. This unit of study is intended to be a ten to fifteen day inquiry into the streams of thought which fed the Renaissance and caused the currents to increase in velocity and power until they became too violent to be contained within the banks of a single river. Students will be encouraged to trace the development of ideas which had their origin in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages and which have continued to the present. It is hoped that they will learn that many of the inner conflicts which engaged men and women in the past were expressed in literature, architecture and the arts and can thus be observed and felt today. Illustrative of these conflicts are the following two quotations about man’s capabilities by two different artists of the Renaissance:
‘With the forethought that we are mortal, and that every adversity can befall us, let us do what the wise have so highly praised: let us work so that past and present will contribute to the times that have not yet come. . . And we, brought into life like a ship which is not meant to rot in port but to furrow long paths in the sea,—we tend by our work to some praiseworthy and glorious end.’ (Quoted in Gadol, pp. 2245)
The writer, humanist and artist, Leon Battista Alberti, believed that man should act as if he can not only shape his character but shape his future through intelligent action and diligent work. A later view, that of the German artist Albrecht Durer, contrasts with Alberti’s view of man’s ability to create:
‘Only the powerful artists will be able to understand this strange speech, that I speak the truth: one man may sketch something with his pen on half a sheet of paper in one day, or may cut it into a tiny piece of wood with his little iron, and it turns out to be better and more artistic than another’s big work at which its author labors with the utmost diligence for a whole year. And this gift is miraculous.’ (Quoted in Panofsky, p. 283)
According to Durer, only God knows what True Beauty and worth are; man can only keep trying to improve his abilities so that a “better” result can be achieved.
The student will be challenged to come to grips with the ideas of the Renaissance and the Reformation in such a way that the student should see that “attitude determines action” and “philosophy determines practice.” During this historical period there was a conflict of ideas between the JudeoChristian system of values and the Classical Greco-Roman system. One value system was based on absolute commandments (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”); the other base on morality and ethics determined by man’s reasoning powers and common sense. Was Renaissance man subject to absolute rules or those of his own making? Protagoras stated his belief in a mancentered system in his pronouncement, “Man is the measure of all things.” In contrast, the Psalmist put it this way: “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?” Where was man to turn in his struggle for identity: inward to self or upward to the Creator? Could the Church, now centered in Rome, blend successfully both positions into one system?
The first half of this unit deals with the Renaissance, and especially with the efforts to harmonize the conflicting systems by a study of Italian humanism and artistic expression of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The second half of the project considers the road which led to the Protestant Reformation and the extent to which the Reformation was both a product of the Renaissance and a challenge to it. What was the nature of the revolutionary “seeds” that were planted in previous centuries which produced such a tumultuous harvest during the lifetime of sixteenthcentury Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin?
This course study will attempt to illuminate a period of history during which many characteristics of our own “modern” world began to emerge. Man seemed to be awakening to new ideas and new lifestyles that would have significant implications to future generations. As the students consider these ideas and lifestyles, it is this teacher’s hope that they may see something of themselves in the process. My experience tells me that the attempt is worth it; that not only my students but I, the teacher, will be better for having tried. To quote Albrecht Durer:
‘Now since we cannot attain to the
, shall we give up our research altogether? This beastly thought we do not accept. For, men having good and bad before them, it behooves a reasonable human being to concentrate on the
. So then let us ask how a
figure may be made. . . .’ (Quoted in Panofsky, p. 275)