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Answer each question in a one page essay form. This means that your assignment should be at least 3 pages (1 page for each question), double spaced. No outside reference.
1. In your own word define humanism as it develops in the early stages of the Renaissance. What values arise within the humanist turn? What values, structures, or ideas are replaced or re-envisioned during this stage?
2. Are women included in the humanist turn during the Renaissance? Who counts as “human” and how is this reinforced in society? For the women who do succeed during this time period, what themes dominate in their art and expressions?
3. Is Machiavelli’s understanding of human nature negative or positive? How can you tell? What is the ideal leader for Machiavelli? Why are these qualities important?
Answer questions based on this chapters information:
The Definition of Humanism
Humanism is the term generally applied to the overreaching social and intellectual philosophies of the Renaissance era, in which the beauty of the individual was elevated to preeminence. To put it in simpler terms, humanism is the belief that humanity has beauty, worth, and dignity. Therefore, life here on Earth should be cherished rather than simply endured.
Why Humanism Developed
As the power of the Church began to decline, humanism grew in popularity
Before we delve headlong into humanism and the effect it had on the individual, we must first discuss the reason behind its development. During the Middle Ages, between about the 3rd and 13th centuries, life and culture were primarily focused on the Church and religion. However, toward the beginning of the 14th century, the power of the Church began to greatly decline. This decline is the main reason for the development of humanism, as people became less interested in thinking about God, the afterlife, and the saints and more interested in thinking about themselves, their natural world, and the here and now.
Many historians believe there were two main causes of this decline, the first being the bubonic plague which ravaged Europe and killed over half of many countries’ populations. As the plague devastated and destroyed, the Church was helpless to stop it. People prayed, and people filled cathedrals, yet loved ones continued to die. This led many to disenchantment, causing them to seek out other explanations beyond the spiritual for human suffering and loss.
The second, and perhaps most profound reason for the decline of the Church, was the rise of the market economy. As money began to be amassed through trade, the power of the Church declined even more. From this rose city-states and monarchies governed more by economy than religious restriction. All in all, the Church became too stuffy, too impractical, and too rigid; thus, it was replaced with the secular human’s capacity to learn, create, and especially, enjoy! In short, it was replaced with the idea of humanism, where the study of human progress and human nature is at the center of all things.
Now that we’ve covered the reason for the development of humanism, we can dive into what this actually meant for the individual in the areas of independence and interests.
How Humanism Changed Individual Independence
Prior to the 14th century, wealth was based on land ownership and the poor had to work the land
First, humanism radically changed the idea of individual independence. Prior to the 14th century, much of Europe, and especially Northern Europe, practiced the feudal system in which wealth was based on land ownership. Generally speaking, under this system, people were seen as part of a collective whole to keep feudal society and the manor system intact. Serfs, or the poor workers, were tools used by the wealthy to work their land holdings and keep their wealth intact. Adding to this imprisonment of sorts, the Church believed that to be concerned with yourself and your rights was nothing more than arrogance, rebellion, and sin! One should only be concerned with obeying the rules and following them without question.
However, as we mentioned earlier, thanks to the plague and the rise of trade, the power of the Church and feudalism shrank and the importance of the individual grew. Man and human nature were no longer seen as totally sinful and in need of punishment but instead as independent, beautiful, and individual creations of God. This is particularly seen in the writings of Petrarch, the Father of Humanism, in which he states, ‘Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure!,’ or in other words, ‘Go on and express yourself!’ These ideals were further expressed in the famous speech, The Dignity of Man, in which the renowned orator Mirandola states, ‘You with no limit or no bound, may choose for yourself!’ Again, he’s saying, ‘You’re an individual – you’re an independent – you’re free!’
How Humanism Changed Individuals’ Interests
This brings us to how humanism changed not only the idea of individual freedom, but also how humanism changed the interests of the individual. Remember, up to this point, anything not centered around the Church was considered sinful. The human being and earth were wicked, and only heaven and the afterlife were worthy to encompass human thought. Humanism turned this idea completely on its head as scholars, artists, and writers began centering their works on man and his experience while here on earth rather than in the afterlife. Instead of spending their time and efforts on penance and self-denial, humanists resurrected the ideals of the ancient Greeks, who placed the study and progress of human nature at the center of their interests.
Civic humanism places a great emphasis on Man as actively engaged in the world as the center of power. In their writings and speeches, the humanists formulated an ideology for the Florentine citizenry, which, while derived from classical sources, was also firmly rooted in the realities of the city’s experience. The ancient Roman Republic, rather than the later Empire, was seen by Leonardo Bruni and others as the model state. Cicero’s political activity in defense of Republican ideals and civic spirit were acclaimed by humanists and used as models. This ideology thus exalted civic virtues of participation in public affairs, the concept of the ‘active life’ pursued by merchants and statesmen, as opposed to the contemplative life of ascetics and scholars. Furthermore, it viewed the acquisition of wealth not as an impediment to knowledge and salvation, but instead as a resource to be used in the promotion of learning and morality. Rational activity as opposed to divine contemplation was given value. The civic orientation was further intensified by the political and military crisis resulting from Gian Galeazzo Visconti’s expansion over northern Italy, which threatened to exterminate Florentine liberties. We see constructed in ‘civic humanism’ an ideology, congruent with the “new men” of Florence, which will profoundly influence our modern attitudes.
A central concept in civic humanism was the idea of “virtù”
The essential term is the Italian virtù, which Leon Battista Alberti used in the fifteenth century for “those excelling gifts which God gave to the soul of [hu]man, greatest and preeminent above all other earthly animals.” A human of virtù in Renaissance Italian, coming from the Latin virtus meaning power or capability [note that the root for the Latin word virtus is vir, the Latin word for “human”], was a human being with active intellectual power to command any situation, to do as he intended, like an architect producing a building according to his design; by contrast with someone at the mercy of fortuna, of chance or luck, of the accidents of fortuitous circumstance, unforeseen and hence out of control.
The conception of the human of virtù, the virtuouso aiming at reasoned and examined control alike of his own thoughts, intentions, and actions, and also of his surroundings, points to the essence of the moral and intellectual commitments by which the Western scientific movement was generated. The conception of virtù embodied a program for relating man to the world as perceiver and knower and agent in the context of integral moral, social, and cosmological existence. The program presupposed the stability of nature and mankind and of their relations; entailed a commitment to an examined life of reasoned consistency in intellectual, practical, and moral life alike and it generated a common style in the mastery of self, or nature and of mankind alike by the rational anticipation of effects.
Alberti’s On the Family
Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) is best known for his works on painting and architecture, but also wrote the most famous treatise on the family in Renaissance Italy (1434). His wide range of knowledge makes him the kind of person sometimes described as a “Renaissance man.”
The Renaissance was a cultural movement based on the revival of Latin and Greek literature and art. 15th century Florence became the first place in western Europe where Greek was taught since antiquity; Alberti clearly draws on Greek literature, especially Xenophon, in this treatise.
Like Dante and the Strozzi, the Alberti were wealthy Florentines exiled as a result of political conflicts. Ironically, our expert on the family was himself illegitimate and a cleric who never married. His view of “the way a family should be” derives from his own negative experience of rejection, hostility and denial of financial assistance by his relatives.
Humanism as the New Patriarchy
Definition: Patriarchal (adj.) describes a general structure in which men have power over women. Society (n.) is the entirety of relations of a community. A patriarchal society consists of a male-dominated power structure throughout organized society and in individual relationships.
A patriarchy, from the ancient Greek patriarches, was a society where power was held by and passed down through the elder males. When modern historians and sociologists describe a “patriarchal society,” they mean that men hold the positions of power: head of the family unit, leaders of social groups, boss in the workplace and heads of government.
Feminist theorists have expanded the definition of patriarchal society to describe a systemic bias against women. As second-wave feminists examined society during the 1960s, they did observe households headed by women and female leaders. They were of course concerned with whether this was uncommon. More significant, however, was the way society perceived women in power as an exception to a collectively held view of women’s “role” in society.
Rather than saying that individual men oppressed women, most feminists saw that oppression of women came from the underlying bias of a patriarchal society.
Renaissance humanist writings on women worked carefully to prevent women from participating in the new world of the active life at its most heroic and powerful, the public sphere of government and the professional occupations (law, medicine, teaching, etc.). By defining the public sphere as an exclusively male domain and by confining virtuous women of all ages (daughters, wives, mothers, and widows) to the private sphere, Renaissance humanism confined upper class women to a new patriarchal family loosely grounded on the “traditional family values” of ancient republican Rome. Although rudimentary education was available to most upper-class women at home, higher education was institutionally off-limits to women. Nonetheless, some noblewomen and the daughters of enlightened humanists such as Thomas More were educated to a much higher level, as were some women in convents.
Despite obstacles to higher education, thousands of upper-class women participated in the world of high culture as patrons, artists, viewers, and writers. The invention of printing and the growing flood of vernacular literature after 1500 allowed women (and ordinary men) new opportunities to publish their own works. In general, printing loosened what had been an institutionalized, patriarchal grip on education, writing, and high culture. On the other hand, women writers (and artists) faced an uphill battle against hostile male colleagues, traditional theology, mainstream social thinking, and patriarchy entrenched in all manner of institutions. Every woman writer struggled in a male-dominated intellectual world intensely hostile to high-level female intellect and professional ambition. The exclusion of women from higher education lasted in the West until the late 1940s and continued in the world of the professions (law, medicine, science, business) until the later 1970s.
The patriarchy redefined by Renaissance humanists is particularly clear in the way some humanists gendered the new idea of the dignity of man, made in God’s image. The pioneering humanist, Boccaccio, wrote:
Your studies at least should have shown you . . . that you are a man made in the image and semblance of God, a perfect creature, born to govern and not to be governed. He who had created man a little beforehand showed this clearly in our first father [Adam].
by placing all the other creatures before him and having him name them, and subjecting them to his dominion and by doing the same thing later with the one and only woman in the world, whose gluttony, disobedience, and persuasions were the cause and origin of all our miseries. Antiquity excellently preserved this order; and the present world still preserves it in the papacies, empires, kingdoms, principalities, provinces, peoples, and generally in all magistratures and priesthoods and other high positions, divine as well as human, by preferring and entrusting the government of all men and women to men only, and not to women. Anyone with judgment can see quite easily how valid and cogent an argument this is to show how greatly the nobility of man exceeds that of woman and of all other creatures.
Before blaming Renaissance humanism for creating a new golden cage for women, one should remember that patriarchal structures had been deeply entrenched in European social, political, and cultural life for thousands of years. It was inconceivable that a Renaissance cultural revolution like humanism would have significantly altered the status for women, especially when humanism was largely defined by men.
It is also true that Renaissance humanism made some improvements in the lives of women, even if one kind of prison was exchanged for another, more gilded cage. The humanist celebration of conjugal sexuality over the medieval monastic virtue of chastity, helped move European religious morality away from a contempt for the body and especially the female body. The attack on monastic chastity was institutionalized in the Protestant Reformation (1517-) with the dissolution of monasteries and convents and the new acceptance of priestly marriage. Protestant Europe also relaxed laws against divorce. So too, the new humanist focus on education gave women a new educational role in the home and new reasons to pursue their own education. The spread of print technology and vernacular writing also made it easier for all upper class women (and men) to educate themselves privately and stay abreast of new knowledge.
After 1480, many church officials began taking up court humanism on a grand scale, especially in Rome where the papacy was developing an increasingly magnificent and ostentatious court. Cardinals, in turn, vied with each other in Rome to fashion their own humanist courts after 1510. A similar competition to take on and display the new humanist culture proceeded down the ecclesiastical hierarchy to bishops and even some monastic administrators (despite the strong tensions between civic humanism and monastic culture). Thus one can also speak of church humanism as a third major form of humanism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The humanist transformation of high church culture in Rome by 1515 shows the irresistible force of the humanist movement within the new conditions and needs of Renaissance Europe. The development of church humanism also stemmed from the fact that the highest church offices were increasingly reserved for wealthy and powerful nobles who brought their court humanism into church patronage and culture. As high nobles monopolized an increasing share of important church offices during the sixteenth century and completely dominated high clerical office after 1600, high church culture grew increasingly humanistic and courtly.
In many ways, church humanism was a variation of court humanism with imperial values modified to accommodate and strengthen church hierarchies, official Christian values (defined at the top), and new Counter-Reformation notions of a single, universal Roman Catholic “empire” spreading out through missionary orders like the Jesuits and Franciscans, supported by Catholic monarchs, to colonize, convert, and save the newly “discovered” world.
In so far as two of the three great world powers competing for control of the newly discovered Americas and East Indies were Catholic – Spain and France – an explicitly imperial, Roman Catholic church humanism became a core element within Spanish and French court humanism. The Spanish and French absolutist monarchs battled each other, fought Protestant England and the Netherlands, and colonized foreign lands in the name of an all-powerful, Roman church bringing universal salvation, peace, harmony, order, and virtue. Since the Roman Catholic church was well established in Spain, France, the Southern Netherlands, Italy, and parts of southern Germany, church humanism operated there within court culture.
Conversely, an imperial court culture also appealed enormously to church humanism and overlapped with it at a time when the Counter-Reformation has defined a new, global, absolutist, hierarchical church culture looking back to the Christian Roman emperor, Constantine. In short, court and church humanism overlapped in many ways, just as the two spheres were dominated by the same, intermarrying high nobility.
The center of church humanism lay in Roman Catholic culture at the highest levels, especially the activities of Catholic popes, cardinals, bishops, and the heads of wealthy monastic orders charged with missionary activities, pastoral care, and enforcing religious orthodoxy such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits. Church culture also encompassed the building and lavish decorating of Catholic churches and shrines, the imbedding of Catholic values into neighborhood life by reorganizing parish structures and activities and by working with confraternities (Catholic lay civic groups), by staging dozens of annual Catholic religious festivals and processions through city streets, by publishing Roman Catholic devotional literature in the vernacular, and by encouraging popular Roman Catholic devotions with tens of thousands of inexpensive woodcuts and engravings.
Within Italy itself, and especially central Italy where popes had some real political power, church humanism got caught up in the political ambition of each papal court and in the changing ambition of the various families who sequentially controlled the papacy. In papal church culture, church humanism often addressed local Italian power struggles and shifts between the great noble families. One perpetual area of conflict was that between older, more established and entrenched Roman nobles and newer arrivals to high church office (esp. the papal office) from other parts of Italy. New (and old) families arriving in the papal office used patronage to enrich, entrench, and glorify themselves. Of course, architectural and artistic patronage was crucial for all such self-glorification.