The Italian Renaissance was an age that came about in Florence, Italy around the year fourteen hundred and lasted for a century and a half. It was time of “rebirth” after a stagnant and dark time dubbed the Middle Ages was ending. The Renaissance brought a new way of thinking to Italy and Europeans. It was a resurrection of appreciation for art, music, science and performing arts.
During this time of the Italian Renaissance there were a myriad of inventions and innovations that not only wowed the people of that time, many of them have stayed on to serve us today, nearly five hundred years later. Today we would like to take a look at a few of the creations that burst from the Renaissance, that began in Italy and quickly spread like a wildfire throughout Europe.
1. The spinet
A type of small piano, this instrument first came into use when Medieval times were coming to a close and the Renaissance was first beginning. It was a common instrument well into the sixteenth century and was increasingly popular, that is until the harpsichord was invented, later in the Renaissance.
The spinet though, has a great history in the creation of what we know as the piano. Original spinets were small boxes, not unfamiliar to the piano we know today, with a few keys that led to strings, which, when resonated, made music.
Historical sites on the subject say the spinet is an official “keyed instrument of music.” The ones first played in the early Renaissance did bear a resemblance to the harpsichord yet they were diminutive in physical stature in comparison to the latter. That said, it is this period in the Renaissance where keyed instruments began to evolve and the spinet played a key role in the progression.
2. Oil paint
Another great artistic innovation to come out of the Renaissance was the development of the oil paints we use today. While there is some indication that oil based paints were dabbled with during the Roman times, in ancient Greece and Egypt, nothing of substance is really seen until 1410 with Flemish painter Jan van Eyck.
This Renaissance painter, who came out of what is known today as Belgium, started the chain in which resulted in the oil based paints artists used today. It is said that van Eyck was not the first to use oil based paints but his creations were that his paints, “based on a siccative oil” remained stable.
Van Eyck’s magnum opus Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife is considered “one of the first and the best example of the new technique.” The colors were intense and the hues were trapped in a “layer of oil” that captured the light. Many innovations came later in the development of oil paint but it was Van Eyck’s triumph that is considered the start of this great tool.
This dance, which is one of the most prestigious forms of performing arts to exist today, began in the courts of the Italian Renaissance. It was during extravagant happenings like weddings when this form of dance came to be. Yet, back then it was far more interactive than today with the attendees, including kings and queens, joining in the dance with the performers.
Catherine de Medici, who was born in Florence, Italy in 1519, found herself married to the future king of France, Henry II, when she was fourteen years old. Besides giving birth to ten of his children, three of whom would also serve as French kings, this Queen was the first to bring ballet as an art form to her new home in the courts of France.
It is said she would have lavish festivals and seek out ways to help the progression of her own ballet program intended to inspire growth in the art of dance, music, costumes, poetry and much more. From there ballet would evolve to become the beacon of fine art it is today. While they started out with heavy attire and never dancing en pointe during the Renaissance, all roads that lead from contemporary ballet back to the beginning come to this point.
4. Printing press
In Germany, somewhere in the 1430s, Johann Gutenberg invented the machine that would, not only give the masses access to printed materials, it would invent the book, publishing, magazine, greeting card and nearly hundreds of other industries we know today. This invention was the printing press.
It is said that Gutenberg was determined to find a way to make a lot of money. He knew that if he could make a cheap product and mass produce it that would be his best way to earn a lot quickly. At the time nearly everything was hand written in books by scribes that lived in monasteries or wood blocks with ink were used.
Gutenberg took the wood block theory, used metal and the first printing press was invented. Of course, as with any new-fangled invention, it took time for the higher class to accept of acknowledge any books that were printed on a press. Hand written books were considered of a higher class and anything that was mass produced considered beneath them.
Of course, today, printing presses touch nearly every business, every company, every art, every school and everything else we can possibly imagine. Everyone uses printed materials. So this particular creation that came about during the Renaissance is pretty darn important.
5. Dry point engravings
Our next innovation hailing from the Renaissance is also a form of printmaking. This technique did not come from Italy or Belgium but from Germany, just like the printing press. Dry point engraving is a method were a small tool would be used to carve grooves into a piece of copper. Thus, this would be used to make a print.
Artists that are most well-known for utilizing this technique are Albrecht Dürer and, more notable, Rembrandt van Rijn. From there this art from stopped being used, maybe because of the growing popularity of the printing press. But it has seen a revival in modern times and used as a form of expressing creativity.