Humanism and Classic Revival

Literary Humanism is a devotion to the humanities or literary culture.


 Renaissance Humanism is the spirit of learning that developed at the end of the middle ages with the revival of classical letters and a renewed confidence in the ability of human beings to determine for themselves truth and falsehood.

Info sources: http://americanhumanist.org/humanism/what_is_humanism


Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, c.1492, drawingpen, ink and wash on paper, Accademia of Venice, Italy.
Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, c.1492, drawingpen, ink and wash on paper, Accademia of Venice, Italy.

image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatour.jpg


The time when the term “Humanism” was first adopted is unknown. It is, however, certain that both Italy and the re-adopting of Latin letters as the staple of human culture were responsible for the name “Humanists.”

Info sources: http://www.iep.utm.edu/humanism/

Defining Humanism

Roughly speaking, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:

  • Trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (therefore an atheist or agnostic);
  • Makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals;
  • Believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.

Info sources: https://humanism.org.uk/humanism/

Renaissance Humanism

Humanism is the term generally applied to the predominant social philosophy and intellectual and literary currents of the period from 1400 to 1650. The return to favor of the pagan classics stimulated the philosophy of secularism, the appreciation of worldly pleasures, and above all intensified the assertion of personal independence and individual expression.

Expansion of trade, growth of prosperity and luxury, and widening social contacts generated interest in worldly pleasures, in spite of formal allegiance to ascetic Christian doctrine. Men thus affected – the humanists – welcomed classical writers who revealed similar social values and secular attitudes.

The humanist mentality stood at a point midway between medieval supernaturalism and the modern scientific and critical attitude. Renaissance man may indeed have found himself suspended between faith and reason.

Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of Dante, c.1495, oil on canvas, Bibliothèque et fondation Martin Bodmer (Cologny, Suisse)
Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of Dante, c.1495, oil on canvas, Bibliothèque et fondation Martin Bodmer (Cologny, Suisse).

image sources: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dante_Alighieri%27s_portrait_by_Sandro_Botticelli.jpg

As the grip of medieval supernaturalism began to diminish, secular and human interests became more prominent.

The present world became an end in itself instead of simply preparation of a world to come. Indeed, as the age of Renaissance humanism wore on, the distinction between this world (the City of Man) and the next (the City of God) tended to disappear.

The Humanism was, above everything else, fundamentally an aesthetic movement. Human experience, man himself, tended to become the practical measure of all things. The ideal life was no longer a monastic escape from society, but a full participation in rich and varied human relationships.

The dominating element in the finest classical culture was aesthetic rather than supernatural or scientific.

Santi di Tito, Famous posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), second half of 16th century, oil on canvas, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Tuscany, Italy.
Santi di Tito, Niccolò Machiavelli, second half of 16th century, oil on canvas, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Niccol%C3%B2_Machiavelli_by_Santi_di_Tito.jpg

Humanistic contributions to science consisted mainly in the recovery of Greek scientific literature which evinced a more accurate and acceptable body of facts and ideas than most medieval scientific works.

The intellectuals of antiquity, in contrast to the Christians, were relatively unconcerned about the supernatural world and the eternal destiny of the soul. They were primarily interested in a happy, adequate, and efficient life here on earth. Hellenic philosophy was designed to teach man how to live successfully rather than how to die with the assurance of ultimate salvation.

The period from the 14th century to the 17th worked in favor of the general emancipation of the individual. The city-states of northern Italy had come into contact with the diverse customs of the East, and gradually permitted expression in matters of taste and dress. The writings of Dante, and particularly the doctrines of Petrarch and humanists like Machiavelli, emphasized the virtues of intellectual freedom and individual expression. In the essays of Montaigne the individualistic view of life received perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent statement in the history of literature and philosophy.

Michel de Montaigne, portrait.
Michel de Montaigne, portrait.

image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michel_de_Montaigne_1.jpg

Individualism and the instinct of curiosity were vigorously cultivated. Honest doubt began to replace unreasoning faith.

Info sources: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/humanism.html

Classicism

Early humanists returned to the classics less with nostalgia or awe than with a sense of deep familiarity, an impression of having been brought newly into contact with expressions of an intrinsic and permanent human reality.

Machiavelli’s term “umanità” (humanity) means more than kindness; it is a direct translation of the Latin humanitas.

Classical thought offered insight into the heart of things. In addition, the classics suggested methods by which, once known, human reality could be transformed from an accident of history into an artifact of will. Antiquity was rich in examples—actual or poetic—of epic action, victorious eloquence, and applied understanding. Carefully studied and well employed, Classical rhetoric could implement enlightened policy, while Classical poetics could carry enlightenment into the very souls of men. In a manner that might seem paradoxical to more-modern minds, humanists associated Classicism with the future.

Info sources: http://www.britannica.com/topic/humanism

Classicism in architecture

Classicism in architecture developed during the Italian Renaissance, notably in the writings and designs of Leon Battista Alberti and the work of Filippo Brunelleschi. It places emphasis on symmetry, proportion, geometry and the regularity of parts as they are demonstrated in the architecture of Classical antiquity and in particular, the architecture of Ancient Rome, of which many examples remained.

Statue of Leon Battista Alberti of Giovanni Lusini , located in Florence's Uffizi Gallery .
Statue of Leon Battista Alberti of Giovanni Lusini , located in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery .

Orderly arrangements of columns, pilasters and lintels, as well as the use of semicircular arches, hemispherical domes, niches and “aedicules” replaced the more complex proportional systems and irregular profiles of medieval buildings.

In the 16th century, Sebastiano Serlio helped codify the classical orders and Palladio‘s legacy evolved into the long tradition of Palladian architecture.

Church of Santa Maria Novella, facade by Leon Battista Alberti, 1456–70, Florence, Italy.
Church of Santa Maria Novella, facade by Leon Battista Alberti, 1456–70, Florence, Italy.

Info sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classicism#In_architecture

As noted above, classical styles of architecture dominated Western architecture for a very long time, roughly from the Renaissance until the advent of Modernism. That is to say, that classical antiquity at least in theory was considered the prime source of inspiration for architectural endeavors in the West for much of Modern history.

Furthermore, the styles of architecture not typically considered classical, like Gothic, can be said to contain classical elements.

The more or less defining characteristic can still be said to be a reference to ancient Greek or Roman architecture, and the architectural rules or theories that derived from that architecture.

Filippo Brunelleschi, Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy.
Filippo Brunelleschi, 1422-1470, Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, Italy.

image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_San_Lorenzo,_Florence

Info sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_architecture

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