The Rise of the Renaissance part one.
An inexorable tide of change and innovation, the Renaissance was not a movement that happened overnight, rather it was a process of transformation, perspective and enlightenment that unfolded throughout the 14th to the 17th centuries and which had a profound effect upon just about every aspect of European life. Arguably the most significant changes were  seen in science, maths, politics, philosophy, music, religion, architecture and literature. After the formality and closed-in social rigidity of previous epochs the Renaissance created an interchange of ideas that led people to question and challenge long held beliefs and doctrines and to examine the world and their place in it in a new way. Many historians agree that the Renaissance was the revolutionary bridge between the Middle Ages and modern European civilisation.
The Renaissance is considered to have begun during the latter part of the 14th century in the diverse states of the Italian peninsula and was perceived primarily as an expansion of interest in the philosophies and art of ancient Greece and Rome. Florence, in particular, was a state with a rich cultural history where many of its elite families could afford to patronise promising artists. Members of the powerful Medici family, which ruled Florence (in all but name) for more than six decades, were renowned patrons of the arts and took a keen interest in the neoteric ideas that were gaining popularity and momentum.
From Florence these ideas spread to Bologna, Ferrara, Venice, Milan and Rome all the while gathering energy until eventually, during the 15th century, the Renaissance movement swept through France and western and northern Europe effecting profound change in what became known as the Northern Renaissance.
The advent of the Renaissance following what we now know as the Middle Ages had its roots in several origins, not least of which was the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks, which led to large volumes of people seeking refuge in the Italian city states, and with them they brought new and enticing ideas that continued to fuel the Renaissance fire.  Though the fall of Constantinople continued a process that had already started, it was during the 14th century humanism began to gain support and importance in Italy, a society that was very rigid socially, religiously, and politically. Among its many ideologies, humanism promoted the principle that man was the nucleus of his own universe, and society should embrace achievements in education and ancient knowledge through the study of ancient Greek and Roman texts and thus, through these, introduce a worldview that was based on reason and logic rather than organised religion. 
Renaissance humanists such as Petrarch and Erasmus taught that by studying the ‘studia humanitatis’ or simply "humanities" as they are known today, such as poetry, rhetoric, moral philosophy, world history and grammar, the citizenry would be able to speak and write with fluency and precision and thus be more capable and better prepared for becoming useful members of society. In a feudal society this was an immense challenge to the status quo. 
With the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1450 humanist ideas were able to reach a much wider audience and previously little-known texts from humanist authors such as Giovanni Boccaccio and Francesco Petrarch, were able to be read and discussed by the literati for the very first time. For the first time, too, the Bible was more easily accessible and people began to question the ways in which its teachings were promulgated by the Catholic church. Less than a century later Martin Luther’s `Protestatio’ dramatically changed the course of history. 
Prior to the start of the Renaissance there was an increase in the interaction between different cultures and societies via trade routes across Europe, Africa and Asia allowing for an exchange of beliefs, values and ideas as well as goods. The most famous of these was the Silk Road with a span of over 4,000 miles. The Silk Road and other trading routes essentially trafficked food and exotic goods but they also connected major centres of learning and knowledge, thus diversifying wisdom in the field of medicine, astronomy and mathematics as well as in the arts and philosophy. With a sound knowledge of seafaring some Europeans, in a search for new land and riches, undertook long, arduous and often very dangerous voyages. In a period known as the Age of Discovery the world as it was known began to expand. New shipping routes to the Americas, the Far East and India were discovered and coastlines mapped. Exotic animals, birds and plants were discovered and many were brought back to grace the gardens and courts of the European elite. The age of empires had also begun.
For many people today the Renaissance was largely about artists and their famous works rather than an actual, all-encompassing age of enlightenment.  Art in the Middle Ages prior to the Renaissance was much more formal, focused on religious themes and displayed humans and their world in a very rigid, stylised way much like Egyptian art prior to the Amarna period. During the Renaissance and influenced by the wave of humanism and the focus on classical learning that was becoming popular, European artists painted, drew and sculpted in a way that focused more on the realities of everyday life and real people. Renaissance artists pioneered new techniques and skills that allowed them to create real perspective and depth using angled lines and shadowing and sculpted the human form in an unashamedly natural way. 
The boundaries between science, art and architecture diminished during the Renaissance, too. In fact, it was a time when these fields of study, freed to an extent from the hitherto restrictions of religion, complemented each other leading to great works of art and beautiful architecture and major shifts in understanding. The notion of sacred geometry was rediscovered and applied fervently and especially throughout cities such as Florence where many beautiful examples survive to this day.
The final contribution to the Renaissance was the impact of the Black Death or bubonic plague, one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. During the 14th century it is believed that approximately 30% 50% of the entire population of Europe died from it in only four years (an estimated 25,000,000 dead). Because there was no cure for the dreadful disease the general belief prior to the Renaissance was that the pestilence had been sent by God to punish people for their sins. However, some people also began to question long held religious views which ultimately led to humanism and more liberal attitudes gaining sway. 
The effect of the Black Death on Europe was catastrophic with a mass migration of people away from heavily infected regions. Furthermore, with whole towns and villages being decimated there were massive changes in the population and wealth of the people leading to a breakdown of the feudal system in some areas. In Italy, in areas less affected by the plague several city-states rose to dominance and it is here that the Renaissance first began.  
Ultimately, the Renaissance was born out of the re-discovery of ancient Greek and Roman texts and their impact on learning, the emergence of humanism and the ways in which it encouraged a more realistic and less stylised approach to daily life, an increase in the diversity of trading partners, technological innovations and the impact of the Black Death. The time was ripe for change and the Renaissance gave birth to an era of dazzling cultural, economic and political growth throughout the European world. 


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