European Culture 4th-18th Century

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Between the 14th century and the mid-18th century, European culture experienced drastic changes involving literature, painting, politics, science, religion, economics, and world exploration. Each century added a new piece of innovation to the european culture, some in more ways than others. Each and every one of these seven pieces have affected one another in a series of events throughout history.

The Late Middle Ages, or the 14th century, had some major hardships that affected the population greatly. The first main event that happened was The Great Famine. This lasted between the years 1315 and 1317. All throughout Europe, people experienced excessive rain and climate change which in turn resulted in widespread crop failures. The country then suffered from an economic downturn. All three of these events are why this time period is known as The Great Famine. Mass starvation caused the population of Europe to dramatically decrease. However, the wealthy class of Europe was not affected by the famine because they had the money and resources to survive, but for the rural and urban poor population hunger was never ending. [24]

Just when Europe was on the uprise recovering from the famine, in 1348 a devastating plague ran throughout Europe and struck both the poor and the wealthy. This was known as the Black Death. This disease wiped out nearly 40 percent of the population of Europe. This led to many revolts and rebellions throughout Europe because peasants and urban workers felt they had a right to greater earnings. [25]

There was a large religious response of the people of Europe after these great disasters. Many people believed that God was passing judgement on mankind’s sins which led to piety throughout Europe. A major event in church history occurred in the 14th century called the Avignon Papacy. This took place between the years 1309-77 and it describes the time when the popes took residency in Avignon France rather than Rome Italy because of the ways the current political conditions were. During this time period, the College of Cardinals began to gain a much stronger role in the higher government of the church. Many important aspects to the community grew because of this change of church government; reform measures were initiated for clergy, religious university education was encouraged, and there were numerous attempts by the popes to establish peace among the royal rivalries. However, there was still much animosity throughout the European nations regarding the papacy being in Avignon. Therefore, the papacy had to be re-established within Rome, Italy. The increased power of the cardinals then ignited the next major event in church history called the Great Schism where there was a succession of “antipopes” being selected. This ended in 1417.

Universities started spreading and education became encouraged and taught throughout Europe. The education to train future clergy became imperative. As the need to educate the youth grew, so did literacy rates slowly. The publication of vernacular literature rose, with much of the subjects being religious and written in Latin. Some major names include, Dante Alighieri who was an Italian poet, and Francesco Petrarca who wrote many Latin literature.

As religion grew, so did the need for churches around Europe. With this growing need, artists creating altarpieces of Christ’s life became common and much needed. There were a few different types of altarpieces. A major one throughout the Middle Ages was called a triptych. It consisted of a large center panel with two smaller panels hinged on either side of the center large one. A popular painting of this type in the 14th century is called, The Annunciation with St. margaret and St. Ansanus (1333) and the artist is Simone Martini. [23]

Technology increased in the late 14th century when clocks were placed in many of Europe’s cathedrals. Another major development in the Late Middle Ages was the military development as well as some science and engineering developed as well to make people’s lives easier. A major innovative technology that became increasingly popular throughout Europe in the Middle Ages was the windmill. In areas where water power could not be utilized, wind power was a great alternative. [22]

The Age of Exploration or the Age of Discovery really started in the 15th century. A large contributor to world exploration throughout Europe and the western region was Christopher Columbus. He made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain. The years he traveled were in 1492,1493,1498, and 1502. His main goal was to find a direct water route that was west from Europe to Asia, but in the end he never attained this goal. However, instead of finding Asia, he came across the land of America and even though he was not the first voyager to come across the “New World,” his journey did mark the beginning of transatlantic exploration and colonization. [21]

This new Age of Discovery led to a great advance in the technology industry. For instance, a key part of history was the discovery of portable clocks. As time went on, clocks got smaller and smaller making them more accessible by the people. After the placement of clocks in cathedrals across Europe, many clocks were being made to a size suited for a home. Then, clocks made their way from the home of a person to the pocket of a person with the creation of the pocket watch. Once Christopher Columbus paved the way for future explorers, the invention of the magnetic compass from Ancient China became more used and applied for navigation throughout the Age of Discovery.

Literature had a revolutionary advancement in the 15th century with the development from the printing press in Europe which was first created in China. Johannes Gutenburg redesigned the printing press and allowed the mass production of books, newspapers, and articles to flow throughout Europe. He also is known to have printed the first book which was the Bible. He printed 180 copies of the 1,300 paged Bible which was written in Latin. This turned to be a huge impact to the religious community in the 15th century. The development of the printing press made literature a growing industry in both religious and secular communities. Even though literature grew, many people were still illiterate. This lead people to trust and become dependant on clergy for educational and religious guidance which added to the power of the Catholic Church. [17] [18]

A great political entity in Italy during the 15th century was the Medici Family. The Medici dynasty lead Florence. There were four popes that were from the Medici family that were mixed within many European families. Cosimo the elder reigned as the leader of Florence in 1434 until his death. He supported the arts and humanities along with many artists, with one being Fra Angelico. [19] Fra Angelico was considered to be one of the best fresco painters of the century. One of his greatest works is the painting of the frescoes at the monastery of San Marco in Florence and a chapel in the Vatican. [20]

European exploration grew vastly in the 16th century because of influencing factors such as economics, politics, and religion. There was a large demand for luxury goods such as gold and silver and this need is what prompted many of the voyages from Europe out to other coastal regions. The Age of Exploration also opened up the religious European view to other religions, people, and places. Exploration also ignited curiosity about scientific discoveries regarding different plants and animals. Exploration in the 16th century really impacted the European culture by exposing the people to new discoveries which conclusively changed the way they view such important topics.

The 16th century was a time of great economic expansion, which in turn, played some crucial roles in politics and the culture of Europe. Many historians claim the start of western capitalism started in this time period. Capitalism become an integral part of the economy and political structure of Europe. Investment banking and financing also became growingly popular. There became a development of the international money market which was started in German banking houses. Economy was growing so much that it started to affect the political structure of Europe. For example, in 1519 Jakob II Fugger had accumulated 2 million florins for the Habsburg king of Spain, Charles I. Charles I used this money to effect the election results so that he would win. Once people started realizing the power of money, Europe’s political structure become money hungry to gain power and respect. In western Europe, monarchical governments destroyed the unity of the respublica Christiana. Also, because of the economic state changing, so did the social stability of the country. The idea of a balance of power began to dominate the international relations and secular rather than religious values became more used. [16] [15]

The 16th century, or the Renaissance period, was really a time of progression and change. A very significant example of this is with religion throughout Europe. This time period had a huge effect and impact on the Catholic Church. There were a few people in history that challenged the papal authority and practices. The time period is referenced as the Protestant Reformation which started in 1517. Martin Luther was the instigator of this reformation when he published his “95 Theses.” These theses protested the pope’s sale of reprieves from penance or indulgences. He created such a large split in the religious community and in 1521 he was excommunicated. However, this did not stop him from preaching his beliefs. He translated the Bible into German and continued to publish his pamphlets about religion. Many peasants were inspired by Luther and revolted in 1524. Near the end of the Reformation, the beginning of the religion of Lutheranism had arrived and it dominated the religious community throughout Europe, Scandinavia, and the Baltics. [14]

With the many religious revolts happening in this time period, literature began to sore to popularity among common people. There were works being published about religious events and beliefs. A main example of this is Martin Luther’s “95 Theses.” Another example of a great literature work that was published in this time was John Calvin’s work which criticized the Catholic Church. This pieces were a major step towards literature becoming a more influential aspect of people’s lives. [13]

Along with literature growing exponentially in the 16th century, so did art. There were a few artists that became well known throughout Europe because of their extraordinary paintings. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was a well renowned sculpture artist for his sculpture called David, however another one of his great works was painting the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy. He painting this between the years of 1508 and 1512. This ceiling shows the history of the Old Testament from the Bible and includes more than 300 human figures. This particular creation of Michelangelo’s significantly affected the Catholic church in a positive way and he also set the standards for great artists to come for sculpting, painting, poetry, and architecture. [11] [12] [13]

During the 16th century, many artists started to incorporate scientific ideas to their creations. For example, Leonardo da Vinci used scientific principles into his paintings. He studied the human anatomy so that he could have extreme precision and accurateness in his work. Other than being an anatomist, he was also a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, along with many other attributes. He is considered to be one of the most talented painters in history, hence his nickname, “Renaissance man.” Two of his greatest works were the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper paintings. The painting of The Last Supper greatly and positively affected the religious community. This was also a great work because da Vinci was able to depict a very important scene from the Bible.

Da Vinci was very ahead of his time in the scientific and engineering aspects. He was the first to create the helicopter, tank, calculated, and the theory of plate tectonics. Many of his engineering ideas were not feasible during his lifetime, however they still had and continue to have such an immense impact on society. Helicopters are widely used across the country for many purposes, like fast transportation for the wounded who need quick access to a hospital, or even for entertainment purposes. Leonardo da Vinci paved the way for future engineers and scientists to come. [10]

The Age of Exploration came to an end early within the 17th century. Technology advancements and greater knowledge of world exploration and ways to travel the globe by sea drew out the need for researching ways to reach other parts of the world. Ferdinand Magellan is the one to thank for one of the last greatest advancements of sea exploration. He was the first to explore and travel the sea on the southern hemisphere from east to west. This journey confirmed the idea that the world was shaped as a globe. It also helped create the nautical maps for future Europeans to travel the world by sea to engage in trade with settlements and colonies across the map. [9]

A major conflict that arose in the 17th century was religion, even though this has always been an ongoing fight inside of Europe, it came to its climax in the 17th century when the Thirty Years War began. This is one of the longest and most devastating wars in history. It lasted from 1618 to 1648, and started as a battle between the Protestant church and the Catholic church. This war did not only have an effect on religion throughout Europe, but also government and politics as well. The war ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The structure of modern Europe today is because of this war creating sovereign states. [8]

After the Peace of Westphalia, the political structure of western Europe was changed significantly. The Holy Roman Empire was no longer the central force of Europe because other European countries began to take over and form their own state. New bureaucracies were put into place as well to keep up with demands of the states. Each country started building their own armies and to keep up with the costs, they had to increase taxes. From these increased taxes and the need for infantry and army, the economy of certain countries definitely took a hit. Germany is one of the countries that were affected the most from this war. They lost about one third of their population which then resulted to increased famine and disease and concluded in a downward spiral of their economy. [7]

Religion had many ties to different aspects of European culture: politics, economy, world exploration, art, literature, as well as science. One of the greatest scientists in the 17th century was Galileo Galilei. He had a couple disputes with the Catholic Church and their beliefs. Galileo was the first person to improve the invention of the telescope so that he could observe the solar system. He researched the planets of Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn and found interesting facts. Because of his research with the solar system, he was a large advocate and supporter of Nicholas Copernicus who proposed the idea that the universe is heliocentric. In both 1616 and 1633, Galileo was brought before the Church and forced to be under house arrest for the rest of his life because his support to the idea of a heliocentric universe. The Church officials claimed that this idea completely disagreed with what was stated in scripture of the sun rotating around the Earth. It took the Church over 300 years to say that Galileo was correct and to clear his name. [2] [3]

Literature in the 17th century took a turn when poetry started to become well known and increasingly popular. Isaac Newton, a great mathematician and scientist published his “Principia Mathematica” in 1686. John Locke published his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” in 1689. Both of these works provided influential scientific and mathematical information for the centuries to follow. One of the greatest influencers of the English language is William Shakespeare. His work started to become famous in the mid to late 17th century. A lot of his work had language or phrases that are still used in today’s society. Even today, some of his plays are still performed and known throughout the world. [1]

The end of the 17th and in the start of the 18th century time period was known as the Enlightenment period. During this period, European politics, science, and philosophy were greatly changed. This period produced many books, essays, inventions, and much more. Economy was also affected by the Enlightenment movement because of the monarchs leading important changes to all sectors. These monarchs increased domestic trade by improving and building roads, as well as building canals to connect river systems. Because of this and increased exchanges of goods, international trade grew between Europe and the American colonies. Many explorations made from Europe had the purpose of bringing back local objects and information to enhance the knowledge of the Western world. [5]

In England, many art and literature became focused on the social conditions. William Hogarth who is an English painter and printmaker published works during this century which portrayed the many moral and social issues that was occuring in urban and industrialized living. He also created political cartoons as well which were mass produced throughout England. He was well known for his contribution to English figurative painting. [6]

During the Enlightenment, people wanted to limit the capacity for religious controversy to affect politics and warfare. Another big change that happened during this time period was religion of deism. This was a belief in a God who created the world but is not involved in it any longer. This religion also has the belief of personal morality, or in other words, a person’s moral compass. [4]

The time period between 1300 and 1750 was a time of change and exploration for Europe. Science, religion, politics, economy, literature, painters, and world exploration were all affected during this period. Each of the seven topics directly led to the advancement of another. Many people throughout Europe were both positively and negatively affected by these seven topics. Europe paved the way for other countries and their advancements, but also learned greatly through the exploration of different region as well. This time period will be noticed as one of the most influential in history because it has impacted the way the world thinks and acts in today’s society.

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European Culture 4th-18th Century. (2019, Dec 20). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/european-culture-4th-18th-century/

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