The Renaissance was a time of great artistic, scientific and intellectual achievement. It was marked by a renewed interest in classical art, literature, and philosophy – a “rebirth” of classical antiquity.

So what changed during the Renaissance that makes it such an important period of history?

The Renaissance refined the concept of Humanism which became the defining philosophy of the period. It ushered in a spirit of inquiry and questioning and the rejection of religious dogma, eventually leading to the Protestant Reformation.

The Renaissance opened the doors to the Age of Discovery and Exploration and the rise of mercantilism and capitalism. It also saw a growth in education and the emergence of what would become the modern university system.

The seeds of the scientific revolution were sown during the Renaissance, with scholars such as Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton making groundbreaking discoveries. New technologies were developed, and society underwent some major transformations eventually entering the Age of Enlightenment.

And people during the Renaissance began to think for themselves and question authority thereby laying the groundwork for the modern world based on democracy and freedom.

In this article, we will explore 21 changes that took place during the Renaissance and understand why they took place!

What Changed During The Renaissance? – 21 Changes!

The Renaissance was a turning point in history. The Renaissance not only changed Europe but because of European actions had an impact on the wider world. Here’s a comprehensive list of 25 changes that took place during the Renaissance:

  1. A Spirit of inquiry and questioning
  2. The Rise of Humanism
  3. The Rejection of Religious Dogma
  4. The Protestant Reformation
  5. The Revival of Classical Antiquity & Learning
  6. The Printing Press
  7. New Art Forms and Styles
  8. Literature
  9. Intellectuals & Intellectualism
  10. Patronage of the Arts
  11. A Sense of European Superiority
  12. Demand for New Products and Goods
  13. Growth of Mercantilism and Capitalism
  14. Modern Financial Instruments
  15. Exploration of Distant Lands
  16. The Export of Religion
  17. Scientific Discoveries
  18. Medicine and Understanding of the Human Body
  19. Astronomy & Our Place in the Universe
  20. European Politics & The Nation-State
  21. Education Systems

Let’s now take a closer look at each of these changes that occurred during the Renaissance, understand why they happened and how they continue to impact modern society.

#1. A Spirit of inquiry and questioning

The Renaissance was, first and foremost, a period of questioning and inquiry. This spirit of challenging the status quo and experimentation led to new discoveries in science, mathematics, philosophy, literature and art that continue to shape our modern world.

This intense intellectual curiosity led to the questioning of long-held beliefs and theories and paved the way for the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.

#2. The Rise of Humanism

Humanism was the defining philosophy of the Renaissance. It was based on the belief that humans were capable of great achievement and encouraged its adherents to pursue knowledge and excellence in all areas of life.

The rise of Humanism helped to break down barriers between the aristocracy and common people, paving the way for democracy and freedom.

Renaissance humanists believed in reason over blind faith and that the world could be understood through observation and investigation.

#3. The Rejection of Religious Dogma

The Renaissance saw a rejection of religious dogma and an increased focus on rationality, science and knowledge. People did not wish to be bound by what had been accepted as gospel truth for centuries and instead chose to explore new ideas and perspectives.

The Renaissance affected the Catholic Church in profound ways. The rejection of dogma opened the doors to reformist movements within the church. People like Martin Luther and John Calvin sought to reform the Catholic Church from within, eventually leading to what is now known as the Protestant Reformation.

This led to the Protestant Reformation, which challenged the Catholic Church’s absolute power and authority over religious matters.

#4. The Protestant Reformation

The rise of Humanism and Individualism, plus the rejection of religious dogma let to an active form of dissent known as the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation was a movement led by reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin who sought to break away from what they perceived as the corrupt Catholic Church and create new forms of Christianity.

This led to the establishment of Protestantism and what is now known as the Christian denominations of today.

The Protestant Reformation also had a profound impact on politics and society, with many countries (especially in modern-day Germany) establishing religious freedom and allowing their citizen to practice either form of Christianity.

At the same time other countries, like Spain, saw a crackdown on Protestantism and what was perceived as heresy. This would eventually lead to the Inquisition in Spain and the Wars of Religion in France.

#5. The Revival of Classical Antiquity & Learning

The word Renaissance (re + naissance) means “rebirth” in French and the Renaissance is seen as a rebirth of Classical Antiquity. During this period, people sought out the works of great Greek and Roman thinkers such as Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero to better understand their own lives and society.

This led to a revival of classical learning, with people studying what was known as the “seven liberal arts” such as arithmetic, geometry, music, and rhetoric. This also led to the development of what we now call the humanities (history, literature, philosophy, etc.)

At the same time, the period saw a renewed interest in science and exploration based on Classical thinking. People like Galileo, Vesalius, and Copernicus made major scientific breakthroughs that helped to shape our understanding of the universe.

#6. The Printing Press

One of the most important inventions of the Renaissance was the printing press. In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented what is now called the Gutenberg Press, which was a movable-type printing press that allowed for the mass production of books.

This revolutionary product could print up to 3600 pages per day and within 50 years hundreds of cities across Europe had a movable-type printing press, so much so that by the year 1500 more than 20 million volumes of books had been printed across Europe.

The availability of books and literature in such massive quantities led to the spread of ideas a yearning for learning and increased literacy, fostered more open dialogue and discussion between cultures, and allowed for the mass dissemination of ideas and knowledge.

The availability of printed material was one of the major catalysts for what we now call the Renaissance, and what it ultimately led to – the Age of Enlightenment.

#7. New Art Forms and Styles

The Renaissance saw the emergence of new art forms and styles. Experimentation was the norm and artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian pushed the boundaries of imagination and what was possible with art.

The period also saw a move away from the traditional religious-based themes of the Middle Ages to more humanistic themes such as the depiction of everyday life and what it meant to be a person living during the Renaissance.

Techniques in painting like Sfumato, Chiaroscuro, and perspective were developed to give more depth and realism to the artwork. Sculpture also began to move away from what was seen as ecclesiastical in nature and towards what we now think of as more naturalistic depictions.

In music too, new styles like the madrigal and the motet began to emerge, providing a more expressive form of music.

Architecture shifted away from the Gothic style of the Middle Ages to what is now known as the Renaissance or Italianate style, with a focus on symmetry and balance. This can be seen in works like the famous St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or the Duomo in Florence.

#8. Literature

The transformation of Literature during the Renaissance was no less profound. Writers and poets began to explore what it meant to be human, what life was like in the present day, what it meant to have love and what the individual could accomplish in life.

Writers like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Miguel de Cervantes, and Dante Alighieri began to explore what human life meant on a deeper level. This new form of literature was often referred to as “Renaissance Humanism” and it had a profound effect not just on literature but also on the way people looked at life in general.

The Printing Revolution ensured that books were more widely available, writers were able to reach a broader audience and the effects of what they had to say were felt by millions.

#9. Intellectuals & Intellectualism

Renaissance had a significant impact on Intellectuals and on the very concept of Intellectualism. It allowed intellectuals to explore new ideas and gave them access to knowledge from different sources.

The Renaissance gave intellectuals a platform and an ecosystem in which to challenge accepted beliefs, question authority and through the newly founded printing technology, disseminate their views to reach a wider audience.

In turn, Intellectuals helped society transition from the superstitious Middle Ages to a more rational, humanistic and scientific age of the Enlightenment.

#10. Patronage of the Arts

The Patronage of arts also changed during the Renaissance. While art was solely sponsored by monarchs and the Church, the Renaissance saw wealthy and powerful individuals like the Medici family in Florence become patrons of art and essentially launch the Renaissance from Florence.

These wealthy families would sponsor artists, providing them with the resources needed to create their artwork. This led to an outpouring of creativity, as artists had the financial backing to experiment and push the boundaries of what was possible.

The Medici supported a range of famous artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Boticelli, Brunelleschi and Raphael. Their patronage helped shape what is now considered Renaissance art.

#11. A Sense of European Superiority

The incredible advances in art, science and technology also resulted in a growing sense of European superiority in relation to other parts of the world. This was best expressed by the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who believed that Europe was the center of the world and that what he was doing in his explorations was a divine mission.

This sense of European superiority would eventually lead to the colonization of large swathes of the world, with devastating consequences that are still felt today.

#12. Demand for New Products and Goods

The Renaissance saw a demand for new and exotic goods from around the world, as well as advances in technology that allowed for easier trade.

This resulted in an unprecedented level of international trade and economic growth, as new products were exchanged between Europe, Asia and the Americas. This increased flow of goods also resulted in the rise of a new merchant class, as merchants invested in trading vessels and took advantage of new opportunities.

#13. Growth of Mercantilism and Capitalism

One of the interesting aspects of the Renaissance was that many new rulers came not from royal lineage, but from the merchant class. A classic example of this was the Medici.

The House of Medici, considered to be founded by the banker Cosimo de’ Medici, rose to power by using their wealth and influence. In 1397, they formed the Medici Bank which was instrumental in making Florence the financial center of Europe. They also used their wealth to sponsor artists, writers and thinkers.

These activities helped to underpin the growth of mercantilism and capitalism, two of the most important economic systems that have shaped the modern world. A capitalist system based on private ownership and individual profit and a mercantilist system based on the accumulation of wealth helped to drive the economy during the Renaissance period.

#14. Modern Financial Instruments

Modern finance can trace some of its most common techniques – like double-entry bookkeeping – back to the Renaissance.

Double-entry bookkeeping was a revolutionary technique for recording and analyzing financial transactions, developed by Italian merchants during the Renaissance. This simple but powerful tool soon spread across Europe and has served as the foundation of modern financial accounting ever since.

The Renaissance saw the establishment of joint-stock companies and the creation of a new banking system. This provided capital to businesses and individuals which helped to finance the increased flow of goods and services. The result was a period of economic growth that saw unprecedented levels of trade and commerce.

#15. Exploration of Distant Lands

Another significant change was that the Renaissance ushered in the Age of Exploration. Around the 15th century, European explorers began to explore the world in search of new lands, resources and trade.

Christopher Columbus was one of the most famous explorers during this period, and his voyages to what is now known as the Americas opened up a new world of resources and possibilities. Other famous explorers of this era include Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Amerigo Vespucci.

The exploration of distant lands not only brought new riches to Europe, it also resulted in a better understanding of the world. This knowledge was used to create detailed maps of the known world and helped to form what would become the basis of modern geography.

However, the exploration of distant lands was also a period of conquest and exploitation, with European powers claiming ownership over vast swathes of land in what would become the colonies. This would ultimately lead to the subjugation of indigenous people and the heinous slave trade.

#16. The Export of Religion

On the coattails of the Age of Exploration came what is known as the “Age of Conversion”. During this period, European powers not only brought their language and culture to distant lands, they also brought their religion.

The most fervent exporters of Catholicism were the Spanish who spread their faith across South and Central America, setting up churches, monasteries and other religious institutions.

Protestantism was exported mainly by the English who spread their faith to what is now the United States, though that came not through mass conversions but rather mostly through the immigration of people wishing to practice their faith freely.

#17. Scientific Discoveries

Even though the Scientific Revolution came centuries after the Renaissance, nevertheless the Renaissance made a significant contribution to the Scientific Revolution.

It began with the spirit of inquiry that characterized the Renaissance, which led to discoveries in areas like astronomy, mathematics and physics. The invention of the telescope and the microscope during this period also made it possible to observe the natural world in ever-greater detail.

Scientists like Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus also made many groundbreaking discoveries during this period, including the heliocentric model of the universe which held that the Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun, and not vice-versa as was previously thought.

#18. Medicine and Understanding of the Human Bod

Prior to the Renaissance, medical knowledge was largely based on ancient Greek and Roman sources, but during this period there were many advances in the field of medicine.

The understanding of human anatomy was limited since it was illegal to dissect dead bodies, and the knowledge of human anatomy came from dissecting animals and drawing parallels. Even though the Church still banned autopsies, the Renaissance with its liberal ideas saw many people including those like Leonardo Da Vinci dissecting human cadavers and making detailed drawings of what they found.

The work of Andreas Vesalius, a Flemish scientist, was one of the most influential during this period. He published several books and treatises on human anatomy which were based on careful observation, and which helped to bring about a better understanding of the human body.

Considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern medicine, his set of books ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem’, published in 1543, provided the definitive description of what he believed to be true about the human body.

The Renaissance also saw a major shift in our understanding of what caused disease, with many scientists believing it to be caused by natural causes and not caused by evil spirits or witches, as was previously believed.

#19. Astronomy & Our Place in the Universe

Advances in science, mathematics and optics, combined with a renewed interest in the works of ancient Greek and Roman astronomers, made the Renaissance a pivotal period for the growth of the science of astronomy.

Astronomers like Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei developed what is known as the heliocentric model of the universe, which held that the Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun, and not vice versa.

Not only did such theories go against the teachings of the Church they went against what Classical astronomers from the time of Aristotle had believed – that the Earth was a stationary object around which moons and stars revolved. And with the Renaissance’s rediscovery and admiration of the Classics, this theory was a hard swallow for many.

Nevertheless, Galileo’s observations with the telescope, which he invented in 1609, helped to substantiate what Copernicus had proposed.

#20. European Politics & The Nation-State

One of the biggest changes of the Renaissance was the power shift that took place away from the papacy and religious leadership to secular leaders and, in the case of Italy, to city-states.

The notion of a nation-state was born during this period and with it came the idea of national identity. This meant that self-rule was now possible, and what had previously been the domain of the Church, like taxation and domestic policy, was now in the hands of the rulers of these new nation-states.

#21. Education Systems

With its focus on learning and return to a classical form of learning, formal education systems were reformed during the Renaissance. Education had previously been largely in the hands of the Church, but with its new secular focus, universities and trade schools.

Even though Universities existed prior to the Renaissance (eg Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Bologna, Padua, etc), the Renaissance saw a massive increase in Universities in towns like Florence, Pisa, Turn, Dublin, and Edinburgh.

These Universities became knowledge hubs and they attracted some of the greatest minds in Europe and educated the generations that would usher in the Ages of Enlightenment and Scientific Discovery.

The Wrap Up

So, what changed during the Renaissance? As you can tell from this long article, almost everything changed. Art, Architecture, Music, Sciences, Politics, Religion, Education, and our understanding of what the Universe is all about changed drastically during this period.

The Renaissance was a crucial turning point in history, and what it brought about still affects us today. It was a period of re-discovery and exploration, where Europe truly began to stretch its wings and take what had been a largely stagnant period in history to wholly new heights.

The Renaissance was truly a remarkable time.