Lessons from the Past: The Italian Renaissance

Arsh Tikku

July 07, 2023

Imagine a world shrouded in darkness and chaos, plagued by death and suffering, but out of nowhere, a light emerges, a light of transformation and rebirth, the light of the Renaissance. This period of innovation started in Italy when the fields of art, science, and philosophy flourished. The Renaissance was a progressive period throughout Western Europe that yielded a plethora of achievements through its advancements in art, science, and philosophy which have come to influence the modern world in countless ways.

The Renaissance emerged as a transformative period in Italy. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, a Dark Age reigned over Europe. It was an epoch full of decline, barbarism, and pestilence. This abominable era carried on until the 14th century when a rediscovery of classic knowledge sparked an era of curiosity and critical thinking in Western Europe, known as the Renaissance. The Renaissance was set during the 14th -17th century and was a renewed period of art, science, and philosophy. Thus the name “Renaissance” translates to“rebirth” in French, and rebirth is precisely what it was. It was the rebirth of Western Europe from a dark age to an era of flourishing that lasted centuries.

The Renaissance has had a large influence on art until the modern day, and it stands as the birthplace of several world-famous artists and iconic masterpieces. One of the most famous people not only from the Renaissance but from all of world history, is Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was a true polymath, he painted the legendary “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper”, and designed flying machines, which created the foundation for aviation in the modern world. Michelangelo is another major figure in history. He sculpted the iconic statue of David, as well as La Pieta, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and had a crucial role in designing, as well as constructing, Saint Peter's Basilica. These masterpieces stand the test of time and continue to fascinate generation after generation, and have shown to have a lasting impact in Europe and throughout the world.

Along with art, the Renaissance had a tremendous scientific impact on Western Europe. For example, Galileo Galilei, known by the West as “the father of modern science” constructed improvements to the telescope, allowing him to learn more about the solar system than ever before, Galileo also formulated the laws of inertia. Which are still used to this day to navigate space travel and create automobiles. Johannes Kepler is another key scientist of the Renaissance. Kepler discovered the three laws of planetary motion, which provided him with the mathematical framework to understand the movement of celestial bodies. Kepler’s discoveries have gone on to serve as the foundation for modern knowledge of outer space and space exploration. These achievements of the Renaissance continue to show how essential they are for the foundation of numerous scientific discoveries and achievements in the Western world.

In addition to art and science, the Renaissance has shown to be an extremely influential period for philosophy. Particularly in the context of Humanism, which places value on the potential of human beings. It believes that society can better itself through education, and motivates people to think freely for themselves, apply the knowledge they learn, care for others, and to value their dignity. An Italian scholar named Francesco Petrarca played a vital role in the development of Humanism; he is widely recognized as the Father of Humanism. Petrarch drew inspiration from the works of famous Roman philosophers, Cicero and Virgil, and he believed that the pursuit of classical knowledge leads to the betterment of society. Petrarch urged individuals to develop their talents, pursue education and strive for personal improvement. In his collection of sonnets, Canzoniere, Petrarch explains his Humanistic ideas and communicates his fascination with nature and human emotions. The philosophy of the Renaissance affects the world tremendously. To this day, the Humanities is a very broadly studied field in which substantial numbers of college students choose to major. Almost everyone worldwide has learned about some form of Humanism, whether it be through literature, history, or philosophy.

The Renaissance proves itself to be one of the most innovative periods in Western history, and we still see it in the art we admire, the scientific advancements that have shaped our understanding of the world and beyond, and the philosophical knowledge that has allowed us to understand more about human nature. This period happened centuries ago but still generated knowledge that influences the modern world. From art and architecture to science and philosophy, the legacy of the Renaissance is still visible in our society.