Petrarch & The Renaissance

The Renaissance was a period in which there was a revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman works of literature. It was caused, in part, by the flow of Byzantine scholars fleeing to the west from the east from the invading Turks. These scholars brought many ancient works of literature to the west.

One of the main ideas of the Renaissance was individualism. There was much more emphasis on individual fame in this period than there had been in the middle ages. One example of this was the practice of painters signing works of art. The medieval painters, on the contrary, left out their signature because they did not want their signature to distract from the scene they were depicting. There was also a rise in portraiture, which also reflects the idea of individualism.

The Renaissance emphasized a this-worldly outlook, as opposed to the focus on the afterlife that was expressed in the middle ages. They also esteemed the active rather than the contemplative virtues. They focused on the infinite possibilities of man, and emphasized the natural man. The works produced in the Renaissance were still religious in many cases, but the church was no longer the sole patron of these works. The renaissance cared more about the literary works of the classical writers, rather than the philosophical and metaphysical works. This put them at odds with the scholastics from the medieval tradition.

One of the big examples of a Renaissance artist was Francesco Petrarcha, better known as Petrarch. He lived from 1304-1374. He was sent by his father to study law at the university of Bologna, but he loved reading the classic Greek and Roman works of literature more than his law studies. When his father died in 1326, he gave up the study of law and took up poetry. He searched for ancient manuscripts by the classical writers Virgil, Plato, Cicero, Homer, and others. The scholastic emphasis on logic and Aristotelian philosophy left him uninspired, a typical outlook of the renaissance. He was not wholly irreligious, as some might think, as is evidenced by his practice of carrying St. Augustine’s Confessions at all times.

The renaissance idea of individualism is evident in Petrarch’s works. He greatly desired fame, and his works have an emphasis on what he feels like and what he wants. In a poem he wrote about a woman he loved, he mentions her only twice, while he is mentioned 23 times.

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