cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century

The Renaissance is a period in European history that followed the Middle Ages and ended in the 17th century. “Renaissance” is a French word for “cultural rebirth.” During this period, there was a “rebirth” of classical learning. People started relearning the teachings of scholars from Ancient Greece, Rome, and other ancient societies. The Renaissance is often said to be the start of the "modern age"

The School of Athens by Raphael. This Renaissance painting shows an imaginary scene from Ancient Greece, with Greek philosophers, writers, artists, and mathematicians. Raphael used the faces of people from his own time. Leonardo da Vinci was his model for Plato, the philosopher with the white beard in the center.

During the Renaissance, there were many advances in art, literature, the sciences, mathematics, and culture. Many famous artists, writers, philosophers, and scientists lived during this period. A person who is clever at a great number of things is sometimes called a "Renaissance man". The most famous Renaissance man is Leonardo da Vinci, who was a painter, a scientist, a musician and a philosopher.

The Renaissance started in Italy, but soon spread across the whole of Europe. In Italy, the period is divided into three parts:

Following the Mannerist period was the Baroque period, which also spread across Europe starting around 1600. Outside Italy, it can be hard to tell where the Renaissance period ends and the Baroque begins.

Causes of the Renaissance

Printers at work in 1520

Reading and Printing:


In the Middle Ages, most artistic, legal, and historical production took place in and around books. Monasteries, churches, universities, and people who could afford them produced and owned books. Books were produced entirely by hand, which is why they were called manuscripts; illuminated manuscripts include hand-colored, drawn, and gilded pictures.

Most books at that time were written in Latin, Greek, and Roman, which was used in the Catholic Church. Only priests and well-educated people read Latin then. People were forbidden by law from translating the Bible into Italian, English, German, French, or other "local" languages.

Around 1440 the first printed books were made in Europe. The printing press made it possible to print copies of large books like the Bible and sell them cheaply. It took 300 calf skins or 100 pig skins to print the Bible. Printers soon began to print everything that they thought was interesting: Ancient Greek and Roman writings, poetry, and plays; stories about the lives of the saints; mathematics textbooks; medical textbooks; Christian stories; erotic stories; books about animals and monsters; maps of the world; and advice to princes about how to rule their people.

Before the invention of the printing press, knowledge had belonged to priests, monasteries and universities. Suddenly many thousands of people, even merchants, could learn far more than they ever could before.

The mixture of architecture in Rome. At the back is the huge wall of the ancient gladiator arena, the Colosseum. Near it is a church tower from about 1100 in the Middle Ages. The white front of the church of St. Francesca is from the 1600s. The columns and broken walls are all from Ancient Roman buildings. The circular building to the left is now a church but was an ancient temple.

Ancient Roman Things:


From about 400 B.C. to about 400 AD, Europe experienced a Golden Age. In Ancient Greece and Rome, there were many philosophers, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and mathematicians. Things were beautiful, well-organized and well-run.

However, by the year 1400, the city of Rome was in ruins. Inside the broken walls that had been smashed in 410 AD were the remains of huge temples, sports arenas, public baths, apartment blocks and palaces. Nearly all of them were half-buried and ruined, so they could not be used. Many were pulled down to use as building stone.

Among the ruins of this once-great city, the people of Rome lived in cottages. They still went to church in the huge churches (basilicas) built by the first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, in the 4th century. They still held market day in the Ancient Roman market place of Campo dei Fiori ("Field of Flowers").

In 1402, Filippo Brunelleschi and a teenage Donatello came to Rome. They were probably the world's first archaeologists. They were fascinated by everything that they saw. They measured ancient ruined buildings, drew things, and dug around for weeks looking for bits of broken statues and painted pottery that they could put back together. By the time they went back home to Florence, they knew more about Ancient Roman architecture and sculpture than anyone had known for about a thousand years. Brunelleschi became a very famous architect and Donatello became a very famous sculptor.

Cash and Politics:

The city of Florence. Apart from the dome at San Lorenzo's in the centre of the picture, this view has not changed very much since the 1400s.

The Renaissance really began in the city of Florence. In those days, Italy was not one single country. It was made of many little states, all governed in different ways. These states were constantly making alliances and fighting with each other.

Rome was politically powerful, because Rome had the Pope, the person in control of the Roman Catholic Church. Because of his very great importance as a spiritual leader, most people and most cities did not want to argue with any pope. After a pope died, a new pope was elected. Everyone who was rich and powerful hoped a member of their family would be chosen. It was always a good idea to have several young men in the family trained as priests, just in case. It also helped to be good friends with other rich families. One way to do this was to have lots of daughters and get them to marry rich powerful men from different cities. This was the way that politics worked.

There were other powerful cities in Italy too. Venice had a large and powerful navy. Milan controlled trade with Northern Europe and was very rich. Genoa was also very rich, because it controlled trade with France and Spain. Florence, where many people say the Renaissance started, was another important city.

Florence’s strength did not come from a strong army, a strong fortress, or control over trade. It came from banking. The Medicis were an important banking family. They helped to make Florence a powerful city and the centre of Renaissance learning.

Capture of Constantinople

List of important events of the Renaissance


In Art:

The Birth of Venus' by Sandro Botticelli
The rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica began in the Renaissance.
Leonardo da Vinci's study of the human head

In Architecture:


In science and technology


In thinking


(See illustration above: Raphael's "School of Athens")

A Gutenberg printed Bible
Dante painted by Domenico di Michelino, 1465
A map of the world by Abraham Ortelius, 1570

In religion


In writing


In exploration



  1. "A beginner's guide to Mannerism | Mannerism | Khan Academy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-20. Retrieved 2016-07-26.
  • Ilan Rachum, The Renaissance: an Illustrated Encyclopedia, Octopus, ISBN 0-7064-0857-8
  • Edmond Wright, Ed., The Medieval and Renaissance World, Chartwell Books, Inc. ISBN 0-89009-264-8
  • Margaret Aston, The Fifteenth Century, Tames And Hudson, ISBN 0-500-33009-3
  • Denys Hay and John Law, Italy in the Age of the Renaissance, Longman, ISBN 0-582-48358-1
  • John T. Paoletti and Gary M. Radke, Art in Renaissance Italy, Laurence King Publishing, (2005), ISBN 1-85669-439-9

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