The Art of the Renaissance in Northern Europe: Its Relation to the Contemporary Spiritual and Intellectual Movements

By Otto Benesch | Go to book overview

IV
Reformation, Humanism, and, the
New Notion of Man

ONE of the main factors which contributed not only to the richness of the cultural picture offered by Northern Europe in the sixteenth century but also to its problematic character was the coincidence of religious revolution with artistic and scientific regeneration. This revolution flared up in Italy as well, but only in single symptoms and personalities, from Savonarola to Juan de Valdés, and it did not disrupt the traditional course of religious life, which became reconciled with the development of humanism and artistic renascence. In the North, the demand for reform of religion affected artistic and intellectual life intensely. This demand was finally stronger than all others, especially in Germany.

Humanism and artistic renascence in Northern Europe had their great rise about the same time, at the end of the fifteenth century. Then was laid the foundation of those intellectual and spiritual values which the English word "humanities" and the German word "humanistische Bildung" comprehend. It is inseparably linked with the study of the classical languages. There are no humanities without the knowledge of Latin and Greek. This means of course more than memorizing of grammar, syntax, and glossary. It means a new mental attitude toward life. Partial imitation of the classical authors was familiar to the Middle Ages. A true understanding of their personal character as writers came about only at this time. Humanism tried to revive the classical personality and its proper diction. Thus, it established a new human ideal, based on intellectual culture, an ideal of spiritual freedom and autonomy of the personality. This is the deeper meaning of that renascence which the Italians called rináscita. It is independent of superficial imitation of ancient forms. In Northern

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