From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Had the whole of Europe at that time been of the same mind as Italy, Renaissance humanism might have established freedom of thought everywhere, simply by default of opposition. Europe might have returned to—or, if you like, relapsed into—a liberalism resembling that of pre-Christian antiquity. Whatever may have followed after that, our present disasters would not have occurred." --The Logic of Liberty (1951) by Michael Polanyi
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 14th century to the end of the 16th century, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe.
The term renaissance is in essence a modern one that came into currency in the nineteenth century, in the work of historians such as Jacob Burckhardt. Although the origins of a movement that was confined largely to the literate culture of intellectual endeavor and patronage can be traced to the earlier part of the 14th century, many aspects of Italian culture and society remained largely Medieval; the Renaissance did not come into full swing until the end of the century. The word renaissance (Rinascimento in Italian) means “rebirth”, and the era is best known for the renewed interest in the culture of classical antiquity after the period that Renaissance humanists labelled the Dark Ages. These changes, while significant, were concentrated in the elite, and for the vast majority of the population life was little changed from the Middle Ages.
The Italian Renaissance began in Tuscany, centered in the cities of Florence and Siena. It later had a significant impact in Venice, where the remains of ancient Greek culture were brought together, feeding the humanist scholars with new texts. The Renaissance later had a significant effect on Rome, which was ornamented with some structures in the new all'antico mode, then was largely rebuilt by sixteenth-century popes. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the late 15th century as foreign invasions plunged the region into turmoil: see Italian Wars. However, the ideas and ideals of the Renaissance spread into the rest of Europe, setting off the Northern Renaissance centered in Fontainebleau and Antwerp, and the English Renaissance.
The Italian Renaissance is best known for its cultural achievements. They include works of literature by such figures as Petrarch, Castiglione, and Machiavelli: see Renaissance literature; works of art by artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci: see Renaissance art; and great works of architecture, such as The Duomo in Florence and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome: see Renaissance architecture. At the same time, present-day historians also see the era as one of economic regression and of little progress in science, which made its great leaps forward among Protestant culture in the seventeenth century.