Key Dates in Renaissance Philosophy, Politics, Religion, and Science

Events in

Key events in Renaissance history timeline

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The Renaissance was a cultural, scholarly, and socio-political movement which stressed the rediscovery and application of texts and thought from classical antiquity. It brought new discoveries in science; new art forms in writing, painting, and sculpture; and state-funded explorations of distant lands. Much of this was driven by humanism, a philosophy that emphasized the ability for humans to act, rather than simply rely on the will of God. Established religious communities experienced both philosophical and bloody battles, leading among other things to the Reformation and the end of Catholic rule in England.

This timeline lists some major works of culture alongside important political events that occurred during the traditional period of 1400 to 1600. However, the roots of the Renaissance go back a few centuries further yet. Modern historians continue to look further and further into the past to understand its origins.

Pre-1400: The Black Death and the Rise of Florence

The Franciscans treating victims of the plague, miniature from La Franceschina, ca 1474, codex by Jacopo Oddi (15th century). Italy, 15th century.

 De Agostini / A. Dagli Orti / Getty Images

In 1347, the Black Death began ravaging Europe. Ironically, by killing a large percentage of the population, the plague improved the economy, allowing wealthy people to invest in art and display, and engage in secular scholarly study. Francesco Petrarch, the Italian humanist and poet called the father of the Renaissance, died in 1374.

By the end of the century, Florence was becoming a center of the Renaissance. In 1396, teacher Manuel Chrysoloras was invited to teach Greek there, bringing a copy of Ptolemy's "Geography" with him. The next year, Italian banker Giovanni de Medici founded the Medici Bank in Florence, establishing the wealth of his art-loving family for centuries to come.

1400 to 1450: The Rise of Rome and the de Medici Family

Gilded bronze Gates of Paradise at Baptistery of San Giovanni, Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Danita Delimont / Getty Images

The beginning of the 15th century (probably 1403) saw Leonardo Bruni offer his Panegyric to the City of Florence, describing a city where freedom of speech, self-government, and equality reigned. In 1401, Italian artist Lorenzo Ghiberti was awarded a commission to create bronze doors for the baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence; architect Filippo Brunelleschi and sculptor Donatello traveled to Rome to begin their 13-year stay sketching, studying, and analyzing the ruins there; and the first painter of the early Renaissance, Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone and better known as Masaccio, was born.

During the 1420s, the Papacy of the Catholic Church united and returned to Rome, to begin the vast art and architectural spending there. This custom saw major rebuilding when Pope Nicholas V was appointed in 1447. In 1423, Francesco Foscari became Doge in Venice, where he would commission art for the city. Cosimo de Medici inherited the Medici bank in 1429 and began his rise to great power. In 1440, Lorenzo Valla used textual criticism to expose the Donation of Constantine, a document which had given huge swaths of land to the Catholic church in Rome, as a forgery, one of the classic moments in European intellectual history. In 1446, Bruneschelli died, and in 1450, Francesco Sforza became the fourth Duke Milan and founded the powerful Sforza dynasty.

Works produced during this period include Jan van Eyck's "Adoration of the Lamb" (1432), Leon Battista Alberti's essay on perspective called "On Painting" (1435), and his essay "On the Family" in 1444, which provided a model for what Renaissance marriages should be.

1451 to 1475: Leonardo da Vinci and the Gutenberg Bible

A battle scene and siege with incendiary rockets during the 100 Years War between Britain and France

Chris Hellier / Getty Images

In 1452, the artist, humanist, scientist, and naturalist Leonardo da Vinci was born. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople, compelling many Greek thinkers and their works to move westward. That same year, the Hundred Years War ended, bringing stability to northwestern Europe. Arguably one of the key events in the Renaissance, in 1454, Johannes Gutenberg published the Gutenberg Bible, using a new printing press technology that would revolutionize European literacy. Lorenzo de Medici "The Magnificent" took over power in Florence in 1469: his rule is considered the high point of the Florentine Renaissance. Sixtus IV was appointed Pope in 1471, continuing the major building projects in Rome, including the Sistine Chapel.

Important artistic works from this quarter century include Benozzo Gozzoli's "Adoration of the Magi" (1454), and the competing brothers-in-law Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini each produced their own versions of "The Agony in the Garden" (1465). Leon Battista Alberti published "On the Art of Building" (1443 to 1452), Thomas Malory wrote (or compiled) "le Morte d'Arthur" in 1470, and Marsilio Ficino completed his "Platonic Theory" in 1471.

1476 to 1500: The Age of Exploration

The restored "Last Supper" fresco, originally painted 1495 to 1497

 Leonardo da Vinci / Getty Images

The last quarter of the 16th century witnessed an explosion of important sailing discoveries in the Age of Exploration: Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, Columbus reached the Bahamas in 1492, and Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498. In 1485, Italian master architects traveled to Russia to aid in the rebuilding of the Kremlin in Moscow.

In 1491, Girolamo Savonarola became the prior of the de Medici's Dominican House of San Marco in Florence and began preaching reform and becoming the de facto leader of Florence beginning in 1494. Rodrigo Borgia was appointed Pope Alexander VI in 1492, a rule considered broadly corrupt, and he had Savonarola excommunicated, tortured, and killed in 1498. The Italian Wars involved most of the major states of Western Europe in a series of conflicts beginning in 1494, the year the French king Charles VIII invaded Italy. The French went on to conquer Milan in 1499, facilitating the flow of Renaissance art and philosophy into France.

Artistic works of this period include Botticelli's "Primavera" (1480), Michelangelo Buonarroti's relief "Battles of the Centaurs" (1492) and painting "La Pieta" (1500), and Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" (1498). Martin Behaim created "the Erdapfel" (which means "earth apple," or "potato"), the oldest surviving terrestrial globe, between 1490 and 1492. Important writing includes Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's "900 Theses," interpretations of ancient religious myths for which he was branded a heretic, but survived because of the Medicis support. Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli wrote "Everything About Arithmetic, Geometry, and Proportion" (1494) which included discussion of the Golden Ratio, and taught da Vinci how to mathematically calculate proportions.

1501 to 1550: Politics and the Reformation

King Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, and Prince Edward painted in the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace in London
Eurasia / robertharding / Getty Images

By the first half of the 16th century, the Renaissance was impacting and impacted by political events throughout Europe. In 1503, Julius II was appointed pope, bringing in the start of the Roman Golden Age. Henry VIII came to power in England in 1509 and Francis I succeeded to the French Throne in 1515. Charles V took power in Spain in 1516, and in 1530, he became Holy Roman Emperor, the last emperor to be so crowned. In 1520, Süleyman “the Magnificent” took power in the Ottoman Empire.

The Italian Wars finally came to a close: In 1525 the Battle of Pavia took place between France and the Holy Roman Empire, ending French claims on Italy. In 1527, forces of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome, preventing Henry the VIII's annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In philosophy, the year 1517 saw the start of the Reformation, a religious schism which permanently divided Europe spiritually, and was heavily influenced by humanist thinking.

Printmaker Albrecht Dürer visited Italy for the second time between 1505 and 1508, residing in Venice where he produced a number of paintings for the emigrant German community. Work on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome was begun in 1509. Renaissance art completed during this period includes Michelangelo's sculpture "David" (1504), as well as his paintings of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508 to 1512) and "The Last Judgement" (1541). Da Vinci painted the "Mona Lisa" (1505) and died in 1519. Hieronymus Bosch painted the "Garden of Earthly Delights" (1504), Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco (Giorgione) painted "The Tempest" (1508), and Raphael painted the "Donation of Constantine" (1524). Hans Holbein (the Younger) painted "The Ambassadors," "Regiomontanus," and "On Triangles" in 1533.

The humanist Desiderius Erasmus wrote "Praise of Folly" in 1511, "De Copia" in 1512, and "New Testament," the first modern and critical version of the Greek New Testament, in 1516. Niccolò Machiavelli wrote "The Prince" in 1513, Thomas More wrote "Utopia" in 1516, and Baldassare Castiglione wrote "The Book of the Courtier" in 1516. In 1525, Dürer published his "Course in the Art of Measurement." Diogo Ribeiro completed his "World Map" in 1529, and François Rabelais wrote "Gargantua and Pantagruel" in 1532. In 1536, the Swiss physician known as Paracelsus wrote the "Great Book of Surgery." in 1543, the astronomer Copernicus wrote "Revolutions of the Celestial Orbits," and the anatomist Andreas Vesalius wrote "On the Fabric of the Human Body." In 1544, the Italian monk Matteo Bandello published a collection of tales known as "Novelle."

1550 and Beyond: The Peace of Augsburg

Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland in procession to Blackfriars in 1600, painted by Robert the Elder


The Peace of Augsburg (1555) temporarily eased the tensions arising from the Reformation, by allowing the legal co-existence of Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. Charles V abdicated the Spanish throne in 1556, and Philip II took over. England's Golden Age began when Elizabeth I was crowned queen in 1558. Religious wars continued: the Battle of Lepanto, part of the Ottoman-Habsburg Wars, was fought in 1571, and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Protestants took place in France in 1572.

In 1556, Niccolò Fontana Tartaglia wrote "A General Treatise on Numbers and Measurement" and Georgius Agricola wrote "De Re Metallica," a catalog of ore mining and smelting processes. Michelangelo died in 1564. Isabella Whitney, the first English woman ever to have written non-religious verses, published "The Copy of a Letter" in 1567. The Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator published his "World Map" in 1569. Architect Andrea Palladio wrote "Four Books on Architecture" in 1570. That same year, Abraham Ortelius published the first modern atlas, "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum."

In 1572, Luís Vaz de Camões published his epic poem "The Lusiads," Michel de Montaigne published his "Essays" in 1580, popularizing the literary form. Edmund Spenser published "The Faerie Queen" in 1590, in 1603, William Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet," and Miguel Cervantes' "Don Quixote" was published in 1605.

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Wilde, Robert. "Key Dates in Renaissance Philosophy, Politics, Religion, and Science." ThoughtCo, Feb. 17, 2021, Wilde, Robert. (2021, February 17). Key Dates in Renaissance Philosophy, Politics, Religion, and Science. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "Key Dates in Renaissance Philosophy, Politics, Religion, and Science." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).