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Art in the Early Renaissance and Today’s European Society

Renaissance is the era of intellectual and artistic flourishing, which began in Italy in the 14th century. Everything that was created in the Renaissance still impresses and interests people today. The Renaissance’s highlight is that sciences, crafts, and arts began to develop in all European countries. Culture has revealed new aspects of human identity. There were such famous figures as Dante and Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. They became famous due to their glorification of the beauty of nature and man with all their passions and flaws. Architecture and literature of the Renaissance era played a significant role in the development of society as well.

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The key distinguishing feature of the philosophy of a Renaissance man was the focus on human feelings, the internal and external beauty of a person, his abilities, and potential. Humanism and the desire to emphasize a human personality were the main philosophies of the Renaissance. However, based on historical evidence, it can be concluded that cultural and social values tend to change over time.

Most of Europe’s ideas have not been preserved, and common ideas and ideals have mostly changed to a sufficient extent. This paper will compare attitudes towards people and their social values, the perception of art and beauty in Renaissance society and modern society.

Attitude Towards People and Social Values

The center of changes in this era is a man: his image and his life position are changing. Human beings became the focus of thought and action, enabling the exploration of individuality, responsibility, personal development, education, and the surrounding environment. It became necessary to find self, find your own personality. According to the Renaissance vision, people were initially endowed with free will and freedom of choice.

It was considered that a man determines his own future by his own decision: he can become a lower, unreasonable being, and can become a higher, divine being. In his works, Pico Della Mirandola claims that in a man, there is nothing greater than his mind and soul (Borghesi, Papio, & Riva, 2012). Thus, one of the most important theses of the whole philosophy of the Renaissance regarding people was as follows: the destiny of a man is in the hands of this man himself since he is clothed with free will.

There was a huge desire to realize in life and work as an individual. It was considered valuable not just to exist or live and follow certain traditions, but it became essential to be different and stand out with humanism. Confidence in the uniqueness of human nature is reflected in the works of most figures of that era. For instance, the tragedy of Hamlet is a clear reflection of a humanist drama.

In her book, Ágnes Heller (2016) discussed the concept of a man with the development of family relations, the emergence of individuality, relation to power, and more, and asserted that the culture and the society integrally shape human portrayal. Social norms reflected the desire to comprehend harmony and achieve people living in peace and enjoying the world around them. Pop (2016) cited a German philosopher, who referred to humanism as “the ideal of culture” that was thought to be destroyed by modern technological progress (p. 215).

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The values of contemporary Europe have changed substantially since the Renaissance era. Heller (2016) claims that if a modern man appeared in the society described by the humanists of that time, he or she would feel as if in prison. Nowadays, in modern societies, close attention is paid to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, liberty, and equality. However, these advanced concepts are derived from the humanistic approach (European Values, n.d.).

Modern European values involve globalism, universality, progress, multiculturalism, political pluralism, etc. Today’s European values ​​system is based on the principles formulated by the French Revolution – freedom, equality, and brotherhood. In particular, this implied personal and civil liberties, democracy, citizens’ equality before the law, equal taxation, and binding of the state to the Constitution.

As a consequence of the further progressive development of the system of European values, at the turn of the 20th century, the European civilization reached the apogee of its heyday and power that faced, however, with new challenges in the face of socialism and nationalism. Modern values shifted from individualism to the public interest as democracy helped to eliminate dictatorship and ensure the people’s voices were heard and taken into account, thus increasing trust and justice in the rule of law (European Values, n.d.).

Despite the elimination of pure humanism, it served as a base for modern social values. But still, the attitude towards a person during Renaissance and in recent days in society is different: today’s Europe preference is given to more practical and realistic values. It can be explained by the change of values and other contributing factors such as technical progress, industrial revolutions, and others that have led to the fact that social ideals have changed beyond recognition. More to the point, one may note the shift of focus from elevated issues to more materially-minded sentiments. People tend to be engaged in various social activities, thus paying little attention to their inner world. As a result, society itself, attitudes to people, and art significantly change.

Perception of Art and Beauty in Society

The perception of beauty has considerably changed throughout time. The concept of art, as well as of beauty, are commonly influenced by a historical, technological, and social framework. One of the main ideas revealed in the works of Renaissance art is the demonstration of Utopia and the desire to show the beauty of a surrounding world, albeit in a somewhat distorted form. Another focus of renaissance art was on the nature of the human body.

For example, a famous masterpiece David by Italian sculptor, poet, and architect Michelangelo, depicted a marble sculpture of the standing nude male. The perception of beauty also was natural as women were appreciated for ample curves, blonde hair, and a natural look. The paintings and written works of talented people who lived during the early Renaissance are known today, and many of them are exhibited in the largest museums in Europe. Brucker (2015) remarks, for example, that Florentine art has had a significant impact on the development of the culture of subsequent generations.

During the Renaissance, a man was perceived in all his integrity, and his material nature was interesting for artists of that time no less than his spiritual qualities. Most clearly, attention to the human body manifested itself in the Renaissance’s art, thus declaring the revival of interest in the beauty of the human body, reliance on the ancient ideals, and realistic proportions – characteristic features of works of art of the time Brucker (2015).

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Therefore, in Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and other outstanding artists and sculptors, the image of a man as a being of the flesh, bodily, and beautiful creature became a condition for expressing the spiritual world of a person. The attitude to a man as to some miracle and even as the center of the universe, in general, became decisive in the perception of art. Therefore, the Renaissance symbol can be expressed through words learned by the philosophers of this time from ancient works: a great miracle is a man.

All the art of this era was close to the original world based on beauty as the top priority. For example, it turned out that if a master draws an object, he put all his forces and all his skill to make this object most like its original. Nevertheless, in the center of art and the center of the world, there was a person and nature as art tried to depict the close and inseparable unity of a man and nature, as stated by Osborn (2016). Artists imprinting the world were looking for the most suitable means for a realistic picture that shows that the sphere of art was not only transformed in favor of a man, but it was also moving forward in terms of new technologies along with means of expressiveness.

Modern European art differs significantly from the art of the early Renaissance. Regarding techniques, contemporary art uses a huge variety of styles and techniques, starting from surrealism to conceptual art. Today, the reference is given to the display of realism, and ideas closely related to the political, economic, or national characteristics of a particular country are traced in the works of many contemporary artists and sculptors. Cloning, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, human rights, war, or perhaps the high price of some goods at a given location may identify contemporary art. This emphasis on various external issues seems to be intensifying.

Another significant distinction between the two epochs is that during the Renaissance, art was directly associated with the aesthetic concepts of beauty, purity, and transcendence. In other words, it was related to high values, not war. The destruction of this distinction is an important aspect of contemporary art. Modern art often intersects with the surrounding world, and it is not limited to the choice of materials or methods.

It can use both traditional techniques, such as painting, drawing, sculpture, and unconventional forms such as performance, installations, video, etc. Attractiveness is also perceived differently. Now women are encouraged to look thin, wear makeup, and have surgical manipulations to fit society. As Osborn (2016) noted, social factors are the primary determiners of beauty and attractiveness. Therefore, all the changes, which take place in society today, as a rule, are displayed in art.

From the arguments provided above, it is possible to say that the difference in the perception of culture and beauty between the two epochs is quite evident. The Renaissance is rather important for the history of world culture as it most fully reflects the ideal of a man, the harmonious, and free being in art. All this nourished the culture of that time and had preserved plenty of provisions up to nowadays, particularly determining the place of a man in life and his value. One of the key factors that determine this difference is a shift in social norms and priorities and the emergence of such a genre as realism.

Even though the art of the Renaissance is still highly valued, it isn’t easy to find similarities in the culture of modernity and that era. On the other hand, Sapsed & Tschang (2014) in their research concluded that “two very different epochs, each a crucible for creativity, were in many ways only separated by the types of technologies, and to some extent, by the manner of technological mediation, but not by the types and needs of human creativity” (p. 140). They suggest that combination and repetition are the two essential practices of creative work used both now and then.


In conclusion, it should be emphasized that attitudes toward people and social values and the depiction of art and beauty are not preserved until today. If the Renaissance epoch was characterized by the idea of a man as the most important figure in society and art, then the modern world focuses on a man as a part of a democratic society that has a certain set of rights. While the Renaissance proposed beauty and purity of art, nowadays, reality with its politics, economics, and social aspects is closely associated with the contemporary art that reflects all the mentioned issues. However, modern social values take their roots from humanistic philosophy and successfully maintain modern society. As for art, Renaissance art has significantly changed due to technological progress, but still reflects the same human needs.

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Borghesi, F., Papio, M., & Riva, M. (2012). Pico Della Mirandola: Oration on the dignity of man: A new translation and commentary. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Brucker, G. A. (2015). The civic world of early Renaissance Florence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

European Values (n.d.). Definition of the most basic European values and their significance for our modern society. Web.

Heller, A. (2016). Renaissance man. New York, NY: Routledge.

Osborn, D. R. (2016). Renaissance beauty = today’s ugly: What appearance factors determine attractiveness judgments? Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 26(16), 437-446.

Pop, M. (Ed.). (2014). Values of the human person: Contemporary challenges. Bucharest, Romania: University of Bucharest.

Sapsed, J., & Tschang, F. T. (2014). Art is long, innovation is short: Lessons from the Renaissance and the digital age. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 83, 127-141.

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