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Evolution of the Renaissance
| Seeds of the Renaissance |
After the fall of Rome (467 AD), Europe was split into many small states with feudal lords engaged in constant warfare with each other over minute lands and property. The common people rallied to their lords in cities and the surrounding countryside for protection. Many of them were serfs, bound to the land on which they work and unable to leave through generations.
The Byzantine Empire dominated the East with its capital Constantinople (present day Istanbul) as the new Rome and the centre for learning and education. The Carolingian Empire, established by Charlemagne, dominated Europe for a while and established what was later known as the Holy Roman Empire. It was broken up by internal strife and Viking raids, which stopped after the peace was settled and the Vikings were Christianized.
Spain was under the influence of the Muslims and began the Reconquista in 718 against the Muslims in hopes of regaining all of the Iberian Peninsula. They reestablished dioceses and monasteries, retying the Peninsula to Christian Europe and the Papacy.
Through the forged document, the Donation of Constantine, the Pope, who had ecclesiastical power over almost all of Europe, was head of a growing and powerful temporal state. Pope Stephen II obtained from the lands that the Lombards had taken King Pepin from the Byzantine Empire, establishing what was later known as the Papal States. In 1054, the Church was split in the East-West Schism between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Long-distance trade, the Commercial Revolution, and the Crusades brought Europe into its most revolutionary era. The Crusades especially marked the European connection with the Eastern World. They were armed pilgrimages intended to take Jerusalem out of Muslim domination. By the end of the middle ages, lands in Spain, Portugal and Southern Italy were recaptured by the Christian world. The crusades also marked an exchange of ideas and products between East and West.
In the 14th century, the Papacy moved to Avignon under what was
known as the Babylonian Captivity and also the Western Schism that lasted until 1418. This schism was not based on theoretical difficulties but purely political and undermined the power of the papacy.
The Black Death
The Bubonic Plague, or the Black Death, originated from China in 1347. It was transported by fleas on the hides of black rats on a trading ship in the Italian port of Messina. Rumours of the fearful disease had already spread to Europe in 1346 and the disease itself had already travelled to the Crimea where Italian merchants had many trading ports.
In Messina, people realized that the disease was spread from those sailors at the docks and quickly closed their ports, turning the dead and dying out and thereby spreading the disease throughout Europe.
People panicked, many moving out from the infested cities out into the agriculture. People closed city walls, the sick travelled from place to place looking for refuge, spreading the disease along the way. Those who didn't have the disease felt already doomed and succumbed themselves to a life of debauchery while others sought protection from a life of moderation. Pistoia was the first city to enact quarantine measures and such a practise was adopted by many surrounding cities in Italy. This was the first time that people realized the quarantine of an area was effective in stopping the spread of a disease. However, many of these regulations failed.
It was said that half the population of Florence died from the plague while in Venice, 600 died each day. Siena shut down all operations, including wool production and construction on their cathedral. The wool industry never recovered in Italy. Clergymen even ceased to administer last rites.
The plague stumped the doctors of the Medieval world. Surgeons depended on incomplete ancient texts and were forbidden from dissection, especially after the bull published by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. Many had theories for the cause of the plague, for example, earthquakes that released poisonous fumes, severe changes to the Earth's temperature, the Jews brought them to the Christian world, a conjunction of the planets, even "lust with old women" but most of the Christian world believed that it was God's wrath at man. To deal with these theories, people inhaled latrine odours and held nosegays, they prayed and observed religious practices, flew into the mountains and killed foreigners and animals. There was widespread hedonism and pessimism as international trade ground to a halt.
Europe experienced a devastation psychic breakdown, in which rage, terror, remorse, selfishness, hysteria and powerlessness was experienced by all. A third of the total population was killed by the disease, as estimated by Pope Clement's agents in 1351.
The Catholic Church tried to calm the people, urging them to pray and God will save the virtuous while the vices would die. Many people turned to religion as consolation and began religious fanaticism, but at the same time, people were disillusioned by the false promises of the Church. They began to question the Church and its teachings, become more materialistic and shirking the Christian morals they were all embedded with. As they felt that they were doomed, they began to enjoy their short time in life, paving the way for a more secular lifestyle. The Church was also denounced as corrupt as people began to doubt the power of the Church.
Although religiosity increased, people began to doubt the power of the Church itself. There was political and religious unrest throughout Europe. Later on, this manifested itself in the Reformation and the rise of Martin Luther and Protestantism.
Despite the ramifications of the plague, some good had come out of the whole change in European society. Medicine began to change, with new ideas and new research arriving at the old medical institutions as old doctors died out from the plague. Ordinary people began reading medical guides and started to take care of their own health. More texts began to appear in the vernacular instead of Latin.
Less people also meant higher wages and an improved living condition overall for the people that did not die from plague. More people now had the disposable income to buy luxury goods. This affected the nature of business and trade. Agricultural prices dropped rapidly with the demand declining due to deaths, causing panic in the aristocracy as their primary income was derived from land.The entire feudal system, under stress for years, was finally torn apart by the plague. The urban bourgeoisie had gained power over the aristocracy, resulting in the Popolo revolutions of the 14th century.
Once the fear of death died down, the subsequent thought was the terror of God and art manifested itself in horrific ways with skeletons looming, rotting corpses, open graves, worm eaten bodies. People began to feel a curiosity about how the world worked, mixed in with a terror. This eventually led to the philosophies of the Renaissance and began the seed for the Scientific Revolution. As a result of numerous crusades and Ottoman invasions, Italy was beginning to be influenced by ideas and trades of the East.
Florence and the Proto-Renaissance
The various writers, Boccaccio, Dante and Petrarch were all fans of the Italian vernacular. In that time, Italy was not a state itself and its people were loyal to the smaller states that made up the peninsula. District dialects were prominent and a person from Naples would probably not understand the tongue of a Milanese. However, when the three great Florentine writers wrote in their Florentine vernacular, it spread rapidly so that Florence was the first to spread and create a rather weak uniformity of the Italian language that later manifested itself in high brow culture of the mid- 16th century.
The artistic achievements of Florence were recognized and spread by regional lords paying hommage to the republican city for their artists and demand for their works of art. Renaissance lords eventually became the culture makers of Europe, dictating the tastes of the princely courts.
Although Florence had never been in a geographically strong area, having no access to the ocean until the 15th century when Pisa was finally accorded to the Florentine Republic, all of Europe depended on Florentine wool which was made from English sheep and refined in Florence to be exported back to Europe. Florence used its riches to establish the banking houses of which the most famous is the Medici. They made many developments to banking, including the double ledger system still used today. Using the banks the Florentines created a uniform currency accepted in large quantities in Europe, the Florentine Florin, which later on began to be coined solely by the Medici bank. After the Medici monopolized Papal Banking, they made legendary sums of money, enabling them to beautify their city in return.
The Republican system in Florence called for competition amongst the members of the city. This competition often manifested itself in aristic achievement and patronage. The old nobility was pushed to the side, not allowed to take great offices in the republic, making room for the merchants and bankers. They created jurisdiction to better their trade, further enriching themselves. To win over public opinion, the leaders of the state, a tight wound oligarichy, used art and architecture. The Duomo, designed by Brunelleschi, was funded by Cosimo for such a design and was the biggest dome in Europe until St Peter's Basilica was redesigned by Michelangelo (another Florenine), almost a century later. Over 90% of the artists in Europe were active in Florence at that time and only the best were employed by the Medici.
These developments enriched Florence and spread its culture and Tuscan language across Italy. For these reasons it is said that the Early Italian Renaissance (1400-1470) was the "Florentine Renaissance," continued through the end of the 15th century by Lorenzo "the Magnificent" de Medici, known as the High Renaissance. The High Renaissance phase took place mostly in Rome under Popoe Julius II and the Medici popes, Leo X and Clement VII. The Venetian School also achieved a high point in the Renaissance as a whole, marked by the works of Durer (German), Bartolomeo Veneto, Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, and Tintoretto.