Humanism was a new concept that was introduced in Renaissance Europe during the 1400s. The word humanism derived from the Latin “humanitas” which Cicero used to mean the literary culture which made people civilized. In fact, humanism stressed education and the study of Latin Classics. People were also encouraged to strive for success and have a more worldly focus. The Renaissance was a time of humanistic shift in society that stressed education, success, and secularism. The original definition of humanism was “study of the ancients”.
During the Renaissance, Italian patricians copied the lifestyles of Ancient Rome. Pope Pius II went as far as to say that Rome was as much his home as his actual home town of Siena because of names such as Aeneas being used in his family. Humanists studied the Latin classics to reveal aspects of human nature, while during medieval times scholars interpreted these works in a Christian sense. Bede and John of Salisbury had studied and imitated ancient works, but Renaissance humanists were more skeptical of authority and contemplated the disunity among ancient writers.
At this time, writers were fascinated by pure Latin and sought eloquent ways to communicate. Humanism encouraged people to reach their full potential and strive for success. It emphasized the achievements, interests, and capabilities of human beings. Great admiration and respect for artists began to develop. Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian Humanist, initiated Renaissance Art Theory and became known as the “universal man”. Powerful urban groups and eventually individuals and oligarchs sponsored works of art.
The reputation of an artist depended on this commission. For instance, Lorenzo Ghiberti earned a handsome 200 florins a year and had the luxury of having twenty assistants help him work on the bronze doors of the Baptistery in Florence. Society respected and rewarded distinguished artists, viewing them as geniuses. Once, when Holy Roman Emperor Charles V visited the workshop of the great Titan, he stooped to pick up his dropped paint brush. Clearly people were motivated to succeed and those who achieved were recognized for it.
Humanism included a shift of focus toward more worldly things, also known as secularism. While the Renaissance in the North kept a Catholic base, Italy experienced increasing attention on the “here and now”. Many began to worry about personal costs and employee relations rather than the afterlife. Lorenzo Valla’s study On the False Donation of Constantine encouraged this shift by weakening papal authority. Popes themselves however, became more secular minded.
Pope Julius II had the St. Peters Basilica torn down so that Michelangelo could build a new one in 1506. Art subjects also became less religious as Renaissance portraits began mirroring reality. Realism was applied to have a more natural representation of the human body. Michelangelo’s David reveals the secular spirit through his glorification of the human body. Renaissance humanism affected every aspect of the individual’s role in society starting in the 13th century.
People showed a renewed interest in education and Latin Classics while learning to question information. This concept championed individualism and rewarded successful people, especially artists such as Michelangelo. Secularism also played a role, causing people to focus more on their lives on earth and even making the church more secular through Popes such as Julius II. Renaissance humanism transformed concepts of the individual’s role in society through education, individualism, and secular spirit.