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Causes of the Renaissance What caused this rebirth of the visual arts is still unclear: the 14th century

( trecento) in Europe witnessed several catastrophic harvests, the Black Death (1346), and a continuing war between England and France. Hardly ideal conditions for an outburst of creativity, let alone a sustained rinascita of paintings, drawings, sculptures and new buildings. Moreover, the Church - the biggest patron of the arts - was racked with disagreements about spiritual and secular issues. Increased Prosperity However, more positive currents were also evident. In Italy, Venice and Genoa had grown rich on trade with the Orient, while Florence was a centre of wool, silk and jewellery art, and was home to the fabulous wealth of the cultured and art-conscious Medici family. Prosperity was also coming to Northern Europe, as evidenced by the establishment in Germany of the Hanseatic League of cities. This increasing wealth provided the financial support for a growing number of commissions of large public and private art projects, while the trade routes upon which it was based greatly assisted the spread of ideas and thus contributed to the growth of the movement across the Continent. Allied to this spread of ideas, which incidentally speeded up significantly with the invention of printing, there was an undoubted sense of impatience at the slow progress of change. After a thousand years of cultural and intellectual starvation, Europe (and especially Italy) was anxious for a re-birth. Weakness of the Church Paradoxically, the weak position of the Church gave added momentum to the Renaissance. First, it allowed the spread of Humanism - which in bygone eras would have been strongly resisted; second, it prompted later Popes (eg. Pope Julius II, 1503-13) to spend extravagantly on architecture, sculpture and painting in Rome and in the Vatican (eg. see Vatican Museums, notably theSistine Chapel frescoes) - in order to recapture their lost influence. Their response to the Reformation (c.1520) - known as the Counter Reformation continued this process to the end of the sixteenth century. An Age of Exploration The Renaissance era in art history parallels the onset of the great Western age of discovery, during which appeared a general desire to explore all aspects of nature and the world. European naval explorers discovered new sea routes, new continents and established new colonies. In the same way, European architects, sculptors and painters demonstrated their own desire for new methods and knowledge. According to the Italian painter, architect, and Renaissance commentator Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), it was not merely the growing respect for classical antiquity that drove the Renaissance, but also a growing desire to study and imitate nature.

Another revolutionary thinker was Roger Bacon (1214-1294). He criticized Aristotle and the church severely. He accepted from the past whatever was reasonable and worked patiently for the cause of the new spirit. Owing to his broad outlook and spirit of scientific investigation, he studied subjects like mathematics, physics, natural science and philosophy. He had the foresight to anticipate several modern invasions and wrote about the possibility of having ships without rowers, vehicles without draught animals and flying machines. However, owing to Bacons bold approach and original thinking, he earned the enmity of the church, which punished him as well as Peter Abelard. The fall of Constantinople led to a widespread and systematic study of Greek heritage. After Constantinople, the great center of civilization and culture, fell into hands of the Ottoman Turks, Greek scholars fled to various parts of Europe, where they diffused the great ideas of ancient Greece. Thus an enthusiasm in the study of the classics was injected into the minds of the Europeans.

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A rapid spread of ideas was possible by the introduction of the printing press. In the middle of the 15th century, John Gutenberg was successful in operating the first printing press with movable types at Mainz in Germany, where the Indulgences of Nicholas V running into 31 lines was perhaps printed in 1454. In 1473, the first book was printed in Hungary. Printing presses were also set up in 1477 in England by Caxton, as well as in Italy by 1465. New ideas were brought to Europe owing to the Crusades which brought about contacts with the Arabs and other people in the East. Voyages were conducted to new countries by adventurers. The geographical explorers and travelers felt that it was essential to absorb the ideas of the East and also to create new ideas. Their voyages of exploration and discovery led to wealth and prosperity, as well as to a broader vision. A great role was played by progressive kings and Popes in fostering the Renaissance. Thus Pope Nicholas V was not only a great scholar, but also a generous patron of the scholars of classical learning. So also, Renaissance scholarship reached its height under Pope Leo X. Some of the nobles and rich merchants also patronized art and scholarship. For example, artists likeMichael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci were patronized by the brilliantMedici family of Florence

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