Italian Renaissance: origin, characteristics and main figures –

The new historical period that arises after the Middle Ages is the Renaissance. A movement that was born in an incipient way in Italy, between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It will not be until the 16th century when the Renaissance reaches its peak, spreading throughout Europe. Let’s learn more about the Italian Renaissance: origin, characteristics and main figures.

Origin of the Italian Renaissance

At the end of the Middle Ages, Rome, which had lived its maximum splendor during the ancient Roman Empire, had become a poor city in ruins. There was a clear difference between northern Italy and south-central Italy. The Pope had moved to France, specifically to Avignon, where he established the Papal States.

Trade and its main routes with the east they came through the Arab lands and the Byzantine Empire. Being the most important ports for trade with Europe, the ports of northern Italy especially the ports of Genoa, Pisa and Venice.

to these ports items considered luxury arrived such as dyes, spices, silks, etc., and from these cities they traded with the rest of Europe. Therefore we can say, that thanks to trade of the products from the silk roadthe city-states were getting rich.

Not only the port cities prospered, but also the inland regions they knew how to make a profit. Without being regions rich in natural resources, they had some very productive land around the Po River Valley.

These lands that provided good benefits and that undoubtedly helped the development of the region. A region that gradually prospered, creating abig difference between north and south from Italy.

The Renaissance in Florence

Of all the northern cities, Florence became the richest city, partly thanks to textile production, based mainly on wool. A wool that was imported from Spain and dyed with dyes from the East, thus raising its quality.

culturallyfleeing the Ottoman invasion and through Constantinople, northern Italy welcomed philosophers, scientists and mathematicians of the Arab world from Egypt and the Orientand. The newcomers brought with them innumerable greek texts that they put at the disposal of the Italians.

They took advantage of the academiesespecially those of Venice and Florenceto teach how read and interpret ancient Greek classical texts.

arises the humanistic interest of classical cultures and begin to be interested in the practically forgotten old manuscripts of the monastic libraries. figures like Tacitus or Vitruvius and its architectural principles of ancient Rome, is once again rediscovered and studied.

a clearing arises interest in humanistic teachingsrecovering a culture that, although it was its own, had been forgotten during the Middle Ages.

The rich merchantswealthy families and men of knowledge, began to show admiration for this revival or be reborn It is not surprising, after all that has been said, that the cradle of the Renaissance was the region of Tuscany and fundamentally in Florence and Siena.

Slowly the new Renaissance ideas and arts they spread, first through Italy itself and then through the rest of Europe. Thus we can speak of an English, Nordic or Spanish Renaissance.

Characteristics of the Italian Renaissance

within the most important features of the Italian Renaissance, we must point out:

  • secularization of society
  • anthropocentrism
  • Rationalism
  • Scientific thought
  • important inventions
  • arts and literature
  • Appearance of artists’ workshops
  • Appearance of patronage
  • Development of the banking sector

secularization of society

In the Middle Ages, the church had dominated all areas of civic life, from art, where the main theme was the figure of God, to politics and, of course, culture. The Renaissance changes this ecclesiastical conception, now man is the center. The civil sectors begin to gain influence both in politics and in the economy, art or culture.

It is in this period when the most philosophical thoughts, the main theme ceases to be religion, opening up to other themes. appear new study methodsresearch and science will live a period of great boom.


A philosophical thought prevails, anthropocentrismdoctrine by which man is the center and measure of all things. It arises as a response to medieval thought where that importance could only fall on the figure of God or theocentrism. The man acquires greater value as a being and therefore is worthy of enjoying both pleasure and freedom.

Athropocentrism would give rise to a new intellectual movement called Humanism. Humanism exalts all the qualities that are inherent to the nature of man. Try to discover the human essence and thus give rational meaning to life, principles drawn from the classical philosophers.


Both humanism and anthropocentrism gave rise to rationalist thought. Reason is the tool to reach knowledge that would allow you to discover the world.

Scientific thought

The Renaissance man believed that everything can be explained by science. The reason why the scientific thought with representatives of the stature of Galileo Galilei, Copernicus, Miguel Sevet or Leonardo Da Vinci.

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important inventions

Science, in addition to knowledge, gave us great inventionsamong others:

  • Print: The movable type printing press was one of the most important inventions of the Renaissance. Thanks to her, books began to be printed and, therefore, to spread culture. Until the Renaissance, books were only reproduced by copyists, who were generally monks. Limiting itself, its diffusion. The first printed book was the Bible.
  • The compass
  • Galileo’s telescope
  • firearms (gunpowder)
  • air screw or the glider (Leonardo da Vinci)


Renaissance man has an individualistic conception, man acts according to his own will, he does not have to ask anyone for advice or opinion, he is able to follow his own rules of behavior without having to accept the established rules.

arts and literature

Art understood as a form of knowledge or what is the same, art becomes a manifestation of knowledge. It is in the rebirth when so much Literature as the rest of the arts develop new techniques and genres.

In literature a new genre appears, essay, while the Theater abandons religious performances. The theater in the Renaissance is represented in covered rooms created for this purpose.

The performances are accompanied by a large number of both visual and musical resources. Music, dance, spectacular costumes, sets, etc., were part of the performances. The works to represent used to be classic origin comedies although a type of popular theater which received the name of “Comedy of Art”.

If you want to know more: The Spanish Renaissance – The Golden Age of letters

As for other arts, in paint painting emerges oil, new techniques such as the portrait that becomes a characteristic of Renaissance painting. Innovative techniques such as linear perspective, foreshortening, chiaroscuro or sfumato.

In the sculpture and architecture, it returns to the style of Classical Antiquity. The sculpture take as a model classic works and their mythology. The representation of the human body is sought in a naturist way, meticulously capturing the human anatomy, a widely studied anatomy.

Refering to architecture, the spaces are rationalized, elements that had been aesthetically used in ancient Rome are taken and given a new use. They highlight the flat roofs with coffered ceilingsbarrel vaults, arches, domesscallops, classical columns, pilasters, pendentives and pillars. Among the decorative elements, the garlandstondos and plant motifs or candeleri.

Appearance of artists’ workshops

Such an explosion of art, led to the appearance of workshops where artistic techniques were taught, always under the direction of a master artist. It differentiates between artist and craftsman as well as the concepts of art and craft.


As in ancient Rome, in the Renaissance protect both art and artists. The conception of art changes, the vision of the Renaissance is to use art as a form of monetary investment. Patrons also saw art as a way to beautify the city as well as give themselves glory.

The patrons were men of great economic power, in many cases they were entire families such as the Medici or the Sforzasthe Bentivoglio, the Este and also the Vatican among others.

Development of the banking sector

In a period of great economic booma new sector appears, banking, where usurers and pawnbrokers they amassed great fortunes.

Main figures of the Italian Renaissance

If you want to delve deeper into this topic, we recommend Personalities of the Renaissance


He is the greatest representative of Humanismcreator of the philosophical current.

Major Works:

  • Songbook (1374)
  • The Lonely Life (1356)
  • Africa (1501)
  • Ascent to Mont Ventoux (1336)

Philippo Brunelleschi

Regarded as the first engineer, supervisor and planner of current or modern construction. His most important engineering work, considered a architectural feat was the dome of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers in Florence.

Main works:

  • Dome of the Florence Cathedral (1436)
  • Hospital of the Innocents (1427)
  • Old sacristy (1428)
  • Pazzi Chapel (1467)

Michael de Montaigne

great writer who created a new literary genre, the Trial.

Main works:


Considered along with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the great masters of the Renaissance. He was the most popular painter of the renaissancea merit that lasted until the 19th century.

Main works:

  • The School of Athens (1511)
  • Sistine Madonna (1512)
  • Transfiguration (1520)

Galileo Galilei

A pioneer in using the improved telescope, as an instrument for observing the skies. He discovered the 4 largest satellites of Jupiter, he was able to analyze the sunspots. He is the father of astronomy, key in the revolution that Copernicus had started by defending the heliocentric model of the Solar System, against the terracentric theory.

main works:

  • Two New Sciences (1638)
  • Dialogue Concerning the Two World Systems (1632)
  • Star Messenger (1610)

Miguel Angel

Perhaps the artist who has most influenced the history of art. Master in painting, sculpture and architecture, being considered the best artist of all time. We can say that The David is the most famous sculpture, the Creation of Adamis the second most popular painting after the Gioconda and the Basilica of Saint Peter It is perhaps the most praised work of Renaissance architecture.