• The term “Renaissance” literally means rebirth, refers to the intellectual and economic changes that took place in Europebetween the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries.

Narrow view:

  • Revival of interest in the learning of the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome. This revival first began in Italy then in other parts of Europe.

Broad view:

  • It was during Renaissance that Europe saw itself emerging out of the economic stagnation of the Middle Ages and experienced a period of financial growth.
  • It was an age in which many artistic, social, scientific and political changes were noticed.
  • Reformation is interrelated development refers to the movement directed against the authority of Catholic Church and Pope.

Why Renaissance emerged?

In Europe, it was a time of feudal system which was reason for economic and cultural problems. It was the time when focus was given to birth rather than merit and economic resources are confined only to aristocratic class.

Did kings supported Renaissance?

  • As polity is moving out from the hands of Pope, kings now have more say in political matters.
  • Since absolute monarchies were against the ideal of Renaissance, constitutional monarchies were favoured by people and concept of nations-states started emerging.
  • Kings can earn more with tax on trade. Renaissance led to development in trade with more voyages and liberal philosophies.
  • Money from taxation can be utilised to build armies and win battles to expand empire.

What changes occurred after Renaissance?

Ideas & Values

  • Renaissance was a time of changing ideas.
  • It indicated towards the growing interest of the people in the Classical Civilization of ancient Greece and Rome.
  • Humanism is chief characteristic of Renaissance. Shift from divinity to dignity. Now focus is on life on earth rather than life after death.
  • Pico della Mirandola, an Italian humanist of 15th century wrote- “There is nothing more wonderful than man”.

Art and Architecture

  • Ideas of the Renaissance found brilliant expression in art forms.
  • First of all, it assumed independent status for the first time. It led to rise in artists with unique individuality and style.
  • Use of scientific and mathematical concepts like anatomy, optics and geometry in art forms.
  • Artists and their paintings of this period include- Leonardo da Vinci (The Last Super and Monalisa), Michelangelo (The Last Judgement and Fall of Man) and Raphael (Madonna).
  • Sculpture: Use of principles of anatomy, decline in Gothic architecture, emergence of free standing sculpture. Example: St. Peter’s Church in Rome.


  • Use of language spoken by common people in the literature, decline of Latin.
  • Dante wrote ‘Divine Comedy’ in Italian, Machiavelli wrote ‘The Prince’ and everybody knows Willian Shakespeare and his English writings.
  • Invention of Printing led to spread of literature, though initially printed books were expensive.

Modern Science

  • Rejected blind acceptance of church ideas and knowledge about world. Blind faith and superstitions gave way to reasoning.
  • Focus on observation and experimentation.
  • There was famous exposition of rotation of earth by Copernicus, Galileo invented telescope and Kepler explained how planets move around the sun.
  • Later Isaac Newton proved all heavenly bodies move according to the law of gravitation.
  • Decline in authority of Pope: Pope, religious head of Catholic Church started to decline w.r.t. political matters.

Exploration, Discovery & Trade

  • Increase in trade across the sea and territories.
  • They now did not see any reason for not undertaking long voyages and adventures which led to economic developments.
  • Vasco da Gama reached to Calicut in India in 1498 and Columbus discovered ‘the Americas’ in 1492.
  • Revival of trade with growth of towns, freed from feudal control.
  • Increasing use of money, little use of barter system.
  • Transition from feudal economy of capitalist economy.
  • Rise of middle class, comprising mainly the merchants.
  • Transition from guild system to factory system.
  • Beginning of colonization of Asia by European countries.

Rise of Nation-States

  • In 13th century, Europe was ruled by thousands of feudal lords or the states.
  • There was nothing like a sense of common nationality.
  • Renaissance led to rise of national consciousness and kings helped by merchants became able to free themselves from feudal lords and Church to curve out national monarchies.
  • Political Philosophers like Machiavelli promoted view like rulers are the representatives of god on earth which strengthen king’s position.
  • In England ‘Wars of the Roses’ fought between feudal lords and monarchies in 15th century, finally put an end to feudalism.
  • But, increasing absolutism expressed by kings and aggressive promulgation of doctrine of divine rights of kings faced opposition from free minds of people.
  • There were protest against unjust laws and powers of monarchies.
  • Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England destroyed doctrine of ‘Divine Rights’ of kings and Bill of Right enacted by the parliament.
  • In several territories of Europe, absolute monarchies turned into constitutional monarchies in later part of Renaissance.

Questions to practise

  1. What is your understanding of the term ‘humanism’? Give examples of the influence of humanism in the Renaissance art and architecture.
  2. Do you consider the developments of nation-state ‘a step forward’ in man’s progress? Why, or why not?
  3. In what way do the developments of Renaissance mark the beginning of the modern age? Discuss.