Renaissance

A French term meaning 'rebirth' and applied to a revival of the arts and learning stimulated by an interest in the past. Although we speak of the Carolingian, Northumbrian, and twelfth-century renaissances, the term by itself denotes a two-hundred-year period, from approximately the mid-fourteenth to the mid-sixteenth century, that marks a transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era and is characterized by the revival of the learning of classical Antiquity. Renaissance (originally the Italian rinascimento) was coined by Italian humanists (see Humanistic), who saw their own age as significantly different from the preceding one, which they perceived as Gothic. Working initially in centers such as Florence and Rome, the humanists began to study classical texts, although many of the copies available to them dated no earlier than Carolingian times. In the art of the period, we find a noticeable concern with naturalistic rendering and the use of classical motifs. A love of decoration remained a feature of Renaissance illumination, but the grotesques of medieval art were replaced by putti, classical masks, vases, jewels, and other motifs. Miniatures increasingly reflected the advanced styles of easel and fresco painters (the famous sixteenth-century illuminator Giulio Clovio was known as "the little Michelangelo"). Humanist scholars such as Petrarch (1304-1374) and Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) were themselves involved in book production, and their reforms of script and promotion of literacy were to play an important role in the early development of printing. Secular patronage was a significant factor in Renaissance book production: kings, princes, and other nobles no less than popes and ecclesiastical leaders throughout Europe used the arts to promote their political and economic status.


Michelle Brown

Michelle Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum in association with the British Library, c1994).