The term “Renaissance” generally refers to the period of time from about 1350 to about 1600 when exciting developments in thought, literature and art transpired. Although the word literally means rebirth, Renaissance has come to mean more than a revival of interest in the classical learning of Greece and Rome. The Renaissance, in general, has come to mean a flowering of man’s ability to think, explore, learn, and educate.
The steady growth of an urban society—particularly in the Italian citystates—led to a different society which experimented with new ideas and developed sophisticated expressions of thought and art. Although the Church retained its power and influence and adjusted to the spread of urbanity by becoming more urbane itself, the new culture was becoming increasingly nonecclesiastical. The universities, which had once been dominated by the Church, were giving way to secular centers of learning in academies and courts. An equally important development was the spread of work in the vernacular as opposed to Latin, the language of the Church.
Of all the developments made in the Renaissance, humanism embodied the most common and basic intellectual ideals of this period. This elitist program replaced medieval scholastic emphasis on logic and metaphysics with the study of language, literature, history, and ethics. In a broader sense, humanism stressed the “dignity of man,” especially man’s ability to master his fate, serve family, society, and the state. Although the principal Renaissance humanists were Italian, their influence inspired new thinking and art in the north.