Written 05/17/2019


When one thinks of the Renaissance Era, they usually picture the elaborate ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, done by Michelangelo, the ever-famous Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, and, in general, the country of Italy. The Renaissance was all of this, but extended throughout most of Europe over the next few centuries and not only changed the artistic world, but triggered the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Exploration, as well as Enlightenment and the Reformation and impacted the entire globe, even to the present.

Starting in the 14th century, the Renaissance Era marks the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. Originating from France, the word "renaissance" means "rebirth". The word truly represents this time period, as people began to focus more on things besides pure survival. After the bubonic plague nearly halved the population of Florence, Italy in 1347, people started to contemplate more on their lives on Earth, rather than speculate on the afterlife and rebirth. Intellectually, they developed the concept of humanism, a philosophy based on ancient Greek and Roman concepts, and it manifested itself in science, literature, politics, art, and architecture. The Renaissance was not experienced throughout Europe at the same time; rather, it started in Florence, Italy and spread gradually over the next 300 years.

Many theories have been proposed as to why the Renaissance had started in Florence, focusing on a variety of factors including the political structure of the city, the immense support of the Medici family, a prominent family heavily involved in Florentine politics at the time, and the movement of many Greek scholars to the country following the fall of Constantinople. These scholars brought with them a large quantity of precious manuscripts that had been obscured in western Europe, but were revived again in the east.

Lorenzo de' Medici was the most powerful and enthusiastic patron of Renaissance art and was the catalyst for a huge amount of the funding given to artists during this time. He frequently assisted in securing commissions for artists in his court, including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Sandro Botticelli. Because of him, artists and their masterpieces flourished not only in Florence, but in Rome, Vatican City, and many other places in addition.

Sandro Botticelli was a painter of the Early Renaissance under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici. While his best known works are of mythological subjects, he also painted a large number of religious works and some portraits, as well. From about 1461 or 1462, he was an apprentice to Fra Filippo Lippi, a top Florentine artist. He trained Botticelli in panel painting, fresco, and drawing. Botticelli probably left his apprenticeship around 1467, when Lippi moved to work somewhere else.

Perhaps by 1467 or 1468, Botticelli had established his own workshop. In June of 1472, he was commissioned to paint two panels from a set of the Seven Virtues; however, only one, Fortitude, was finished. Other early works done by Botticelli include a large sacra conversazione altarpiece now displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Saint Sebastian, which is displayed in Berlin, Germany, and Adoration of the Magi, painted in 1475 and also displayed in the Uffizi.

In 1481, Botticelli and other well-known artists were commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel; most of these works are still there today, but they are overshadowed by the work done on the ceiling by Michelangelo. Botticelli's most famous paintings, however, are usually recognized by the majority of people, even if they don't know the artist himself. Primavera (c. 1482) and The Birth of Venus (c. 1485) are both in the Uffizi and are icons of the Italian Renaissance. After his death in 1510, Botticelli's memory was forgotten more than that of any other major European artist. However, today, the main asteroid belt 29361 Botticelli is named for him and his art is displayed in several famous museums and galleries.

Leonardo da Vinci is arguably one of the most recognized artists of all time. A man of many talents, his work stretched across several areas of interest, including invention, drawing, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He is considered by many scientists the father of paleontology, architecture, and ichnology (the study of trace fossils). Nicknamed the "Renaissance Man", da Vinci was the epitome of the Renaissance and the idea of humanism, and was most famous for his paintings and drawings.

Leonardo started an apprenticeship under Andrea del Verrocchio in 1466, the same year the sculptor Donatello died. He remained there for seven years, being trained in both technical and artistic skills including chemistry, drafting, woodwork, plaster casting, drawing, painting, sculpting, and modelling. By 1478, Leonardo had left Verrocchio's studio and had set out on his own. That same year, he received a commission to paint an altarpiece for Chapel of St. Bernard. In 1481, he was commissioned a second time by the monks of San Donato a Scopeto for The Adoration of the Magi. Neither work was completed, the second left unfinished when he went to Milan in 1482.

Leonardo was commissioned for several works during his 17 years in Milan, including The Virgin of the Rocks and The Last Supper. In 1502, he was employed as a military architect and engineer during the Second Italian War. He returned to Florence in October 1503. In the same month, he began work on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, who later was the model for his most famous portrait, the Mona Lisa.

From 1513 to 1516, Leonardo spent his time in Vatican City, where Raphael and Michelangelo worked as well. Around 1517, aged 65, his right hand became paralyzed, and on May 2, 1519, he died, possibly of a stroke at age 67. During his lifetime, he had been a model of the Renaissance Era and contributed much to society, whether through his art or through his inventions.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, better known by his first name alone, was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and rival of Leonardo da Vinci. Because of the enormous number of works he had produced, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century. Several of his works are among the best known in existence, including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the statue of David, the Pietà, and the architecture of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

In 1488, Michelangelo was an apprentice to Domenico Ghirlandaio, an art master who owned the largest workshop in Florence at the time. In 1489, he was sent to the Medici court at the request of Lorenzo de' Medici, and from 1490 to 1492 he attended the Medici-founded Humanist academy. During this time he produced his earliest known relief carvings, the Madonna of the Stairs and Battle of the Centaurs.

Toward the end of the year 1494, Michelangelo returned to Florence from Bologna, where he had travelled to avoid the political conflict in Florence. During this time, he sculpted two small statues, a child St. John the Baptist and a sleeping Cupid. The cardinal to whom Michelangelo had sold St. John the Baptist was so impressed with the piece, he invited the artist to Rome.

Michelangelo arrived in Rome in 1496. In 1497, he was asked to carve a Pietà, which is now displayed in St. Peter's Basilica. Returning to Florence in 1499, Michelangelo was then asked to complete an unfinished project started over 40 years prior: a giant statue of David, symbolizing the freedom of Florence. The sculpture was completed in 1504 and is Michelangelo's most famous work. Today, it stands in the Galleria dell'Accademia, while a replica occupies its original place in the Piazza della Signoria.

In 1505, Michelangelo was invited to Rome a second time by Pope Julius II. There he was commissioned to build the pope's tomb. Despite working on it for 40 years, the artist was frequently interrupted by outside projects and the tomb was never finished to his satisfaction. Today, the tomb is located in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, and is known for the statue of Moses in its center.

During the same time, Michelangelo was asked to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which was done between 1508 and 1512. Originally, the ceiling was blue and was covered in gold-leaf stars, and had decorative borders along the pendentives. This was entirely replaced with Michelangelo's work. The commission was to have the Twelve Apostles on the triangular pendentives. However, the sculptor was adamant about doing the ceiling his own way. The final product was much more elaborate than the pope had imagined. In the center, nine panels were divided into three different scenes: Creation, Downfall, and Fate of Humanity. On the pendentives, Michelangelo painted twelve prophetic figures: seven Prophets of Israel and five Classical-era Sybils. On the entirety of the ceiling, the artist had depicted a total of 343 figures.

In 1534, Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to a fresco of The Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. This was completed in 1541 and depicts the Second Coming of Christ. At the same time, the Vatican appointed him to paint two more large frescos, the Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter.

In his old age, Michelangelo created several Pietàs, on which he frequently depicted himself. He died in Rome in 1564, and was buried in Florence at the Basilica of Santa Croce.

While art flourished in Florence and Rome, the rise of scientific discovery also came to light. Prominent figures in this area of study include Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and Leonardo da Vinci. In the Early Renaissance, science and art intermingled together, especially in the worlds of polymath artists like da Vinci. The invention of printing also allowed for the faster spread and distribution of ideas. Though some view this period as a continuation of the progress made in the process of advancement since the ancient world, others see it as a scientific revolution and symbolizes the beginning of the modern age.

For the better part of the 500 years since his passing, Leonardo da Vinci has been praised for his art. However, as a person well-rounded in multiple areas of study, the "Renaissance Man" also delved into science and was instrumental in the advancement of technology. His approach to science was purely observational, and he did not experiment or emphasize theoretical. He did frequent studies on anatomy, with drawings and explanations filling up his journals and notes.

As an apprentice to Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo became a master of topographic anatomy, which is the study of the relative positions of body parts. Later, he was given permission to dissect human corpses at hospitals in Florence, Milan, and Rome. He made over 240 detailed, anatomic drawings and wrote numerous notes. The drawings included studies of the human skeleton, its various parts, and of different muscles. He drew many internal organs, including the heart and vascular system, and drew one of the first scientific pictures of a fetus in the womb. Because of the way he drew the mechanical functions of the human skeleton and muscles, he essentially created the precursor to biomechanics. Leonardo was also left-handed, so it was probably easier to write from the right to the left, and he wrote in mirror-image cursive. This made it difficult for analysts to decipher his notes after his death.

Da Vinci also studied and recorded the effects of age and emotion on the human body, in particular the effects of rage. He drew many figures with facial deformities or signs of illness. In addition, he dissected and drew the anatomy of many different animals, such as cows, birds, horses, bears, monkeys, and frogs, and compared them to the structure of humans.

Leonardo made many breakthroughs in anatomical science, including the identification of liver cirrhosis and atherosclerosis (narrowing of the artery due to plaque). One would think that, between all the work done with his art and his studies on anatomy, he would've had no free time left. However, he was a brilliant engineer and inventor, and he designed several engineering projects and was even employed as an engineer in Venice in 1499, in the midst of the Italian Wars. There, he designed a system of moveable barricades to protect the city from attack.

Additional engineering projects Leonardo designed include bridges, musical instruments, weapons, flying machines, and even a mechanical knight. Due to his fascination with flight, he did several studies on birds and designed machines such as the parachute, a flapping ornithopter, and a machine with a helical rotor—the basis for the modern helicopter. In 1502, Leonardo came up with a single span 720 foot bridge. Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II, the man he had created the bridge design for, decided not to use it because he deemed it impossible. However, in 2001, a smaller bridge based on this design was constructed in Norway.

Sir Isaac Newton was an astronomer, mathematician, and physicist who lived in England during the late stages of the Italian Renaissance. He received his early education at The King's School, a grammar school in Grantham, Lincolnshire, until he was seventeen. In June of 1661, he was admitted into Trinity College in Cambridge, where he paid his way by acting as a valet until 1664, when he received a scholarship that guaranteed him four more years of schooling.

In 1665, Newton discovered the generalized binomial theorem (algebraic powers of a binomial) and started developing what would later become calculus. The same year, he obtained his BA degree, and the school closed temporarily soon after that as precaution against the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague. During the two years of the school's closing, Newton made further developments of his theories on calculus, optics (the study of light), and the laws of gravitation.

Starting in 1699, Newton became involved in an argument with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over who had developed calculus first (now called the Leibniz-Newton controversy). Today, historians believe the mathematicians had developed it independently, but with different mathematical notations. This feud continued until Leibniz's death in 1716. Overall, Newton is credited with the discovery of the generalized binomial theorem, Newton's identities, Newton's method, classified cubic plane curves, and many other contributions to the mathematical world.

From 1670 to 1672, Newton lectured on optics, the study of behaviors of light, and researched the refraction of light. During this time, he came up with Newton's theory of colour, the idea that colour is the result of objects interacting with light that is already coloured, rather than the objects producing the colours themselves. Through this theory, he concluded that any refracting telescope would disperse light into colours, and created a telescope using mirrors instead of lenses to prove this idea. This telescope, a reflective scope rather than a refractive one, is called the Newtonian telescope and also solved the problem of finding a proper material to make the mirrors out of, as well as the right shaping of the mirrors themselves.

Newton began to work on celestial mechanics (the motions of objects in outer space) in 1679. The interest was further revived by the appearance of a comet in winter 1680-1681. In July 1687, with encouragement from Edmond Halley (for whom Halley's Comet is named), he published his work Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Commonly referred to as the Principia, the work is made up of three books and is considered one of the most important works in the history of science. It covers a variety of subjects, mostly to do with motion, and includes but is not limited to: Newton's three laws of motion, the foundation of classical mechanics (the motion of macroscopic and astronomical objects), Newton's law of universal gravitation, and the basis of calculus.

Toward the end of his life, Newton lived with his niece and her husband in Cranbury Park, near Winchester. He died in his sleep in London in March 1727, and his body lies in Westminster Abbey. He contributed much to science and physics, and today is considered one of the greatest scientists to ever live.

Before he made his living as a scientist, Galileo Galilei considered becoming a priest. However, instead he enrolled at the University of Pisa in 1580 to study medicine. In 1581, Galileo switched his studies to mathematics. By 1586, he had invented the thermoscope, the prerequisite of the modern thermometer, and he had published a book on the design of another of his inventions, a hydrostatic balance. Appointed to the chair in mathematics at the University of Pisa in 1589, the scientist remained there until 1592, when he moved to the University of Padua and taught geometry, mechanics, and astronomy for the next 18 years.

On January 7, 1610, Galileo first observed what would eventually be realized as three of Jupiter's largest moons. He discovered a fourth six days later. Today, they are referred to as Galilean satellites in his honour and are named Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede.

In 1616, Galileo used his theory of tides as proof of Nicolaus Copernicus' idea of heliocentrism. According to Galileo, the tides were caused by the sloshing of water in the oceans due to a point on Earth speeding up and slowing down from the Earth's rotation. However, if his theory was correct, there would only be one high tide a day. He dismissed Johannes Kepler's theory that the tides were caused by the moon and also did not agree with the idea that the planets revolved around the sun in an elliptical orbit. While Galileo is not credited with the very first telescope, he did construct more practical telescopes with better magnification. Galilean telescopes could be used as a spyglass as well.

Galileo died in January 1642 and was buried in the Basilica di Santa Croce, the same place Michelangelo Buonarroti was laid to rest. Along with his contributions to astronomy, Galileo was one of the first people to state that the laws of nature are mathematical. He also created a geometric and military compass, a thermometer still used today, and experimented with pendulums. According to Stephen Hawking (who was coincidentally born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death), Galileo was probably more responsible for modern science than anyone else. Albert Einstein also called him the father of modern science.

While the scientific revolution produced ideas, theories, and new discoveries that still impact us today, and the artists of the Italian Renaissance amazed people with their artworks and sculptures, many more people with a thirst for exploration travelled the world and mapped the globe for future generations. Countries closest to the Atlantic Ocean, such as Spain, Portugal, France, England, and even the Netherlands started to send out sailors to see what lay beyond the European area. Driven by want for new lands, more trade, and the possibility of new resources, explorers took risks and sailed into foreign waters in order to try their hand at discovery.

Philosophy also became popular, partially due to the recovery of many works by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and many great philosophers lived during this time, including René Descartes, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas, who later was canonized as a Catholic saint. Topics such as the habits of animals, the immortality of the Christian soul, and the eternity of the world frequently dominated the minds of philosophers, and Aristotelian philosophy was referenced often.

The Renaissance Era was a time when people could focus on more than bare survival. When Karl Marx created the idea of true communism, he wondered what humans would think about if they weren't worried about their job or where their next meal was coming from. In this same sense, once people didn't have to worry so much about these things, they started to create things for enjoyment and started to contemplate the deeper meanings of life: Why are we here? What is our purpose?

Artists created elaborate paintings and sculptures which are still admired today. Explorers like Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan mapped the world and revealed new lands and new opportunities for the Europeans and some of these lands are now world powers. The events that occurred during the Renaissance have affected the present greatly, and now it's up to us to impact the future.