Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Plague, Renaissance Man, and the Turn From a Medieval God

Sistine Chapel: Creation of Man, 1508-1512, Michelangelo Buonarroti 

     Before the Renaissance, the Middle Ages was full of suffering from disease and famine. Overall, in Medieval society, reoccurring plagues and infections left few untouched. Filthy practices, like throwing fecal matter into walkways and streets, caused these diseases to spread quickly. Bubonic plague, carried by fleas, had a 50% to 70% mortality rate with others having a 100% mortality rate with no immunity. This time in history lacked in scientific facts and antibiotics didn't exist until the 1800's, so healthcare was limited. Often, it was believed that bad odors or a person's personal soul caused healthcare issues, so people during this time sought out complete devotion towards God and prayed, meditated, or offered services to the Church to cure their diseases. This didn't heal, however, and the death toll rose quickly after the the 1347-1351 European pandemic, which killed 25-40% of Europe's population. 

Dance of Death, by Michael Wolgemut (1493)  

   The Black Death caused so many deaths that the complete social order of society was about to come to a end. Before this time, the Feudal System kept lords in castles and peasants working on that lord's land as a payment for protection. With so many people gone, and work still needing to be done, people who survived had the opportunity to move up in society for the first time. Although difficult, with the right connections or education, a person who better themselves and leave peasant life. 

     Roughly from the 14th to 17th century, the Renaissance, a cultural movement, spread from Italy to the rest of Europe. Resurgence of learning based on classical sources, art of linear perspective, and educational reform came slowly, but with great necessity. Scientific facts based on observation increased, and philosophy and factual thought became more prevalent. A man's purpose during the Renaissance was to be excellent. A more secular, human-serving focus and the desire to live life for now began. Active virtues like courage, intelligence, and skills in educational fields were highly valued. Man literally became the measure for all things. 

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci, 1490

The resurgence of art, architecture, politics, and science did not destroy the people's desire to please God, but changed the perspective. Men like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelagelo felt that they were vessels that God used to create their art forms. Perhaps that is a bit self righteous, but during this time, ideas like this one were popular. Historians argue that the Renaissance was the intellectual transformation from the Middle Ages to the Modern era. 

Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence, 1419,

     Humanism and compassion returned to society slowly during the Renaissance as well. Since a person's soul was no longer predestined to go to heaven or hell, the resurgence of orphanages, hospitals, and other humanistic and helpful social services. Some social services were available during the Medieval ages, but they were few and far between, often untrustworthy, and filthy. More then not, a sick or homeless child or adult would be on their own, which often meant death.The Ospedale degli Innocenti is an example of early Italian Renaissance architecture, but more noteworthy is the fact that is was a children's orphanage and hospital. It was built and managed by the "Arte della Seta" or Silk Guild of Florence and this wealthy guild, like many to follow, took it upon itself to partake in philanthropic duties. 

   Overall, the Renaissance became a bridge, a beginning to the Modern era were now know. This time period not only educationally increased a greater amount of people, but self thought and independence from cultural ideas brought about new technologies and art forms. People began to look at people as the answer to problems and action became the most highly sought after activity. No longer was man a devalued creation only to have value in the afterlife. The Renaissance Man was the savior of now, the answer to himself and the universe, the measure of all solutions. The Renaissance changed how people viewed themselves and the views around them. Man questioned the Church, God, himself, and society. The Renaissance was the beginning of societal change for the better.

Helpful Links:

Magno, Alex T. "GMA News OnlineOpinion >>Blogs >>Alex T. Magno." GMA News Online. GMA News, 3 Dec. 2009. Web. 02 Feb. 2014

Watson-Novacek, Deborah. "The Black Death & the Renaisance." The Black Death & the Renaissance. BellaOnline, 2013. Web. 02 Feb 2014.