Why humanism is important to the Renaissance

Renaissance and Humanism (1350–1600)

The epoch of the renaissance

The Renaissance is a pan-European cultural epoch that began in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Renaissance is also referred to as the age of humanism, which puts people as the measure of all things at the center of interest.

Important authors and works of the Renaissance
  • Hans Sachs (1494–1576):
  • Sebastian Brant (around 1457–1521):
  • Ulrich von Hutten (1488–1523):
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam (around 1467–1536):
  • Martin Luther (1483–1546):
    • Bible translation
    • Hymns

The term of the epoch

The term renaissance comes from French and means rebirth. With this "rebirth" is meant the overcoming of the medieval worldview as well as the rediscovery of the ancient culture. The term Humanitas (Latin = humanity), which was given new honors at this time, also leads back to antiquity - at the end of the "Dark Ages" it now expresses the striving for spiritual and religious renewal.

Incidentally, the term Renaissance has only been used as an epoch designation since the 19th century: In the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 19th century, the word "reformatio" was used instead.

Historical classification

It is not entirely by chance that the term "reformatio" already suggests the Reformation; after all, the renaissance made it its main task to question religious authorities and the God-centric view of the world. When Martin Luther proposed his 95 theses to the castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, the process of renewal in many areas of life, science and art had long been in full swing. Instead, the conquest of the Turks can be seen as the hour of birth of the Renaissance - the scholars fleeing from the conquered Constantinople to Italy encouraged the study of the forgotten ancient writings at the royal courts there.

The dissemination of the rediscovered works of philosophers (e.g. Plato), poets (e.g. Homer) and historians (e.g. Tacitus) was particularly favored by the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (1455), which also also gave contemporary text production a huge boost. In addition, the discovery of America and revolutionary scientific discoveries (such as the heliocentric worldview founded by Copernicus after the earth orbits the sun) resulted in the rising bourgeoisie increasingly liberating themselves spiritually from the earlier religious authorities.

Importance of literature in the Renaissance

While the new zeitgeist was in stark contradiction to the Middle Ages, which were considered dull, a humanistic image of man based on antiquity was made the basis of the renewal. In addition to the aforementioned book printing, increasing literacy was also a factor in the fact that new theories and ideas became widespread. The Renaissance is known as the literary era in which the number of publications exploded. However, the majority of the books and writings published were aimed at the somewhat lower instincts of humans.

As expected, antiquity also had an important influence on the literature of the Renaissance. If the Greek models are unmistakable, especially in the drama, the break with the Middle Ages in the lyric and epic is not that great. Flowing transitions here often make it clear that many Renaissance authors continued to orientate themselves towards Central European traditions. All in all, a considerable variety of literary genres and currents can be identified from the 15th century.

Renaissance epic

The increasing focus on people is expressed in the Renaissance through the widespread distribution of folk books, which were aimed at a broad readership as a hodgepodge of sagas, legends, fables and ballads. In addition, the knight, adventure and picaresque novels, which were already popular in the Middle Ages, met with great interest, but they now made contemporary heroes (e.g. Till owl game) the topic.

Furthermore, the Renaissance is the marriage of satires, pranks and fool's literature; Often these literary forms were used to practice supposedly harmless criticism of the religious and lordly authorities (e.g. the dark man's letters published by Johannes Reuchlin).

Renaissance lyric poetry

The echoes of the Middle Ages are particularly strong in the area of ​​lyric poetry; Thus the heyday of the folk song, which can be ascertained in the Renaissance, points directly back to the inferior love. Martin Luther is also considered to be the creator of the evangelical hymn, which for the first time enabled believers to actively participate in worship. Master song gained popularity in the 16th century; After this lyric, which followed strict rules in terms of structure and form, initially developed in church singing brotherhoods, the Meistersang soon became known as an art form of the guild craftsmen. The example of traditional poetry shows that the literature of the Renaissance - not least because of the higher level of education - was created almost exclusively in an urban environment.

As the author of over 4,000 master songs, Hans Sachs in particular made outstanding contributions to the poetry of the Renaissance; In addition, around 200 written dramas and an almost unmanageable number of epic writings point to an impressive productivity of the shoemaker.

Renaissance drama

Similar to the way that high, flat and low love was aimed at different audiences in previous centuries, the drama of the Renaissance was also characterized by great diversity. The ideals of humanism were committed to those works that were based on ancient models such as Seneca in terms of structure, design of the acts and the often moralizing undertone.

The carnival game, which is considered to be a pioneer of modern drama, also aimed to educate the audience. Serious topics were mostly packed into a comedic - sometimes even silly - plot. The dramatic swank is based on the carnival game, which with its curious situations and woodcut-like characters already comes close to the later pieces of the popular theater.


Featured image: Creative Lab / Shutterstock

Page published on 02/28/2015. Last update on September 3rd, 2020.