Humanism and Classic Revival

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

The spirit of learning at the end of the middle ages is Renaissance Humanism which developed with the resurgence of classical letters and a renewed confidence in the ability of the human to determine truth and lie for themselves.
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: by mdwombat

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.”

Defining Humanism

Put simply, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:

  • Relies on the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (therefore atheist or agnostic);
  • Makes its own ethical decisions based on reasonempathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals;
  • Believes that, in the absence of an afterlife, human beings can act to make sense of their lives by seeking happiness and helping others to do the same.

Renaissance Humanism

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

The interest in worldly pleasures has been generated by the expansion of commerce, the growth of prosperity and luxury, and the expansion of social contacts, despite formal fidelity to ascetic Christian doctrine. Humanists  welcomed classical writers who revealed similar social values and secular attitudes.

The humanist mentality was halfway between medieval supernaturalism and the modern scientific and critical attitude. Renaissance man may have found himself suspended between faith and reason.

Portrait de Simonetta Vespucci, Sandro Botticelli, 1476-1480
by Sandro Botticelli 1476-1480 – Portrait de Simonetta Vespucci

Image sources: by La case photo de Got

Secular and human interests became more important as the hold of medieval supernaturalism began to wane.

The present world has become an end in itself rather than began the preparation for a world to come. The distinction between this world and the other with the advancement of the age of Renaissance humanism tended to disappear.

Humanism was fundamentally an aesthetic movementHuman experience, the man himself, tended to become the practical measure of all things. The ideal life was full participation in rich and varied human relationships.

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

Attribué à Santi di Tito, Portrait d'un jeune homme (vers 1560-1575), huile sur bois, 111,8 x 83,8 - Norfolk, Chrysler Museum of Art
by Santi di Tito-Portrait d’un jeune homme (vers 1560-1575)-Chrysler Museum of Art

Image source: by Héliodore

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

The intellectuals of antiquity were disinterested in the supernatural world and the eternal destiny of the soul was instead interested in a happyadequate, and efficient life here on earth. Hellenic philosophy was designed to teach a man how to live successfully rather than how to die with the certainty of final 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 different customs of the East and allowed themselves to express themselves in matters of taste and clothing. Dante’s writings, and particularly the doctrines of Petrarch and humanists such as Machiavelli, emphasized the virtues of intellectual freedom and individual expression. In Montaigne’s essays, the individualistic view of life received perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent affirmation in the history of literature and philosophy.

Michel de Montagne
Michel de Montaigne, portrait.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons .org/photos/6c0c5a99-c0a3-413f-ad89-30d2667a089f by Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara

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


The early humanists returned to the classics with a sense of profound familiarity, the impression of having once again been brought 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 thinking offered insight into the heart of things. Furthermore, the classics suggested methods by which human reality could transform itself from an accident of history into an artifact of the will. Antiquity was full of examples of epic actionvictorious eloquence, and applied to understand. Classical rhetoric carries out enlightened politics, while Classical poetics could bring enlightenment into the very souls of men. In a way paradoxical to most modern minds, humanists have associated Classicism with the future.

Classicism in architecture

Classicism in architecture developed during the Italian Renaissance, in the writings and drawings of Leon Battista Alberti and in the work of Filippo Brunelleschi with an emphasis on the symmetryproportiongeometry, and regularity of the parts as demonstrated in the architecture of Classical antiquity and the architecture of Ancient Rome.

Monument to Leon Battista Alberti
Monument to Leon Battista Alberti (c.1836)- Santa Croce, Florence

Image source: by rjhuttondfw

Florence, Italy
Santa Maria del Fiore-Florence, Italy-  by Filippo Brunelleschi

Image source: by DrBob317

The more complex proportional systems and irregular profiles of medieval buildings were replaced by the orderly arrangements of columnspilasters, and architraves, the use of round archeshemispherical domes, niches, and “aedicules”.

In the 16th century, Sebastiano Serlio contributed to codify the classical orders and Palladio‘s legacy was transformed into the long tradition of Palladian architecture.

Façade (lower side: end 13Th-half 14th century; portal and upper side (after 1458) by Leon Battista Alberti (Genova 1404-Rome 1472) - Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence
Church of Santa Maria Novella, facade by Leon Battista Alberti, 1456–70, Florence, Italy.

Image source: by Carlo Raso

From the Renaissance until the advent of Modernism, classical styles of architecture have long dominated Western architecture. That is to say, for much of Modern history, that classical antiquity has been considered the main source of inspiration for architectural endeavors in the West.

Furthermore, architectural styles not considered typically classical, such as Gothic, contain classical elements.

The more or less decisive feature 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.

San Lorenzo, Florence (Basilica di San Lorenzo)
Basilica of San Lorenzo, Brunelleschi, Florence, Italy

Image source: by Metadata Deluxe

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