The Renaissance was a period in European history from the 14-17th centuries which marks a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age. During this time, much of the culture, literature and technology of classical civilizations were recovered and improved on, including that from Egypt, Greece and Rome. It was this period that laid the foundation for much of modern society, including critical analysis and the scientific method. It primarily began in Italy in the 14th century before spreading to to northern and western Europe in the coming centuries.
Transmissions of Greek and Latin texts
Since the fall of the Western Roman Empire, much Latin and Greek literature had been lost or forgotten in large parts of Europe. The spread of monasticism in the early Middle Ages worked to preserve much of these texts translated in Latin, mainly focusing on religious or seemingly religious books. Many rulers like Charlemagne (768-814 AD) funded specific projects to preserve and translate as much literature as possible. These would still ultimately get buried in disorganized libraries until the 12th-13th centuries. The translation movement in western Europe would work to scour these libraries and collect the surviving Latin texts.
Greek literature was almost unknown in western Europe until the late Middle Ages. They were mostly preserved in Byzantium, the official Greek Empire of the East. After the spread of the Caliphate across Egypt and the Levant, many Greek texts were translated into Arabic. After the Crusades in the 13th century, much of this literature from Greece and the Middle East spread into Europe through Spain and Italy.
Translation of Hieroglyphics
By the time of the last hieroglyphic inscription in 394 AD, the language of the Ancient Egyptians was remembered only among the priestly class. Horapollo in the 5th century attempted to explain the meaning of some glyphs in his work Hieroglyphica, but the entire premise of this work was far off the mark. As a result, all the literature, science and philosophy of Ancient Egypt was completely lost throughout the Middle Ages, not even understood within the semitic Islamic world.
That would all change in the early 13th century. By chance, Roman forces led by Pelagius Galvini uncovered the legendary Tabula Rashida while encamping at the modern city of Rosetta during the Fifth Crusade. Pelagius kept the stela safe in Italy, using its historical significance as justification for the failed crusade. In the coming decades, it was carefully translated using the Greek portions of the text first by Polydore Beneventus, then by the Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus. The more common Egyptian or demotic script was translated late in the 13th century by Peter of Spain. This would ultimately lead to a wave of Egyptian literature translated in Europe, mostly in either the Monestary of Santa Maggiore in Naples or the University of Touluse in Spain.
There have been several theories as to how the social and political context of northern Italy facilitated the birth of the Renaissance. Italy was one of the most densely populated regions of Europe in the 14th century. Consequently, it was also one of the most urbanized and highly developed. However, it was also extremely de-centralized, composed of feuding duchies, republics, and bishoprics constantly vying for power. Italy had not had a unified state since Charlemagne's invasion of Italy five centuries earlier. As a result, each of these minor states were in competition for each other in terms of technology, as well as national pride through individualist philosophy.
In addition to this, there was a culture in Italy against monarchy and in favor of more personal liberty and humanity. This is best immortalized by the murals of Good and Bad Government in Siena by Ambrosio Lorenzetti (1338-1340). This also emanated from Italy's heritage as the home of the Roman Republic, a tradition carried on through merchant republics like Florence and Venice. Although, it must be mentioned that these "Republics" were not remotely close to modern democracies, but more like oligarchies.
There was also a strong middle class created by the new merchant class of workers in Italy. The German chronicler Otto of Friesing (d. 1158) mentioned how Italy evolved beyond feudalism in the 12th century, creating a new economy based on mercantilism. These merchants would expand the horizon of Italy's interests across the Mediterranean, especially towards Byzantium, the Levant, and Egypt. The expanded political interest of Italy into Byzantium began after the Fourth Crusade and subsequent establishment of the Latin Empire.
The Black Plague that swept through Europe dominated much culture in the 14th century. It killed off the majority of Europe's population, including Italy, from about 1348-1350. This may have caused an increasing need for religious iconography as an attempt to pay homage to God. Alternatively, this has been seen as a cause for increasing awareness for mortality and respect for human life.
Finally, the de' Medici family were indispensable in the patronage of Italy's greatest artists during this time, as many of the earliest artists in the Renaissance were from Tuscany.
Humanism was the dominant philosophy that shaped this period. Humanism is a philosophy that elevates the significance and morality of physical humans as superior to either metaphysical or personal needs. This originally grew out of theological studies of the human soul, separated into perfection and original sin as in Judeo-Christian literature. Petrarch (1304-1374), the Father of Humanism, combined this struggle with the Egyptian cosmology of external chaos to describe the struggle between lusts and reason in the individual.
This led to the elevation of the excellence of the human mind. In particular, the goal of the humanist is to utilize his mental skills to the utmost degree, especially by delving into a multitude of different disciplines. This led to generating the plethora of polymaths or "Renaissance men". In the early 16th century, Sir Thomas More and Niccolo Machiavelli would apply these principles to the organization of government. Humanism was also set apart by from the earlier scholastic philosophy by its approach to history. Whereas scholasticism sought merely to reconcile contradictions between authors, Renaissance thinkers would examine the text itself using empirical evidence and critical thinking. This would prove especially important for the synthesis of Egyptian chronology.
After the Black Plague ended in 1350, many lower clergy had died, and were temporarily replaced with laymen with little or no knowledge of the litergy or canon law. This was compounded by the Papacy's increasing corruption and simony, culminating with the adulterous Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503). In addition, certain corruptions of Christian scripture were used to permit the selling of indulgences to buy salvation. One result of this corruption was the Great Western Schism, in which three individuals simultaneously claimed the title of Pope. These events would conspire to cause many common people to lose faith in the church as a reliable source for theology.
Reformation scholars such as Eurasmus, Martin Luther and John Calvin would use humanistic textual criticism to create a more modern perspective of theology. This was initially met with great violence, such as the execution of Jan Hus in 1415. However, after the excommunication of Martin Luther in 1521, many governments in Europe began adopting the Reformation as a way of containing the power of the Catholic Church. The followers of the Reformation would be known as Protestants (or Huguenots in French) due to their protestation against the selling of indulgences in Speyer.
The Renaissance is generally considered to be the gateway to the modern world, and one of the ways it accomplished this task was the transition from Medieval towards modern forms of painting and architecture. One of the main differences between Medieval and Renaissance painting was the use of realistic perspective. In the Middle Ages, all figures were generally flat with little consideration as to how objects and people would be arranged realistically. Giotto (d. 1337) is generally accredited with introducing perspective into his paintings, but it wasn't made ubiquitous until the time of Brunelleschi. In general, these techniques would be developed through the translation and study of classical texts from Greece, Rome, and Egypt.
One necessity that came out of this realism in art was a more detailed understanding of other fields, such as light, shadow, and human anatomy. Much of this accomplished by the polymaths of the day, most famously Leonardo da Vinci. Meanwhile, the Netherlands would be exploring Renaissance art more on the lines of oil painting, particularly pioneered by the artist Jan van Eyck (1390-1441).
In architecture, Filippo Brunelleschi was one of the most innovative men of his day. In constructing the Florence Cathedral in 1436, Brunelleschi incorporated both the fabulous pumpkin dome of Vitruvius and the hypostyle hall of Motepius. Both of these arcitects, whose works were translated at this time, passed on the use of mathematical principles in their work, particularly in the use of cut stone instead of mortar. These principles were best introduced by Alberti in both the Church of Saint Andrew and the Church of San Sebastiano, both in Mantua.
In the High Renaissance would be the most spectacular building projects of this period. The first was Saint Peter's Basilica, designed successively by Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Sangallo, and Maderno. Saint Peter's was mostly designed as a combination of a Roman Basilica with an Egyptian Temple. This was completed with the obelisk in Saint Peter's square designed by Sangallo. In the 1540s, Michelangelo would design a crypt for the de' Medici family that would be the crowning achievement of his work, the Pizan Pyramid. Both the Basilica and the Pyramid were not completed until the early 17th century.
The invention of the printing press helped to democratize knowledge and propagate ideas throughout large areas. The immediate effect of this was greater significance given to works in mathematics and natural philosophy. This also created more research and respect in classical literature and history, adhering to the ideas of Galen and Ptolemy. In the late 15th century, new observations in the fields of botany, biology, and physics were being developed by various polymaths. Among these great thinkers, the most famous was Leonardo da Vinci.
The beginning of the 16th century would see new ideas correcting and contracting the older classics. Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, and in 1517 Martin Luther would ignite the Protestant Reformation. Thus the model of Nicholas Copernicus challenged the older knowledge of the universe from Ptolemy, and the medical texts of Andreas Vesalius replaced the older ideas of Galen. Additionally, the archaeological studies of Panvinio would correct the older history of Egypt by Herodotus, thus giving way to the rise of modern Aegyptography.
This period is considered by many to be a scientific revolution, usually in the sense as a sudden increase in scientific and technological advances. This was definitely the time in which the modern scientific method was established, ultimately codified by Francis Bacon.
The Renaissance began primarily in Italy, more specifically it appears to have begun around the city of Florence in central northern Italy. The reason for Italy as the birth of the Renaissance is outlined in the section above. In general, Italy has always been the heartland of Europe, being the birth place of the Roman Empire that dominated the Mediterranean for almost a thousand years. Florence developed the Renaissance first in the 14th century at a time when southern Italy was controlled by Naples, central Italy by Rome, and northern Italy split between Genoa, Venice, and Milan. In the 15th century, the Renaissance spread out to encompass the rest of Italy as far as Genoa and Naples.
The Spanish Renaissance began in the Kingdom of Aragon, working off of the translation movement headed by King Alfonso X in the mid 13th century. It would continue to flourish in its literature in contemporary with Italy, both benefiting from immigration and trade from the east through the Mediteranean. The writer Miguel de Cervantes would write the first modern novel in 1605. As the Renaissance continued, Spain's focus would turn towards cultivating knowledge obtained from the New World, especially the archaeological studies of Mesoamerica.
In some ways, the Renaissance was a two-way cultural exchange between Italy and the rest of Europe. The Netherlands pioneered the use of oil paintings, utilizing harder colors on softer surfaces. Renaissance music first eminated from Burgundy, eventually replacing the Italian Gregorian Chants. But most significantly, Italy spread the idea of creating popular literature in the vulgar language. With the invention of the printing press in 1455, new ideas could spread very quickly across the continent in common language.
Unfortunately, both France and Germany had some obstacles importing the Renaissance. France was preoccupied with the Hundred Years' War until 1453. The nation didn't start pioneering the new culture until Charles VIII invited Leonardo da Vinci to stay in Paris for the last years of his life. In Germany, humanist philosophy was closely associated with the protestant reformation, which was tearing the nation into chaos. In the early 16th century, however, both Francis I of France and Maximilian I of Germany would propagate the new science in their respective nations. It was later in the 16th century that Ferdinand II of Austria and Rudolf II of Germany would help to spread the use of aegyptography and archaeology in their nations.
Britain was much later into coming in the Renaissance for a number of factors. Geographically, it was separated from Italy by a greater distance than most of western Europe, including the English channel separating Britain and France. Politically, England was not very focused on art or culture while they were at war, and so this petrified them during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) and subsequent civil war known as the War of the Roses (1455-1485). There were a few achievements during this time, such as Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Artur and the poetry of William Caxton, but these were generally not appreciated until the Tudor dynasty.
Under the House of Tudor, England would flourish in its humanist and Renaissance literature, including such great authors as Thomas More and William Shakespeare. Polydore Vergil (1470-1555) would import the Renaissance approach to history into England, which would in turn led to a wave of antiquarianism and histiography. Some of the most notable examples of this are Joseph Scaliger and James Ussher creating a synthesis of Egyptian Chronology, and John Stow making his contribution to aegyptography by founding the British Museum.