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The Start of the Renaissnace

written by: Bruno Kos • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 8/2/2012

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Lorenzo de' Medici and Sandro Botticelli all lived during the Renaissance. Several masterpieces (Mona Lisa, Pieta, David) were created during this time period as well. But when did the Renaissance start? Find the answer by reading this article.

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    Rebirth, Renewal, Renaissance

    During the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European intellectual life encountered major changes. These changes occurred in almost every aspect of intellectualism, such as technology, art, music, astronomy, philosophy and other areas. The era when all these changes took place is referred to as “the Renaissance," due to the fact that intellectual life experienced a rebirth of many of its values, concepts and ideas. It is interesting to note that although the term “'Renaissance" was not used until the nineteenth century, Italian contemporaries used the term “Rinascita" (rebirth), and were very proud of their role in this cultural renewal. The complete scope of “the Renaissance" is still a matter of debate: when it began, its significance, dating and scope. This article will try to answer the question, "When did the renaissance start?"

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    Beginnings of Renaissance Art

    Many scholars maintain that fine arts hold the honor for key developments of the Renaissance. For example, the Renaissance movement is associated with Giotto di Bondone, whose many frescoes display realism, light and color. Realism, which was very important in the Renaissance, occurred in sculpture as well: Donatello can be considered as the first sculptor to implement “Renaissance realism" into his work. Within the study of architecture, the names of Giotto and Brunelleschi are associated with the beginnings of the Renaissance. The first is known for the Florence Cathedral's campanile, and the latter for his classically inspired dome. Regarding painting, some of the most famous paintings come from this period, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Michelangelo, who is considered one the greatest artists of all time, painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512, and he created the Pieta and David as well, two masterpieces of sculpture.

    If the above examples (and the contemporary visual arts in their whole scope as well) are considered as defining features of the Renaissance, then the early fourteenth century should be considered as the beginning of this movement.

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    Further Extension of the Renaissance period

    The works of Dante Alighieri (who lived from 1265 until 1321) were taken as an inspiration for many writers that came afterward. Many writers were echoing his pieces of literature and, therefore, many scholars consider him as the first writer of the Italian Renaissance. On the other hand, there are debates as to whether William Shakespeare belongs to the late Renaissance. If he (alongside his contemporaries) do belong, the Renaissance movement would extend further.

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    Physics and Astronomy

    Modern physics and astronomy have their roots in the late fifteenth century. The main proponent of those new sciences in that time was Nicolaus Copernicus, who was the first person to claim that the Earth was not in the middle of Universe. It was he who was responsible for creating the heliocentric cosmology.

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    It is still debatable among many scholars whether the invention of printing with movable type was the most important event that set the Renaissance apart from earlier intellectual movements (despite the Renaissance rebirth regarding art, science and literature). As a result of new printing technology, books were printed all across Europe, especially in Italy, England, France and Germany. For example, Aldus Manutius established Aldine Press Company in Venice in 1490 and, as a result, Venice, Milan and Rome saw thousands of printed titles before the end of that decade.

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    Final Thoughts on the Renaissance

    The Renaissance itself was definitely a unique movement, from whence some of the greatest minds of all time emerged. Further, several masterpieces were created during the Renaissance, as mentioned above. When deciding when the Renaissance actually started, the answer depends on whose works are included.

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    Jocelyn Hunt: The Renaissance, Routledge, 1999.

    Paul Johnson: The Renaissance: A Short History, Paw Prints, 2008

    Andrew Graham-Dixon: Renaissance, University of California Press, 1999