A Brief Literary History of the Renaissance Era

The Renaissance period has always beckoned my imagination. A period of philosophical, cultural, economic, artistic, and political reform. In short, literature, architecture, music, and other artwork from that period still retains mass global appeal.

Aditya Roy
4 min readSep 15, 2021
Sculpture of David by Michelangelo.
Credit: Photo by Sean Robertson

By Renaissance, we generally mean a humanist movement that originated from Italy and moved towards the rest of Europe. It stretched the imagination of many greats: Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo: but, we are talking about writers here!

The effect it had on people was profound. It moved us from the dark ages to a more enlightened time. The period was marked by compelling literature and fervent progress, to say the least.

The Revival of Classical Literature

The reason behind the sudden boost in intellect was because literature from the Classical Era inspired the literary giants of the time. Can we pinpoint such influences?

Fresco in the Vatican Church.
Credit: Photo by Sergey

Well, in the 13th century while Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, many Byzantine scholars rushed into the North of Italy, bringing bountiful classical texts with them.

In 1414, at the abbey of Cluny in France, Cicero’s speeches were unearthed and brought back to Italy. Furthermore, Petrarch has often been credited for the rediscovery of Cicero’s (Roman Statesman) letters. It is an event that initiated the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century and Renaissance humanism.

Then, communication got streamlined due to the invention of the Guttenberg Press in 1450. This invention brought forth the little-known works of Petrarch and Boccaccio to a wider audience.

These humanist authors helped revive the Classical Age of Literature. Their works featured traditional Greek and Roman values. Now, these esteemed works were being distributed to the masses.

How Did It Influence a Generation?

Ceiling of the St. Peter’s Basilica.
Credit: Photo by Anna Church

The rediscovery of such profound works ushered in an age where intellect was cultivated. Man was considered to be at the center of the universe. At its core was the desire to understand human thought and action.

Such study was pioneered by Petrarch and Dante. Their rivalry is well-documented as well. Petrarch never recognized the intelligence of Dante as he disliked vernacular writing.

Let’s not forget, without the Renaissance period, we would not have Shakespeare. His coined phrases, unforgettable tragedies, and sonnets set the standard for many writers.

His version of the sonnet (originally Petrarch’s creation) is most famed. It is just an example of how the Renaissance period brought forth ingenuous literature.

What’s more, we can trace one such literary influence in American Literature to John Milton. He is considered one of the most influential and important poets in English Language and Literature.

However, what is interesting is that he was a well-known polemic too. He first gained recognition due to his divorce pamphlets. The name of it is “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce.”

How was this age so different?

St. Peter’s at sunset.
Credit: Photo by David Edkins

The reason why the Middle Ages were perceived as the “dark ages” was because of the scientific and cultural ignorance of the time. It was marked by war, famine, and pandemics.

This perception is in strict contrast to the cultural richness enjoyed during the period in discussion. The city of Florence was a vortex of activity during this time. It is because of the Medici Family that the beautiful city is synonymous with most of the period’s highest achievements.

Let’s put it into perspective, Lorenzo de Medici single-handedly propelled the careers of Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Astounding isn’t it?

How Did Literature Change?

St. Peter’s.
Credit: Photo by Alex Folguera

The Middle Ages in Europe were marked by the dominance of the Catholic Church and political instability. Christianity dominated the lives of both peasants and nobility.

However, the Renaissance Period brought power back to the people. With the invention of the mirror, painters were able to see themselves with a newfound pride. Hence, self-portraits became the norm.

Humanist writers were known for their keen observations and vivid descriptions of common life. Geoffrey Chaucer was one such humanist writer who had the ability to create rich, believable characters.

Secular undercurrents in literature became prevalent too. The juxtaposition of man’s frail conscience and hardened nobility was often explored. Writers often pointed out deep questions of life, while treating them with delicate humor.

With an understanding of how humans could progress independent of religion, this period served as a time to make up for the lost time. The lost time being the Middle Ages.

The Renaissance era served to bridge the gap between the Middle Ages and Modern Civilization. The ideas of that time retain their appeal today as well, and they continue to guide us. A refreshing form of spirituality that was relevant then is adopted even today.



Aditya Roy

I’m a copywriter with a passion for learning and playing chess. I write on fashion, technology, and literature. Do enjoy my work and leave any suggestions.