describe the focus of the northern renaissance?

4 Answers

  • The Northern Renaissance was an entity unto itself, although related to the Italian Renaissance, the North developed in radically different ways that affected its development.

    Think about how Italy and its surrounding neighbors could embrace Humanism and other Renaissance themes yet retained and even complimented the power of the Catholic church. Consider then how similar concepts caused the exact opposite to happen in the north, inducing the Reformation. The north also had its own humanist scholars; Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More of England namely. These philosophers cited the same sources from antiquity as those of the Italian Renaissance, yet came to differing conclusions. Such commonalities and yet such differences suggest that while both were cognate to one another with foundations in antiquity, the North developing in a different fashion implies a differing focus on the meaning of the works surveyed.

    Most scholars generally believe that the different approaches are due to cultural foundations in the North, as opposed to a radically different social, economic and political situation to the South. These differences in the instance of England, for example, developed because Humanism and other Renaissance principles had to interact and relate with the long standing English culture that had been developing independently from Rome.

    Generally speaking, the North tended to focus more on the individual, and this inclination towards the rights of individuals related in a different way with Humanism than the South where humanism was often seen as putting the individual in context to the community as opposed to the North that would tend to set the individual in contrast to the community.



    In the two centuries or so preceding the outbreak of the Protestant Revolt, the intellectual and religious life of northern Europe presents a complex mixture of trends and currents. Among the influences at work were the Italian Renaissance, the breakdown of medieval institutions and the rise of national states and a capitalistic economy, theological and philosophical speculation that helped to undermine some of the traditional certainties, and the beginning of the process of exploration and discovery which was to open the whole world to European scrutiny and domination. This chapter will deal with some of the reform endeavors and some of the humanistic activities in the period preceding the Reformation.

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  • The ‘Northern Renaissance is the term used to describe the Renaissance in northern Europe, or more broadly in Europe outside Italy. Before 1450 Italian Renaissance humanism had little influence outside Italy. From the late 15th century the ideas spread around Europe. This influenced the German Renaissance, French Renaissance, English Renaissance, Renaissance in the Netherlands, Polish Renaissance and other national and localized movements, each with different characteristics and strengths.

    In France, King Francis I imported Italian art, commissioned Italian artists (including Leonardo da Vinci), and built grand palaces at great expense, beginning the French Renaissance. Trade and commerce in cities like Bruges in the 15th century and Antwerp in the 16th increased cultural exchange between Italy and the Low Countries, however in art, and especially architecture, late Gothic influences remained present until the arrival of Baroque even as painters increasingly drew on Italian models.

    Universities and the printed book helped spread the spirit of the age spread through France, the Low Countries and the Holy Roman Empire, and then to Scandinavia and finally Britain by the late 16th century. Writers and humanists such as Rabelais, Pierre de Ronsard and Desiderius Erasmus were greatly influenced by the Italian Renaissance model and were part of the same intellectual movement. During the English Renaissance (which overlapped with the Elizabethan era) writers such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe composed works of lasting influence. The Renaissance was brought to Poland directly from Italy by artists from Florence and the Low Countries, starting the Polish Renaissance.

    In some areas the Northern Renaissance was distinct from the Italian Renaissance in its centralization of political power. While Italy and Germany were dominated by independent city-states, parts of central and western Europe began emerging as nation-states. The Northern Renaissance was also closely linked to the Protestant Reformation and the long series of internal and external conflicts between various Protestant groups and the Roman Catholic Church had lasting effects, such as the division of the Netherlands.

    Perhaps the most important technological development of the Renaissance was the invention of the caravel, the first truly oceangoing ship. This combination of European and Niger ship building technologies for the first time made extensive trade and travel over the Atlantic feasible. While first introduced by the Italian states, and the early captains, such as Brian Gregory and Giovanni Caboto, who were Italian, the development would end Northern Italy’s role as the trade crossroads of Europe, shifting wealth and power westwards to Spain, Portugal, France, and England. These states all began to conduct extensive trade with Africa and Asia, and in the Americas began extensive colonisation activities. This period of exploration and expansion has become known as the Age of Discovery. Eventually European power, and also Renaissance art and ideals, spread around the globe.

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