Chapter 7. Changing Cultural Traditions

Revival of Italian Cities
• After fall of western Roman Empire, many of towns that had been political and cultural centres in Italy fell into ruin.
• While western Europe was being reshaped by feudal bonds and unified under Latin Church, eastern Europe under Byzantine Empire, and Islam was creating a common civilisation further west, Italy was weak and fragmented.
• One of most vibrant cities was Venice, another was Genoa. They were different from other parts of Europe – clergy were not politically dominant here, nor were there powerful feudal lords.

Universities and Humanism
• earliest universities in Europe had been set up in Italian towns.
• Commerce being chief activity in city, there was an increasing demand for lawyers and notaries [a combination of solicitor and record-keeper] to write and interpret rules and written agreements without which trade on a large scale was not possible.
• To Francesco Petrarch, antiquity was a distinctive civilisation that could be best understood through actual words of ancient Greeks and Romans.
• This educational programme implied that there was much to be learnt that religious teaching alone could not give. It was culture that historians in 19th century were to label humanism.
• Till end of 13th century, this city had not made a mark as a centre of trade or learning, but things changed dramatically in 15th century.
• A city is known for its great people as well as its wealth. Dante Alighieri [1265–1321], a layman who wrote about religious topics, and Giotto [1267–1337], an artist who painted portraits that looked like real people, set Florence apart from other cities.
• term Renaissance Man is often used to describe a person with many interests and skills, because many of individuals who became well known at this time were people of many parts.

Humanist View of History
• Humanists thought that they were restoring ‘true civilisation’ after centuries of darkness, for they believed that a ‘dark age’ had set in after collapse of Roman Empire.
• term Middle Ages/Medieval Period was used for millennium [thousand years] after fall of Rome.
• humanists used word modern for period from 15th century.
• With more research being done and more being found out about Europe in this period, scholars are increasingly reluctant to make sharp divisions between centuries in terms of being culturally vibrant or otherwise.

Science and Philosophy: Arabs’ Contribution
• Much of writings of Greeks and Romans had been familiar to monks and clergymen through ‘Middle Ages’, but they had not made these widely known.
• In 14th century, many scholars began to read translated works of Greek writers like Plato and Aristotle.
• While some European scholars read Greek in Arabic translation, Greeks translated works of Arabic and Persian scholars for further transmission to other Europeans.
• Among Muslim writers who were regarded as men of wisdom in Italian world were Ibn Sina [‘Avicenna’ in Latin, 980–1037], an Arab physician and philosopher of Bukhara in Central Asia, and al-Razi [‘Rhazes’], author of a medical encyclopaedia.
• Ibn Rushd [‘Averroes’ in Latin, 1126–98], an Arab philosopher of Spain, tried to resolve tension between philosophical knowledge [faylasuf] and religious beliefs. His method was adopted by Christian thinkers.

• city of Rome was revived spectacularly in 15th century. From 1417, popes were politically stronger because weakness caused by election of two rival popes in 1378 had ended.
• Popes, wealthy merchants and aristocrats employed architects who were familiar with classical architecture.
• Artists and sculptors were to decorate buildings with paintings, sculptures and reliefs.
• most impressive example is Michelangelo Buonarroti [1475–1564] – immortalised by ceiling he painted for Pope in Sistine Chapel, sculpture known as ‘Pietaand his design of dome of St Peter’s Church, all in Rome.
• Filippo Brunelleschi [1337–1446], architect who designed spectacular Duomo of Florence, had started his career as a sculptor.

Artists and Realism
• Formal education was not only way through which humanists shaped minds of their age.
• Art, architecture and books were wonderfully effective in transmitting humanist ideas.
• material remains of Roman culture were sought with as much excitement as ancient texts: a thousand years after fall of Rome, fragments of art were discovered in ruins of ancient Rome and other deserted cities.
• In 1416, Donatello [1386–1466] broke new ground with his lifelike statues.
• Andreas Vesalius [1514–64], a Belgian & a professor of medicine at University of Padua, was first to dissect human body. It was beginning of modern physiology.
• use of oil as a medium for painting gave a greater richness of colour to paintings than before. In colours and designs of costumes in many paintings, there is evidence of influence of Chinese and Persian art, made available to them by Mongols.

First Printed Books
• If people in other countries wanted to see paintings, sculptures or buildings of great artists, they had to travel to Italy.
• In 1455, 150 copies of Bible were printed in workshop of Johannes Gutenberg [1400–1458], German who made first printing press.
• By 1500, many classical texts, nearly all in Latin, had been printed in Italy. As printed books became available, it was possible to buy them, and students did not have to depend solely on lecture notes.
• A printed book promoting new ideas could quickly reach hundreds of readers.
• chief reason that humanist culture of Italy spread more rapidly across Alps from end of 15th century is that printed books were circulating.

A New Concept of Human Beings
• One of features of humanist culture was a slackening of control of religion over human life. Italians were strongly attracted to material wealth, power & glory, but they were not necessarily irreligious.
• In ‘On Pleasure’, Lorenzo Valla [1406–1457], who believed that study of history leads man to strive for a life of perfection, criticised Christian injunction against pleasure.
• Humanism implied that individuals were capable of shaping their own lives through means other than mere pursuit of power and money.

Aspirations of Women
• Men from aristocratic families dominated public life and were decision-makers in their families.
• Although their dowries were invested in family businesses, women usually had no say in how their husbands should run their businesses.
• If an adequate dowry could not be arranged, daughters were sent to convents to live life of a nun.
• position of women in families of merchants, however, was somewhat different.
• A few women were intellectually very creative and sensitive about importance of humanist education.
• Fedele’s writings show how important education was to people at that time. She was one of many Venetian women writers who said that republic’s definition of freedom was too narrow and that it put men’s wants ahead of women’s.
• Another remarkable woman was ‘Marchesa of Mantua, Isabella d’Este’ [1474–1539]. She ruled state while her husband was absent, and court of Mantua, a small state, was famed for its intellectual brilliance.

Debates within Christianity
• Trade and travel, military conquest and diplomatic contacts linked Italian towns and courts with world beyond.
• new culture was admired and imitated by educated and wealthy.
• In fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, many scholars in universities in northern Europe were attracted to humanist ideas.
• Christian humanists like Thomas More [1478–1535] in England and Erasmus [1466–1536] in Holland felt that Church had become an institution marked by greed, extorting money at will from ordinary people.
• One of favourite methods of clergy was to sell ‘indulgences’, documents that freed buyer from burden of sins he had committed.
• Christians came to realise from printed translations of Bible in local languages that their religion did not permit such practices.
• In almost every part of Europe, peasants began to rebel against taxes imposed by Church. While common folk resented extortions of churchmen, princes found their interference in work of state irritating.
• In 1517, a young German monk known as Martin Luther [1483–1546] launched a campaign against Catholic Church and argued that a person did not need priests to establish contact with God.
• In Switzerland, Luther’s ideas were popularised by Ulrich Zwingli [1484–1531] and later by Jean Calvin [1509–64].
• Other German reformers, like Anabaptists, were even more radical. They blended idea of salvation with end of all forms of social oppression.
• Luther did not support radicalism. He known as upon German rulers to suppress peasants’ rebellion, which they did in 1525.
• Catholic Church itself did not escape impact of these ideas and began to reform itself from within. In Spain and Italy, churchmen emphasised need for a simple life and service to poor.
• In Spain, Ignatius Loyola, in an attempt to combat Protestantism, set up Society of Jesus in 1540.

Copernican Revolution
• Christian notion of man as a sinner was questioned from an entirely different angle – by scientists.
• Christians had believed that earth was a sinful place and heavy burden of sin made it immobile. earth stood at centre of universe around which moved celestial planets.
• A devout Christian, Copernicus was afraid of possible reaction to his theory by traditionalist clergymen.
• theory of earth as part of a sun-centred system was made popular by Kepler’s Cosmographical Mystery, which demonstrated that planets move around sun, not in circles but ellipses.
• Galileo confirmed notion of dynamic world in his work ‘Motion’.

Reading Universe
• Galileo once remarked that Bible that lights road to heaven does not say much about how heavens work.
• Consequently, in minds of sceptics and nonbelievers, God began to be replaced by Nature as source of creation. Even those who retained their faith in God started talking about a distant God who does not directly regulate act of living in material world.
• Paris Academy, established in 1670 and Royal Society in London for promotion of natural knowledge, was formed in 1662, held lectures and conducted experiments for public viewing.

Was there a European ‘Renaissance’ in Fourteenth Century?
• Recent writers, like Peter Burke of England, have suggested that Burckhardt was exaggerating sharp difference between this period and one that preceded it, by using term Renaissance, which implies that Greek and Roman civilisations were reborn at this time and that scholars and artists of this period substituted pre-Christian world-view for Christian one.
• To contrast Renaissance as a period of dynamism and artistic creativity, and Middle Ages as a period of gloom and lack of development is an oversimplification.
• Many elements associated with Renaissance in Italy can be traced back to twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
• cultural changes in Europe at this time were not shaped only by ‘classical’ civilisation of Rome and Greece.
• archaeological and literary recovery of Roman culture did create a great admiration for that civilisation.
• expansion of Islam and Mongol conquests had linked Asia and North Africa with Europe, not politically but in terms of trade and learning skills.
• Europeans learned not just from Greeks and Romans, but from India, Arabia, Iran, Central Asia and China.
• individual had a private as well as a public role. He was not simply a member of one of ‘three orders’; he was a person in his own right.
• In 18th century, this sense of individual would be expressed in a political forum, in belief that all individuals had equal political rights.
• Another development was that different regions of Europe started to have their separate sense of identity, based on language.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *