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After encountering the horrific plagues and wars of the Medieval era (450s-1450s CE), many Europeans longed for new forms of artistic expression and a revitalized society. From 1300 to 1600, during and after the end of the Medieval Era, a new development of artistic expression came about that would later be dubbed by historians as the era of the Renaissance, which means rebirth. Italy became the first nation to experience this cultural movement that eventually swept many areas of Europe and forever changed the world. Christianity was also a main inspiration for the artistic expressions of this era.
Many of the artists of the Renaissance idolized the cultures of Greece and Rome (1,200 BCE – 600 CE). They saw the Medieval Era as plagued with problems and the Greco-Roman societies of the past as idealistic. Roman architecture, which was impacted by Greek culture, was often utilized in Renaissance art. European scholars also began studying the Greek language and Greek texts. Eastern Europeans fled their region when the Muslim Turks gained the area in of Constantinople 1453. They brought Greek manuscripts of portions the Bible and other manuscripts with them.
Wealthy merchants hired artists to devote their time to creating art in this era. Those who hired artists were called patrons. Artists such as Donatello (1386-1466) Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Raphael (1483-1520), and Michelangelo (1475-1564) created art in this era and were funded by patrons. Renaissance artists utilized techniques such as perspective, making a two dimensional object appear three dimensional. Artists also created realistic sculptures, a process called realism, and wrote literature in the vernacular, the common languages of the people. City-states appeared in great number in Northern Italy, partially due to the trade that came about during the Crusades (1095-1291 CE). These urban clusters became areas where new ideas could spread rapidly and evolved quickly. The Black Death of the bubonic plague killed over half the populating, peaking in the mid-1300s. Those left as survivors demanded higher wages for their work and pursued artistic interests.
During this epoch, many traders gained wealth and power in society. Prior to this age, many had rank and power in society through being born in the family lineage of nobility. Merchants did not inherit their power, they earned it through trade and commerce. The Medici family rose to become one of the most powerful merchant families of Europe. They established banks throughout Italy and other areas. Cosimo de Medici used his wealth and influence to control Florence’s government leaders until he died in 1464. The Medici family also used their wealth to as patrons to fund the arts.
Prior to the Renaissance, many Catholic Christians practiced extreme asceticism, denying oneself worldly pleasure and living as simply as possible. Humanists challenged asceticism and taught one could be virtuous and enjoy material possessions. Humanists also encouraged the study of philosophy, history, poetry, prose, and other subjects. Secularism, the focus on the here and now instead of religiously focused on an afterlife, became a dominant worldview in the Renaissance culture as asceticism faded for most Europeans.
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