Humanism and the Renaissance
Founded on the ideals of Italian scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca during the late fourteenth century, Renaissance humanism centered itself on humanity's potential for achievement. Although God is credited for creating the universe, human beings are the ones credited for developing and sustaining it. The shift was away from understanding the world through faith and towards a broader intellectual and scientific understanding of it. A humanist, in this context, was simply a teacher whose curriculum focused on the liberal arts. By the mid-fifteenth century, this curriculum evolved to include rhetoric, grammar, poetry, history and moral philosophy (or ethics). Together these individual disciplines comprised the core of humanistic studies. But the ideas introduced were not altogether new. Humanists relied on primary sources such as the classical literature of Greece and Rome. What is remarkable, however, are the great lengths to which the movement sought to recover and reintroduce old ideas to the present times. It is remarkable when considering that after the fall of Rome in the fifth century much of the texts housing ideas central to humanistic thought were virtually lost or buried in obscurity. Ancient ideas within these classical texts were considered crucial because humanists considered the ancient world the pinnacle of human achievement and thought its human accomplishments should serve as the model for contemporary Europe. After the fall of Rome, human progress and achievement slowed to a trickle. Western civilization became mired in a period of cultural decline that the Renaissance mind considered a "dark age" in human history. The only way out was a return to the ideas propelling the ancient world forward. It was, in essence, a trip back to the future. Humanism profoundly affected the artistic community and how artists themselves were perceived. The medieval mind viewed artists as humble servants whose talent and ability were...
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