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AP European History: Unit 1.2
Note: While many AP courses cover the entire Renaissance from
1300-1600, the AP exam will only cover information after 1450.
A. The Renaissance is considered the beginning of modern European
B. Renaissance (c. 1300-1600)
1. Occurred first in Italy around 1300 and lasted until the mid-16th century
2. Renaissance spread to Northern Europe around 1450
3. In England, the Renaissance did not begin until the 16th century and
lasted until the early 17th century (Shakespeare)
C. Origins of Renaissance: 19th century historian Jacob Burckhardt
claimed the Renaissance period was in distinct contrast to the Middle Ages
D. Renaissance culture applied almost exclusively to the upper classes.
1. Upper classes had the luxury of time to spend learning the classics.
2. Peasantry was largely illiterate and Renaissance ideas had little impact
on common people.
3. Working classes and small merchants were far too preoccupied with the
concerns of daily life.
II. Rise of the Italian City-States
A. Northern Italian cities developed international trade: Genoa, Venice,
1. signori (despots) or oligarchies (rule of merchant aristocracies)
controlled much of Italy by 1300
2. commenda: Contract between merchant and “merchant-adventurer” who
agreed to take goods to distant locations and return with the proceeds (for
1/3 of profits)
3. As a result, Italy became more urban: more towns and cities with
significant populations than anywhere else in Europe at this time.
B. Politics among the Italian City-States
1. Competition among city-states meant that Italy did not unify politically
a. In effect, an early balance-of-power pattern emerged where weaker
states would ally with other states to prevent a single state from dominating
b. The political disunity of the Italian city-states led to their downfall in the
late-15th and early16th centuries when French and Spanish armies invaded
2. Condottieri: mercenary generals of private armies hired by cities for
military purposes C. Major city-states and figures
1. Republic of Florence (included Republic of Genoa)
a. Center of the Renaissance during the 14th and 15 centuries.
b. Dominated by the Medici family
c. Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464): allied with other powerful families of
Florence and became unofficial ruler of the republic
d. Lorenzo de’ Medici (the “Magnificent”) (1449-
1492): significant patron of the arts (son of Cosimo)
2. Duchy of Milan – ruled by Sforza family after 1450
· Milan was a principal adversary of Venice and Florence until the Peace of
Lodi (1454) created a relative 40-year period of peace among the Italian
3. Rome, the Papal States: popes served both as religious and political
leaders; controlled much of central Italy
4. Venice, Venetian Republic
a. Longest lasting of the Italian states (did not succumb to foreign powers
until Napoleon conquered it in the early 1800s)
b. Greatest maritime power in Italy and one of the world’s great naval and
trading powers during the 14th and 15th centuries.
5. Naples, Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
a. Included south Italian region of Naples and the island of Sicily
b. Only Italian city-state to officially have a “king”
c. Controlled by France between 1266-1435
d. Controlled by Spain after 1435
D. Decline of the Italian city-states
1. French invasions began in 1494 (“First Italian War”)
a. Milan’s despot, Ludovico “the Moor,” encouraged French King Charles
VIII to invade Naples, the traditional enemy of Milan.
b. This was the beginning of foreign invasions throughout the Italian
a. When Florence attempted to appease France during its invasion in 1494,
it led to the overthrow of the Medici family.
· Although the Medici family returned to power several years later,
Florence by then was severely weakened.
b. Girolamo Savonarola became the unofficial leader of Florence between
1494 and 1498.
· Pledged to rid Florence of its decadence and corruption
· In effect, oversaw a theocracy in Florence
· He had earlier predicted the French invasions due to paganism and moral
decay in the Italian city-states); became a puppet of the French
· When France was removed from Italy in 1498, Savonarola was
imprisoned and then burned at the stake. 3. Italy became a battleground in a series of power struggles between Spain
· Spanish fears of a French-Italian alliance resulted in Spain’s alliance with
Venice, the Papal States, and the Holy Roman Empire
4. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) The Prince (15th)
a. The quintessential political treatise of the 16 century
b. Observed the political leadership of Cesare Borgia (son of Pope
Alexander VI) who had ambitions of uniting Italy under his control
c. Stated that politically, “the ends justifies the means”
d. Stated that for rulers, “it was better to be feared than to be loved”
e. Rulers had to be practical and cunning, in addition to being aggressive
· At times rulers should behave like a lion (aggressive and powerful) and at
other times like a fox (cunning and practical)
f. The Prince continued to influence European rulers for centuries.
5. Sack of Rome in 1527 by armies of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V
(who was also king of Spain) symbolized the end of the Renaissance in
1. Revival of antiquity (Greece and Rome) in philosophy, literature and art
· Sought to reconcile pagan writings with Christian thought
2. Strong belief in individualism and the great potential of human beings
(in contrast to the Middle Ages where humans were seen as small, wicked
and inconsequential and should focus solely on earning salvation)
a. Virtú: “the quality of being a man”; idea of excelling in all of one’s
b. Believed the key to a good life was Reason and Nature
3. Focused first on studying ancient languages:
a. Initially, Latin of ancient Rome was the main focus.
b. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, Greek came to be studied
rigorously as well
c. By 1500, virtually all of the significant ancient Roman and Greek texts
that have been rediscovered, were translated and printed
4. Largely rejected Aristotelian views and medieval scholasticism in favor
· Roman authors such as Cicero, Livy, Virgil, and Quintilian
· Greek writings, especially those of Plato
· early Christian writers, especially the New Testament
o This occurred predominantly in northern Europe and became a
cornerstone of the Northern Renaissance
5. Believed in a liberal arts educational program that included grammar,
rhetoric, poetry, history, politics and moral philosophy 6. Civic Humanism: idea that education should prepare leaders who would
be active in civic affairs
· Some of the most important humanists also were important political
7. Often, humanism was more secular and lay dominated; however, most
humanists remained deeply Christian, both in Italy and in Northern Europe
B. Petrarch (1304-1374)—the “father of humanism”
1. Considered the first modern writer
· In his writings, literature was no longer subordinate to religion
2. Claimed that the Middle Ages (the period between the fall of the Roman
Empire and the emergence of the Renaissance) were the “Dark Ages”
3. He was perhaps the first to use critical textual analysis to ancient texts.
· Especially influenced by Cicero
4. Wrote his famous poetry in the Italian vernacular (as did Dante earlier in
his Divine Comedy).
C. Boccacio (1313-1375)
1. Compiled an encyclopedia of Greek and Roman mythology
2. Decameron is his most famous work
a. Consisted of 100 earthy tales that comprise a social commentary of 14th
b. Aimed to impart wisdom of human character and behavior (especially
sexual and economic misbehavior).
D. Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444)
1. First to use the term “humanism”
2. Among the most important of the civic humanists
3. Served as a chancellor in Florence
4. Wrote a history of Florence, perhaps the first modern history, and wrote
a narrative using primary source documents and the division of historical
E. Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457)
1. Foremost expert on the Latin language: Elegances of the Latin Language
2. On the False Donation of Constantine (1444)
a. Exposed the Donation of Constantine as an 8 century fraud, using
b. The Church had claimed it was granted vast territories by the 4th-century
Roman emperor Constantine.
3. Valla also pointed out errors in the Latin Vulgate (the authorized version
of the Bible for the Catholic Church)
4. Ironically, Valla’s work gave challengers of Church authority
ammunition, even though he remained a devoted Catholic and even served
as a secretary under Pope Nicholas V. F. Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499)
1. One of the most influential humanist philosophers of the 15th century
2. Founded the Platonic Academy at the behest of Cosimo de’ Medici in
· This served to spread the works and philosophy of Plato throughout much
3. Translated Plato’s works into Latin, giving modern Europeans access to
these works for the first time.
G. Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494)
1. Member of the Platonic Academy
2. Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486)
a. Perhaps the most famous Renaissance work on the nature of humankind.
b. Humans were created by God and therefore given tremendous potential
for greatness, and even union with God if they desired it.
c. However, humans could, through neglect, also choose a negative course.
Thus, humans had free will to be great or fail
H. Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529) – The Book of the Courtier (1528)
a. Perhaps most important work on Renaissance education
b. Specified qualities necessary to be a true gentleman including physical
and intellectual abilities and leading an active life
· Rejected crude contemporary social habits (e.g. spitting on the floor,
eating without utensils, wiping one’s nose with one’s sleeve, etc.)
c. Described the ideal of a “Renaissance man” who was well-versed in the
Greek and Roman classics, an accomplished warrior, could play music,
dance, and had a modest but confident personal demeanor.
a. This contrasted with the medieval view of being a master in only one
b. virtú: the quality of being a great man in whatever noble pursuit
I. Printing press: Johann Gutenberg (c. 1400-1468)
1. One of most important inventions in human history.
2. Gutenberg’s development of movable type made possible the spread of
humanistic literature to rest of Europe with astonishing speed.
3. No longer would copies of works need to be done by hand, individually.
4. 1457-58, published the first printed Bible in the city of Mainz, Germany
5. Facilitated the phenomenal spread of the Reformation.
IV. Italian Renaissance Art
1. Florence was the leader in Renaissance art especially in the quattrocento
a. Giorgio Vasari (1511-74): The Lives of the Artists · Contemporary Renaissance art historian who left much valuable
information about Renaissance artists and their works.
b. Massive patronage for the arts came from wealthy merchant-families
(such as the Medicis) who commissioned countless works from the great
· In essence, the wealth of Florence was mirrored by the superb artistic
output of the Renaissance
o A good example is Donatello’s David which stood in the Medici
courtyard during the wedding of Lorenzo de Medici.
· In Milan, the Sforza’s commissioned such works as Leonardo’s The Last
c. Patronage also came from local churches who increasingly saw
Renaissance art as a means of glorifying God. Some notable examples
· Brunelleschi’s Il Duomo built for the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral
· Ghiberti’s two sets of doors for the baptistery opposite Il Duomo
· Michelangelo’s David was originally commissioned for the cathedral (but
was too heavy and thus placed elsewhere).
2. Rome became the center of Renaissance art iththe 1500s (cinquecento)
a. With the decline of Florence in the late-15 century, Renaissance
dominance shifted to Rome.
b. Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503): most notorious of the Renaissance
popes; spent huge sums on art patronage (e.g. Bramante’s Tempietto)
c. A few of the notable works commissioned by the Church in this period
· Michelangelo’s dome atop St. Peter’s Cathedral, his paintings on the
ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the sculpture Pieta that is located within
· Raphael’s The School of Athens (a fresco painting inside the papal
· Bramante’s Tempietto, a small church that is a masterpiece in classical
architecture; and his floor plan for a newly rebuilt St. Peter’s cathedral.
(Much of his plans were altered after his death)
B. New artistic techniques
a. perspective: 3-D effect