The term ‘renaissance’ means re-birth or revival. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are known as period of Renaissance when many educated men turned from religious speculation to the study of ancient Greek and Roman writers and challenged the religious and philosophical teachings of the medieval church.
They were not satisfied with the study of the medieval translations of the famous writers of ancient Greece and took to the study of the original Greek works of Plato, Aristotle and others.
They also searched the monasteries for old Latin manuscripts and translated many hitherto unknown works from Greek antiquity to Latin. In short these writers tried to induce classical learning into the main stream of the western thought. It may be observed that this period there was not only revival of interest in Greek literature but also in classical architecture and sculpture.
As the scholars of the Renaissance period took keen interest in the individual they are also known as humanists. They emphasized the worth of man and tried to project the individual as a free agent. The Renaissance spirit can be best summed up in the words of Leon Battista Alberti, “Men can do all things if they will”.
It may be observed that the Renaissance was not merely a revival of the learning of ancient times but it was much more than that. A spirit of inquiry developed, a spirit of freedom in thought and action” prevailed all around. Men were no more willing to accept without question the teachings, customs and superstitions of the past. In short, people developed a critical attitude towards medieval institutions.
It is noteworthy that Renaissance did not start in all parts of Europe simultaneously, nor did all the medieval habits and institutions disappeared in all the parts immediately. On the contrary a vast majority of common people continued to cling to the old institutions and practices for long.
The renaissance started with a small group of educated people in Italy and spread to France, Germany and England. Renaissance was a turning point in the history of Western civilization and is often described as a bridge between the medieval period and the modern times in Europe.