The age of Renaissance or rebirth is referred to as one of the most fascinating periods of European History that began in the 14th century and lasted for more than 300 years resulting in the complete transformation of the economic, religious and social visage of the entire continent on the permanent basis.
It was this age when the entire continent began to show signs of rejuvenating from the adverse repercussions and the disastrous effects that the Crusade had left upon them. It was primarily the Western European region of the continent that was overwhelmingly influenced by this pre-dominantly cultural movement that facilitated and paved way for a civilizing and eco-political revolution in all these countries.
One of the most key developments that took place during the age of Renaissance was the gradual proliferation and dissemination of educational reforms in the entire continent which manifested its effectiveness in subsequently preceding years upon the arrival of the age of Enlightment. During discussion, we will be looking at the various aspects discussed by Denys Hay in his book Europe during the 14th and 15th Centuries which analyzes the 200 years of the 14th and 15th century European renaissance through diverse dimensions and perspectives. In addition to this the book will also be reviewed based on the methodology that has been applied by the author along with the credibility that it has been able to make within the circle of critics along with the overall impression that the book tells us about the different angles of this extremely glorious and magnificent age of Europe.
Thesis of the Book
The crux of the book revolves around analyzing and evaluating the reasons and conditions which encouraged the invasion of the Renaissance. It sheds light on the various intellectual pursuits that were initiated during this time in order to enter the entire continent into a completely new era of reformation and reorganization.
An important feature that has been covered extensively by the book is the contribution of arts and artists in this age. The discussion on the age of renaissance would be futile if the role played by people like Leonardo Ad Vinci and Michelangelo in the entire process of reforming the European society is not considered. It was the artistic development that took place in this age that inspired the term of Renaissance Man.
Denys prime focus has been towards the areas which played a pivotal part in commencing the age of Renaissance and hence starting from the developments that were taking place in the city of Florence is a logical area to begin the discussion for any historian writing on the age of Renaissance. The author describes the socio-political conditions that were undergoing rampant changes in Italy primarily because of the initiatives of scholars like Cicero and Machiavelli, who are considered as the pioneers of political doctrines and injunctions even in the contemporary age.
Both scholars as the writer accentuates played an important role in not only developing and formulating policies of the ways in which international diplomacy and relations are supposed to be conducted, but simultaneously also worked for fostering a spirit of self-provocation for their betterment and development. Moreover, these scholars laid the rudimentary structure of different school of thoughts such as the realism ideology which brought political affairs and issues on a very realistic platform.
This entire process of self-awareness was further catalyzed by the increasing influence and dissemination of education as European people by the help of works of Livy and Seneca could access the works and researches conducted by Greek and Arabic scholars and thus were also able to innovate something new out of the discoveries that had been discovered. It was this key reason, which actually established the strong foundation of the development that was later viewed in all unlike social and political sectors in different countries of the continent, hence with the accessibility and availability of quality education which in turn generated a curiosity of exploring, researching and discovering more garnered the frontiers of prosperity.
Another spontaneous that has also been discussed by the author due to its crucial nature is the Black Death pandemic that engulfed the entire continent during this particular period of historical timeline. Italy was one place that was severely affected by the plague and hence the disease motivated a number of religious scholars and philosophers to encourage people to think about their lives on earth relatively than being solely concerned about the life hereafter.
Therefore, the outbreak of Black Death menace coupled with other complex social interactions enhanced the immediacy of the Renaissance age. Denys also provides an overview of the long time debate focusing upon Florence as the starting point of Renaissance. One of the arguments with which Denys agrees was the cultural scenario and makeover of the Florence society at that particular period of time. It has been quoted by various historians whom Medici which was a famous banking family in Florence during this time, invested vast amount of money in the process of patronizing, stimulating and encouraging the artistry works that were being done by people like Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli and Angelo.
It was basically the economic support and backing that provided these artists the opportunity to expose and demonstrate their finest pieces of art on a platform where it can acquire the appreciation and recognition that it deserves. However, apart from expressing his confidence in this story he provides a balanced view on the entire issue by also adding the other famous story which says that the selection of Florence as the birthplace of Renaissance was an outcome of chance and luck simply because Great Men were born there.
In addition to this there is also another argument says that even these Great Men were born in Florence, but it was because of the cultural conditions of the place these people were actually able to gain the position, reputation and stature through which they are known to the whole world even to this day. The writer provides all three dimensions of the story with immense clarity and balance.
Another very prominent idea that has been portrayed by Denys through which his book can be evaluated is through the remarkable influence and development that took place in the sector of arts and science during this historical period in Europe. A prime reason for this focus is that these scientists and artistic developments actually served as the harbinger for the progress and development that was witnessed by European countries in upcoming years. Furthermore, many of these people who acted as the major kingpins of this revolution and rebirth process were highly versatile and multi-talented. For example, Da Vinci apart from being an artist was also a scientist, engineer and a philosopher. The sector of arts can be analyzed from two different sub-categories as outlined by the author himself. These include literature and paintings. Considering the literary sector first we can easily observe as to what has been mentioned by the author about these 200 years being the most glorious years for European literature. It was during this time that people like William Shakespeare in England, Goethe in Germany and Tolstoy in Russia, who played an instrumental role in providing literature, drama and theater a completely new form by introducing it as a form of communication and performances.
Even though the style in which literature was written was highly conventional and synchronized with the nature of language that was communicated between natives of a country, all the work that was done during these years was par excellence not only in terms of writing but in terms of performance also. In some of the literary works done by these people one aspects that needs to be highlighted specifically was the social scenario existent in each of their societies. These historic plays and novels written by Shakespeare and War and Peace by Tolstoy particularly shed light on the ways international politics must be handled and the ways through which leadership can prove beneficial for the people of a kingdom. Many of these writings, particularly those by Goethe discussed the issue of self-awareness and provoked people from an ignorant sleep in order to enlighten themselves by grooming their intellectual abilities and potentials. Hence it can be said without any doubt that the literary intelligentsia played a vital role in amplifying the self-awareness mantra for which the period of renaissance and especially the 14th and the 15th centuries are most famous for.
Moving on towards other arts one can find that Denys provides a lot of time in the description and explanation of the famous artists and their works that actually redefined the criteria and benchmarks of judging art and its various aspects. Considering the different dynamics of art during this particular period is also important as the works done during this period of history are simply unparallel. They have gained supreme recognition not only based on assuming their artistic work but also because of the occult symbolic meanings and religious explanations that they contain. All summed up in a single piece of art. It was during this time that art was introduced and innovated as a form of communication through which an artist could convey his perspective towards his or her audience. In this context, some of the prominent artists and their highly accomplished works that have been discussed by the author include The Creation of Adam by Michael Angelo and the extremely famous, subtle and mysterious masterpieces from Leonardo Da Vinci such as Mona Lisa, The Vitruvian Man and The Last Supper. The Mona Lisa to this day remains a mystery for people beyond their level of comprehension, The Vitruvian Man, who was named after a Roman called Marcus Vitruvius provided the era of Renaissance an unconventional touch in the sector of art, which was innovatory to classical forms of art that were being used previously. The last Supper apparently sounds like a very straight forward painting, but nothing can be far from reality when one comes to realize that Da Vinci has masterfully concealed some of the most scandalizing details about Christianity, the divinity and mortality of the Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Similarly, Angelo in his painting The Creation of Adam makes great use of the human anatomy in showing the connection between God and Adam.
According to the author, the painting shows the bondage between Adam and God by the alphabet M which has later been related to ideologies such as the Freemasonry and other associated rituals encompassed within this doctrine, but it is still highly contentious and debatable.
The methodology applied by the author has been based on pure reasoning and rationale. In the scientific and philosophical revolution that was facilitated during this period was further cemented by advancements made by scientists like Galileo, Newton and Desecrates either through their inventions or discoveries.
The author provides a cohesive and concrete argument and proper methodology through which he establishes the notion about the power of the church as a religious and academic institution which began to crumble because of the intellectual enlightenment that was disseminated by a confronting group of scientists and philosophers accentuating on the message of freedom of speech and humanism.
Despite the credits the author provides in order to prove the fact that the age of Renaissance was indeed an age of European reformation, he does outline the revolution of 14th and 15th century, which progressed all European states to unprecedented levels of prosperity actually played a key role in eroding the religious fundamentals of Christianity and the significance of religion and divinity from a common man’s everyday life. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that majority of religious scholars who were working collaboratively for the meltdown of Church was humanists.
These included people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas More and Zwingli. It is the methodology which is followed by the author that does not make the entire subject of history boring as it is explained by the help of properly designed arguments and counter arguments, such as on the topic of religion the author has also provided a balance and disinterested approach by mentioning that advocates of the humanist ideology commonly argue that a religion whose foundations experienced corruption and fabrication after a few years of its revelation cannot serve as a source of guidance and code of life for its followers as its original and authentic teachings have been amended not by any divine source, but by its very own followers in order to safeguard their political aims and interests, hence according to them formulating another sect that follows a different ideology is not equivalent to committing a sin.
Denys and his book in the Literary Circle
The book can be termed as an effective piece of literature especially if considered from the spectacle of the historical genre. There are numerous books that have been written on the topic of changes that engulfed Europe during the 14th and the 15th centuries, but rarely anyone covers all these events in the way through which it has been conveyed and discussed by Denys.
Good reason of this can also be in the form of his proficiency and expertise, which are mainly in the field of history and his extraordinary command over chronological events and periods along with the ability of assessing them with the help of diverse magnitudes due to which the book has also been able to gain appreciating credibility and commendable remarks from its critics as well as from other proficients and specialists of European history.