Let's first get an overview of the era:
In 14th-century Italy, a group of thinkers became determined to make a clean break with the Middle Ages, which they considered backward, uncritical, and out of touch with reality.
At first, these thinkers and artists attempted to copy the traditions of Greece and Rome, aiming for a rebirth (or renaissance) of these ancient cultures.
Yet it would not take long until Renaissance Italy surpassed their predecessors in almost every field of art and science.
For instance, Michelangelo created paintings and sculptures of almost divine splendor. With his David (see the image on the right), he began to place the individual center stage, presenting him as the masterpiece of creation.
In literature, Petrarch also celebrated the autonomy of the individual, warning other intellectuals not to trust the authorities from the past without thinking for themselves. He boldly wrote:
“I am my own authority.”
Meet Francesco Petrarca
Now let's see this period through the eyes of an individual:
The Renaissance started when Francesco Petrarca found personal letters from the great Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero in an old monastery.
Amazed by the beautiful style of Cicero’s Latin, Petrarch began to notice the language had decayed in the hands of medieval scholars. As a result, he divided history into two periods. The time of Greece and Rome, which he called "antique," and the period that followed, which he called the "Dark Ages."
About a century later, Leonardo Bruni was confident enough to state that the decline had ended and that a third new period had begun.