The Renaissance, beginning in Italy in the 14th century and lasting roughly through the early 17th century, was an important turning point in European history. Ancient texts were rediscovered and studied, art and learning flourished and the Catholic Church's authority and influence began to loosen. Because the Renaissance lasted for so long in so many different locations, you have a wealth of options to choose from when writing your research paper. Pick a topic that interests you, and you will be certain to find sources that address any questions you have.
Origins of the Renaissance in the Classical World
One major item that spurred the Renaissance was the rediscovery of classical texts by scholars in Italy. The works of Greece and Rome, such as the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, caused Europeans to reconsider their connection to older traditions of learning and observation. One possible topic is how these Greek and Roman texts found their way to Italy. Who brought them? Where had they been preserved? Hint: It might not have been in Europe. You might also describe how the art and architecture of the classical world influenced the art of the Renaissance -- for instance, how architects adopted Roman pillars and pilasters into their buildings.
Artists of the Renaissance
Art flourished in Renaissance Italy. The period produced such painters and sculptors as Donatello, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and such architects as Brunelleschi and Alberti. Focusing on the life and works of one specific artist can provide an entry point to understanding the Renaissance as a whole. Many artists were also musicians, scholars and engineers, which is why multitalented people are called Renaissance men. For example, if you were writing your paper on da Vinci, you might focus on his religious paintings, his interest in engineering and warfare or his medical studies. You could examine at what times in his life he concentrated on different types of work, how he was influenced by the political forces of Italian families and city states and how his work continues to influence us today.
The Spread of the Renaissance
While the Italian Renaissance began in the 14th century, it took decades, sometimes centuries, to spread to the European countries to the north and west. Countries such as France, England and Flanders each had their own specific Renaissance culture with notable artists and intellectual movements. In your paper, you can analyze why the Renaissance came to a country when it did, and note who that country's most important Renaissance figures were. Say you are writing about England. You might research how the Hundred Years War with France delayed the northward progress of the Renaissance. You could also explore the Tudor monarchs, such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth, and discuss the works of Shakespeare.
The Renaissance and the Reformation
The Protestant Reformation began in earnest in 1517, when the German monk Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. During and immediately following the Renaissance, a multitude of Protestant sects sprang up around Europe, challenging the authority of the Catholic Church. Your paper may explore how specific Reformation thinkers were influenced by the Renaissance and how the technological and cultural changes of the Renaissance helped to begin the Reformation. For instance, the cosmopolitan spirit of the Renaissance increased demand for Bibles written in the vernacular -- the native language of individual countries -- rather than Latin. You might focus on the history of vernacular Bibles -- for instance, how Johannes Gutenberg's printing press helped spread vernacular texts and reduced the church's exclusive control over scripture.
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