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The Renaissance Defined


The Renaissance, a reawakening to the enlightened ways of ancient Greece and Rome was, for two centuries, an explosion of secular learning, art, and culture. Artists, inspired by the ancients, celebrated a new confidence or humanism.

Complete Video Script

[3] After centuries of medieval struggles, Europe enjoyed a reawakening to the enlightened ways of ancient Greece and Rome. For two centuries — roughly 1400 to 1600 — there was an explosion of art, learning, and culture. This rebirth was known as the Renaissance.

[4 Montage] We'll start where the Renaissance did, in Italy. We'll trace the dramatic revolution in art and the bold spirit of the times. And we'll meet the artistic geniuses who made it possible. From Italy, the Renaissance spread to the seafaring lands of Spain and Portugal, and to the merchant cities of Germany, Belgium and Holland. By the end, the Renaissance had revolutionized the way we think about the world and our place in it.

[5, Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Florence] Though best known for its art, the Renaissance would change Europe in every way — from politics to economics to religion.

[6] Most of all, it was a whole new attitude toward life, a new optimism and confidence: it was Humanism. Humanism focused not on our sinfulness — as dominated the Middle Ages — but in our essential goodness.

[7, fresco series by Ghirlandaio in Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella church, Florence] People worked hard, making money was respectable, and excellence was rewarded. Real-life people — not just saints and kings — were worthy…worthy of being portrayed realistically in all their human glory…humanism.

[8, Piazza della Signoria, Florence] In politics, the Renaissance meant budding democracy — people power not kings. This was the city hall. In economics, merchants were developing modern capitalism–like banking and loans.

[9, The Annunciation with St. Emidius, 1486, Crivelli, National Gallery, London; Piazza Annunciation, Florence] Scientists were delving into nature. Artists were employing new techniques to show depth and to portray things more realistically. And architects were going forward by going back to ancient Greek-style columns and Roman-style arches.

[10, Uffizi Gallery] If the Renaissance was a foundation of our modern world, a foundation of the Renaissance was classical art. Sculptors, poets, and painters alike turned to ancient work for inspiration.

[11, Three Graces by Botticelli, Birth of Venus by Botticelli, Madonna of the Goldfinch by Raphael, School of Athens by Raphael, St. Peter's Basilica dome is essentially ancient Roman Pantheon atop ancient Roman Basilica of Maxentius] For example, this Renaissance portrayal of the Three Graces was inspired by ancient versions from 1,500 years earlier. This Renaissance goddess?…clearly modeled on works done in ancient times. And this holy Virgin Mary looks suspiciously like this very pagan ancient goddess of love. The great pre-Christian thinkers, like Plato and Aristotle, were back in vogue. And, in architecture, the ultimate Renaissance-designed church was essentially this ancient dome placed upon this ancient basilica.