What does renaissance mean


As Renaissance is an epoch in art history whose core period can be found in the 15th century (Quattrocento) and 16th century (Cinquecento). However, there were first tendencies beforehand that can be regarded as forerunners of the epoch, such as in the Trecento and Duecento. An essential feature of the Renaissance is the overcoming of the Middle Ages, which is particularly evident here in a Revitalization of the cultural achievements of Roman and Greek antiquity extremely. As a result, people looked back at the achievements of antiquity, which had a decisive influence on painting, literature, philosophy and architecture of the Renaissance. This return to former achievements resulted in numerous discoveries and inventions in the Renaissance, which was mainly due to the revival of ancient mathematics. The origins of this epoch lie in northern Italy, which is why many Italian artists are mentioned in connection with the art epoch, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello and Tizian, although German artists such as Albrecht Dürer were also very pioneering. In literature it was above all Dante Alighieri or William Shakespeare, although names such as Erasmus von Rotterdam, Martin Luther or Hans Sachs must also be mentioned in connection with the epoch. The Renaissance was replaced by the Baroque in the 17th century.


The term derives from the French nounRenaissance and lets himself be with Rebirth translate. Consequently, the name of the epoch alone refers to what is fundamentally about: namely a rebirth [of antiquity], which means that many achievements and cultural achievements of antiquity were revived and consequently reborn and continued in the Renaissance. However, the term was only used in retrospect - namely in the 19th century - embossed.

However, the term was first used in 1550 by the Italian artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari Rinascimento used. Vasari meant that the art of the Middle Ages had been overcome and distinguished three different ages with regard to art: 1) a glittering agewith which he referred to the Greek and Roman antiquity, 2) the decay of cultural achievements, what the Middle Ages meant and 3) the resurgence or the rebirth of the arts, with ancient ideas and, moreover, the ancient spirit, which can be observed from around 1250 onwards.

Vasari locates the origins of the era much, much earlier than is common today. He points out that as early as the second half of the 13th century, in the darkest Middle Ages, the way was paved for rebirth, which ultimately led to the perfection of art, painting and architecture. These first steps are commonly referred to as the Protenaissance and are summarized under the terms Duecento and Trecento, which ultimately ushered in the Renaissance.

The term as we use it today was then adopted from Italian into French at the beginning of the 19th century and transferred from French into German in around 1840. The term was coined in German mainly by the Swiss cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt, who used it in his work The culture of the Renaissance in Italy introduced in principle from 1860. The work describes the modern, individual man who overcomes the Middle Ages.

Features of the Renaissance

It is hardly possible to explain the characteristics of this epoch with just a few bullet points, since the rediscovery of ancient achievements in painting, literature and architecture had very different effects and was also interpreted differently from region to region. Therefore, the overview only bundles the essential characteristics different art styles.

Overview: Requirements and general information about the Renaissance
  • The Renaissance is an epoch in art history that marks the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age. The epoch can be located roughly between the 15th and 16th centuries. In historical studies there is an early renaissance (Italy: approx. 1420 to 1500; German-speaking areas: 1520 to 1555), High renaissance (Italy: approx. 1500 to 1530; German-speaking areas: 1555 to 1590) and late renaissance (Italy: approx. 1520 to 1600; German-speaking areas: 1560 to 1610) Cut. The boundaries are fluid.
  • The cultural epoch is characterized by the return to antiquity and the revival of cultural achievements of Roman and Greek antiquity. This was facilitated by an acquisition of Arabic and Greek knowledge. Numerous ideas that already existed in antiquity had been forgotten in the Middle Ages. Now, however, more and more scientists, such as Niccolo Niccoli and Poggio Bracciolini, began to target (monastery) libraries based on the works of ancient authors (e.g. from Vitruvius, Plato, Cicero) to browse and subsequently disseminate.
  • This constant search for ancient knowledge was accelerated by the fact that during the Reconquista (Recapture of the Iberian Peninsula by Christian descendants) the conquerors fell into the hands of all kinds of Arabic and Greek writings and treatises. For example, the Cordoba library alone is said to have held over 400,000 books. In addition, more Greek scholars came to Italy - what is to be justified with the fall of the Byzantine Empire - and brought with them all kinds of knowledge about ancient Greece, which was over 1000 years old.
  • But not only the ancient knowledge and the ancient philosophy aroused the attention of science, but also ancient mathematics and, as a result, the examination of the laws of nature. For example, Galileo Galilei discovered that the world was not the center of the universe, which shook the foundations of the church and at the same time called Christian doctrine into question. In the Renaissance there was consequently a transition from the geocentric to the heliocentric view of the world, which is based on the assumption that the planets orbit the sun.
  • In addition, the political and social structures were favorable in Italy, which is considered to be the cradle and origin of the Renaissance. Thus Italy was opened up in all directions by the connecting routes of the Mediterranean area, whereby all kinds of trade was carried out with distant cities and countries, which subsequently led to an exchange with foreign cultures. From this very trade arose prosperity, which in turn was large-scale - especially private ones - Support and funding for art made possible. Compared to other European countries, the cities of Italy offered - as they were managed individually - a relative political freedom, which in turn greatly favored advances in science, research and the arts.
  • The determining intellectual current was humanism, the origins of which lay in Florence, Italy. The humanists demanded an educational reform which should drive the intellectual abilities of mankind to full development. The maintenance of linguistic expression was important, which is why linguistics and literary studies were given a central role, with error-free expression - spoken and written - was declared a goal in Latin. Since every human being should be educated, women also had access to education, which tended to represent a first form of equality and human equality in general. The understanding that one belonged to a new era that replaced the Middle Ages was also essential. Humanism especially shaped the literature of this time.

Overview: Features in art (painting)
  • Popular contents of the painting were of a religious nature, whereby many frescoes (wall paintings) and altarpieces were created in churches. What is new here, however, is that the religious motifs have been humanized by being presented in a more secular context. For example, the people were shown in everyday clothing. In addition, an increasing number of pictures with secular themes or works were created that represented events from Roman and Greek mythology and referred to allegories, (hero) sagas or ancient (gods) stories. In addition, contemporary personalities moved into the focus of painting, which resulted in numerous portraits: the individual person was therefore increasingly the focus. Furthermore, the first landscape paintings and painted images of everyday scenes (genre image) developed
  • The central perspective is formative for painting during the Renaissance. This made it possible to precisely construct the spatial depth of an image, whereby vivid images of spatial objects were produced. In addition, new findings with regard to the color perspective were implemented in a painterly manner, which means that images appear three-dimensional even though they were displayed on a two-dimensional surface.
  • Furthermore, the scientific knowledge that did not lie directly in art itself was reflected in painting. In the Renaissance, for example, the correct anatomical representation of humans was often the focus. In doing so, emphasis was placed on correctly depicting the proportions and structure of the body, taking into account the muscles. Nevertheless, humans were shown idealized, i.e. with ideal body dimensions. The beauty of the human body was thus depicted superficially, with the depiction of nudity as a symbol of innocence. It was also about a realistic and accurate representation of the human body, which the epoch has in common with realism.
  • In addition, numerous geometric shapes found their way into painting and art in general, which should support a symmetrical and harmonious image structure. As a result, compositions are often found that are based on an (imaginary) triangle, circle or semicircle shape in that era.

Overview: Features in architecture
  • The architecture was mainly based on ancient buildings. The main aim was to find individual elements of Roman antiquity, with Greek architecture being mostly ignored. In terms of architecture, the Renaissance superseded Gothic and became itself - around the end of the 16th century - replaced by baroque architecture. However, the boundaries cannot always be clearly drawn.
  • As in art, the architects of that time relied on symmetry and balanced and strict proportions. The individual components were mostly arranged on the basis of geometric shapes and followed them strictly. But even if one oriented oneself to ancient buildings and emulated them in terms of structure, they were sometimes assigned new functions. For example, in the Renaissance many churches were designed that were designed as a meeting place for believers, which did not exist in Roman antiquity. There, deities were more likely to be honored by temples.
  • The floor plan was usually laid out symmetrically and at right angles. The decisive factor was that the facade and floor plan were mutually dependent, which means that it can be seen from the outside how the structure is basically laid out. But also from the outside, the buildings of the Renaissance appear symmetrical and follow a strict structure.
  • Such structures were either plastered from the outside or were clad with marble or other natural stone slabs. As a result, the facade appears basically light, which can definitely be seen as a feature of the Renaissance architecture.

Overview: Features in the literature
  • When one speaks of the literature of the Renaissance, one usually means the works that originated in humanism, an intellectual movement of the 15th and 16th centuries. The humanists demanded a comprehensive educational reform, which should drive the intellectual abilities of mankind to full development. The maintenance of linguistic expression was important, which is why linguistics and literary studies were given a central role, with error-free expression - spoken and written - was declared a goal in Latin. However, it is difficult to give a detailed picture of the literature of this time, as there were numerous different forms, which originated in Italy but were interpreted in different ways across Europe.
  • The decisive factor for the time, however, was the invention of letterpress printing by Johannes Gutenberg, with the first printing company being established in Strasbourg in 1458. Since books could now be reproduced at an enormous speed, this naturally contributed to the rapid spread of literary works that no longer had to be copied by hand. Book printing almost triggered a media revolution in Europe, made books mass articles and is considered a key element of the Renaissance.
  • Humanism is - like the Renaissance era in general - shaped by a return to the ancient poets and authors. The Latin saying was the main motto Ad fonteswhich says that one should read texts in the original in order to make them accessible. The clergy and the nobility devoted themselves primarily to the translation, but also to the preservation, of classical works, in addition to which numerous writings were created that spread the humanistic program, world and human image. These writings were mainly written by scholars such as Erasmus of Rotterdam.
  • The influence of the ancient models can be found mainly in dramatic works, with poetry and epic - even if not always in terms of content - partly linked to the literary forms of the Middle Ages. Schwänke, carnival games, adventure novels, hero novels and knight novels were widespread (see novel) and also writings that can be classified as foolish literature, but also short stories such as fables or arguments
  • In the epic, the folk book also gained in importance, which put people in the foreground he literary consideration. The term refers to old stories, folk sagas, fairy-tale legends, romantic adventures and all kinds of taunts. The stories about the fool are particularly well known Till Eulenspiegel. The origin of these works in prose are often materials from medieval knight poems and minneongs, the rhyme form of which was simply reformulated in prose.
  • In the lyric poetry, the medieval tradition can be clearly recognized, as the hymn poetry is particularly popular and the popular folk song is based on the lower love of love. In addition, the master song, i.e. the master song, developed into a widespread lyrical form. Such master songs had biblical and instructive content and were mostly based on an odd number of stanzas. Above all, Hans Sachs, a German poet, mastersinger and playwright, excelled in this discipline: after all, over 4,000 master songs are said to have been composed by him.
  • Humanists studied the knowledge and works of ancient authors. Because of this mindset, the present was largely critical of the present and sometimes very violent literary criticism of the existing situation. The Reformation, whose beginnings are dated to the year 1517, is considered to be an important result of humanism and the literature that was directly influenced by it. In that year the theologian Martin Luther slammed his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg and thus founded a church renewal movement that re-discussed many questions of theology, which led to the division of the Christian community.

Architecture in the Renaissance

As already summarized in the characteristics, in terms of architecture, buildings from antiquity were mainly imitated or elements that were typical of antiquity were taken up and refined. The decisive factor here is that the focus was primarily on Roman architecture and that the structures of ancient Greece faded into the background.

This reflection on Roman antiquity is a logical consequence. In Italy, the cradle of the Renaissance, Roman antiquity was omnipresent. So ruins always reminded of the former culture, whereas the Greek architecture - especially since the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans - was a long way off and its traces are therefore more likely to be felt in science and philosophy.

In addition, Renaissance architecture remains primarily an Italian phenomenon. In Germany and large parts of Europe, it is more the Gothic that determines the architectural style of the epoch. However, Gothic features can also be found in a few Italian buildings, such as the arched windows or individual details of the decoration. However, this is not common.

Buildings predominate which follow a fixed symmetry and are usually organized at right angles or at least based on geometric shapes. A turn to the is also typical "Golden proportions" (cf. golden ratio) of antiquity, which was probably due to the rediscovery of the Ten books on architecture (Original title: "De architectura libri decem") was enormously favored by Vitruvius, a Roman architect and engineer. An important part of Vitruvius's work is the description of different types of columns: the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns.

Characteristic of Renaissance architecture are mainly structured symmetrically and are based on a series of geometric figures and basic shapes, such as square, circular and rectangular shapes in the floor plan and the use of spheres, hemispheres, cuboids, cylinders and cubes in the building volume. The structure that is formed from these shapes appears proportioned and symmetrical and is also equipped with numerous elements that are reminiscent of antiquity, such as columns, pilasters (partial pillars that are incorporated into the wall structure) and capitals (often richly decorated head pieces a column), with triumphal arches and domes as well as domed halls based on Roman architecture.

Picture:Tempietto di Bramante, Photo: Gobbler on wikivoyage-old.org, Editing: Wortwuchs, License: CC BY-SA 3.0, Source

The above example shows the Tempietto di Bramante, the little temple of Bramante, in Rome. This temple is considered a prime example of the architecture of the High Renaissance and combines almost all features of the era. The temple was designed by the architect Donato Bramante, who is also the namesake of the building at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The structure is a circular central structure, which is vaulted by a dome. On the outside, 16 Doric columns support the decorated entablature, with the upper floor receding behind it. This is also typical of the Renaissance, with higher floors appearing indented and thus enthroned on the ground floor. The temple and its decorations are also based on geometric shapes.

Painting in the Renaissance

Painting is hugely influenced by the new worldview of the Renaissance. Here, too, the return to the values ​​and cultural achievements of Roman and Greek antiquity is of great importance. During the Renaissance, artistic painting can be found primarily in churches, with numerous altarpieces and wall paintings being created. In addition, landscape painting, portraiture, and scenes from everyday life and still life developed as popular forms of art.

In the Middle Ages, art was mainly linked to church work. Religious writings and Bibles were illustrated and, of course, churches and chapels were furnished with all kinds of works of art, primarily altars, church windows and statues being artistically designed. Often it was monks who created these works of art, and knowledge about painting, sculpture and the architecture of that time was gathered in the monasteries and their libraries.

The artists themselves were not perceived as artists, but as craftsmen who created art in honor of God or as a memory of a saint. Thus, works were rarely given the name of the artist. At most there were indications as to who had donated, i.e. paid for, the work.

In the renaissance This conception and the image of art changed fundamentally. Because of the rapid scientific advances and the rediscovery of ancient writings and achievements, the image of man changed. Above all, through Galileo Galileo's realization that it was not the earth but the sun that was the center of the universe, the perception of the human image shifted, whereby Christian beliefs were questioned for the first time.

The world became more understandable and at the same time it appeared controllable, which is why man no longer seemed at the mercy of creation or the divine, but was able to understand life and the world around him and was partly in his hand. From this the motto developed that man is the measure of all things, which means that man was the focus of all considerations and also became an important subject of art.

In terms of art questions are discussed for the first time that ask whether something is beautiful and how what can be represented even more beautifully and ideally. Scientific knowledge is transferred to art itself: it is about correct proportions to find and create balanced images. In this context, art changes from a craft to something that can present beautiful things that no longer have to be tied to a church framework. The focus is also on the artist himself: it becomes important who created a work of art, which is why from now on, signatures can usually be made out on the works of art.

Picture:Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci - Human proportions are determined with geometric shapes.

Humanism is regarded as the formative spiritual movement, who called for an educational reform that should drive the intellectual abilities of mankind to full development. This education and the worldview of the humanists also included a high esteem for aesthetics. Aesthetics is the perceptible beauty that follows certain regularities and a harmonious design in nature and art. This changed the people who commissioned such works of art.

Now not only did the church have an artistic need, but suddenly also supporters of these humanistic ideas. But also the bourgeoisie in the Italian cities, which had come to prosperity through the flourishing trade, had an interest in being represented in a representative and artistic way and in embellishing their houses with works of art. Very different contents were preferred here: are still often church motifs chosen, with topics of the ancient mythology become popular. This showed on the one hand a return to the ideas of antiquity, but on the other hand also referred to one's own cosmopolitanism as well as education and the inclination to humanistic ideals.

Yet: the presentation of such motifs changed fundamentally. Because even if religious content was still presented, it was to a certain extent humanized. In the Middle Ages, the figures in religious images were often illuminated and depicted on an unclear, light or golden background, but now in the Renaissance they were found in a secular environment or in real landscapes and rooms, with the sitters depicted in everyday clothing.

Picture:School of Athens of the painter Raffael - shows the greats from philosophy and science

The example picture above is a fresco - so a mural - by the painter Raffael and was created between 1510 and 1511. It shows the most important representatives of philosophy between antiquity and renaissance, with Plato and Aristotle in the center. The picture combines numerous features of Renaissance painting. So on the one hand people are represented and not saints, whereby it glorifies the importance of philosophy and science. In addition, it shows the sitters in a real room and in everyday clothing. Furthermore, it clarifies the characteristics of the architecture and relies on a very special perspective: the so-called Central perspective.

Perspective and Composition in Painting

A major innovation in Renaissance painting is the central perspective. The artists of the Renaissance tried to depict their environment realistically and lifelike. As a result, it was important that a two-dimensional canvas gained depth and thus appeared three-dimensional. On the one hand, very simple tricks were used for this: Objects that were in front covered objects in the background; Things that were in the distance became blurred; Things that are further back become smaller in the representation. The central perspective, also known as the escape perspective, was essential here.

The example picture above illustrates the basic principle of the central perspective. Basically, the point is that the edges of an object do not run parallel to one another, but rather run towards an imaginary vanishing point, with the edges facing the viewer appearing parallel to one another. This vanishing point was on the horizon, which ideally was at eye level with the viewer. In this way, spatial depth could be created on two-dimensional images.

In the Renaissance, objects were often depicted repeatedly in order to create spatial depth. Here, for example, arches or columns seemingly ran into the distance, oriented themselves to the lines that ran towards the vanishing point and became steadily smaller in the process. This gave the works of art of the Renaissance an unusual depth. This can also be seen in the previous example:

But also in relation to the composition of images special features in painting can be identified. The composition means the structure of a picture and thus the way in which what is depicted is arranged in a picture. Above all, geometric shapes are essential for the Renaissance. If such a composition is balanced, the respective picture appears harmonious.

In the Renaissance, it is mainly forms that are known to us from mathematics: mostly the pictures follow a symmetry (see example above) or are based on a triangular shape, a circle or semicircle (see arches in the picture above). The stated goal of the Renaissance artists is that the composition appears balanced and thus represents an idealized world.

Portrait painting in the Renaissance

As already described, In addition to religious motifs, the everyday has recently been worth depicting and, moreover, the human being has become the focus of consideration. This resulted in numerous attempts to depict human proportions correctly, and there were also an increasing number of commissioned works from the bourgeoisie who demanded representative portraits.

As a result, numerous portraits were created in this epoch that showed individual people. The decisive factor here is that such a representation - which did not show saints, nobles or church dignitaries - was actually quite new. A portrait provided information about the social status, illustrated the individual character traits and showed this person in a representative environment (Power, wealth, class, profession, etc.). The declared aim was a work in which the whole essence of what was depicted was visible. Painters like Antonello da Messina, Piero della Francesca, Pisanello, Perugino or Botticelli trained this art to perfection. A popular example is that Mona Lisa:

title (Artist):Mona Lisa (da Vinci), Annunciata di Palermo (Antonello da Messina), Francesco Venier (Titian), Self portrait (Raffael)

Literature in Renaissance and Humanism

The main characteristic of Renaissance literature is humanism. It is this spiritual current that has had a lasting influence on numerous works and poets. So when one speaks of the literature of the Renaissance, one usually means all works that were created in the course of humanism. This can be proven as early as the 14th century, but only spread over most of Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries and was primarily seen as a literary educational movement based on ancient models.

The central request was the education of the human being. The maintenance of linguistic expression was important, which is why linguistics and literary studies were given a central role, with error-free expression - spoken and written - was declared a goal in Latin. However, it is difficult to give a detailed picture of the literature of this time, as there were numerous different forms, which originated in Italy but were interpreted in different ways across Europe.

What matters is time However, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, with the first printing house in Strasbourg in 1458. Since books could now be reproduced at an enormous speed, this naturally contributed to the rapid spread of literary works that no longer had to be copied by hand. Book printing almost triggered a media revolution in Europe, made books mass articles and is considered an important key element. In addition, the increasing literacy of the people contributed to the spread of literature.

While the nobility and clergy mainly translated ancient works, scholars throughout Europe devoted themselves primarily to the writing of writings that took up humanistic ideas and presented them in the form of doctrines. In literary terms, however, many areas were linked to the Middle Ages, even if the range of topics was definitely about materials (e.g. ancient mythology) was expanded.

Renaissance epic

In the epic the focus on people comes to the fore. Folk books dominate here. The term refers to old stories, folk sagas, fairy-tale legends, romantic adventures and all kinds of taunts. The stories about the fool are particularly well known Till Eulenspiegel. The origins of these works in prose are often materials from knight poems and minne songs, the rhymes of which have been reformulated in prose. Also widespread were taunts, adventure novels, hero novels and knight novels (see novel) and also writings that can be classified as fools' literature and short stories, such as fables or arguments.

In addition, there is an increasing criticism of the church in the Renaissance epic. Since the image of the church was increasingly called into question due to numerous findings in science, this is only a logical consequence of the time. As an example, the Darkman letters - a series of forged Latin letters from 1515, distributed with satirical intent.

Renaissance lyric poetry

In lyric the Middle Ages sounds most clearly. The folk song was very popular, but its basic features are reminiscent of the low love of the Middle Ages. In addition, numerous hymns were created, with Martin Luther in particular, who wrote dozens of hymns in German and thus enabled numerous people to access and actively participate in the worship service.

In addition, the master song, i.e. the master song, developed into a widespread lyrical form. Such master songs had biblical and instructive content and were mostly based on an odd number of stanzas. Above all, Hans Sachs, a German poet and mastersinger as well as a playwright, excelled in this discipline: after all, over 4,000 master songs are said to have been composed by him, which is quite remarkable. In France, the Alexandrians developed in the course of the Renaissance, which was later developed by Martin Opitz- namely in the baroque - is declared to be the essential meter of German poetry, but remains subordinate in the Renaissance.

Drama in the Renaissance

In the drama in turn, the greatest influences of the new era can be felt. The humanistic dramatist reflected on ancient forms and placed the freedom of the individual in the foreground. This human stood out from the animal kingdom because of his reason. The actions of the individual as well as the fate of individual people are shown at the forefront. Here one can clearly see psychological approaches: for example, human freedom could always turn negative and suddenly appear threatening, with one's own actions leading to paralysis and psychological aspects increasingly playing a role.

The basic humanistic idea - namely human education - we find above all in the carnival game. This wanted to teach people and packed mostly serious topics into a comedic, sometimes almost silly, plot. It is essential here that the carnival game developed independently of the return to antiquity and corresponded to a series of individual speeches. In this genre, too, Hans Sachs is an important representative.

Representatives and works (literature)

  • Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
    • Divina Commedia (German: Divine Comedy, 1321)
  • Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)
    • Il Filocolo (Roman, 1336–1339)
    • Il Corbaccio (satire, 1354)
  • Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522)
    • Dark Men Letters (1515)
  • Sebastian Brant (1457-1521)
  • Hermann messenger (1460-1520)
    • Thyl Ulenspiegel (Till Eulenspiegel, 1510/11) - Hermann Bote
  • Erasmus from Rotterdam (1469-1536)
    • The Praise of Folly (1511)
  • Martin Luther (1483-1546)
    • To the Christian nobility of the German nation (1520)
    • New Testament (translation into German, 1522)
  • Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523)
  • Hans Sachs (1494-1576)
    • Lucretia (1527)
    • The breeding of calves (1551)
  • Jörg Wickram (1505-1562)
  • Johann Fischart (1546/47-1590)
  • William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

  • Adespota (anonymous writings)
    • Historia by D. Johann Fausten (1587)
    • The Schilt Citizens (1598)