The Renaissance was a time of revival and rebirth. It was a time of great innovation, invention and progrpress in the arts, science, literature, education, music, religion, philosophy and exploration.

But why did these dramatic changes take place? What were the values of the Renaissance that triggered these great leaps of progress?

In this article, we will explore 11 core values that characterized the Renaissance era. We will analyze each value and discuss its importance in relation to the Renaissance as well as to modern times.

Let’s get started!

Understanding the Key Values of the Renaissance

Many of the values of the Renaissance that you will read about below, we take for granted in the 21st century. But these were innovative for the Renaissance. Coming out of the Middle Ages, values like humanism, individualism and reformation were truly revolutionary and shook society to its core. But these were also the values that made the Renaissance possible.

Values of the Renaissance
Florence – The Birthplace of the Renaissance
(Image Source)

To understand the key values of the Renaissance we need to look at them from two angles. First, we need to understand why each value was such a big change compared to Medieval times.

Second, we need to understand what each value unlocked in terms of human potential, the ability to push boundaries, to take risks, and to attempt what had never before been attempted.

Here are the 11 key values of the Renaissance that we will review:

  1. Curiosity, Inquiry and Questioning
  2. Humanism
  3. Individualism
  4. Classicism
  5. Reformation
  6. Secularism
  7. Intellectualism
  8. Spreading of ideas
  9. Patronage
  10. Innovation & Invention
  11. Exploration

Many of these values of the Renaissance were intertwined and interdependent. For instance, Classicism is a Renaissance value because of Humanism. In fact, Renaissance Humanism was a revival of Classical Antiquity. Similarly, Innovation & Invention (especially in the Arts), was only possible because of the value of Patronage.

And so it is important to remember that these values only succeeded in bringing about the Renaissance because they could feed off each other and could support each other.

With that, let’s dig deeper into each of these values of the Renaissance and understand their impact on contemporary society as well as on our modern society.

#1. Curiosity, Inquiry and Questioning

The most important underlying change in mindset from Medieval times to the Renaissance was the spirit of curiosity, inquiry and questioning. The Medieval worldview was based on absolute certainty, where everything had its place in the divine order of things.

But in the Renaissance, this shifted to a spirit of questioning and inquiry. People wanted to explore, experiment and learn more about the world and the universe. This mindset of inquisitiveness fueled much of the progress of the Renaissance, as it allowed people to push boundaries and break out of traditional ways of thinking.

Today, this value has become even more important. The spirit of questioning and inquiry has driven much of our modern progress, from advances in science to the exploration of space.

#2. Humanism

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that values human dignity, values, and agency. It emphasizes the primacy of human values and experiences and values the individual over any abstract concept of society or divine authority.

The Renaissance humanist values were a radical departure from Medieval values which placed the individual in service to society and God. The values of Renaissance humanism believed in the power of individuals, their right to self-determination, and their ability to shape their own destinies.

This core value of the Renaissance would eventually lead to the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution.

Humanism still guides us today, with values like self-determination and individual freedom being fundamental values of modern society.

#3. Individualism

Individualism is closely related to humanism and values individual freedom, independence, and self-expression.

The values of individualism have had a profound impact on modern society. It is the basis for our democracy, civil rights, and values of individual autonomy. It also values creativity, self-expression, and the pursuit of personal goals.

Individualism was one of the core values of the Renaissance, and it changed the Renaissance man’s view of the world and helped to create a culture of innovation and invention. It allowed people to pursue their own dreams and ambitions, without being bound by traditional values and societal norms.

Today, this value is still very much alive. We value the right of individuals to be free and express themselves as they wish.

#4. Classicism

Classicism is an aesthetic value based on the principles of Greek and Roman art and literature. It values balance, harmony, beauty, proportion, and clarity.

Classicism saw a revival during the Renaissance as Renaissance Humanism rediscovered and celebrated the values of Classical Antiquity.

Values of the renaissance - Classicism - The Fountain of Four Rivers - Bernini
Bernini’s The Fountain of Four Rivers
(Image Source)

Classicism greatly influenced the art and architecture of the Renaissance. It values beauty, symmetry, and harmony. Some of the greatest examples of works of art following Classicism include The Fountain of Four Rivers by Bernini and Raphael’s School of Athens.

#5. Reformation

Perhaps one of the most profound values of the Renaissance that impacted the Catholic Church was Reformation. And key reformists like Martin Luther and John Calvin were humanists.

Renaissance humanists wanted to change religion by making it more Humanistic. They wanted to allow salvation through personal faith and not through good deeds. They wanted to stop the practice of Indulgences which led to corruption. In fact, Martin Luther in his ’95 Theses’ expressly advocated that the Church should stop selling Indulgences (which it did 50 years later).

Reformation wanted to introduce education based on the Classics rather than solely on the Bible. And they wanted the Bible to be accessible to the common people and so that they did not have to depend on the clergy to interpret the Bible for them. This is why Martin Luther translated the Bible into German.

#6. Secularism

The natural offshoot of Humanism and the Reformation is Secularism. Secularism is the belief that religion should not have any impact on how we govern, or on the laws and regulations on which society is based.

Secularism was one of the core values of the Renaissance and Renaissance Humanism promoted Secularism by emphasizing individualism and personal independence, rejecting religious dogma, promoting reason and evidence-based thinking, and supporting freedom of thought.

#7. Intellectualism

The Renaissance affected Intellectuals in fundamental ways, which is why we consider Intellectualism to be one of the core values of the Renaissance.

During the Renaissance, intellectuals had the freedom to explore new ideas. They had greater access to knowledge from different sources. They challenged accepted beliefs, questioned authority, and experimented with new forms of knowledge and science.

Intellectualism during the Renaissance provided a bridge between reason and faith, between the physical and spiritual worlds. It allowed for a new way of thinking about the world and our place in it. And so in many ways, it was a bridge from the thinking of the Middle Ages to that of the Enlightenment.

#8. Spreading of ideas

Ideas spread during the Renaissance faster than they ever had before. Many parts of Europe, especially Italy, enjoyed a rare period of political stability. This made it possible for artists not just to work on magnificent works of art but to migrate from kingdom to kingdom taking their skills with them.

For instance, Leonardo da Vinci worked in Florence, then Milan, and eventually in France, taking his prodigious talents with him.

The Printing Revolution was a key part of the Renaissance and played a key role in the spreading of ideas. It allowed for information to be printed quickly and easily, leading to an explosion in the spread of knowledge and new ideas. For instance, within 50 years of the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, there were more than 20 million books in circulation in Europe.

Ideas also spread because education spread. The Renaissance had a big impact on education with new Universities opening up in cities like Florence, Pisa, Edinburgh, Budapest, Avignon, Padua, Dublin, Bordeaux and more.

As you can imagine Literature too flourished during the Renaissance further helping the spread of ideas. Writers started writing in vernaculars and they invented new genres and styles.

These are all the reasons why we list the spreading of ideas as one of the core values of the Renaissance.

#9. Patronage

The Renaissance would never have happened had it not been for the patronage of Kings and Popes. People like Lorenzo de Medici, Pope Julius II, Charles V and Francis I were all patrons during the Renaissance.

Patronage meant that a patron would finance an artist, or a musician, or a philosopher in exchange for the patronage being acknowledged somewhere in the work. For instance, if Lorenzo de Medici commissioned Michelangelo to create David (as he did) then Michelangelo would make sure to include some sort of acknowledgment of his patron in the work.

Patronage was important for many reasons; it provided artists with financial security, gave them access to resources and materials, and allowed them to focus on their craft. Patronage also provided an opportunity for the patrons to express their values and beliefs, and for the artist to communicate them in their work.

Patronage was a form of political power, as it allowed the patrons to influence the values and beliefs of the people. This is why the Catholic Church was a major patron of the arts and financed magnificent works like St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

The Medici Family in Florence funded Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. The Gonzaga family in Mantua supported musicians such as Claudio Monteverdi. And as we saw above, Francois I took Leonardo da Vinci with him to France.

#10. Experimentation, Innovation & Invention

The most visual aspect of the Renaissance is the advances made in science and art. And these would not have been possible had it not been for experimentation, innovation and invention.

Innovation in the arts included advances in perspective, anatomy and composition. Painters like Raphael and Michelangelo used the newly-learned techniques of perspective and light to change the way art was being created.

Experimentation in the sciences led to advances in mathematics, astronomy, engineering and navigation. People like Galileo Galilei and Copernicus changed the way we think about our place in the universe.

Inventions like the printing press and gunpowder shaped the Renaissance and changed our world forever.

It was these core values of the Renaissance, experimentation, innovation and invention, which would eventually lead to the Scientific Revolution.

#11. Exploration

The Renaissance is often considered a turning point in history. And one of the main reasons for this is that it launched the Age of Exploration and the discovery of the New World and distant lands.

Exploration, therefore, is one of the pivotal values of the Renaissance. European Exploration opened new trade routes to places like India and China. It took European products into new markets and brought back spices, gold, tea and other exotic goods to European markets.

The Age of Empire, the spread of Christianity, colonization, and even the scourge of slavery can be traced back to the desire to explore. This shows that not all core values of the Renaissance had positive effects. The Renaissance was both good and bad and the downside of the Age of Exploration shows this.

The Wrap Up

So there you have it. 11 core values of the Renaissance reviewed and analyzed! A key takeaway from this discourse should be that no single value or collection of values of the Renaissance could have been successful without the others.

Also, each of the values can and must be reviewed with a balanced perspective, mindful of both the positive and negative effects they had on our world.

It is only through such an exploration we can fully understand the values of the Renaissance and their impact on our society today.