During the Renaissance, great advances occurred in geography,
astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, manufacturing, anatomy and
engineering. The rediscovery of ancient scientific texts was
accelerated after the
Fall of Constantinople
Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the
invention of printing which would democratize learning and allow a
faster propagation of new ideas. But, at least in its initial period,
some see the
Renaissance as one of scientific backwardness. Historians
George Sarton and
Lynn Thorndike have criticized how the
Renaissance affected science, arguing that progress was slowed for
some amount of time. Humanists favored human-centered subjects like
politics and history over study of natural philosophy or applied
mathematics. Others have focused on the positive influence of the
Renaissance, pointing to factors like the rediscovery of lost or
obscure texts and the increased emphasis on the study of language and
the correct reading of texts.
Marie Boas Hall coined the term Scientific
Renaissance to designate
the early phase of the Scientific Revolution, 1450–1630. More
recently, Peter Dear has argued for a two-phase model of early modern
science: a Scientific
Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries,
focused on the restoration of the natural knowledge of the ancients;
Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, when scientists
shifted from recovery to innovation.
2 The Renaissance
3 Important developments
Geography and the New World
4 See also
7 External links
8 Selected images
European science in the Middle Ages
European science in the Middle Ages and List of
medieval European scientists
During and after the
Renaissance of the 12th century, Europe
experienced an intellectual revitalization, especially with regard to
the investigation of the natural world. In the 14th century, however,
a series of events that would come to be known as the Crisis of the
Late Middle Ages was underway. When the
Black Death came, it wiped out
so many lives it affected the entire system. It brought a sudden end
to the previous period of massive scientific change. The plague killed
25–50% of the people in Europe, especially in the crowded conditions
of the towns, where the heart of innovations lay. Recurrences of the
plague and other disasters caused a continuing decline of population
for a century.
The 14th century saw the beginning of the cultural movement of the
Renaissance. The rediscovery of ancient texts was accelerated after
the Fall of Constantinople, in 1453, when many Byzantine scholars had
to seek refuge in the West, particularly Italy. Also, the invention of
printing was to have great effect on European society: the facilitated
dissemination of the printed word democratized learning and allowed a
faster propagation of new ideas.
But this initial period is usually seen as one of scientific
backwardness. There were no new developments in physics or astronomy,
and the reverence for classical sources further enshrined the
Aristotelian and Ptolemaic views of the universe. Philosophy lost much
of its rigour as the rules of logic and deduction were seen as
secondary to intuition and emotion. At the same time, Humanism
stressed that nature came to be viewed as an animate spiritual
creation that was not governed by laws or mathematics.
only be revived later, with such figures as Copernicus, Gerolamo
Cardano, Francis Bacon, and Descartes.
Alchemy is the study of the transmutation of materials through obscure
processes. It is sometimes described as an early form of chemistry.
One of the main aims of alchemists was to find a method of creating
gold from other substances. A common belief of alchemists was that
there is an essential substance from which all other substances
formed, and that if you could reduce a substance to this original
material, you could then construct it into another substance, like
lead to gold. Medieval alchemists worked with two main elements or
principles, sulphur and mercury.
Paracelsus was an alchemist and physician of the Renaissance. The
Paracelsians added a third principle, salt, to make a trinity of
The astronomy of the late Middle Ages was based on the geocentric
model described by Claudius
Ptolemy in antiquity. Probably very few
practicing astronomers or astrologers actually read Ptolemy's
Almagest, which had been translated into Latin by
Gerard of Cremona
Gerard of Cremona in
the 12th century. Instead they relied on introductions to the
Ptolemaic system such as the
De sphaera mundi
De sphaera mundi of Johannes de
Sacrobosco and the genre of textbooks known as Theorica planetarum.
For the task of predicting planetary motions they turned to the
Alfonsine Tables, a set of astronomical tables based on the Almagest
models but incorporating some later modifications, mainly the
trepidation model attributed to Thabit ibn Qurra. Contrary to popular
belief, astronomers of the Middle Ages and
Renaissance did not resort
to "epicycles on epicycles" in order to correct the original Ptolemaic
models—until one comes to
Sometime around 1450, mathematician
Georg Purbach (1423–1461) began
a series of lectures on astronomy at the University of Vienna.
Regiomontanus (1436–1476), who was then one of his students,
collected his notes on the lecture and later published them as
Theoricae novae planetarum in the 1470s. This "New Theorica" replaced
the older theorica as the textbook of advanced astronomy. Purbach also
began to prepare a summary and commentary on the Almagest. He died
after completing only six books, however, and
the task, consulting a Greek manuscript brought from Constantinople by
Cardinal Bessarion. When it was published in 1496, the Epitome of the
Almagest made the highest levels of Ptolemaic astronomy widely
accessible to many European astronomers for the first time.
The last major event in
Renaissance astronomy is the work of Nicolaus
Copernicus (1473–1543). He was among the first generation of
astronomers to be trained with the Theoricae novae and the Epitome.
Shortly before 1514 he began to revive Aristarchus's idea that the
Earth revolves around the Sun. He spent the rest of his life
attempting a mathematical proof of heliocentrism. When De
revolutionibus orbium coelestium was finally published in 1543,
Copernicus was on his deathbed. A comparison of his work with the
Almagest shows that
Copernicus was in many ways a Renaissance
scientist rather than a revolutionary, because he followed Ptolemy's
methods and even his order of presentation. In astronomy, the
Renaissance of science can be said to have ended with the works of
Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) and
Galileo Galilei (1564–1642).
Renaissance came an increase in experimental investigation,
principally in the field of dissection and body examination, thus
advancing our knowledge of human anatomy. The development of modern
neurology began in the 16th century with Vesalius, who described the
anatomy of the brain and other organs; he had little knowledge of the
brain's function, thinking that it resided mainly in the ventricles.
Understanding of medical sciences and diagnosis improved, but with
little direct benefit to health care. Few effective drugs existed,
beyond opium and quinine.
William Harvey provided a refined and
complete description of the circulatory system. The most useful tomes
in medicine, used both by students and expert physicians, were
materiae medicae and pharmacopoeiae.
Geography and the New World
In the history of geography, the key classical text was the Geographia
Ptolemy (2nd century). It was translated into Latin in the
15th century by Jacopo d'Angelo. It was widely read in manuscript and
went through many print editions after it was first printed in 1475.
Regiomontanus worked on preparing an edition for print prior to his
death; his manuscripts were consulted by later mathematicians in
The information provided by Ptolemy, as well as
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder and
other classical sources, was soon seen to be in contradiction to the
lands explored in the Age of Discovery. The new discoveries revealed
shortcomings in classical knowledge; they also opened European
imagination to new possibilities. Thomas More's Utopia was inspired
partly by the discovery of the New World.
The Copernican Question: Prognostication, Skepticism, and Celestial
List of medieval European scientists
^ Siraisi, N. G. (2012). "Medicine, 1450–1620, and the History of
Science". Isis. 103 (3): 491–514. doi:10.1086/667970.
Dear, Peter. Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its
Ambitions, 1500–1700. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Debus, Allen G.
Debus, Allen G. Man and Nature in the Renaissance. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Grafton, Anthony, et al. New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of
Tradition and the Shock of Discovery. Cambridge: Belknap Press of
Harvard University Press, 1992.
Hall, Marie Boas. The Scientific Renaissance, 1450–1630. New York:
Dover Publications, 1962, 1994.
Renaissance science and technology
Galileo Galilei. Portrait in crayon by Leoni
Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632.
History of science
Theories and sociology
The Golden Age of Islam