Publication Date

Spring 5-8-2020


College of Arts and Sciences




Renaissance, Italian Renaissance, Florence, Italy, Spirituality, Art history, History


Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Arts and Humanities | Cultural History | European History | History | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | History of Philosophy | Intellectual History | Other Arts and Humanities | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | Renaissance Studies


This study seeks to investigate the influence of faith in the emergence and development of the Italian Renaissance, in both the artwork and writing of the major artists and thinkers of the day, and the impact that new expressions of faith had on the viewing public. While the Renaissance is often labeled as a secular movement by modern scholars, this interpretation is largely due to the political motives of the Medici family who dominated Florence as the center of this artistic rebirth, on and off again throughout the period. On close examination, the philosophical and creative undercurrents of the movement were much more complex. The thinkers of the era would often place Greco-Roman philosophers in the context of their Christian era and use their wisdom in addition to, rather than superseding, church and biblical authority, embracing figures like Virgil and Augustine in concert rather than opposition. These Christian humanists saw their work as a way to engage humanity in a quest for knowledge in ever expanding ways, but still with an undercurrent of reflection on the role of the divine. Spiritual inquiries of Dante, Lorenzo Valla, and Petrarch in written works are similarly manifested in the visual arts by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarotti, and Raphael Sanzio. These ‘big three’ painters of the Renaissance portrayed their individual Christian ideas through their own writings, sketchbooks, and all forms of artistic expressions, many of which are evaluated in this paper. Finally, the transition of art to a scale inviting the viewer to experience it personally marked a vital change. The shift from divine proportions to more naturalistic and relatable art also logically harmonizes with the mindset of the broader Renaissance movement. This paper seeks to examine the depth and complexity of key Renaissance figures and how concepts of Christian faith and spirituality translated into their works.