective in painting, and advancement in science.
According to historian Davis, the word Renaissance “expresses those freedom-loving, intrepid ideas of people which had been imprisoned by the religious authorities in the Middle Ages”.
According to Fergusson Bruun, “The age of the Renaissance was an age of chaotic change, in which there was much that was still medieval, much that was recognizably modern, and much also that was peculiar to itself. It bridged the gap between the Middle Ages and Modern times, but it was also a cultural period in its own right, filled with a great political, social and intellectual ferment”.
Scheville says, “The Renaissance was not a sharp break with the Middle Ages. It was a worldly movement and included all the intellectual changes that were visible at the close of the Middle European period and at the commencement of the Modern times”.
Causes for the Rise of Renaissance:
The repercussions of multifarious events converged in the Renaissance. These events did not crop up in any one country at a time. As a matter of fact, they emerged in different countries from time to time and shaped the background of the Renaissance gradually. Therefore, the Renaissance did not happen all of a sudden but had its origin in a combination of events.
(1) Capture of Constantinople by the Turks- Constantinople, the capital of Byzantine (the eastern Roman Empire), was a great centre of learning for more than ten centuries. When it fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1453, several scholars fled to various parts of Europe (especially to Italy) with invaluable manuscripts and books. These scholars infused the spirit of liberal and rational thinking into the minds of the people. Italy became the centre of classical learning. Thus, enthusiasm in the study of the classics was injected into the minds of Europeans. A. J. Grant has remarked, “The movement received a strong impetus in 1453 when owing to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, Greek scholars were compelled to flee to Italy”.
(2) Influence on Literature- The scholars who fled from Constantinople and settled in Italy, soon had contacts with the other scholars of the country. They studied their books and translated them into their own languages so that the general masses who were ignorant of Latin and Greek could understand them. Among the contemporary scholars, the names of Petrarch, Dante, Chaucer, Martin Luther and Erasmus need special mention. They made a great contribution to the rise of the intellectual renaissance. Owing to the inspiration of these great scholars the darkness and dogmatism disappeared and a spirit of enquiry developed among the people.
(3) Decline of Feudalism- Feudalism, with its hierarchical pattern from the king down to the serfs, was based on the concept of service. This system of obligation was thus opposed to progress. But with the development of trade and commerce, the traders became prosperous. The economic focus shifted from agriculture to commerce. This period also witnessed the rise of new towns. The Hundred Years War and the War of Roses led to the gradual decline of the feudal system. Consequently, individualistic ideas and the growth of free spirit and thinking made it conducive for Renaissance to flourish during this period.
(4) Crusades- The military expeditions undertaken in Europe from the end of the 11th to the end of the 13th century to recover the Holy Land, Jerusalem, from the Muslims (Seljuk Turks) were called crusades. Because of these crusades, the Christians (Europeans) came in contact with the enlightened people of the East. It is an obvious fact that in the eastern countries, the Arabs had enriched their civilization by establishing contacts with the Greek and Indian civilizations. The crusades encouraged voyages and a study of geography. The Europeans sailed on long voyages. The crusaders met strange people and got new ideas from them. The intellectual horizon of the crusaders had broadened very much when they came back and felt disgusted with their dull life. In the Middle Ages people generally believed that the Church and Christianity could satisfy all the physical as well as spiritual needs of life. Some people who came back with novel experiences derived from the contacts with other civilizations refuted that vain belief and the great impact of the Church that gripped people’s minds began to diminish slowly. The crusades helped in ending European segregation. Aristotle’s scientific books, Arabic numerals, Algebra, mariner’s compass and paper reached Western Europe through the crusades. Thus, by disseminating novel ideas and destroying old thoughts, beliefs and institutions, the crusades played an important role in bringing forth Renaissance.
(5) Spirit of Enquiry- In medieval Europe, education was controlled by the Church. People blindly accepted the Church’s teaching. However, the spread of education and exposure to new ideas prompted the scholars to critically analyze several age-old beliefs and superstitions. The original thinkers like Roger Bacon and Peter Abelard managed to weaken the intellectual authority of the Church. Peter Abelard felt that it was essential to apply reason to the principles given in the scriptures. They had to be tested in the light of reason and investigation. Similarly, Roger Bacon criticized the Church and encouraged the study of subjects like mathematics, physics, natural science and philosophy.
(6) Invention of Printing Press- At the beginning of the Modern era Printing Press and paper were invented. It made the books cheap in Europe. After the invention of the Printing Press, the Bible and some other books of ancient Greek and Roman literature was translated into English, French and German languages, so the people could be able to go through the Bible and the works of Plato and Aristotle. It added to the knowledge of the people. During the Medieval period, education was confined only to the priests, hence the people used to accept whatever was uttered by the priests without any hitch. But in the Modern era with the expansion of education, the ignorance disappeared and people began to accept only those commands of the Pope and the priests which they found perfectly in accordance with their own wisdom. Hayes, a prominent historian has pointed out the development of human capability after the invention of the printing press in these words, “The invention of the press multiplied the books and made culture accessible to every common man in the society. Ideas, hitherto the exclusive right of the nobility and the clergy now began to throw light into the dark and uncivilized lives of the many”.
(7) Encouragement to Art and New Learning- The phenomenal growth of wealth in the Italian cities eventually led to the growth of a series of city-states. These city-states encouraged new learning by patronizing art and literature. One such city-state was Florence, which grew prosperous owing to its trading relations and banking services. The most generous patrons of the artists and the men of letters in Europe were the heads of great Florentine banking firms namely the Strozzi and the Medici. The artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were patronized by the Medici family of Florence. Such encouragements created enthusiasm and excitement for intellectual life and artistic achievements. Several progressive kings and popes too played a great role in fostering the Renaissance. Pope Nicholas V was not only a great scholar but also a generous patron of the scholars of classical learning. Furthermore, the Renaissance scholarship reached its height under Pope Leo X. Rulers like Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France and Charles V of Spain were great patrons of art, literature and music.
(8) Contribution of Middle Class- The European trade with India, America and Africa developed a lot due to the discovery of new sea routes and various new states were established in Europe which helped in the rise of the middle class that consisted of merchants, small industrialists, government officials, lawyers, doctors and teachers. The people of this class had a great interest in the study of science, administration, history, art and other subjects. This class contributed a lot to the Renaissance.
(9) The Rise of the Mongolian Empire- The vast Mongolian Empire contributed to the birth of the Renaissance. After the death of Changez Khan, the famous Central-Asian conqueror, in the 13th century, Kubla Khan established a vast and powerful empire. It comprised the regions of Russia, Poland and Hungary. His court was a cynosure for scholars, religious preachers and rich businessmen. The Mongolian state council was graced and glorified by the cardinals of Pope, the Buddhist monks of India, the craftsman of Paris, Italy and China, and the mathematicians and astrologers of India. In that period, Peking (Cambul) and Samarkand became international centres. Therefore, East and West came in close contact in the real sense in this age. The European were greatly influenced by the exchange of views and learning as well as with close contacts with the people of various countries. The famous traveller Marco Polo visited Kubla Khan’s court in 1272. On his return, he wrote a copious account of his travels. His travels stirred people for a long time. By the way, it will not be out of place to say that Europe gained the knowledge of paper and printing and mariner’s compass and gunpowder from the Mongols.