How do the Renaissances in Italy and northern Europe differ?

In American schools, it is taught in history classes that there was a Renaissance, or "rebirth," in Europe up until the 17th century. This was known for being a glorious religion period, with art as an example. However, there are two separate Renaissances, one in Italy, and one in northern Europe. These two renaissances each share common elements and also have distinctive differences.

First, the people of the Renaissance of Italy were mainly secular, artistic people. The Italian Renaissance was at its peak in the 15th century. The main themes of the Italian Renaissance were art, music, and literature. Thought, expression, and feeling were represented in these types of works, which emphasized the importance of demonstrating human skill. Literature and art was mainly asking moral questions, such as what was right and wrong. Life became completely secular, or nonreligious, because it was no longer seen as preparation for the afterlife. Things like money had no worth to the Italians, in an ongoing display of their secular lives.

Next, the people of the Renaissance outside Italy were different due to large differences in religion and educational focus points. Those in northern Europe were much less conscious of any sudden break with the Middle Ages. The northern Renaissance was much more focused on combining the old times with the modern. Instead of a focus on literature and art, more time was devoted to explorations in science and mathematics. The religious element was much stronger than that of the Italian Renaissance, being native to Thomas More and John Calvin. Humanism was the main theme of the northern Renaissance, where especially in the northern Alps they believed in the human control of physical nature.

The Italian Renaissance and the northern Europe Renaissance also had similar character traits. It is believed that some trademarks of the Italian Renaissance originated in the area of the northern one, such as the innovations of the Flemish painters. In each Renaissance, writers used Latin traditions as well. When the northern Renaissance people believed in the powers of humans to understand and control physical nature, it is very similar to the Italian Renaissance belief of the infinite richness of the human personality. There are many other similarities between the two cultures.

One may wonder how it is possible to have two large cultures, so close together, be so entirely different from each other in values and morals. While the Italians pursued art, music, and literature, the northerners studied science and mathematics; one was secular while the other was humanistic, and so on. However, they truly did share cultural and human values, regardless of their other aspects of life. The people of the Italian Renaissance and the people of the Renaissance outside Italy, though they had their differences, had much more in common than known to be.

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