[Excerpted from Philip Van Ness Myers, Mediæval and Modern History (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1905), pp. 251-274]
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE RENAISSANCE
The Renaissance defined.-- By the term Renaissance (" New Birth"), used in its narrower sense, is meant that new enthusiasm for classical literature, learning, and art which sprang up in Italy towards the close of the Middle Ages, and which during the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries gave a new culture to Europe. [By many writers the term is employed in a still narrower sense than this, being used to designate merely the revival of classical art; but this is to depreciate the most important phase of a many-sided development. The Renaissance was essentially an intellectual movement. It is this intellectual quality which gives it so large a place in universal history]
Using the word in a somewhat broader sense, we may define the Renaissance as the reentrance into the world of that secular, inquiring, self-reliant spirit which characterized the life and culture of classical antiquity. This is simply to say that under the influence of the intellectual revival the men of Western Europe came to think and feel, to look upon life and the outer world, as did the men of ancient Greece and Rome; and this again is merely to say that they ceased to think and feel as mediaeval men and began to think and feel as modern men.
The Crusades in their Relation to the Renaissance.-- Many agencies conspired to bring in the Renaissance. Among these were the Crusades. These long-sustained enterprises . . . contributed essentially to break the mental lethargy that had fallen upon the European mind, and to awaken in the nations of Western Europe the spirit of a new life. Before the Crusades closed, the way of the Renaissance was already prepared. In every territory of human activity the paths along which advances were to be made by the men of coming generations had been marked out, and in many directions trodden by the eager feet of the pioneers of the new life and culture.
The Development of Vernacular Literatures as an Expression of the New Spirit.--The awakening of this new spirit in the Western nations is especially observable in the growth and development of their vernacular literatures. It was, speaking broadly, during and just after the crusading centuries that the native tongues of Europe found a voice,--began to form literatures of their own. . . . As soon as their forms became somewhat settled, then literature was possible, and all these speeches bud and blossom into song and romance. In Spain the epic poem of the Cid, a reflection of Castilian chivalry, forms the beginning of Spanish literature; in the south of France the Troubadours fill the land with the melody of their love songs; in the north the Trouveurs recite the stirring romances of Charlemagne and his paladins, of King Arthur and the Holy Grail; in Germany the harsh strains of the Nibelungenlied are followed by the softer notes of the Minnesingers; in Italy Dante sings his Divine Comedy in the pure mellifluous tongue of Tuscany, and creates a language for the Italian race; in England Chaucer writes his Canterbury Tales and completes the fusion of Saxon and Norman into the English tongue.
This growth of native literatures foreshadowed the approaching Renaissance; for there was in them a note of freedom, a note of protest against mediaeval asceticism and ecclesiastical restraint. And at the same time that this literary development heralded the coming intellectual revival it hastened its advance; for the light songs, tales, and romances of these vernacular literatures, unlike the learned productions of the Schoolmen, which were in Latin and addressed only to a limited class, appealed to the masses and thus stirred the universal mind and heart of Europe.
Town Life and Lay Culture.--The spirit of the new life was nourished especially by the air of the great cities. In speaking of mediaeval town life we noticed how within the towns there was early developed a life like that of modern times. The atmosphere of these bustling, trafficking cities called into existence a practical commercial spirit, a many-sided, independent, secular life which in many respects was directly opposed to medieval teachings and ideals.
This intellectual and social movement within the mediaeval towns, especially in the great city-republics of Italy, was related most intimately, as we shall see in a moment, to that great revival of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to which the term Renaissance is distinctively applied.
Dante as a Forerunner of the Renaissance. --. . .Dante Alighieri, "the fame of the Tuscan people," was born at Florence in 1265. He was exiled by the Florentines in I,302, and at the courts of friends learned how hard a thing it is " to climb the stairway of a patron." He died at Ravenna in 1321, and his tomb there is a place of pilgrimage to-day.
It was during the years of his exile that Dante wrote his immortal poem, the Commedia as named by himself, because of its happy ending; the Divina Commedia, or the " Divine Comedy," as called by his admirers. This poem has been called the " Epic of Mediaevalism." It is an epitome of the life and thought of the Middle Ages. Dante's theology is the theology of the mediaeval Church; his philosophy is the philosophy of the Schoolmen; his science is the science of his time.
But although Dante viewed the world from a standpoint which was essentially that of the mediaeval age which was passing away, still he was in a profound sense a prophet of the new age which was approaching,--a forerunner of the Renaissance. He was such in his feeling for classical antiquity. When he speaks lovingly of Vergil as his teacher and master, the one from whom he took the beautiful style that had done him honor, he reveals how he has come to look with other than mediaeval eyes upon the Augustan poet. His modern attitude towards Graeco-Roman culture is further shown in his free use of the works of the classical writers; the illustrative material of his great poem is drawn almost as largely from classical as from Hebrew and Christian sources. Again, in his self-reliant judgment, in his critical spirit, in his mental independence, Dante exhibits intellectual traits which we recognize as belonging rather to the modern than to the medieval man.
The Fresh Stimulus from the Side of Classical Antiquity. --We have now reached the opening of the fourteenth century. Just at this time the intellectual progress of Europe received a tremendous impulse from the more perfect recovery of the inestimable treasures of the civilization of Graeco-Roman antiquity. So far-reaching and transforming was the influence of the old world of culture upon the nations of Western Europe that the Renaissance, viewed as the transition from the mediaeval to the modern age, may properly be regarded as beginning with its discovery, or rediscovery, and the appropriation of its riches by the Italian scholars. In the following sections we shall try to give some account of this Renaissance movement in its earlier stages and as it manifested itself in Italy.
THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Inciting Causes of the Movement.--Just as the Reformation went forth from Germany and the Political Revolution from France, so did the Renaissance go forth from Italy. And this was not an accident. The Renaissance had its real beginnings in Italy for the reason that all those agencies which were slowly transforming the mediaeval into the modern world were here more active and effective in their workings than elsewhere.
Foremost among these agencies must be placed the influence of the Italian cities. We have already seen how city life was more perfectly developed in Italy than in the other countries of Western Europe. In the air of the great Italian city-republics there was nourished a Strong, self-reliant, secular, myriad-sided life. It was a political, intellectual, and artistic life like that of the cities of ancient Greece. Florence, for example, became a second Athens, and in the eager air of that city individual talent and faculty were developed as of old in the atmosphere of the Attic capital. " In Florence," says Symonds, " had been produced such glorious human beings as the world has rarely seen. . . . The whole population formed an aristocracy of genius."
In a word, life in Italy earlier than elsewhere lost its mediaeval characteristics and assumed those of the modern type. We may truly say that the Renaissance was cradled in the cities of mediaeval Italy. The Italians, to use again the words of Symonds, were " the firstborn among the sons of modern Europe."
A second circumstance that doubtless contributed to make Italy the birthplace of the Renaissance was the fact that in Italy the break between the old and the new civilization was not so complete as it was in the other countries of Western Europe. The Italians were closer in language and in blood to the old Romans than were the other new-forming nations. They regarded themselves as the direct descendants and heirs of the old conquerors of the world. This consciousness of kinship with the men of a great past exerted an immense influence upon the imagination of the Italians and tended not only to preserve the continuity of the historical development in the peninsula but also to set as the first task of the Italian scholars the recovery and appropriation of the culture of antiquity.
But more potent than all other agencies, not so much in awakening the Italian intellect as in determining the direction of its activities after they were Once aroused by other inciting causes, was the existence in the peninsula of so many monuments of the civilization and the grandeur of ancient Rome. The cities themselves were, in a very exact sense, fragments of the old Empire; and everywhere in the peninsula the ground was covered with 1 thins of the old Roman builders. The influence which these reminders of a glorious past exerted upon sensitive souls is well illustrated by the biographies of such men as Rienzi and Petrarch.
The Two Phases of the Italian Renaissance.--It was, as we have already intimated, the nearness of the Italians to the classical past that caused the Renaissance in Italy to assume essentially the character of a classical revival,--a recovery and appropriation by the Italians of the long-neglected heritage of Graeco-Roman civilization.
The movement here consisted of two distinct yet closely related phases, namely, the revival of classical literature and learning, and the revival of classical art. It is with the first only, the intellectual and literary phase of the movement, that we shall be chiefly concerned. This feature of the movement is called distinctively "Humanism," and the promoters of it are known as "Humanists," because of their interest in the study of the classics, the literae humaniores, or the "more human letters," in opposition to the diviner letters, that is, theology, which made up the old education.
Petrarch, the First of the Humanists.-- [Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374). Petrarch is hest known to most as the writer of Italian sonnets, btlt his significance for general history is due almost wholly to his relation to the revival of classic learning in Italy, and consequently it is only of this phase of his activity that we shall speak.]
" Not only in the history of Italian literature but in that of the civilized world, and not only in this but in the history of the human mind . . . Petrarch's name shines as a star of the first magnitude." [Voigt, Die Wiederbelebung des classichen Alterthums, 3d ed., vol. i, p. 22.]
It is in such words as these that one of the greatest historians of humanism speaks of Petrarch and his place in the history of the intellectual progress of the race. It will be worth our while to try to understand what Petrarch was in himself and what he did which justifies such an appraisement of his significance for universal history. To understand Petrarch is to understand the Renaissance.
Petrarch was the first and greatest representative of the humanistic phase of the Italian Renaissance. He was the first scholar of the mediaeval time who fully realized and appreciated the supreme excellence and beauty of the classical literature and its value as a means of culture. His enthusiasm f o r t h e ancient writers was a sort of worship. At great cost of time and labor he made a collection of about two hundred manuscript volumes of the classics. Among his choicest Latin treasures were some of Cicero's letters, which he had himself discovered in an old library at Verona, and reverently copied with his own hand. He could not read Greek, yet he gathered Greek as well as Latin manuscripts. He had sixteen works of Plato and a revered copy of Homer sent him from Constantinople; and thus, as he himself expressed it, the first of poets and the first of philosophers took up their abode with him.
This last sentiment reveals Petrarch's feeling for his books. The spirits of their authors seemed to him to surround him in his quiet library, and he was never so happy as when holding converse with these choice souls of the past. Often he wrote letters to the old worthies,--Homer, Cicero, Vergil, Seneca, and the rest,--for Petrarch loved thus to record his thoughts, and spent much of his time in the recreation of letter writing; for recreation, and life itself, letter writing was to him.
Petrarch's enthusiasm for the classical authors became contagious. Fathers reproached him for enticing their sons from the study of the law to the reading of the classics and the writing of Latin verses. But the movement started by Petrarch could not be checked. The impulse he imparted to humanistic studies is still felt in the world of letters and learning.
Petrarch's Feeling for the Ruins of Rome.--Petrarch had for the material monuments of classical antiquity a feeling akin to that which he had for its literary memorials. . . .All this illustrates perfectly the difference between the mediaeval man and the man of the Renaissance. During all the mediaeval centuries, until the dawn of the intellectual revival, the ruins of Rome were merely a quarry. The monuments of the Caesars were torn down for building material, the sculptured marbles were burned into lime for mortar.
Now, Petrarch was one of the first men of medieval times who had for the ruins of Rome the modern feeling. " He tells us how often with Giovanni Colonna he ascended the mighty vaults of the Baths of Diocletian, and there in the transparent air, amid the wide silence, with the broad panorama stretching far around them, they spoke, not of business, or political affairs, but of the history which the ruins beneath their feet suggested."
[Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance Italy, p. 177. Petrarch represents still other phases and qualities of the modern spirit, upon which, however, it is impossible for us to dwell. Regarding his feeling for nature in her grand and romantic aspects, we must nevertheless say a single word. One of the most remarkable passages in his writings is his description of his ascent of Mount Ventoux, near Avignon, for the sake of the view from the top. This was the beginning of the mountain climbing of modern times,--a new thing in the world. There was very little of it in antiquity, and during the Middle Ages apparently none at all. Even Dante always speaks of the mountains with a shudder. Nothing distinguishes the modern from the mediaeval man more sharply than this new feeling for nature in her wilder and grander moods.]
Boccaccio, the Disciple of Petrarch.--Petrarch called into existence a school of ardent young humanists who looked up to him as their master, and who carried on with unbounded enthusiasm the work of exploring the new spiritual hemisphere which he had discovered. Most distinguished among these disciples was Boccaccio (1313-1375), whose wide fame rests chiefly on his Decameron, a collection of tales written in Italian, but whose work as a humanist alone has interest for us in the present connection.
Boccaccio did much to spread and to deepen the enthusiasm for antiquity that Petrarch had awakened. He industriously collected and copied ancient manuscripts and thus greatly promoted classical scholarship in Italy. Imitating Petrarch, he tried to learn Greek, but, like Petrarch, made very little progress towards the mastery of the language because of the incompetence of his teacher and also because of the utter lack of text-books, grammars, and dictionaries. He persuaded his teacher, however, to make a Latin translation of the Naiad and the Odyssey, and was thus instrumental in giving to the world the first modern translation of Homer. It was a wretched version, yet it served to inspire in the Italian scholars an intense desire to know at first hand Greek literature,--that literature from which the old Roman authors had admittedly drawn their inspiration.
The Italians are taught Greek by Chrysoloras.--This desire of the Italian scholars was soon gratified. Just at the close of the fourteenth century the Eastern Emperor sent an embassy to Italy to beg aid against the Turks. The commission was headed by Manuel Chrysoloras, an eminent Greek scholar. No sooner had he landed at Venice than the Florentines sent him a pressing invitation to come to their city. He acceded to their request, was received by them with such honor as they might have shown a celestial being, and was given a professor's chair in the university (I 396). Young and old thronged his class room. Men past sixty "felt the blood leap in their veins " at the thought of being able to learn Greek.
The appearance of Chrysoloras as a teacher at Florence marks the revival, after seven centuries of neglect, of the study of the Greek language and literature in the schools of Western Europe. This meant much. It meant the revival of civilization, the opening of the modern age; for of all the agencies concerned in transforming the mediaeval into the modern world one of the most potent certainly was Greek culture.
["If it be true [as has been asserted] that except the blind forces of nature nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origin, we are justified ill regarding the point of contact between the Greek teacher Chrysoloras and his Florentine pupils as one of the most momentous crises ire the history of civilization."--Symonds.]
The Search for Old Manuscripts.--Having now spoken of the pioneers of Italian humanism in the fourteenth century, we can, in our remaining space, touch only in a very general way upon the most important phases of the humanistic movement in the following century.
The first concern of the Italian scholars was to rescue from threatened oblivion what yet remained of the ancient classics. Just as the antiquarians of to-day dig over the mounds of Assyria for relics of the ancient civilization of the East, so did the humanists ransack the libraries of the monasteries and cathedrals and search through all the out-of-the-way places of Europe for old manuscripts of the classic writers.
The precious manuscripts were often discovered in a shameful state of neglect and in advanced stages of decay. Sometimes they were found covered with mold in damp cells or loaded with dust in the attics of monasteries. Again they were discovered, as by Boccaccio in the manuscript room of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, mutilated in various ways, some, for instance, with the borders of the parchment pared away, and others with whole leaves lacking. [This mutilation was due chiefly to the scarcity of writing material, which led the medieval copyists to erase the original text of old parchments that they might use them a second time. In this way many works of classical authors were destroyed. Sometimes, however the earlier text was so imperfectly obliterated that by means of chemical reagents it can be wholly or partially restored. Such twice.-written manuscripts are called palimpests]
This late search of the humanists for the works of the ancient authors saved to the world many precious manuscripts which, a little longer neglected, would have been forever lost.
Patrons of the New Learning; the Founding of Libraries. --This gathering and copying of the ancient manuscripts was costly in time and labor. But there was many a Maecenas to encourage and further the work. Merchant princes, despots, and popes became generous patrons of the humanists. Prominent among these promoters of the New Learning, as it was called, were Cosimo and Lorenzo de' Medici at Florence. It was largely due to their genuine and enlightened interest in the great undertaking of recovering for culture the ancient classical literatures that Florence became the foster home of the intellectual and literary revival.
Among the papal promoters of the movement Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) was one of the most noted. He sent out explorers to all parts of the West to search for manuscripts, and kept busy at Rome a multitude of copyists and translators. A little later Pope Julius II (1503-1513) and Pope Leo X (1513-1521) made Rome a brilliant center of Renaissance art and learning.
Libraries were founded where the new treasures might be safely stored and made accessible to scholars. In this movement some of the largest libraries of Italy had their beginnings. At Florence the Medici established the fine existing Medicean Library. At Rome Pope Nicholas V enriched the original papal collection of books by the addition, it is said, of fully five thousand manuscripts, and thus became the real founder of the celebrated Vatican library of the present day.
How the Fall of Constantinople aided the Revival.--The humanistic movement, especially in so far as it concerned Greek letters and learning, was given a great impulse by the disasters which in the fifteenth century befell the Eastern Empire. Constantinople, it will be recalled, was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. But for a half century before that event the threatening advance of the barbarians had caused a great migration of Greek scholars to the West. So many of the exiles sought an asylum in Italy that one could say: " Greece has not fallen; she has migrated to Italy, which in ancient times bore the name of Magna Graecia."
These fugitives brought with them many valuable manuscripts of the ancient Greek classics still unknown to Western scholars. The enthusiasm of the Italians for everything Greek led to the appointment of many of the exiles as teachers and lecturers in their schools and universities. Thus there was now a repetition of what took place at Rome in the days of the later republic; Italy was conquered a second time by the genius of Greece.
Translation and Criticism of the Classics.--The recovery of the ancient classics, their multiplication by copyists, and their preservation in libraries was only the first and lightest part of the task which the Italian humanists set themselves. The most difficult and significant part of their work lay in the comparison and correction of texts, the translation into Latin of the Greek manuscripts, and the interpretation and criticism of the ancient literatures now recovered.
Among the Italian scholars who devoted themselves to this work a foremost place must be assigned to Politian (1454-1494), a man of remarkable genius and learning. Almost all the noted humanists in Europe of his own and the following generation seem to have caught their inspiration in his lecture room. [Another name of great renown connected with these fifteenth century labors of the Italian scholars is that of Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), a man of extraordinary gifts of mind. The special task which Pico set for himself was the harmonizing of Christianity and the New Learning, a task like that of those scholars of the present time who seek to reconcile the Bible and modern science.]
The Invention of Printing.--During the latter part of the fifteenth century the work of the Italian humanists was greatly furthered by the happy and timely invention of the art of printing from movable letters, the most important discovery, in the estimation of Hallam, recorded in the annals of mankind.
The making of impressions by means of engraved seals or blocks seems to be a device as old as civilization. The Chinese have practiced this form of printing from an early time. The art appears to have sprung up independently in Europe during the later mediaeval period. First, devices on playing cards were formed by impressions from blocks; then manuscripts were stamped with portraits and pictures. The next step was to cut into the same block a few lines of explanatory text. In time the lines increased to pages, and during the first half of the fifteenth century many entire books were produced by the block-printing method.
But printing from blocks was slow and costly. The art was revolutionized by John Gutenberg (1400-1468), a native of Mainz in Germany, through the invention of the movable letters which we call type. [Some Dutch writers claim for Coster of Haarlem the honor of the invention, but there is nothing aside from unreliable tradition on which such a claim can rest.] The oldest book known to have been printed from movable letters was a Latin copy of the Bible issued from the press of Gutenberg and Faust at Mainz between the years 1454 and 1456. The art spread rapidly and before the close of the fifteenth century presses were busy in every country of Europe--in the city of Venice alone there were two hundred--multiplying books with a rapidity undreamed of by the patient copyists of the cloister.
The Aldine Press at Venice.--But it is merely the introduction of the new art into Italy that especially concerns us now. The little that our brief space will permit us to say on this subject gathers about the name of Aldus Manutius (1450-1515), who established at Venice a celebrated printing house, known as the Aldine Press, the story of which forms one of the earliest and most interesting chapters in the history of the new art in its relation to humanism.
In the course of a few years Aldus had given to the appreciative scholars of Europe an almost complete series of the Greek authors. Besides these Greek editions he issued both Latin and Hebrew texts. Altogether he printed over a hundred works. In quality of paper and in clearness and beauty of type his editions have never been surpassed.
The work of the Aldine Press at Venice, in connection of course with what was done by presses of less note in other places, made complete the recovery of the classical literatures, and by scattering broadcast throughout Europe the works of the ancient authors rendered it impossible that any part of them should ever again become lost to the world.
Humanism crossed the Alps.--As early as the middle of the fifteenth century the German youths had begun to cross the Alps in order to study Greek at the feet of the masters there. As the type and representative of these young German humanists we may name Reuchlin, who in I 48 2 journeyed to Italy and presented himself there before a celebrated teacher of Greek. As a test of his knowledge of the language he was given to translate a passage from Thucydides. The young barbarian--for by this term the Italians of that time expressed their contempt for an inhabitant of the rude North-- turned the lines so easily and masterfully that the examiner, who was a native-born Greek, cried out in astonishment, "Our exiled Greece has flown beyond the Alps."
In transalpine Europe the humanistic movement became blended with other tendencies. In Italy it had been an almost exclusive devotion to Greek and Latin letters and learning; but in the North there was added to this enthusiasm for classical culture an equal and indeed supreme interest in Hebrew and Christian antiquity. Hence here the literary and intellectual revival became, in the profoundest sense, the moving cause of the great religious revolution known as the Reformation, and it is in connection with the beginnings of that movement that we shall find a place to speak of the humanists of Germany and the other northern lands.
The Artistic Revival.--As we have already seen, the new feeling for classical antiquity awakened among the Italians embraced not simply the literary and philosophical side of the Graeco-Roman culture, but the artistic side as well. Respecting this latter phase of the Italian Renaissance it will be impossible for us to speak in detail, nor is it necessary for us to do so, since the chief significance of the Renaissance for universal history, as already noted, is to be sought in the purely intellectual movement traced in the preceding pages of this chapter.
The artistic revival was in its essence a return of art to nature; for mediaeval art lacked freedom and naturalness. The artist was hampered by ecclesiastical tradition and restraint; he was, moreover, under the influence of the religious asceticism of the time. His models as a rule were the stiff, angular, lifeless forms of Byzantine art, or the gaunt, pinched bodies of saints and anchorites. In the decoration of the walls, pulpits, and altars of the churches he was not at liberty, even if he had the impulse, to depart from the consecrated traditional types. [In the Greek Church at the present time the artist in the portrayal of sacred subjects is not permitted to change the traditional expression or attitude of his figures.]
Now, what the Renaissance did for art was to liberate it from these trammels and to breathe into its dead forms the spirit of that new life which was everywhere awakening. This emancipation movement took place largely under impulses which came from a study of the masterpieces of ancient art. Thus did classical antiquity exercise the same influence in the emancipation and revival of art as in the emancipation and revival of letters. [In the list of Italian sculptors the following names are especially noteworthy: Ghiberti (1378-1455), whose genius is shown in his celebrated bronze gates of the Baptistery at Florence, of which Michael Angelo said that they were worthy to be the gates of Paradise; Brunelleschi (1377-1444), Donatello (1386-1466), and Michael Angelo (1475-1564).]
Why Painting was the Supreme Art of the Italian Renaissance.--[The views presented in this paragraph are those of Symonds in his work on The Fine arts, which forms the third volume of his Renaissance in Italy. ]--The characteristic art of the Italian Renaissance was painting, and for the reason that it best expresses the ideas a n d sentiments of Christianity. Th e art that would be the handmaid of the Church needed to be able to represent faith and hope, ecstasy and suffering,--none of which things can well be expressed by sculpture, which is essentially the art of repose.
Sculpture was the chief art of the Greeks, because among them the aim of the artist was to represent physical beauty or strength. But the problem of the Christian artist is to express spiritual emotion or feeling through the medium of the body. This cannot be represented in cold, colorless marble. Thus, as Symonds asks, "How could the Last Judgment be expressed in plastic form ? " The chief events of Christ's life removed him beyond the reach of sculpture.
Therefore, because sculpture has so little power to express emotion, painting, which runs so easily the entire gamut of feeling, became the chosen medium of expression of the Italian artist. This art alone enabled him to portray the raptures of the saint, the sweet charm of the Madonna, the intense passion of the Christ, the moving terrors of the Last Judgment.
The Four Masters; Mingling of Christian and Classical Subjects.--The four supreme masters of Italian Renaissance painting were Leonardo da Vinci (1452-l519), [Leonardo da Vinci was, in his many-sidedness and versatility, a true child of the Italian Renaissance; he was at once painter, sculptor, architect, poet, musician, and scientist] whose masterpiece is his task Stepper, on the wall of a convent at Milan; Raphael (1483-1520), the best beloved of artists, whose Madonnas are counted among the world's treasures; Michael Angelo's (1475-r564), [Michael Angelo, as Me have seen, was an architect and sculptor as well as a painter. lie is the only modern sculptor who can be given a place alongside the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece] whose best paintings are his wonderful frescoes, among them the Last Judgment, in the Sistine Chapel at Rome; and Titian (1477-1576), the Venetian master, celebrated for his portraits, which have preserved for us in flesh and blood, so to speak, many of the most noteworthy personages of his time. [A longer list of the most eminent Italian painters would include at least the following names: Cimabue (about 1240-1302) and Giotto (1275-1337), precursors of the revival; Era Angelico (l387-1455); Correggio (about 1494-l534)- Tintoretto (1518-1594) and Veronese (about 153~1588), representatives of the Renaissance proper.]
The earlier Italian painters drew their subjects chiefly from Christian sources. They literally covered the walls of the churches, palaces, and civic buildings of Italy with pictorial representations of all the ideas and imaginings of the medieval ages respecting death, the judgment, heaven, and hell. As Symonds tersely expresses it, they did by means of pictures what Dante had done by means of poetry.
The later artists, more under the influence of the classical revival, mingled freely pagan and Christian subjects and motives, and thus became truer representatives than their predecessors of the Renaissance movement, one important issue of which was to be the reconciliation and blending of pagan and Christian culture.
The Paganism of the Italian Renaissance.--There was a religious and moral, or, as usually expressed, an irreligious and immoral, side to the classical revival in Italy which cannot be passed wholly unnoticed even in so brief an account of the movement as the present sketch.
In the first place, the study of the pagan poets and philosophers produced the exact result predicted by a certain party in the Church. It proved hurtful to religious faith. Men became pagans in their feelings and in their way of thinking. Italian scholars and Italian society almost ceased to be Christian in any true sense of the word.
With the New Learning came also those vices and immoralities that characterized the decline of classical civilization. Italy was corrupted by the new influences that flowed in upon her, just as Rome was corrupted by Grecian luxury and sensuality in the days of the failing republic. Much of the literature of the time is even more grossly immoral in tone than the literature of the age of classical decadence.
GENERAL EFFECTS OF THE RENAISSANCE
The Renaissance brought in New Conceptions of Life and the World.--The Renaissance effected in the Christian West an intellectual and moral revolution so profound and so far-reaching in its consequences that it may well be likened to that produced in the ancient world by the incoming of Christianity. The New Learning was indeed a New Gospel. Like Christianity, the Renaissance revealed to men another world, another state of existence; for such was the real significance, to the men of the revival, of the discovery of the civilization of classical antiquity. Through this discovery they learned that this earthly life is worth living for its own sake; that this life and its pleasures need not l)e contemned and sacrificed in order to make sure of eternal life in another world; and that man may think and investigate and satisfy his thirst to know without endangering the welfare of his soul.
[The longings and the superstitious fears of men in the age of transition between medieval and modern times is well epitomized in the tradition of Dr. Faustus. " That legend," says Symonds, " tells us what the men upon the eve of the Revival longed for, and what they dreaded, when they turned their minds toward the past. The secret of enjoyment and the source of strength possessed by the ancients allured them; but they believed that they could only recover this lost treasure by the suicide of the soul. So great was the temptation that Faustus paid the price. After imbibing all the knowledge of the age, he sold himself to the devil, in order that his thirst for experience might be quenched, his grasp upon the world be strengthened, and the ennui of his activity be soothed. His first use of his dearly-bought power was to make blind Homer sing to him. Amphion tunes his harp in concert with Mephistopheles. Alexander rises from the dead at his behest, with all his legionaries; and Helen is given to him for a bride. Faustus is therefore a parable of the impotent yearnings of the spirit in the Middle Ages,--its passionate aspiration, its conscience stricken desire, its fettered curiosity amid the cramping limits of impotent knowledge and irrational dogmatisms."--Revival of Learning, p. 53 (ed. 1855).]
These discoveries made by the men of the Renaissance gave a vast impulse to the progress of the human race. They inspired humanity with a new spirit, a spirit destined in time to make things new in all realms,--in the realm of religion, of politics, of literature, of art, of science, of invention, of industry. Some of these changes and revolutions we shall briefly indicate in the remaining sections of this chapter. To follow them out more in detail in all the territories of human activity and achievement will be our aim in later chapters, where we propose to trace the course of the historical development through the centuries of the Modern Age,--the great age opened by the Renaissance.
It restored the Broken Unity of History.--When Christianity entered the ancient Graeco-Roman world war declared itself at once between the new religion and classical culture, especially between it and Hellenism. The Church, soon triumphant over paganism, rejected the bequest of antiquity. Some of the elements of that heritage were, it is true, appropriated by the men of the mediaeval time and thus came to enrich the new Christian culture; but, as a whole, it was cast aside as pagan, and neglected. Thus was the unity of the historical development broken.
Now, through the liberal tendencies and generous enthusiasms of the Renaissance there was effected a reconciliation between Christianity and classical civilization. There took place a fusion of their qualities and elements. The broken unity of history was restored. The cleft between the ancient and the modern world was closed. The severed branch was reunited to the old trunk.
The importance for universal history of this restoration of its broken unity, of this recovery by the Modern Age of the long neglected culture of antiquity, can hardly be overestimated; for that culture had in its keeping not only the best the human race had thought and felt in the period of the highest reach of its powers, but also the precious scientific stores accumulated by all the ancient peoples. What the recovery and appropriation of all this meant for the world is suggested by ex-President Woolsey in these words: " The old civilization contained treasures of permanent value which the world could not spare, which the world will never be able or willing to spare. These were taken up into the stream of life, and proved true aids to the progress of a culture which is gathering in one the beauty and truth of all the ages."
It reformed Education.--The humanistic revival revolutionized education. During the Middle Ages the Latin language had degenerated for the most part, into a barbarous jargon, while the Greek had been forgotten and the Aristotelian philosophy perverted. As to Plato, he was practically unknown to the mediaeval thinkers. Now humanism restored to the world the pure classical Latin, rediscovered the Greek language, and recovered for civilization the once-rejected heritage of the ancient classics, including the Platonic philosophy, which was to be a quickening and uplifting force in modern thought.
The schools and universities did not escape the influences of this humanistic revival. Chairs in both the Greek and Latin languages and literatures were now established, not only in the new universities which arose under the inspiration of the New Learning, but also in the old ones. The scholastic method of instruction, of which we spoke in a preceding chapter, was gradually superseded by this so-called classical system of education, which dominated the schools and universities of the world down to the incoming of the scientific studies of the present day.
It aided the Development of the Vernacular Literatures.-- The classical revival gave to the world the treasures of two great literatures. And in giving to the scholars of Europe the masterpieces of the ancient authors, it gave to them, besides much fresh material, the most faultless models of literary taste and judgment that the world has ever produced. The influence of these in correcting the extravagances of the mediaeval imagination and in creating correct literary ideals can be distinctly traced in the native literatures of Italy, France, Spain, and England.
It is sometimes maintained indeed that the attention given to the ancient classics, and the preferred use by so many authors during the later mediaeval and the earlier modern period of the Latin as a literary language, retarded the normal development of the vernacular literatures of the European peoples. [Some of the very best literary work of the period was done in Latin, as witness the Colloquies by Erasmus and the Utopia by More.] As to Italy, it is true that the national literature which had started into life with such promise with Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio was for almost a century neglected; but in transalpine Europe, apart from Germany, where for a period Latin did almost supplant the vernacular, the revived study of the classics did not produce the disastrous effects observed in Italy. On the contrary, as we have just said, the effect of humanism upon the great literatures of Europe, aside from the exceptions noticed, was to enrich, to chasten, and to refine them.
It called into Existence the Sciences of Archaeology and Historical Criticism.--Many sciences were in germ in the Renaissance.' As to the science of archaeology, which possesses such a special interest for the historical student, it may be truly said that it had its birth in the classical revival. We have already noticed the new feeling for the remains of antiquity that stirred in the souls of the men of the Renaissance .
The ruins of Rome were naturally the first object of the reverent curiosity and archaeological zeal of the Italian scholars. From the fifteenth century down to the present day the interest in the monuments and relics of past ages and civilization has steadily widened and deepened and has led to remarkable discoveries, not only on classical ground, but also in Hebrew, Assyrian, and Egyptian territories, discoveries which, by carrying the story of the human race back into a past immensely remote, have given an entirely new beginning to history.
What is true of the science of archaeology is equally true of the science of historical criticism. We have seen that the spirit which awoke in the Renaissance was a questioning, critical spirit, one very different from the credulous mediaeval spirit, which was ready to accept any picturesque tradition or marvelous tale without inquiry as to its source or credibility. It was this spirit that stirred in Petrarch. We find him comparing and criticizing the classical authors and following only those whom he has reason to believe to be trustworthy.
But the true founder of the science of historical criticism was Laurentius Valla (1407-1457). His greatest achievement as a critic was the demonstration, on philological and historical grounds, of the unauthentic character of the celebrated Donation of Constantine. He also called in question the authority of Livy and proved the spurious character of the alleged -correspondence between Seneca and the Apostle Paul.
The achievements of Valla ushered in the day of historical criticism. Here began that critical sifting and valuation of our historical sources which has resulted in the discrediting of a thousand myths and legends once regarded as unimpeachable historical material, and in the consequent reconstruction of Oriental, classical, and mediaeval history.
It gave an Impulse to Religious Reform.--The humanistic movement, as we have already noticed, when it crossed the Alps assumed among the northern peoples a new character. It was the Hebrew past rather than the Graeco-Roman past which stirred the interest of the scholars of the North. The Bible, which the printing presses were now multiplying in the original Hebrew and Greek as well as in the vernacular languages, became the subject Of enthusiastic study and of fresh interpretation. Consequently what was in the South a restoration of classical literature and art became in the more serious and less sensuous North a revival of primitive Christianity, of the ethical and religious elements of the Hebrew-Christian past. The humanist became the reformer. Reuchlin, Erasmus, and the other humanists of the North were the true precursors of the great religious revolution of the sixteenth century.