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Earliest use of Renaissance Era innovations in Islamic countries & culture?

Earliest use of Renaissance Era innovations in Islamic countries & culture?

Though the title may be vaguely broad, I have two specific things in mind I wanted to ask about.

While I was recently considering the cultural and technological advancements of Europeans in the early Middle Ages, which was soon to be spread by them to the New World, I also began to consider Islamic history and cultural advancement at that same time (especially - for them - in areas of science, literature, and mathematics), and particularly in North Africa where some of the the Portuguese had contact and intermingled with Muslims through trade. So along parallel historical tracks I began to wonder at the comparative development between Renaissance Era European culture and Islamic culture at that time, and pursuant to that a few unusual questions arose in my mind.

In particular I was wondering about two innovations of the Europeans of which I have never heard mention of their first use in the Islamic world (in terms of their initial adoption, though of course in the modern world there is hardly any distinction now): Firstly, use of the printing press; and secondly, the use of canvas (hemp-weaved) for painting (which first took off in Italy). In terms of technological advancement I'd say the former is more significant and utilitarian, while the argument about the "sophistication" of using canvas for art seems more subjective and preference driven (whatever its actual practical and aesthetic advantages may have been), though I still am curious about it. So to plainly state my two questions:

  1. When was the first recorded use of a printing press in Muslim lands? (Note: I am not asking what the first Islamic book printed on a printing press was, given that it might very well have been from a printing press operating in Europe. I want to know about actual adoption of the printing press in Muslim lands.)
  2. What is the oldest known Islamic work of art composed on canvas?

It may be taken for granted now that Islamic countries use both, but since they appear to be exclusively European innovations at that time of the Renaissance Islamic adoption of it must have been taken from them at some later time. Islamic art was of course prolific at that time, but I've never heard of Islamic use of canvas during the Middle Ages, for example.

Also, although I am especially interested to know the answer to those questions specifically in instances outside of the European continent, in terms of spread of influence I have to wonder if the Muslim held portions of Spain during the Renaissance Era were perhaps the earliest adopters of those technologies for printing and art.

Can anyone provide at least a rough guess for when those two things first appeared in the Muslim world, even if we do not know the actual earliest instances precisely?

According to Wikipedia the first ever book printed in the Ottoman Empire was Arba'ah Turim in Hebrew. The date is believed to be 1493, though there are some claims for 1503 or 1504. The printers were David and Samuel ibn Nahmias of Istanbul.

Note that the spread of printing technology through Europe was very rapid, and that by the time of this first printing in Istanbul, "the entire classical canon had been reprinted and widely promulgated throughout Europe." In that sense at least, the Ottoman Empire had already fallen far behind the rest of Europe.

Other early printing presses in the Ottoman Empire were in Saloniki, Greece, in 1515 and Vagharshapat, Armenia, in 1771.

By 1496 there was an established printing press in Granada, but judging from the names of the printers (Meinrad Ungut, Hans Pegnitzer) this is wholly post-Reconquista. This was, of course, not part of the Ottoman Empire but a separate sovereign state until its conquest by Spain in 1492.

The earliest reference I could find to use of canvas for painting in the Muslim world was occasional use in the Mughal Empire, for (not-so) miniatures. from sometime after 1526.

Note that the preferred canvas for art is made from (flax) linen, due both to a better final texture and the natural presence of preserving linseed oil. As flax grows naturally only in cool climates (think Flanders), this would have generally served to restrict its use to more northern (or higher altitude) climates.

The contemporary alternative, (cannabis) hemp from which the term canvas derives its name, is less expensive and grows in more southern climates, but requires more preparation and yields a less desirable (for painting, though not for blue-jeans) final texture.

Cotton remained a very expensive raw material for canvas until both the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, and the subsequent massive expansion of slavery in the American South.

Let me add to the previous answer: printing press penetrated Islamic lands very soon after its invention, but for long time it was not used by Muslims. It was used by Jews and Christians in Islamic lands for their own needs, until 18th century. Even after that, Ottoman printing houses published only 142 books in more than a centiry between 1726 and 1838. You can still buy beautiful 19th century hand-written books in the antique book shops in Istambul. Islamic culture was reluctant to take any innovations from non-Muslims. Source:


The Technology of the Medieval Islamic World

For centuries during the European Middle Ages, non-European cultures continued to make progress in science and technology, only marginally affected by Europe's troubles and relative stagnation. Among these cultures, the Islamic world stands out for having made particularly important contributions, in part because of the location of Islamic nations between the learning centers of the East and Europe. During these centuries, Islamic scholars not only retained the best of ancient and classical European discoveries, but they also augmented these with many discoveries of their own and some that were imported from India and China. Among the areas in which Islamic scientists made significant contributions are metallurgy, glassmaking, architecture, chemistry, military engineering, and what is now known as civil engineering. Some of these developments were transferred to Europe through trade, others during the Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula, and still more during the Crusades. The introduction of Islamic science and technology into Europe through these various routes of encounter was an important factor that helped bring Europe into the Renaissance.


Some important Renaissance technologies, including both innovations and improvements on existing techniques:

  • mining and metallurgy enabled iron to be produced in significant quantities enabled pig iron (from the blast furnace) into bar iron (wrought iron) mechanized the production of iron rods for nailmaking increased the output of lead over previous methods (bole hill)

Late 14th century Edit

Some of the technologies were the arquebus and the musket.

15th century Edit

The technologies that developed in Europe during the second half of the 15th century were commonly associated by authorities of the time with a key theme in Renaissance thought: the rivalry of the Moderns and the Ancients. Three inventions in particular — the printing press, firearms, and the nautical compass — were indeed seen as evidence that the Moderns could not only compete with the Ancients, but had surpassed them, for these three inventions allowed modern people to communicate, exercise power, and finally travel at distances unimaginable in earlier times. [1]

Crank and connecting rod

The crank and connecting rod mechanism which converts circular into reciprocal motion is of utmost importance for the mechanization of work processes it is first attested for Roman water-powered sawmills. [2] During the Renaissance, its use is greatly diversified and mechanically refined now connecting-rods are also applied to double compound cranks, while the flywheel is employed to get these cranks over the 'dead-spot'. [3] Early evidence of such machines appears, among other things, in the works of the 15th-century engineers Anonymous of the Hussite Wars and Taccola. [4] From then on, cranks and connecting rods become an integral part of machine design and are applied in ever more elaborate ways: Agostino Ramelli's The Diverse and Artifactitious Machines of 1588 depicts eighteen different applications, a number which rises in the 17th-century Theatrum Machinarum Novum by Georg Andreas Böckler to forty-five. [5]

The introduction of the mechanical movable type printing press by the German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg (1398–1468) is widely regarded as the single most important event of the second millennium, [7] and is one of the defining moments of the Renaissance. The Printing Revolution which it sparks throughout Europe works as a modern "agent of change" in the transformation of medieval society.

The mechanical device consists of a screw press modified for printing purposes which can produce 3,600 pages per workday, [6] allowing the mass production of printed books on a proto-industrial scale. By the start of the 16th century, printing presses are operating in over 200 cities in a dozen European countries, producing more than twenty million volumes. [8] By 1600, their output had risen tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies, while Gutenberg book printing spread from Europe further afield. [8]

The relatively free flow of information transcends borders and induced a sharp rise in Renaissance literacy, learning and education the circulation of (revolutionary) ideas among the rising middle classes, but also the peasants, threatens the traditional power monopoly of the ruling nobility and is a key factor in the rapid spread of the Protestant Reformation. The dawn of the Gutenberg Galaxy, the era of mass communication, is instrumental in fostering the gradual democratization of knowledge which sees for the first time modern media phenomena such as the press or bestsellers emerging. [9] The prized incunables, which are testimony to the aesthetic taste and high proficient competence of Renaissance book printers, are one lasting legacy of the 15th century.

The earliest known parachute design appears in an anonymous manuscript from 1470s Renaissance Italy [10] it depicts a free-hanging man clutching a crossbar frame attached to a conical canopy. [11] As a safety measure, four straps run from the ends of the rods to a waist belt. Around 1485, a more advanced parachute was sketched by the polymath Leonardo da Vinci in his Codex Atlanticus (fol. 381v), which he scales in a more favorable proportion to the weight of the jumper. [11] Leonardo's canopy was held open by a square wooden frame, altering the shape of the parachute from conical to pyramidal. [12] The Venetian inventor Fausto Veranzio (1551–1617) modifies da Vinci's parachute sketch by keeping the square frame, but replacing the canopy with a bulging sail-like piece of cloth. This he realized decelerates the fall more effectively. [12] Claims [13] that Veranzio successfully tested his parachute design in 1617 by jumping from a tower in Venice cannot be substantiated since he was around 65 years old at the time.

The earliest recorded uses of the astrolabe for navigational purposes are by the Portuguese explorers Diogo de Azambuja (1481), Bartholomew Diaz (1487/88) and Vasco da Gama (1497–98) during their sea voyages around Africa. [14]

While dry docks were already known in Hellenistic shipbuilding, [15] these facilities were reintroduced in 1495/96, when Henry VII of England ordered one to be built at the Portsmouth navy base. [16]

16th century Edit

The earliest known description of a floating dock comes from a small Italian book printed in Venice in 1560, titled Descrittione dell'artifitiosa machina. In the booklet, an unknown author asks for the privilege of using a new method for the salvaging of a grounded ship and then proceeds to describe and illustrate his approach. The included woodcut shows a ship flanked by two large floating trestles, forming a roof above the vessel. The ship is pulled in an upright position by a number of ropes attached to the superstructure. [17]

A lifting tower was used to great effect by Domenico Fontana to relocate the monolithic Vatican obelisk in Rome. [18] Its weight of 361 t was far greater than any of the blocks the Romans are known to have lifted by cranes. [18] [A 1]

Mining, machinery and chemistry A standard reference for the state of mechanical arts during the Renaissance is given in the mining engineering treatise De re metallica (1556), which also contains sections on geology, mining and chemistry. De re metallica was the standard chemistry reference for the next 180 years.

Early 17th century Edit

The newspaper is an offspring of the printing press from which the press derives its name. [20] The 16th century sees a rising demand for up-to-date information which can not be covered effectively by the circulating hand-written newssheets. For "gaining time" from the slow copying process, Johann Carolus of Strassburg is the first to publish his German-language Relation by using a printing press (1605). [21] In rapid succession, further German newspapers are established in Wolfenbüttel (Avisa Relation oder Zeitung), Basel, Frankfurt and Berlin. [21] From 1618 onwards, enterprising Dutch printers take up the practice and begin to provide the English and French market with translated news. [21] By the mid-17th century it is estimated that political newspapers which enjoyed the widest popularity reach up to 250,000 readers in the Holy Roman Empire, around one quarter of the literate population. [22]

In 1607 Bartolomeo Crescentio described an air gun equipped with a powerful spiral spring, a device so complex that it must have had predecessors. [ original research? ] In 1610 Mersenne spoke in detail of "sclopeti pneumatici constructio", and four years later Wilkins wrote enthusiastically of "that late ingenious invention the wind-gun" as being "almost equall to our powder-guns". In the 1650s Otto von Guericke, famed for his experiments with vacua and pressures, built the Madeburger Windbuchse, one of the technical wonders of its time. [ citation needed ]

15th century Edit

Cranked Archimedes' screw

The German engineer Konrad Kyeser equips in his Bellifortis (1405) the Archimedes' screw with a crank mechanism which soon replaces the ancient practice of working the pipe by treading. [23]

In the textile industry, cranked reels for winding skeins of yarn were introduced in the early 15th century. [24]

The earliest carpenter's braces equipped with a U-shaped grip, that is with a compound crank, appears between 1420 and 1430 in Flanders. [3]

The earliest evidence for the fitting of a well-hoist with cranks is found in a miniature of c. 1425 in the German Hausbuch of the Mendel Foundation. [25]

Paddle wheel boat powered by crank and connecting rod mechanism

While paddle wheel boats powered by manually turned crankshafts were already conceived of by earlier writers such as Guido da Vigevano and the Anonymous Author of the Hussite Wars, [26] the Italian Roberto Valturio much improves on the design in 1463 by devising a boat with five sets of parallel cranks which are all joined to a single power source by one connecting rod the idea is also taken up by his compatriot Francesco di Giorgio. [27]

Rotary grindstone with treadle

Evidence for rotary grindstones operated by a crank handle goes back to the Carolingian Utrecht Psalter. [28] Around 1480, the crank mechanism is further mechanized by adding a treadle. [29]

The geared hand-mill, operated either with one or two cranks, appears in the 15th century. [24]

16th century Edit

Two 16th-century German grenade muskets working with a wheellock mechanism are on display in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich. [30]

The revived scientific spirit of the age can perhaps be best exemplified by the voluminous corpus of technical drawings which the artist-engineers left behind, reflecting the wide variety of interests the Renaissance homo universalis pursued. The establishment of the laws of linear perspective by Brunelleschi gave his successors, such as Taccola, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Leonardo da Vinci, a powerful instrument to depict mechanical devices for the first time in a realistic manner. The extant sketch books give modern historians of science invaluable insights into the standards of technology of the time. Renaissance engineers showed a strong proclivity to experimental study, drawing a variety of technical devices, many of which appeared for the first time in history on paper.

However, these designs were not always intended to be put into practice, and often practical limitations impeded the application of the revolutionary designs. For example, da Vinci's ideas on the conical parachute or the winged flying machine were only applied much later. While earlier scholars showed a tendency to attribute inventions based on their first pictorial appearance to individual Renaissance engineers, modern scholarship is more prone to view the devices as products of a technical evolution which often went back to the Middle Ages.


The Renaissance was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life in the early modern period. Beginning in Italy, and spreading to the rest of Europe by the 16th century, its influence was felt in art, architecture, philosophy, literature, music, science, technology, politics, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry. Renaissance scholars employed the humanist method in study, and searched for realism and human emotion in art. [21]

Renaissance humanists such as Poggio Bracciolini sought out in Europe's monastic libraries the Latin literary, historical, and oratorical texts of antiquity, while the Fall of Constantinople (1453) generated a wave of émigré Greek scholars bringing precious manuscripts in ancient Greek, many of which had fallen into obscurity in the West. It is in their new focus on literary and historical texts that Renaissance scholars differed so markedly from the medieval scholars of the Renaissance of the 12th century, who had focused on studying Greek and Arabic works of natural sciences, philosophy and mathematics, rather than on such cultural texts.

In the revival of neoplatonism Renaissance humanists did not reject Christianity quite the contrary, many of the greatest works of the Renaissance were devoted to it, and the Church patronized many works of Renaissance art. However, a subtle shift took place in the way that intellectuals approached religion that was reflected in many other areas of cultural life. [22] In addition, many Greek Christian works, including the Greek New Testament, were brought back from Byzantium to Western Europe and engaged Western scholars for the first time since late antiquity. This new engagement with Greek Christian works, and particularly the return to the original Greek of the New Testament promoted by humanists Lorenzo Valla and Erasmus, would help pave the way for the Protestant Reformation.

Well after the first artistic return to classicism had been exemplified in the sculpture of Nicola Pisano, Florentine painters led by Masaccio strove to portray the human form realistically, developing techniques to render perspective and light more naturally. Political philosophers, most famously Niccolò Machiavelli, sought to describe political life as it really was, that is to understand it rationally. A critical contribution to Italian Renaissance humanism, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola wrote the famous text De hominis dignitate (Oration on the Dignity of Man, 1486), which consists of a series of theses on philosophy, natural thought, faith and magic defended against any opponent on the grounds of reason. In addition to studying classical Latin and Greek, Renaissance authors also began increasingly to use vernacular languages combined with the introduction of the printing press, this would allow many more people access to books, especially the Bible. [23]

In all, the Renaissance could be viewed as an attempt by intellectuals to study and improve the secular and worldly, both through the revival of ideas from antiquity, and through novel approaches to thought. Some scholars, such as Rodney Stark, [24] play down the Renaissance in favour of the earlier innovations of the Italian city-states in the High Middle Ages, which married responsive government, Christianity and the birth of capitalism. This analysis argues that, whereas the great European states (France and Spain) were absolutist monarchies, and others were under direct Church control, the independent city republics of Italy took over the principles of capitalism invented on monastic estates and set off a vast unprecedented commercial revolution that preceded and financed the Renaissance.

Many argue that the ideas characterizing the Renaissance had their origin in late 13th-century Florence, in particular with the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and Petrarch (1304–1374), as well as the paintings of Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337). Some writers date the Renaissance quite precisely one proposed starting point is 1401, when the rival geniuses Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi competed for the contract to build the bronze doors for the Baptistery of the Florence Cathedral (Ghiberti then won). [25] Others see more general competition between artists and polymaths such as Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, and Masaccio for artistic commissions as sparking the creativity of the Renaissance. Yet it remains much debated why the Renaissance began in Italy, and why it began when it did. Accordingly, several theories have been put forward to explain its origins.

During the Renaissance, money and art went hand in hand. Artists depended entirely on patrons while the patrons needed money to foster artistic talent. Wealth was brought to Italy in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries by expanding trade into Asia and Europe. Silver mining in Tyrol increased the flow of money. Luxuries from the Muslim world, brought home during the Crusades, increased the prosperity of Genoa and Venice. [26]

Jules Michelet defined the 16th-century Renaissance in France as a period in Europe's cultural history that represented a break from the Middle Ages, creating a modern understanding of humanity and its place in the world. [27]

Latin and Greek phases of Renaissance humanism

In stark contrast to the High Middle Ages, when Latin scholars focused almost entirely on studying Greek and Arabic works of natural science, philosophy and mathematics, [28] Renaissance scholars were most interested in recovering and studying Latin and Greek literary, historical, and oratorical texts. Broadly speaking, this began in the 14th century with a Latin phase, when Renaissance scholars such as Petrarch, Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406), Niccolò de' Niccoli (1364–1437) and Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459) scoured the libraries of Europe in search of works by such Latin authors as Cicero, Lucretius, Livy and Seneca. [29] [ full citation needed ] By the early 15th century, the bulk of the surviving such Latin literature had been recovered the Greek phase of Renaissance humanism was under way, as Western European scholars turned to recovering ancient Greek literary, historical, oratorical and theological texts. [30] [ full citation needed ]

Unlike with Latin texts, which had been preserved and studied in Western Europe since late antiquity, the study of ancient Greek texts was very limited in medieval Western Europe. Ancient Greek works on science, maths and philosophy had been studied since the High Middle Ages in Western Europe and in the Islamic Golden Age (normally in translation), but Greek literary, oratorical and historical works (such as Homer, the Greek dramatists, Demosthenes and Thucydides) were not studied in either the Latin or medieval Islamic worlds in the Middle Ages these sorts of texts were only studied by Byzantine scholars. Some argue that the Timurid Renaissance in Samarkand and Herat, whose magnificence toned with Florence as the center of a cultural rebirth, [31] [32] were linked to the Ottoman Empire, whose conquests led to the migration of Greek scholars to Italian cities. [33] [ full citation needed ] [34] [ full citation needed ] [12] [35] One of the greatest achievements of Renaissance scholars was to bring this entire class of Greek cultural works back into Western Europe for the first time since late antiquity.

Muslim logicians, most notably Avicenna and Averroes, had inherited Greek ideas after they had invaded and conquered Egypt and the Levant. Their translations and commentaries on these ideas worked their way through the Arab West into Iberia and Sicily, which became important centers for this transmission of ideas. From the 11th to the 13th century, many schools dedicated to the translation of philosophical and scientific works from Classical Arabic to Medieval Latin were established in Iberia, most notably the Toledo School of Translators. This work of translation from Islamic culture, though largely unplanned and disorganized, constituted one of the greatest transmissions of ideas in history. [36] The movement to reintegrate the regular study of Greek literary, historical, oratorical and theological texts back into the Western European curriculum is usually dated to the 1396 invitation from Coluccio Salutati to the Byzantine diplomat and scholar Manuel Chrysoloras (c. 1355–1415) to teach Greek in Florence. [37] [ full citation needed ] This legacy was continued by a number of expatriate Greek scholars, from Basilios Bessarion to Leo Allatius.

Social and political structures in Italy

The unique political structures of late Middle Ages Italy have led some to theorize that its unusual social climate allowed the emergence of a rare cultural efflorescence. Italy did not exist as a political entity in the early modern period. Instead, it was divided into smaller city states and territories: the Kingdom of Naples controlled the south, the Republic of Florence and the Papal States at the center, the Milanese and the Genoese to the north and west respectively, and the Venetians to the east. Fifteenth-century Italy was one of the most urbanised areas in Europe. [38] Many of its cities stood among the ruins of ancient Roman buildings it seems likely that the classical nature of the Renaissance was linked to its origin in the Roman Empire's heartland. [39]

Historian and political philosopher Quentin Skinner points out that Otto of Freising (c. 1114–1158), a German bishop visiting north Italy during the 12th century, noticed a widespread new form of political and social organization, observing that Italy appeared to have exited from Feudalism so that its society was based on merchants and commerce. Linked to this was anti-monarchical thinking, represented in the famous early Renaissance fresco cycle The Allegory of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (painted 1338–1340), whose strong message is about the virtues of fairness, justice, republicanism and good administration. Holding both Church and Empire at bay, these city republics were devoted to notions of liberty. Skinner reports that there were many defences of liberty such as the Matteo Palmieri (1406–1475) celebration of Florentine genius not only in art, sculpture and architecture, but "the remarkable efflorescence of moral, social and political philosophy that occurred in Florence at the same time". [40]

Even cities and states beyond central Italy, such as the Republic of Florence at this time, were also notable for their merchant Republics, especially the Republic of Venice. Although in practice these were oligarchical, and bore little resemblance to a modern democracy, they did have democratic features and were responsive states, with forms of participation in governance and belief in liberty. [40] [41] [42] The relative political freedom they afforded was conducive to academic and artistic advancement. [43] Likewise, the position of Italian cities such as Venice as great trading centres made them intellectual crossroads. Merchants brought with them ideas from far corners of the globe, particularly the Levant. Venice was Europe's gateway to trade with the East, and a producer of fine glass, while Florence was a capital of textiles. The wealth such business brought to Italy meant large public and private artistic projects could be commissioned and individuals had more leisure time for study. [43]

Black Death

One theory that has been advanced is that the devastation in Florence caused by the Black Death, which hit Europe between 1348 and 1350, resulted in a shift in the world view of people in 14th century Italy. Italy was particularly badly hit by the plague, and it has been speculated that the resulting familiarity with death caused thinkers to dwell more on their lives on Earth, rather than on spirituality and the afterlife. [44] It has also been argued that the Black Death prompted a new wave of piety, manifested in the sponsorship of religious works of art. [45] However, this does not fully explain why the Renaissance occurred specifically in Italy in the 14th century. The Black Death was a pandemic that affected all of Europe in the ways described, not only Italy. The Renaissance's emergence in Italy was most likely the result of the complex interaction of the above factors. [15]

The plague was carried by fleas on sailing vessels returning from the ports of Asia, spreading quickly due to lack of proper sanitation: the population of England, then about 4.2 million, lost 1.4 million people to the bubonic plague. Florence's population was nearly halved in the year 1347. As a result of the decimation in the populace the value of the working class increased, and commoners came to enjoy more freedom. To answer the increased need for labor, workers traveled in search of the most favorable position economically. [46]

The demographic decline due to the plague had economic consequences: the prices of food dropped and land values declined by 30–40% in most parts of Europe between 1350 and 1400. [47] Landholders faced a great loss, but for ordinary men and women it was a windfall. The survivors of the plague found not only that the prices of food were cheaper but also that lands were more abundant, and many of them inherited property from their dead relatives.

The spread of disease was significantly more rampant in areas of poverty. Epidemics ravaged cities, particularly children. Plagues were easily spread by lice, unsanitary drinking water, armies, or by poor sanitation. Children were hit the hardest because many diseases, such as typhus and syphilis, target the immune system, leaving young children without a fighting chance. Children in city dwellings were more affected by the spread of disease than the children of the wealthy. [48]

The Black Death caused greater upheaval to Florence's social and political structure than later epidemics. Despite a significant number of deaths among members of the ruling classes, the government of Florence continued to function during this period. Formal meetings of elected representatives were suspended during the height of the epidemic due to the chaotic conditions in the city, but a small group of officials was appointed to conduct the affairs of the city, which ensured continuity of government. [49]

Cultural conditions in Florence

It has long been a matter of debate why the Renaissance began in Florence, and not elsewhere in Italy. Scholars have noted several features unique to Florentine cultural life that may have caused such a cultural movement. Many have emphasized the role played by the Medici, a banking family and later ducal ruling house, in patronizing and stimulating the arts. Lorenzo de' Medici (1449–1492) was the catalyst for an enormous amount of arts patronage, encouraging his countrymen to commission works from the leading artists of Florence, including Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Michelangelo Buonarroti. [10] Works by Neri di Bicci, Botticelli, da Vinci, and Filippino Lippi had been commissioned additionally by the Convent of San Donato in Scopeto in Florence. [50]

The Renaissance was certainly underway before Lorenzo de' Medici came to power – indeed, before the Medici family itself achieved hegemony in Florentine society. Some historians have postulated that Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance as a result of luck, i.e., because "Great Men" were born there by chance: [51] Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo were all born in Tuscany. Arguing that such chance seems improbable, other historians have contended that these "Great Men" were only able to rise to prominence because of the prevailing cultural conditions at the time. [52]


In some ways, Renaissance humanism was not a philosophy but a method of learning. In contrast to the medieval scholastic mode, which focused on resolving contradictions between authors, Renaissance humanists would study ancient texts in the original and appraise them through a combination of reasoning and empirical evidence. Humanist education was based on the programme of Studia Humanitatis, the study of five humanities: poetry, grammar, history, moral philosophy, and rhetoric. Although historians have sometimes struggled to define humanism precisely, most have settled on "a middle of the road definition. the movement to recover, interpret, and assimilate the language, literature, learning and values of ancient Greece and Rome". [53] Above all, humanists asserted "the genius of man . the unique and extraordinary ability of the human mind". [54]

Humanist scholars shaped the intellectual landscape throughout the early modern period. Political philosophers such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas More revived the ideas of Greek and Roman thinkers and applied them in critiques of contemporary government, following the Islamic steps of Ibn Khaldun. [56] [57] Pico della Mirandola wrote the "manifesto" of the Renaissance, the Oration on the Dignity of Man, a vibrant defence of thinking. Matteo Palmieri (1406–1475), another humanist, is most known for his work Della vita civile ("On Civic Life" printed 1528), which advocated civic humanism, and for his influence in refining the Tuscan vernacular to the same level as Latin. Palmieri drew on Roman philosophers and theorists, especially Cicero, who, like Palmieri, lived an active public life as a citizen and official, as well as a theorist and philosopher and also Quintilian. Perhaps the most succinct expression of his perspective on humanism is in a 1465 poetic work La città di vita, but an earlier work, Della vita civile, is more wide-ranging. Composed as a series of dialogues set in a country house in the Mugello countryside outside Florence during the plague of 1430, Palmieri expounds on the qualities of the ideal citizen. The dialogues include ideas about how children develop mentally and physically, how citizens can conduct themselves morally, how citizens and states can ensure probity in public life, and an important debate on the difference between that which is pragmatically useful and that which is honest.

The humanists believed that it is important to transcend to the afterlife with a perfect mind and body, which could be attained with education. The purpose of humanism was to create a universal man whose person combined intellectual and physical excellence and who was capable of functioning honorably in virtually any situation. [58] This ideology was referred to as the uomo universale, an ancient Greco-Roman ideal. Education during the Renaissance was mainly composed of ancient literature and history as it was thought that the classics provided moral instruction and an intensive understanding of human behavior.

Humanism and libraries

A unique characteristic of some Renaissance libraries is that they were open to the public. These libraries were places where ideas were exchanged and where scholarship and reading were considered both pleasurable and beneficial to the mind and soul. As freethinking was a hallmark of the age, many libraries contained a wide range of writers. Classical texts could be found alongside humanist writings. These informal associations of intellectuals profoundly influenced Renaissance culture. Some of the richest "bibliophiles" built libraries as temples to books and knowledge. A number of libraries appeared as manifestations of immense wealth joined with a love of books. In some cases, cultivated library builders were also committed to offering others the opportunity to use their collections. Prominent aristocrats and princes of the Church created great libraries for the use of their courts, called "court libraries", and were housed in lavishly designed monumental buildings decorated with ornate woodwork, and the walls adorned with frescoes (Murray, Stuart A.P.)

Renaissance art marks a cultural rebirth at the close of the Middle Ages and rise of the Modern world. One of the distinguishing features of Renaissance art was its development of highly realistic linear perspective. Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337) is credited with first treating a painting as a window into space, but it was not until the demonstrations of architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446) and the subsequent writings of Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) that perspective was formalized as an artistic technique. [59]

The development of perspective was part of a wider trend towards realism in the arts. [60] Painters developed other techniques, studying light, shadow, and, famously in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, human anatomy. Underlying these changes in artistic method was a renewed desire to depict the beauty of nature and to unravel the axioms of aesthetics, with the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael representing artistic pinnacles that were much imitated by other artists. [61] Other notable artists include Sandro Botticelli, working for the Medici in Florence, Donatello, another Florentine, and Titian in Venice, among others.

In the Netherlands, a particularly vibrant artistic culture developed. The work of Hugo van der Goes and Jan van Eyck was particularly influential on the development of painting in Italy, both technically with the introduction of oil paint and canvas, and stylistically in terms of naturalism in representation. Later, the work of Pieter Brueghel the Elder would inspire artists to depict themes of everyday life. [62]

In architecture, Filippo Brunelleschi was foremost in studying the remains of ancient classical buildings. With rediscovered knowledge from the 1st-century writer Vitruvius and the flourishing discipline of mathematics, Brunelleschi formulated the Renaissance style that emulated and improved on classical forms. His major feat of engineering was building the dome of the Florence Cathedral. [63] Another building demonstrating this style is the church of St. Andrew in Mantua, built by Alberti. The outstanding architectural work of the High Renaissance was the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, combining the skills of Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Sangallo and Maderno.

During the Renaissance, architects aimed to use columns, pilasters, and entablatures as an integrated system. The Roman orders types of columns are used: Tuscan and Composite. These can either be structural, supporting an arcade or architrave, or purely decorative, set against a wall in the form of pilasters. One of the first buildings to use pilasters as an integrated system was in the Old Sacristy (1421–1440) by Brunelleschi. [64] Arches, semi-circular or (in the Mannerist style) segmental, are often used in arcades, supported on piers or columns with capitals. There may be a section of entablature between the capital and the springing of the arch. Alberti was one of the first to use the arch on a monumental. Renaissance vaults do not have ribs they are semi-circular or segmental and on a square plan, unlike the Gothic vault, which is frequently rectangular.

Renaissance artists were not pagans, although they admired antiquity and kept some ideas and symbols of the medieval past. Nicola Pisano (c. 1220 – c. 1278) imitated classical forms by portraying scenes from the Bible. His Annunciation, from the Baptistry at Pisa, demonstrates that classical models influenced Italian art before the Renaissance took root as a literary movement [65]


Applied innovation extended to commerce. At the end of the 15th century Luca Pacioli published the first work on bookkeeping, making him the founder of accounting. [6]

The rediscovery of ancient texts and the invention of the printing press in about 1440 democratized learning and allowed a faster propagation of more widely distributed ideas. In the first period of the Italian Renaissance, humanists favoured the study of humanities over natural philosophy or applied mathematics, and their reverence for classical sources further enshrined the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic views of the universe. Writing around 1450, Nicholas Cusanus anticipated the heliocentric worldview of Copernicus, but in a philosophical fashion.

Science and art were intermingled in the early Renaissance, with polymath artists such as Leonardo da Vinci making observational drawings of anatomy and nature. Da Vinci set up controlled experiments in water flow, medical dissection, and systematic study of movement and aerodynamics, and he devised principles of research method that led Fritjof Capra to classify him as the "father of modern science". [67] Other examples of Da Vinci's contribution during this period include machines designed to saw marbles and lift monoliths, and new discoveries in acoustics, botany, geology, anatomy, and mechanics. [68]

A suitable environment had developed to question classical scientific doctrine. The discovery in 1492 of the New World by Christopher Columbus challenged the classical worldview. The works of Ptolemy (in geography) and Galen (in medicine) were found to not always match everyday observations. As the Protestant Reformation and Counter-Reformation clashed, the Northern Renaissance showed a decisive shift in focus from Aristotelean natural philosophy to chemistry and the biological sciences (botany, anatomy, and medicine). [69] The willingness to question previously held truths and search for new answers resulted in a period of major scientific advancements.

Some view this as a "scientific revolution", heralding the beginning of the modern age, [70] others as an acceleration of a continuous process stretching from the ancient world to the present day. [71] Significant scientific advances were made during this time by Galileo Galilei, Tycho Brahe, and Johannes Kepler. [72] Copernicus, in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), posited that the Earth moved around the Sun. De humani corporis fabrica (On the Workings of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius, gave a new confidence to the role of dissection, observation, and the mechanistic view of anatomy. [73]

Another important development was in the process for discovery, the scientific method, [73] focusing on empirical evidence and the importance of mathematics, while discarding much of Aristotelian science. Early and influential proponents of these ideas included Copernicus, Galileo, and Francis Bacon. [74] [75] The new scientific method led to great contributions in the fields of astronomy, physics, biology, and anatomy. [c] [76]

Navigation and geography

During the Renaissance, extending from 1450 to 1650, [77] every continent was visited and mostly mapped by Europeans, except the south polar continent now known as Antarctica. This development is depicted in the large world map Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula made by the Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu in 1648 to commemorate the Peace of Westphalia.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain seeking a direct route to India of the Delhi Sultanate. He accidentally stumbled upon the Americas, but believed he had reached the East Indies.

In 1606, the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon sailed from the East Indies in the VOC ship Duyfken and landed in Australia. He charted about 300 km of the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. More than thirty Dutch expeditions followed, mapping sections of the north, west, and south coasts. In 1642–1643, Abel Tasman circumnavigated the continent, proving that it was not joined to the imagined south polar continent.

By 1650, Dutch cartographers had mapped most of the coastline of the continent, which they named New Holland, except the east coast which was charted in 1770 by Captain Cook.

The long-imagined south polar continent was eventually sighted in 1820. Throughout the Renaissance it had been known as Terra Australis, or 'Australia' for short. However, after that name was transferred to New Holland in the nineteenth century, the new name of 'Antarctica' was bestowed on the south polar continent. [78]


From this changing society emerged a common, unifying musical language, in particular the polyphonic style of the Franco-Flemish school. The development of printing made distribution of music possible on a wide scale. Demand for music as entertainment and as an activity for educated amateurs increased with the emergence of a bourgeois class. Dissemination of chansons, motets, and masses throughout Europe coincided with the unification of polyphonic practice into the fluid style that culminated in the second half of the sixteenth century in the work of composers such as Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria, and William Byrd.


The new ideals of humanism, although more secular in some aspects, developed against a Christian backdrop, especially in the Northern Renaissance. Much, if not most, of the new art was commissioned by or in dedication to the Church. [22] However, the Renaissance had a profound effect on contemporary theology, particularly in the way people perceived the relationship between man and God. [22] Many of the period's foremost theologians were followers of the humanist method, including Erasmus, Zwingli, Thomas More, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.

The Renaissance began in times of religious turmoil. The late Middle Ages was a period of political intrigue surrounding the Papacy, culminating in the Western Schism, in which three men simultaneously claimed to be true Bishop of Rome. [79] While the schism was resolved by the Council of Constance (1414), a resulting reform movement known as Conciliarism sought to limit the power of the pope. Although the papacy eventually emerged supreme in ecclesiastical matters by the Fifth Council of the Lateran (1511), it was dogged by continued accusations of corruption, most famously in the person of Pope Alexander VI, who was accused variously of simony, nepotism, and fathering four children (most of whom were married off, presumably for the consolidation of power) while a cardinal. [80]

Churchmen such as Erasmus and Luther proposed reform to the Church, often based on humanist textual criticism of the New Testament. [22] In October 1517 Luther published the 95 Theses, challenging papal authority and criticizing its perceived corruption, particularly with regard to instances of sold indulgences. [d] The 95 Theses led to the Reformation, a break with the Roman Catholic Church that previously claimed hegemony in Western Europe. Humanism and the Renaissance therefore played a direct role in sparking the Reformation, as well as in many other contemporaneous religious debates and conflicts.

Pope Paul III came to the papal throne (1534–1549) after the sack of Rome in 1527, with uncertainties prevalent in the Catholic Church following the Protestant Reformation. Nicolaus Copernicus dedicated De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) to Paul III, who became the grandfather of Alessandro Farnese (cardinal), who had paintings by Titian, Michelangelo, and Raphael, as well as an important collection of drawings, and who commissioned the masterpiece of Giulio Clovio, arguably the last major illuminated manuscript, the Farnese Hours.


By the 15th century, writers, artists, and architects in Italy were well aware of the transformations that were taking place and were using phrases such as modi antichi (in the antique manner) or alle romana et alla antica (in the manner of the Romans and the ancients) to describe their work. In the 1330s Petrarch referred to pre-Christian times as antiqua (ancient) and to the Christian period as nova (new). [81] From Petrarch's Italian perspective, this new period (which included his own time) was an age of national eclipse. [81] Leonardo Bruni was the first to use tripartite periodization in his History of the Florentine People (1442). [82] Bruni's first two periods were based on those of Petrarch, but he added a third period because he believed that Italy was no longer in a state of decline. Flavio Biondo used a similar framework in Decades of History from the Deterioration of the Roman Empire (1439–1453).

Humanist historians argued that contemporary scholarship restored direct links to the classical period, thus bypassing the Medieval period, which they then named for the first time the "Middle Ages". The term first appears in Latin in 1469 as media tempestas (middle times). [83] The term rinascita (rebirth) first appeared, however, in its broad sense in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, 1550, revised 1568. [84] [85] Vasari divides the age into three phases: the first phase contains Cimabue, Giotto, and Arnolfo di Cambio the second phase contains Masaccio, Brunelleschi, and Donatello the third centers on Leonardo da Vinci and culminates with Michelangelo. It was not just the growing awareness of classical antiquity that drove this development, according to Vasari, but also the growing desire to study and imitate nature. [86]

In the 15th century, the Renaissance spread rapidly from its birthplace in Florence to the rest of Italy and soon to the rest of Europe. The invention of the printing press by German printer Johannes Gutenberg allowed the rapid transmission of these new ideas. As it spread, its ideas diversified and changed, being adapted to local culture. In the 20th century, scholars began to break the Renaissance into regional and national movements.


In England, the sixteenth century marked the beginning of the English Renaissance with the work of writers William Shakespeare (1564 –1616), Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593), Edmund Spenser (1552/1553 – 1599), Sir Thomas More (1478 – 1535), Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), Sir Philip Sidney (1554 – 1586), architects (such as Inigo Jones (1573 – 1652), who introduced Italianate architecture to England), and composers such as Thomas Tallis (1505 – 1585), John Taverner (c. 1490 – 1545), and William Byrd (c.1539/40 or 1543 – 1623).


The word "Renaissance" is borrowed from the French language, where it means "re-birth". It was first used in the eighteenth century and was later popularized by French historian Jules Michelet (1798–1874) in his 1855 work, Histoire de France (History of France). [87] [88]

In 1495 the Italian Renaissance arrived in France, imported by King Charles VIII after his invasion of Italy. A factor that promoted the spread of secularism was the inability of the Church to offer assistance against the Black Death. Francis I imported Italian art and artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, and built ornate palaces at great expense. Writers such as François Rabelais, Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay, and Michel de Montaigne, painters such as Jean Clouet, and musicians such as Jean Mouton also borrowed from the spirit of the Renaissance.

In 1533, a fourteen-year-old Caterina de' Medici (1519–1589), born in Florence to Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino and Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, married Henry II of France, second son of King Francis I and Queen Claude. Though she became famous and infamous for her role in France's religious wars, she made a direct contribution in bringing arts, sciences, and music (including the origins of ballet) to the French court from her native Florence.


In the second half of the 15th century, the Renaissance spirit spread to Germany and the Low Countries, where the development of the printing press (ca. 1450) and Renaissance artists such as Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) predated the influence from Italy. In the early Protestant areas of the country humanism became closely linked to the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation, and the art and writing of the German Renaissance frequently reflected this dispute. [89] However, the Gothic style and medieval scholastic philosophy remained exclusively until the turn of the 16th century. Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg (ruling 1493–1519) was the first truly Renaissance monarch of the Holy Roman Empire.


After Italy, Hungary was the first European country where the Renaissance appeared. [90] The Renaissance style came directly from Italy during the Quattrocento to Hungary first in the Central European region, thanks to the development of early Hungarian-Italian relationships—not only in dynastic connections, but also in cultural, humanistic and commercial relations—growing in strength from the 14th century. The relationship between Hungarian and Italian Gothic styles was a second reason—exaggerated breakthrough of walls is avoided, preferring clean and light structures. Large-scale building schemes provided ample and long term work for the artists, for example, the building of the Friss (New) Castle in Buda, the castles of Visegrád, Tata, and Várpalota. In Sigismund's court there were patrons such as Pipo Spano, a descendant of the Scolari family of Florence, who invited Manetto Ammanatini and Masolino da Pannicale to Hungary. [91]

The new Italian trend combined with existing national traditions to create a particular local Renaissance art. Acceptance of Renaissance art was furthered by the continuous arrival of humanist thought in the country. Many young Hungarians studying at Italian universities came closer to the Florentine humanist center, so a direct connection with Florence evolved. The growing number of Italian traders moving to Hungary, specially to Buda, helped this process. New thoughts were carried by the humanist prelates, among them Vitéz János, archbishop of Esztergom, one of the founders of Hungarian humanism. [92] During the long reign of emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg the Royal Castle of Buda became probably the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. King Matthias Corvinus (r. 1458–1490) rebuilt the palace in early Renaissance style and further expanded it. [93] [94]

After the marriage in 1476 of King Matthias to Beatrice of Naples, Buda became one of the most important artistic centres of the Renaissance north of the Alps. [95] The most important humanists living in Matthias' court were Antonio Bonfini and the famous Hungarian poet Janus Pannonius. [95] András Hess set up a printing press in Buda in 1472. Matthias Corvinus's library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was Europe's greatest collections of secular books: historical chronicles, philosophic and scientific works in the 15th century. His library was second only in size to the Vatican Library. (However, the Vatican Library mainly contained Bibles and religious materials.) [96] In 1489, Bartolomeo della Fonte of Florence wrote that Lorenzo de' Medici founded his own Greek-Latin library encouraged by the example of the Hungarian king. Corvinus's library is part of UNESCO World Heritage. [97]

Matthias started at least two major building projects. [98] The works in Buda and Visegrád began in about 1479. [99] Two new wings and a hanging garden were built at the royal castle of Buda, and the palace at Visegrád was rebuilt in Renaissance style. [99] [100] Matthias appointed the Italian Chimenti Camicia and the Dalmatian Giovanni Dalmata to direct these projects. [99] Matthias commissioned the leading Italian artists of his age to embellish his palaces: for instance, the sculptor Benedetto da Majano and the painters Filippino Lippi and Andrea Mantegna worked for him. [101] A copy of Mantegna's portrait of Matthias survived. [102] Matthias also hired the Italian military engineer Aristotele Fioravanti to direct the rebuilding of the forts along the southern frontier. [103] He had new monasteries built in Late Gothic style for the Franciscans in Kolozsvár, Szeged and Hunyad, and for the Paulines in Fejéregyháza. [104] [105] In the spring of 1485, Leonardo da Vinci travelled to Hungary on behalf of Sforza to meet king Matthias Corvinus, and was commissioned by him to paint a Madonna. [106]

Matthias enjoyed the company of Humanists and had lively discussions on various topics with them. [107] The fame of his magnanimity encouraged many scholars—mostly Italian—to settle in Buda. [108] Antonio Bonfini, Pietro Ranzano, Bartolomeo Fonzio, and Francesco Bandini spent many years in Matthias's court. [109] [107] This circle of educated men introduced the ideas of Neoplatonism to Hungary. [110] [111] Like all intellectuals of his age, Matthias was convinced that the movements and combinations of the stars and planets exercised influence on individuals' life and on the history of nations. [112] Galeotto Marzio described him as "king and astrologer", and Antonio Bonfini said Matthias "never did anything without consulting the stars". [113] Upon his request, the famous astronomers of the age, Johannes Regiomontanus and Marcin Bylica, set up an observatory in Buda and installed it with astrolabes and celestial globes. [114] Regiomontanus dedicated his book on navigation that was used by Christopher Columbus to Matthias. [108]

Other important figures of Hungarian Renaissance include Bálint Balassi (poet), Sebestyén Tinódi Lantos (poet), Bálint Bakfark (composer and lutenist), and Master MS (fresco painter).

Islamic Medicine - Ibn Sina, the Great Polymath

The Islamic scholar Ibn Sina, Avicenna, was a true polymath who excelled in many academic fields, including philosophy, theology, Islamic medicine and natural sciences. From a young age, he gained renown as a physician and teacher, writing many detailed treatises about medicine. His publication, 'The Canon,' became a core text for physicians across the Islamic world and Europe, laying out a detailed guide for diagnosing and treating ailments.

Ibn-Sina believed that many diagnoses could be made by simply checking the pulse and the urine, and a large part of the Canon is given over to making diagnoses from the color, turbidity, and odor of urine. Of course, this also needed to be set alongside the Islamic holistic approach of looking at diet and background.

His other breakthroughs were some suggestions for infant care and, based upon his belief that bad water was responsible for many ailments, he included guidelines on how to check the purity of water. Many of his remedies were ultimately ineffective, but he had many more hits than misses and contributed greatly to the history of medicine.

Discovering Literature: Shakespeare & Renaissance

The Renaissance

Few historical concepts have such powerful resonance as the Renaissance. Usually used to describe the rediscovery of classical Roman and Greek culture in the late 1300s and 1400s and the great pan-European flowering in art, architecture, literature, science, music, philosophy and politics that this inspired, it has been interpreted as the epoch that made the modern world truly modern. But the term &lsquorenaissance&rsquo (French for &lsquorebirth&rsquo) was never used during the period itself &ndash it was invented by 19th-century historians &ndash and its remit is still hotly disputed. Did the Renaissance begin in late 14th-century Italy, during what&rsquos usually regarded as the Middle Ages, or only flower in northern Europe a century later, in the aftermath of the Protestant Christian Reformation? Does it describe a cultural, historical and economic moment, or a gradual process &ndash and, if so, when did it end? Did man really &lsquore-find himself&rsquo, as one French historian later wrote? Or does the word describe something much subtler and more indefinable?

Carpaccio's Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge

This vivid late-15th-century painting of multicultural Venice presents a fascinating mixture of religious and worldly subjects.

Usage terms © The Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge, 1494 (oil on canvas) (see also 119437), Carpaccio, Vittore (c.1460/5-1523/6) / Galleria dell' Accademia, Venice, Italy / Bridgeman Images

Rebirth and rediscovery

Though historians debate the precise origins of the Renaissance, most agree that it &ndash or one version of it &ndash began in Italy some time in the late 1300s, with the decline in influence of Roman Catholic Christian doctrine and the reawakening of interest in Greek and Latin texts by philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, historians including Plutarch and poets such as Ovid and Virgil. One spur was the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) to the Turks in 1453, which encouraged many scholars to flee to Italy, bringing printed books and manuscripts with them. The extraordinary flowering in visual art that occurred in the great Italian city states of Florence and Venice in the early 16th century, including artists such as Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, was another. Yet another was Johann Gutenberg&rsquos invention of the printing press around 1440, which enabled books to be mass-produced in the Western world for the first time. Aided by a quickly shifting political landscape, and an increase in trade and economic activity, these new ways of thinking began to spread northwards across Europe. The fact that it was a transnational movement, which came to touch every country in Europe, is one of the most crucial things about the Renaissance.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Illuminated page from a late-15th-century French adaptation of Ovid&rsquos &lsquoMetamorphosis&rsquo.

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.


As already suggested, education was a driving force, encouraged by the increase in the number of universities and schools &ndash another movement that began in Italy. Gradually, the concept of a &lsquohumanistic&rsquo curriculum began to solidify: focussing not on Christian theological texts, which had been pored over in medieval seats of learning, but on classical &lsquohumanities&rsquo subjects such as philosophy, history, drama and poetry. Schoolboys &ndash few girls were permitted to receive an education at this point &ndash were drilled in Latin and Greek, meaning that texts from the ancient world could be studied in the original languages. Printed textbooks and primers enabled students to memorise snippets from quotable authors, sharpen their use of argumentative rhetoric and develop an elegant writing style &ndash one textbook by the Dutch humanist educator Desiderius Erasmus from 1512 famously includes several hundred ways to say &lsquothank you for your letter&rsquo.

Desiderius Erasmus' Institutio Principis Christiani, or The Education of A Christian Prince, 1516

Title page of the 1516 edition of Erasmus&rsquo treatise on political ethics.

In Britain, humanism was spread by a rapid increase in the number of &lsquogrammar&rsquo schools (as their name indicates, language was their primary focus, and students were often required to speak in Latin during school hours), and the jump in the number of children exposed to the best classical learning. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Jonson, Bacon: almost every major British Renaissance intellectual one can name received a humanist education. Shakespeare&rsquos plays and poems are steeped in writers he encountered at school &ndash the magical transformations of Ovid&rsquos poetry infiltrate the worlds of A Midsummer Night&rsquos Dream and The Tempest, his Roman histories are cribbed from the Greek historian Plutarch, The Comedy of Errors is modelled closely on a Greek drama by Plautus, while Hamlet includes an entire section &ndash the Player&rsquos account of the death of Priam &ndash borrowed from Virgil&rsquos Aeneid.

Shakespeare's First Folio

The first collected edition of the works of Shakespeare, containing the 36 plays now generally attributed to him.

The Reformation

But humanism produced a strange paradox: European society was still overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, yet the writers and thinkers now in vogue came from classical, pre-Christian times. The clash was made more obvious in 1517, when a renegade German friar called Martin Luther, appalled by corruption in the Church, launched a protest movement against Catholic teachings. Luther argued that the Church had too much power and needed to be reformed, and promoted a theology that stressed a more direct relationship between believers and God.

Another central plank of his thinking was that the Bible should be available not just in Latin, spoken by the elite, but democratically available in local languages. Luther published a German translation of the Bible in 1534, which &ndash assisted by the growth of the printing press &ndash helped bring about translations into English, French and other languages. In turn, this increased literacy rates, meaning that more people had access to education and new thinking. But the political consequences for Europe were violent, as war raged and Protestant and Catholic nations and citizens vied for control.

The Great Bible, probably Henry VIII's own copy

An English Bible was placed in all churches in 1538.

New worlds

As much as the rediscovery of old culture was important, it&rsquos impossible to understand the European Renaissance without referring to the way in which its horizons increased &ndash both scientifically and geographically. In 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas while seeking a westwardpassage to Asia, initiating a headlong rush by European powers for resources and territory in this so-called &lsquoNew World&rsquo. Throughout the 16th century, maritime powers such as Spain, Portugal and &ndash later &ndash England battled for control of what became America and the West Indies, while adventurers and traders also pushed eastwards, around Africa, towards East Asia. Money was the driving force (there were fortunes to be made in minerals, spices, cloth and other goods, not to mention the slave trade), but so was political and religious ideology, with colonial expansion presented as a Christian crusade to bring enlightenment to &lsquouncivilised&rsquo populations. While the cost for indigenous people was vast &ndash it is still being counted &ndash Europe profited enormously from these encounters, with new wealth flowing into major population centres and exotic goods such as silk, spices and ceramics available for the first time.

Coloured engravings of Native Americans and Picts bound with Strachey's New World 'Dictionary' and 'History'

An engraving by Theodor de Bry depicting Native American feast day celebrations.

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Geographical discoveries mirrored scientific ones. The Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473&ndash1543) posited that the Earth moved around the Sun, not the other way around, as had been assumed for centuries &ndash a theory proved through close observation by the Italian polymath Galileo Galilei (1564&ndash1642), who also refined the mechanical clock. The magnetic compass (first used by Chinese sailors in the 11th century) was belatedly rediscovered in early 14th-century Italy, revolutionising navigation. The use of another Chinese invention, gunpowder, also spread across Europe, with a dramatic and brutal effect on warfare. And &ndash yet again &ndash the printing press helped in incalculable ways, spreading ideas faster and faster.

John Dee's General and Rare Memorials bound with a signed manuscript

Richly illustrated title page of The General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation (1577) showing Elizabeth I at the helm of a ship, in charge of Britain&rsquos imperial destiny.

Usage terms The printed text and illustrations are Public Domain. The handwritten text is Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

How did the Renaissance affect culture?

The Renaissance affected culture in innumerable ways. In painting, sculpture and architecture, Italian artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael experimented with naturalism and perspective, and pushed visual form to more expressive heights than had ever been witnessed. Writers such as Boccaccio, Petrarch and Montaigne used insights gleaned from Latin and Greek texts to develop literature that had the polish and elegance of classical authors, yet was more intensely personal than ever before. Composers including Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria and Gabrieli experimented with interweaving polyphony and richly coloured harmonies, far more formally complex than their medieval antecedents. Political thinkers such as Machiavelli honed a statecraft based on realpolitik, while thinkers such as Galileo and Francis Bacon stressed the importance of science based on real-world experiment and observation. The fact that so many of these people were polymaths &ndash skilled in music as well as art, writing as well as science &ndash is itself testament to Renaissance attitudes to life and learning.

Leonardo da Vinci's notebook

Da Vinci was the ultimate polymath and many of his ideas and designs are preserved in this manuscript notebook. This page is a study for an underwater breathing apparatus.

An English Renaissance

Although the Renaissance arrived in England in the mid-1500s, almost two centuries after it began in Italy, some of its greatest achievements occurred on these shores, particularly in literature. Courtier-poets such as Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser transformed Italian forms into richly flexible English verse, while composers including Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons learned from the harmonic experiments being conducted in mainland Europe to forge a harmonic language uniquely their own.

The Devonshire Manuscript

A manuscript poetry anthology, which has been described as &lsquothe richest surviving record of early Tudor poetry and of the literary activities of 16th-century women&rsquo.

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Perhaps most strikingly, playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson put their grammar-school educations to fine effect in the public theatres of London by creating drama more sophisticated and psychologically powerful than anything else in Europe. Marlowe&rsquos anti-hero Tamburlaine, a snarlingly ambitious shepherd from a central Eurasian backwater who rises to be an all-powerful ruler, is one kind of Renaissance man. Shakespeare&rsquos Hamlet &ndash a conscience-racked Danish revenger who is educated in the Lutheran town of Wittenberg, and who delivers existential philosophy worthy of Montaigne &ndash is another. The word &lsquorenaissance&rsquo may be tricky to define, but the impression it left on culture is impossible to mistake.

Andrew Dickson is an author, journalist and critic. A former arts editor at the Guardian in London, he writes regularly for the paper and appears as a broadcaster for the BBC and elsewhere. His book about Shakespeare's global influence, Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe, is out now in paperback. He lives in London, and his website is andrewjdickson.com.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.

Early Islamic World

Trade and commerce played an important role in the early Islamic world. Large trade networks spanned much of the globe including faraway places like China, Africa, and Europe. Islamic leaders used taxes from wealthy merchants to build and maintain public works such as schools, hospitals, dams, and bridges.

Money is important for any economy, and this was no different for Islamic merchants. The main Islamic coins were the dinar (a gold coin) and the dirham (a silver coin). However, large transactions were often carried out on paper using letters of credit called "suftaja." These letters were much easier to carry on long trade routes than heavy coins. After arriving in a new city, merchants could take the papers to a moneychanger to exchange for coins.

Islamic merchants dealt in a wide variety of trade goods including sugar, salt, textiles, spices, slaves, gold, and horses. The expanse of the Islamic Empire allowed merchants to trade goods all the way from China to Europe. Many merchants became quite wealthy and powerful.

Muslim trade routes extended throughout much of Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia (including China and India). These trade routes were both by sea and over long stretches of land (including the famous Silk Road). Major trade cities included Mecca, Medina, Constantinople, Baghdad, Morocco, Cairo, and Cordoba.

In the case where a trade route was over land, merchants travelled in large groups called caravans. Caravans were almost like traveling cities including everything from doctors and entertainers to armed guards and translators. They provided protection for the merchants and their goods. A typical caravan would travel around 15 miles a day and would stop at night at rest stops called "caravanserai."

The expanse of Islamic trade had a direct result on the spread of the Islam religion. Traders brought their religion to West Africa where Islam quickly spread throughout the region. Areas in the far east such as Malaysia and Indonesia also became Muslim through traders and Islamic Sufis. Over time, large Muslim populations grew in other regions including India, China, and Spain.

Islamic literature

Major reference

It would be almost impossible to make an exhaustive survey of Islamic literatures. There are so many works, of which hundreds of thousands are available only in manuscript, that even a very large team of scholars could scarcely master a…


Islamic literature, from the 10th century, produced short “typed” biographies based on occupation—saints, scholars, and the like—or on arbitrarily chosen personal characteristics. The series of brief biographies has continued to the present day with such representative collections as, in the Renaissance, Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of…


During Europe’s Dark Ages Islamic and Chinese cartography made progress. The Arabs translated Ptolemy’s treatises and carried on his tradition. Two Islamic scholars deserve special note. Ibn Haukal wrote a Book of Ways and Provinces illustrated with maps, and al-Idrīsī constructed a world map in 1154 for the Christian…

Historiographic writings

The Qurʾān, the sacred text of Islam, contains allusions that constitute the basis of a providential history of humankind from Adam through Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Another valuable resource for Islamic historians is the Hadith (the traditions or sayings of Muhammad), which is

Indian literature

The adventure of Islām in India began in the 8th century with the conquest of Sind (the extreme western province), but it was only in the 11th and 12th centuries that Muslim literary and cultural traditions reached the Indian heartland. Then, in…

Indonesian literatures

When Islam reached Java in the 15th century, the mystical tendencies in it were incorporated by the Javanese into their own markedly mystical religious literature. Muslim influence was especially fertile during the early 17th century in Aceh, where Malay for the first time became an important…

Mirror for princes advice literature

In the Islamic world, mirrors for princes emphasized pragmatic guidance and the administrative and procedural aspects of governance while stressing the role of rulers as moral exemplars. Those texts were, to a greater degree than in the West, manuals of effective governance. They consequently encompassed a wider…

Ṣūfī literature

Though a Hadith (a recorded saying of the Prophet Muhammad) claims that “he who knows God becomes silent,” the Sufis have produced a literature of impressive extent and could defend their writing activities with another Hadith: “He who knows God talks much.” The…

Early Islamic World

Islam is a religion founded in the early seventh century by the Prophet Muhammad. Followers of Islam believe in one god called Allah. The primary religious book of Islam is the Quran.

Pilgrims on Hajj to Mecca
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What is the difference between Muslim and Islam?

A Muslim is a person who believes and follows the religion of Islam.

Muhammad is considered to be the Holy Prophet of Islam and the last prophet to be sent by Allah to mankind. Mohammed lived from 570 CE to 632 CE.

The Quran is the sacred holy book of Islam. Muslims believe that the words of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad from Allah through the angel Gabriel.

The Five Pillars of Islam

    Shahadah - The Shahadah is the basic creed, or declaration of faith, that Muslims recite each time they pray. The English translation is "There is no god, but God Muhammad is the messenger of God."

The hadith are additional texts that describe the actions and sayings of Muhammad that are not recorded in the Quran. They were generally gathered together by Islamic scholars after the death of Muhammad.

Mosques are places of worship for the followers of Islam. There is generally a large prayer room where Muslims can go to pray. Prayers are often led by the leader of the mosque called an "imam."

Like many major religions, there are different sects of Muslims. These are groups that share many of the same fundamental beliefs, but disagree on certain aspects of theology. The two largest groups of Muslims are the Sunni and the Shia. Around 85% of the world's Muslims are Sunni.

Timeline of the Inventions of the Renaissance Period

There were many great, innovative things that were invented during the Renaissance. The timeline of the inventions of the Renaissance period is given in this article.

There were many great, innovative things that were invented during the Renaissance. The timeline of the inventions of the Renaissance period is given in this article.

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that took place in Europe during the period between 14th and 17th century. The epicenter of this movement was in Florence, Italy, which gradually spread to Rome and the rest of Europe. It was a golden period that lead to development of art, literature, and culture. It is often thought to be a movement that led to the birth of the modern era with modern thinking and perspective. Although the time is better known for its artistic developments as seen by the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, there were many notable inventions during this period. Perhaps one of the most important ones is the printing press, which marked a paradigm shift in education and literature. To elaborate further, the timeline of the inventions of the Renaissance in given in the paragraphs below.

Major Inventions

During the Renaissance, there were many new inventions and discoveries made, which changed the way people worked or looked at things. Some of the everyday things that we use today are the ones invented during that period. They were all truly revolutionary and unique, and the world is what it is today due to them.

Year Inventions and Discoveries
1300 The first mechanical clock.
1366 Scales for weighing.
1400 First golf ball was invented
1411 The trigger for the gun. The first piano called the Spinet invented.
1420 Oil painting was invented.
1421 Hoisting gear invented in Florence.
1450 Lenses for near-sighted people invented by Nicholas of Cusa.
1456 Printing press by Gutenberg.
1465 Drypoint engravings invented.
1475 Muzzle loaded rifles invented in Italy.
1485 Leonardo da Vinci designed the first parachute.
1487 Bell chimes.
1494 Whiskey in Scotland.
1500 The first flush toilets were invited.
1510 Pocket watch invented by Peter Henlein.
1514 Nicolaus Copernicus established the fact that the center of the universe is not the Earth, but the Earth lies near it.
1520 Ferdinand Magellan became the first European to spot a galaxy in the sky, and he named it “Magellan Penguin”. He also discovered the Magellan Strait.
1568 Bottled beer was invented in London.
1589 Knitting machine invented by William Lee.
1590 Compound microscope invented by Zacharias Janssen.
1593 Galileo Galilei invented the water thermometer.
1608 First refracting telescope was invented by Hans Lippershey.
1620 The first submarine was invented by Cornelis Drebbel.
1624 Slide Rule was invented by William Oughtred.
1625 Method of blood transfusion was invented by Jean Baptiste Denys.
1636 W. Gascoigne invents the micrometer.
1642 Adding Machine invented by Blaise Pascal.
1643 Barometer invented by Torricelli.
1650 The first air pump.
1656 The pendulum clock was invented by Christian Huygens.
1660 The cuckoo clock was first made in Black Forest, Germany.
1663 The first reflecting telescope was constructed by James Gregory.
1670 Champagne was invented by Dom Perignon.
1671 The first calculating machine invented by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
1671 Sir Isaac Newton publishes his major work, Principia, which contains the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation.
1679 Pressure cooker invented by Denis Papin.
1698 Steam pump invented by Thomas Savery.

These were some of the discoveries and innovations during the Renaissance. The list above will help you get a better idea of the chronological order in which they were made. All of these inventions had a great impact in the evolution of arts and science, and are therefore, very significant to mankind.

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