The Renaissance

Society, Culture, Economy & Politics during the Renaissance

The Renaissance: A Time of Rebirth

The Renaissance was a time of rebirth in Italy. The Renaissance started in Italy and gradually moved, as trade increased. Trade increased new goods were sold, thus boosting the economy, and new ideas also spread. The Renaissance started around 1400 and is said to have ended around 1650, though there is not an exact date, because the end of the Renaissance was very gradual. Overall the Renaissance was a time for new ideas to spread and for new learning to take place.



During the Renaissance new ideas spread. One idea that spread was Humanism. Humanism is the idea that human life matters. Many artists and thinkers use this concept. Artists for example, start painting more human beings, and bible characters, such as angels and saints are painted in a more human like form.

Francesco Petrarca

Francesco is known as the first Humanist. Francesco believed that everybody, women included, should have a well rounded education. Francesco also believed that everybody should pay attention to politics, and if possible, should take part in them as well. Finally, Francesco believed that people should use logic and common sense to solve problems, rather than praying to God to get it done. Overall Francesco was an important figure because he shaped ideas that some people still believe in today.

Artists During the Renaissance

Artists had a large roll in the Renaissance. Artists help people understand stories and science through paintings and pictures they create.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was a man of many talents. Not only was he an artist, he was also a great thinker, inventor, and architect. Leonardo designed the helicopter, machine gun, the tank and the parachute. While his designs were not built in his life, Leonardo takes credit for these designs.


Raphael was also a painter during the Renaissance. Raphael is most commonly known for his painting School of Athens. Raphael also paints refrescos in the Vatican Palace. Raphael accomplished quite a bit in his life, even though he only lived to the age of 37.


Michelangelo was a sought after artist during the Renaissance. Michelangelo is well known for his statue of David. David is a biblical figure whom fought Goliath. Michelangelo is also known for the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. However, Michelangelo was also a scientist. Michelangelo dissected the dead to better learn about anatomy. Michelangelo uses this knowledge to help him paint more lifelike people.


During the Renaissance Italians start to study architecture. Italians start studying ruins to learn new building styles. Eventually Italians learn the Golden Mean, a proportion used in many buildings. When the Golden Mean is used, the building is 1.63 times longer than it is wide. One new design is the dome. Domes are used on many churches because a circle represents God, because God doesn't have a beginning or a end. Italians believe that they perfect the dome, and that perfection also is like God. The largest dome created during the Renaissance is on the Duomo Cathedral in Florence. The Duomo dome is still the largest dome today that is made out of stone.

Sports and Drama

During the Renaissance many sports competitions were held during festivals. One popular sport was Palio, bareback horse races. Palio races are still held today in some Italian cities. Some other popular events were the donkey races, buffalo races, and the old men races. Many people would come out to bet on which donkey, buffalo or man would win each race. All year round however, drama took place. Many people went to the Globe Theater to watch shows. The theater is where you can find most people when a show takes place because admission prices are fairly low. For a regular seat admission is 1 cent. A balcony seat is 2 cents however. Theaters were usually very large and during shows were very loud. Viewers would yell at the performers and throw things at them as well. Overall sports and the theater were both very popular during the Renaissance.

Festivals and Celebrations

One popular festival was Carnival. Carnival lasts from New Years and goes until Ash Wednesday, or the beginning or Lent. During Carnival people play tricks on one another. There is also a masquerade held, where people wear masks and get judged. During Carnival many races are held, like the ones listed above.


Music is also very important during the Renaissance. Everywhere you go music will probably be playing. In churches many people sing with the choir. Many people also play instruments in the streets, in taverns and at parties. Almost everyone in Italy can play an instrument at this time so there is rarely a time when music cannot be heard. New advancements are also made in music. Musicians discover pitch. If an instrument has shorter strings the note that the string makes will be higher. If the string is longer, the pitch will be lower. Music starts getting used in the theater, and opera is born. Overall music is very popular during the Renaissance.

Education and Languages

There are also new ideas about learning during the Renaissance. Children start to go to secondary school, because there are new standards about how much a child should learn. People now believe that children need to be taught more to be useful to society. Children also start learning Latin again. Latin had sort of disappeared before, but people find it important to start printing and speaking more Latin.

New Inventions

During the Renaissance there are many new advancements. Many of these advancements we have improved upon and still use today.

There are many new advancements for people who travel. Some of these advancements include the a better magnetic compass, better mapping and the invention of the astrolabe. With the astrolabe sailors can now determine the latitude and longitude they are at. Another important invention is the printing press. Johannes Gutenburg invents the printing press, which makes books cheaper and more widespread. Before the printing press books had to hand copied. Now books could be produced faster and more people could purchase them. The printing press helped Italy to become more literate. Some other inventions of this time include eye glasses, window glass, the handgun, the pencil, wallpaper, the pocket watch, the thermometer, the telescope, the submarine, and finally the parachute.


Food and Clothing

During the Renaissance the wealthy used food and clothing to show that they were wealthy. The wealthy bought more expensive clothing, and never made their own clothes. Whereas middle class and the poor would buy pieces of fabric and stitch their own clothing. The wealthy also flaunted their wealthy by importing expensive foods and spices from far away places. The poor would eat meals that contained beef, vegetables and bread. The wealthy however would eat expensive items such as pasta, lamb, pigeon, and roast swan. They would also import expensive spices such as nutmeg, cloves and saffron. In conclusion the wealthy dressed differently and ate expensive items to show off their wealth.

Housing and Furniture

The wealthy also used their housing to show their wealth. Many poor people lived out in the country and lived in wooden huts. Wood was cheaper than stone and plaster, but it also caught fire a lot easier. The wealthy lived in stone and plaster houses, and the wealthy often had glass windows. Because the poor couldn't afford glass they would have small holes in the stone with shutters, which served as a window. Oil lamps were uses to light the homes, because there wasn't running water or electricity. Houses were also sparsely furnished. Most houses had a chest, table and bench and a bed. The bed was very important because entire families shared one bed. Overall people living during the Renaissance didn't have any of the luxuries that we have today.

Status and Families

Families during the Renaissance were Paterfamilias. This means that the oldest male runs the household. The oldest male was in charge of arranging marriages as well. Marriages were usually done to increase a families wealth, status or fame, not to unite two people who were in love. Status was very important during the Renaissance. People would usually find a way to show off their status. One example of this would be artwork. Wealthy families would by the most expensive painter they could buy to paint their portraits. Overall families were run by the oldest male, and status was very important.

Illnesses and Cures

There were many illnesses that spread during the Renaissance. Some were treatable, like a headache, the common cold, baldness and skin disease, but others, like Malaria, Black Death, and Typhus would all kill you should you get them. Very few people could afford to go to a doctor, and usually couldn't go to the hospital either because the hospital was expensive. Barber-surgeons were commonly visited to fix broken bones, to pull teeth and to get stitches. Sick people might also visit an apothecary or herbalist to get herbs to treat their illness. Basic knowledge was shared on how to get rid of a headache, a cold, baldness and skin disease. If a patient had a headache, the patient would have to put a pot of molten lead on there head. If they had a cold, a turnip was stuck up their nose. If they were bald their head should be rubbed with burned pigeon droppings. And if they had skin disease they should touch the king. If a doctor didn't know what was wrong, they would probably do a procedure called bloodletting, where they drain the blood in one arm, and put different blood into the patients other arm.

Politics and Government

Rulers and Voting

During this time rulers would lead independent city-states. Each ruler would make rules that the citizens would have to follow. In some city-states rulers would be voted in. Only wealthy men could vote, and they would use their money to influence the vote.

Crimes and Punishment

Each city-state had its own police department. The police were usually very cruel and corrupt. After a criminal had been caught the criminal would go to trial. The judge would then decide if the criminal was innocent or guilty. Torture was often used in the courtroom, and the criminal would often admit to the crime to escape the torture. However, torture didn't end after the criminal left the courtroom. Punishments were very severe and usually involved death. The worse punishment a criminal could receive would being hung, drawn and quartered. This punishment would have the criminal hung until they had almost died, then the criminal's insides would be cut out, and if that didn't kill them, then each of the criminals limbs would be tied to a horse, and the horses would all run in opposite directions, thus pulling the limbs from the body. Some other punishments include hanging, being whipped or beaten publicly, limbs could be locked in the stocks, beheading, and finally, a criminal's ears, nose, hands, or tongue could be cut off. Overall punishment for criminals was very severe.

Holy Inquisition

The church had a special court called the Hoy Inquisition. This court heard special cases about heresy and witchcraft. They would then decide the punishment that should follow. In some cases offenders were burnt at the stake. In other cases however, the offender was sentenced to jail or house arrest, had to pay a fine, or repent their sins and do a penance. Overall the Holy Inquisition was a court that dealt with Church cases.


Coins and Currency

Each city-state in Italy had a different currency. In the city of Florence for example, they used the Florin. The Florin was 3.5 grams of gold. Venice has a similar coin, the Ducat. We don't know how much these coins were worth back then because the price of gold fluctuates.

Guilds and Wages

Many people joined guilds in the city. A lot of these guilds specialized in silk and wool. Other guilds would buy an inferior product from another vendor, and would make it into a better, more expensive product. Consumers would then buy the higher quality good. This helps Florentine guilds make a large profit, and Florence becomes a very wealthy city. The people who worked in guilds would make around 100 ducats a year. Soldiers made even less, only making fifteen ducats a year. Whereas the king made nearly 800,000 ducats a year. To put this in perspective, a home for a middle class citizen cost nearly 46,000 ducats. Here you can assume these numbers would be similar to the people working these jobs in Florence because the ducat and the florin were very similar.

Florence and the Medici Family

Florence was a very wealthy city and one very wealthy family ruled for a while. This family was the Medici family. The first Medici to come into power was Giovanni de Medici. Giovanni was the banker for the Pope's court. Giovanni also held many political offices in Florence. When Giovanni dies in 1429 his son Cosimo takes over. Cosimo was also a banker. Cosimo builds many relationships in Florence and also gave many artists patronage. Patronage is money given to help support an artist. After Cosimo dies, his son Piero takes over for about five years, but then Cosimo's grandson Lorenzo takes over. Lorenzo expands the economy while he has a lot of power. However, the family banking business declines and the Medici family is forced to flee Florence.

Other Information

New Ideas in the Church

Many new ideas spread in the Church. One person who sparks new ideas is Martin Luther.

Martin Luther

Martin was an important man during the Renaissance. Martin creates a list of complaints he has against the Church. This list is called the 95 Theses. One of Martin's complaints was that people were giving more money to the Church to get out of Purgatory and into Heaven faster. Martin nails his list of complaints to the doors of the Church, and with the help of the Printing Press Martin's ideas spread quickly. When Pope Leo X hears of Martin he calls Martin a heretic and Martin is kicked out of the Church. Martin's ideas continue to spread however, and a new religion, Protestantism is formed in 1540.

Golden Age

The Golden Age of the Renaissance is when the Renaissance is at its peak. After the Golden Age the Renaissance starts to go away.

Important People of the Renaissance

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was a great writer during the Renaissance. Shakespeare wrote over thirty plays, and is also known for his acting. Shakespeare wrote many famous plays, such as Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. Many of Shakespeare's works were performed in the Globe Theater. To learn more about Shakespeare go to the following link.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli is a politician during the Renaissance. Machiavelli is famous for many of his sayings such as, "Fear is a better motivator than affection." Machiavelli masters politics by using deception. Machiavelli also believes that politics should be science based, not based on religion. Machiavelli believes that the Church shouldn't have anything to do with politics.

Isabella d’Este

Isabella is also a very important Renaissance figure. Isabella was a figure most women looked up to. Isabella was know for her good fashion sense, as well as being an educated women. Isabella never stopped learning. Isabella was also a patron to the arts, and gave patronages to many artists. Isabella was also a collector. She collected all sorts of things and kept them in a grotto, or a vault. Isabella also saved 12,000 letters that she wrote and had them filed away. We can learn a lot about the Renaissance because of the things Isabella saved, therefore Isabella was an important figure during the Renaissance.

William Harvey

William Harvey makes a large scientific discovery during the Renaissance. Harvey finds out that the liver doesn't pump blood, which is what most scientists think. Harvey discovers that the heart pumps blood. Many scientists after Harvey base their research off of Harvey's work.


Galileo was a great inventor and thinker during the Renaissance. Galileo builds a very powerful telescope and uses it to gaze at the stars. He publishes his findings, and says that the Earth and all of the other planets revolve around the sun. This is against what most people believe and people call him a heretic. Galileo was convicted of heresy and was sentenced to house arrest. Galileo died while on house arrest.

To learn more about Galileo click on the link that follows.

Pope Leo X

Pope Leo X was also an important figure during the Renaissance. Pope Leo rules during the Golden Age, or height of the Renaissance. Leo supports the arts, including artists and actors, and gives a large patronage to Raphael. Raphael in return paints much of the Vatican. When Pope Leo dies in 1521, the Golden Age dies along with him.


Overall a lot of different things went on during the Renaissance. Several people made new discoveries. Others made paintings that can tell us about the Renaissance. Still others helped change the views of the Church. In conclusion the Renaissance was indeed a rebirth for Italy.

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