The renaissance began in Italy

The renaissance

Raffael: School of Athens, 1509–1510, Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican State. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Renaissance as a period or epoch is located between the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The first beginnings could be seen at the beginning of the 14th century, the renaissance reached its peak around 1500, its end at the beginning of the 17th century. It followed the Gothic and was replaced by the Baroque - with all the overlaps and simultaneities that individual epochs of history bring with them.

During the Renaissance (French, "rebirth") ancient art and culture, such as painting, architecture, philosophy and literature, were rediscovered, revived or "reborn". The significant characteristic of all artistic, philosophical and scientific achievements of the Renaissance was the centralization of man and his freedom. The world was no longer opened up by means of a transcendent understanding of God, but by a principle inherent in the world - according to the homo-mensura sentence of the ancient philosopher Protagoras: "Man is the measure of all things."


People increasingly felt themselves to be individuals, as a self-acting force that can work and bring about. This was evident, for example, and above all in art: painters and sculptors created works that were hardly inferior to those of antiquity and put people in the center. Closely related to this is Humnanism (lat.humanitas, dt. humanity, i.e. that which characterizes the human being), an attitude of mind and an educational movement, a worldview which, with reference to ancient writings and teachings, emphasized human education so that it can develop freely. Linguistic and literary, but also ethical education should distinguish people as an autonomous being.

However, the driving forces of the Renaissance were not only interested in reviving an ancient culture, or imitating it. Rather, they sought to embed it in their time, and yes, to develop it further and even to surpass it: rebirth was considered a “creative act” (Muhlacker, 2017, p. 26). And that was logical, because otherwise this would also contradict the envisaged individuality.


The Renaissance can be divided into three sections: Early, High, and Late Renaissance. Exact dates are not always to be given, since it depends on the direction from which you are looking: both thematically - from the side of the visual arts or the literary or the philosophical - as well as geographically. In his well-known treatise "The European Renaissance: Centers and Peripheries" (1998, pp. 28ff.), Peter Burke names the following key data:

  • Early Renaissance: early 14th century to 1490
  • High Renaissance: 1490 to 1530
  • Late Renaissance: 1530 to 1630

The Renaissance began in Italy. Other parts of Europe also showed decisive innovations in cultural development, but Italy already played the decisive role (see Burke, 1998, p. 75). The focus was initially on Florence, later on Rome, then a few other cities. From Italy scholars, artists and writers traveled to other countries, from other countries people flocked to Italy to familiarize themselves with art, architecture and other sciences. They then took their findings back home with them.

At the end of the High Renaissance (death of the Renaissance Pope Leo X. in 1521, sack of Rome by Charles V in 1527), the Renaissance was a “movement with many centers” (Burke, 1998, p. 103). Italy was no longer the focus - especially when it came to humanism. Nonetheless, when one speaks of the Renaissance, one only speaks of the Italian in the narrower sense. But one can say: The Italian Renaissance ultimately led to a European Renaissance culture (Muhlacker, 2017, p. 102f.).

In Germany, the influences of the Renaissance met the criticism of the old church that had been formulated since the posting of the theses in 1517 and the Reformation that was constituted in the following years. But they were not opposed to each other as opposites. "The culture of the Reformation absorbed the culture of the Renaissance and promoted it." (Muhlacker, 2017, p. 144).

Individual thematic sub-areas of the Renaissance are described in more detail on the following pages: